“The book!” She gestures to the recipe book with her umbrella. “I need a present for my daughter-in-law, and she comes from India. So I thought I’d get a nice Indian recipe book. Is that a good one, would you say?”
“I’m afraid I don’t know,” I say. “I haven’t read it yet.”
“Oh,” she says, and starts to wander off. And I ought to keep my mouth shut and mind my own business—but I just can’t leave it there, I have to clear my throat and say, “Excuse me—but doesn’t she have lots of Indian recipes already?”
“Who, dear?” says the woman, turning round.
“Your daughter-in-law!” Already I’m regretting this. “If she’s Indian, doesn’t she already know how to cook Indian food?”
“Oh,” says the old woman. She seems completely flummoxed. “Well, what should I get, then?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “Maybe a book on . . . on something else?”
“That’s a good idea!” she says brightly, and comes toward me. “You show me, dear.”
“Well,” I say, looking helplessly around the racks of books. “What’s she interested in? Does she . . . have any particular hobby?”
“She likes the fresh air,” says the woman thoughtfully. “Walk-ing in the countryside.”
“Perfect!” I say in relief. “Why not try the travel section for a walking book?”
I point the woman in the right direction, then hurry off to do my copying. I reach the CD and video section, which is always quite empty, and hide behind a rack of Teletubbies videos. I glance around and check no one’s about, then open the book again. Okay, turn to page 214, “Tiger Prawn Biriani” . . . I start copying again, and I’ve just got to the end of the list of spices, when a stern voice says in my ear, “Excuse me?”
I’m so startled, my pen jerks off my notebook and, to myhorror, makes a blue line, straight across a photograph of perfectly cooked basmati rice. Quickly I shift my hand, almost covering up the mark, and turn round innocently. A man in a white shirt and a name badge is looking at me disapprovingly.
“This isn’t a public library, you know,” he says.