Roel’s Bookshop and the Sealed Letter

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Elizabeth Abaya unpacking the books from the newly arrived box from the United States

One by one, she unpacked the books from the box.

It was not more than an hour ago that I arrived at the bookshop. Though it took around two hours of travel from Las Piñas, it is always worth the price I pay—for the sake of books.

One ride on a UV Express from Southmall to United Nations’ LRT 1, then ride LRT 1 from UN Ave. to Doroteo Jose St. Transfer to LRT 2, from Recto to Anonas Station. Walk to the village guarded by a brawny man sitting crossed-leg on a throne: Rajah Sikatuna.

He appeared to be waiting and inviting another foreigner to make a blood compact with, just like Miguel López de Legazpi did. On my end, though I was not a foreigner, I have accepted his invitation. Not for a blood compact, but to visit his place more often and exchange some goods—books from him and money from me.

The place is bit far from the Anonas Station. One can take a tricycle if they want to. Me? I prefer to walk, which reduces my guilt from eating too much rice and sweets every day, literally.

Roel´s Bookshop Philosophy Shelf with Michel Foucault´s book

I saw the post of the official Facebook page of Roel’s Bookshop last night. On it, the page administrators said that some boxes from the United Stated had arrived, adding that they would opening one today, and that made me come over. I knew they have an excellent book selection for the best possible price, because I’d done business with them before. For less than P1000.00, I was able to buy Marcel Proust’s “The Complete Seven Volumes of Remembrance of the Times Past” from them.

Roel Abaya is the owner of the business. We’d exchanged messages on Facebok Messenger. He was a kind and friendly guy, with an exceptionally professional manner with his customers. He even conversed with me about books, writing and some other stuff. I remember him telling me that, originally they were “just a humble bookshop” from Davao that uploaded photos of their books, the prices and in what condition the books are, over social media.

The rule is this: Whoever wants to buy a book must first utter “mine” as fast as he can. The books are sold on a first-come-first-reserve basis. And the payment should be settled in a week.

Based on my experience, whenever they upload photos of new stock, book enthusiasts ran the extra mile to guard their turf, and to await the new books. They save the titles they want for themselves immediately.

As I observed, it was amazing that in, less than five seconds, all the books would be reserved. I was wondering then how many times those people refreshed their browsers. Or how they could possibly know when the next one will come. Well, maybe they are really techie.

There was even something interesting that I did then: Because I used to buy from different online stores, I would get to know the profiles of the people I was buying from. I saw one of them commenting on a Roel’s Bookshop’s upload. After scrolling over some other books uploaded that day, I found the vendor from whom I’d purchased more than 20 books and, viola, a week after, those books were on that seller’s online store selling got doubled or more. I’ll never buy from that seller anymore.

When Ate Abeth, Roel’s wife, finished unpacking the books and started to arrange those on the display shelves, I initiated a conversation.

She was shy at first when I asked her why they moved to Manila. Then she answered that they have a physical store in Davao, in their house, but there where many customers who requested that they put up a physical store around the metro. So, her husband considered the suggestion. According to their sales, a lot of the buyers came from Manila. She even mentioned that they already had a pop-up store here in Manila for a week, and the returns were really great. People came from different places just to get philosophy and rare books from them. And while she was arranging the books, a woman, whom I suppose was younger than 20 years old or so, entered the bookshop. She approached Ate Abeth and spoke in another language, Visayan, If I remember correctly.

The woman was Nobel, Ate Abeth’s niece who had stopped going to school in Davao when they decided to migrate to Manila. I was sad at first when I heard about that, before realizing that had also been Nobel’s choice. Besides, I said, Nobel can continue her studies in Manila because there are a lot of schools where she can enroll. They answered that this was really the plan.

When I asked about Nobel’s course, I was surprised to find that she was studying education. This may have been because I was a teacher. I immediately suggested that she studyat the Philippine Normal University, of course. I would always be biased towards my Alma Mater. During our conversation, I even joked that I like Nobel’s name, because many people in the world would do everything just to have her—which led to me having to explain about the Nobel Prize.

Roland Tolentino, Director of UP Institute for Creative Writing talking with Elizabeth Abaya

After a while, customers came. One of them was one of the country’s foremost writers, the Director of the University of the Philippines’ Institute for Creative Writing, Roland Tolentino. I approached him to say hi and he was kind enough to respond.

We had a short talk about the books he was able to get from Roel’s bookshop and how the bookshop does its best to offer a wide selection of reading material—from philosophy, essays, and novels, out of prints, and rare books — at a friendly price.

As Roland started to look around for books, I went to the antique books section. Personally, I don’t have any preference as to the publication dates of books. What I look for is whether I know the author or have read any of his work/s before.

There I stood in the antiquarian section surrounded by books written by Tolstoi, Balzac, Mann, and others. I took out the copy Thomas Mann’s“ Joseph and His Brothers.” I am no fan of Mann. I am more a Hermann Hesse kinda guy. But, because I discovered that the two had been friends, I would have started to gain some interest in Mann’s writings.

I have read most of Hesse’s books and my favorite was “Steppenwolf,” the story of Harry Haller, a man who believes he is half man and half wolf. I liked that book so much I’ve memorized my favorite line from it: “Madness, in a higher sense, is the beginning of all wisdom.” I strongly believe in that. Sometimes, those people whom society sees as gifted are really geniuses, take note, sometimes, not every time.

As I inspected the bookcover, I was reminded of what Mann wrote about Hesse which was used for the introduction of Demian.

Mann praised and reminisced over Hesse. This seemed to be a common thing then, writers admiring and writers who are related to each other. That is why the movies about writers are really interesting to me, like “Finding Forester”, “Quill”, “Freedom Writers”, “Genius”, “Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle”, and more. I see those as a way to humanize the writers in the eyes their readers.

I opened the book to smell it, and an old envelope fell out. I was able to catch it with my right hand. I read what was written on it. The only thing I could understand was “Hermann Hesse.” Everything else seems to be a foreign language—German I think. There also seems to be a letter inside it, but the envelope was still sealed by red wax, so I insert it back to the book and held the book tightly on my left hand before looking around to check if anyone has seen me.

I was about to go to the cashier when my phone rang. I took it out of my right pocket and saw who was calling. I chose not to answer.



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