The Girl Who Liked Listening to Stories

Gabriela was an ordinary girl, the daughter of ordinary parents, living in a very ordinary house in an ordinary town. Like every other girl, she really liked listening to stories and wanted Mom or Dad to read her a story every night when she went to bed.

Unfortunately, Gabriela's parents didn't know many stories by heart. They were busy people who lacked any patience and spent all day working and complaining about life—they didn't have much time to have fun, nor would they have any time to read books and learn new stories for her. She went to bed many nights without being read a story at all, or having to settle for repeats or silly little stories.

However, Gabriela was a very bright student and soon learned how to read. When she realized she could put letters together to make words, her curiosity peaked and she wanted to know what was written in every book sitting on the shelves of her school's library. Oh, there were so many books! Some had pretty covers, others not so much. Some had white pages, others were yellowing. But each book had one or several stories to tell!

From that day on, Gabriela started reading books at the library. She would come home every day with a book under her arm and would only return it after reading every single word in it. She started with thin books, which had a brief story and plenty of illustrations. Then she moved on to thicker books, which wasted less space with images and had much more content to read. Gabriela had pretty much read all the books available at her school's library by the time she was in the 5th grade.

That was when she was transferred to another school, with a larger library and many more books to choose from. Gabriela walked through the metal bookcases full of books and thought, “I'll have to speed-read to have enough time to finish it all by 8th grade...”

Then she went right to it. Every day she would check out two books, reading the thicker one in the afternoon and the other one at night, before going to bed. Some were so thick it would take her two afternoons to read it all, but Gabriela was okay with that. After finishing a good book, she would always get upset because she knew she wouldn't read it again. Each book would be a happy memory that could never be relived.

With time, she realized that the prettiest books weren't necessarily the best ones. She also noticed that story books weren't the only ones she liked reading. There were also subject-specific books that had been so well-written they'd make learning something fun. That was how she learned about the history of the world, discovered what the universe was like, how life came to be and evolved, and how the human body works. These stories were just as good as the “cape and spade” novels and fairy tales she was used to.

Some history books were unlike any other, because they talked about what had really happened and even had pictures of people who had gone through those events. They were usually sad books that didn't always have a happy ending. Still, Gabriela liked reading stories that were true, because she believed that the real world was interesting too.

One day, feeling there wasn't anything left to be read at the library, she grew sad. That was when she saw a very old book sitting at the top shelf of the last bookcase in the corner of the room. She had never seen that book before. “Someone must have donated it,” she thought. She just had to read it right away.

Funny thing is that the book had nothing written on the cover or the title page. No author, no summary, no publisher's info. There were no page numbers or chapters. The story started at the top of the first page, right after the cover, and went all the way until the bottom of the last page. At least that was what it looked like... Gabriela thought some pages could be missing, both at the beginning and at the end.

It had a large font, larger than other books, but smaller than that of children's books. They were weird letters that, at first, didn't look any different from those in regular books, but the more you looked at it the more you could see the details. It was as if each letter were different, with one period more or one period less, a different curve, a longer leg or some sort of defect on the paper that would interfere with the shape. If actually looked like someone had written every single word by hand on that weird book without any pictures.

Gabriela tried to go through the pages to see what was inside, but she couldn't. The pages were too thick, moist, a little moldy or heavy with dust. They were glued to one another and definitely looked like they had been bound together with uncut edges, as if that book had never been read or had remained closed for several years. “It must be a sad thing being a book, spending so much time closed without the touch of anyone's hand, unable to tell its story to a reader,” she thought.

Gabriela went to the counter to check out the book. The librarian smiled at her and said “Good afternoon!” The girl happily left the library taking the book with her.

She spent all afternoon reading the book at home. That story was really engaging. Each page, a new character, as if they were jumping out of the story one way or another. It seems there were too many main characters, so many that Gabriela soon lost track of all their names. It had twists and turns, different stories that crossed each other's path all the time only to part ways again. It introduced a foreign land where there was a widow queen and a maiden princess who never wanted to be married. There were domesticated dragons and mean fairies. It was full of opposites and Gabriela had to stop and think hard to organize her thoughts.

The following days were an adventure. The stories in that book occupied her mind non-stop, as if she didn't even had time to go to school or hang out with friends. Reading it was so good! She enjoyed learning about the strange language of the Pt people, who used one vowel and 79 consonants, or the Ao people, whose language comprised only vowels―32 of them! There were thieving princes and a skinny elephant who was trying to teach a tiger how to eat lettuce. There were so many amusing absurdities that would make her laugh. There were also many sad things, like deaths, mysteries, and people kept apart from each other.

From the time she checked out the book at the library, Gabriela took exactly seven days to read the entire book. At 9:40, having dedicated her 10-minute recess for the past five days to keep up with her reading, she finally reached the last word on the last page.

That was such a bittersweet moment... She had completed a very long task, but also finished doing the best thing in the world. The end of the story was a little dull, nothing had really been resolved, as if there should have been so many more pages added the book, but only those had made it and been bound between the covers.

Gabriela got up, went to the library, showed the book to the librarian and put it back where it belonged. She kept thinking about it the next day. All those mixed-up stories that were both happy and sad. Those badly-told tales...

She took a deep breath and went to talk to her friends about it. That was when she heard the most extraordinary thing: nobody had ever read that book! Nobody had even seen that book on the shelves of the school library. The librarian herself couldn't explain what book that was. “When I saw that wrinkled cover, I thought it was just another useless old book that had been donated and that we would end up throwing away anyway,” she said.

“There's no such thing as a useless book!” Gabriela said, feeling a little resentful, but way too concerned with the book to worry about her feelings.

One of her friends said that the book was “something of the devil” and that she “oughta pray and forget about it.” However, Gabriela's writing teacher―who was a very sweet lady with enormous black eyes―told her something very different.

“My dear, don't you see? This book is yourself! This book has the stories you like, the stories you wish someone had told you. But here's something I must tell you: nobody can tell your stories but you!”

It took Gabriela a few days to understand what her teacher meant. Some nights later, laying in bed and dreaming about the stories in that strange book, she suddenly realized she remembered them in a different way. “I've got it!” she exclaimed.

Gabriela got up and found the thickest notebook and the smoothest pen she had. She sat down at her desk and slowly started to tell a new story as softly as she could. It was her story, a story she wished someone had told her, but which she knew nobody else could write but herself.

José Geraldo Gouvêa was born in 1973 in Cataguases, State of Minas Gerais. He is a poet, blogger, and fiction writer. 

He majored in History in 1997 and taught the subject for six years, later earning an MBA in Sustainable Development. He has been working in the banking industry most of his life.

His literary work includes poetry, short stories, novellas, novels, and chronicles. He has just published his first novel, entitled Praia do Sossego [Peaceful Beach] and periodically updates his blog Letras Elétricas [Electric Letters] with stories he has written in the past. He has also written for children, especially for his older daughter, who likes listening to different bedtime stories every day.

He is multilingual (Portuguese, English, and Spanish) and has read many classics from the British, American, and Hispanic literature. He is currently working on the Portuguese translation of William Hope Hodgson's “The House on the Borderland.”