‘Hello, is anyone there?’ Laura called out to the back of the shop.
Elizabeth hadn’t exaggerated, it was a quaint little place, and the smell of old books surrounded the walls like a freshly baked loaf of bread. She remembered when she was little, or maybe it was something she imagined, but she had been in this shop before.
‘I’ll be there in a jiffy love.’
While she waited, she wandered around the shop admiring all the books. Some were yellowed with age, some were new, but they sat side by side, as if they had been friends for many years. On the counter, was a bulky till, which was probably around fifty years ago. The walls were covered with posters from the second world war.
She immediately felt at home, amongst the old books and picked one up. It looked so out of place. It had a thin layer of dust, but once Laura wiped away the remnants, it almost resembled the colour of violets. One page at a time opened, Laura marvelled at how long the book was around. Neat little rows filled the page. It was a story about a woman’s adventure on a pirate ship, as a stowaway. Laura couldn’t put it down. The story pulled her in, and she didn’t even notice the owner coming back.
‘Sorry, I was in the back there. Got a phone call from my son in Australia.’
Laura jumped, but kept hold of the book, before she joined her at the counter. ‘I’m sorry, I was just looking.’
‘Look away dear, that’s what books are used for – reading.’
‘I almost forgot why I came here. Elizabeth asked me to collect some recipe books about baking,’ Laura said.
‘I’ve got them here.’ She passed some books across the counter. ‘It will be nice to see a new face around here. It’s got a lot quieter since they built that bypass across the way.’
Laura didn’t want to say that the bypass had been built for over twenty years and went to get some money out of her purse.
‘She can pay me in Eccles cakes when she opens, I’m partial to a nice bun.’
Her purse put away Laura laughed. Elizabeth was right, here was a woman, old enough to retire, and still managing to run a business. ‘I think I’m going to buy this.’
‘Keep your money love, it’s been in this shop longer than I have.’
‘You’re not going to make any money that way,’ Laura said, and noticed the charity box. She took a five-pound note, out of her purse, placed it inside.
‘My mum would love it in here, all these books and stories.’
‘I love reading, and this place, well it belonged to my husband originally. I took it on when he died a few year ago. But I might be selling up soon, me old legs aren’t what they used to be. I can’t go up a ladder like I used to.’
‘You don’t look that old,’ Laura said.
‘I blooming well feel it sometimes. Arthritis the doctor said. My son, Andrew. He lives in Australia, he said I should come and live with him. One last adventure he says, and do you know what, I think I might.’
‘Sounds like a good idea, all that sun will be good for you.’
‘Not to mention those hunky surfers.’
Betty laughed, and her marvellous eyes mischievously sparkled.
‘You go girl,’ Laura said. ‘They won’t be able to keep up with you.’
‘Only thing is, I must sell this place to do it, and well, I don’t think there will be anyone that can do it justice. They’ll probably get rid of all my books. Sell it to some franchise.’
‘You certainly don’t get shops like this anymore. Do you know what, I do remember coming in with my mum. It must have been your husband behind the counter, a nice gentleman he was. He had a jar of sweets on the counter and let me have one for free.’
‘That sounds like my Jack.’
‘I remember he was a really nice man, his dimple sunk in as he smiled. It was the first time I saw a kind man. Before then, I thought everyone was like my . . .’
‘Your dad, yea there are many good men and many bad ones. Life is a little like that, Jack, was the best. Probably saw you were upset. He had that way about him.’
‘I just remember his beautiful smile, and kind gestures,’ Laura said.
‘A little part of him will always be in this shop.’
‘Definitely, it’s a shame you have to sell.’
‘It won’t be to the big shops; I can tell you that. They’ll take my lovely books and throw them in the skip. They’ll never see the pleasure they bring.’
‘How much are you selling it for?’
‘My old man paid for the business outright, so I don’t know what to sell it for. Elizabeth was saying she brought next door for £150,000. Blooming heck, that is a lot of money. Could buy Australia with that. To be honest, for the right buyer, I wouldn’t want that much. There is a tenant in the flat upstairs, and he pays a bit of rent to me. If the person buying would let him stay, I wouldn’t ask for much.’
Laura looked around the shop, which looked like it should sell magic potions, and her mind wandered off. She imagined being in front of the counter and telling stories to anybody who would listen.
‘I would love to own a place like this.’
‘Go on then, how much would you be prepared to offer?’
‘No, I was joking. I’ve never owned a business or worked in a shop. I wouldn’t know where to start.’
‘Look, I’m not retiring until next year, and . . .’ The old lady said. ‘And I would be happy if the person who took it over loved books as much as I did.’
The prospectus, from the college, which she had just dropped off, felt like fate was giving her another chance. If she took the business study course, then she would be able to manage the finances better.
‘Just for my own curiosity, how much?’
‘To you, I would sell for twenty thousand.’
‘That’s not nearly what this place is worth.’
‘It isn’t about the money. It’s about them taking the care to look after the place, and you look like you would. There are overheads. To be honest this place needs a bit of TLC. You don’t have to answer straight away, but I like your face, and as my old man would say – you belong here lass.’