I close the door behind me, quietly. The size of his secret study is astounding. Perhaps, for some reason I expected this to be smaller. Denser. A crypt. It’s not that but it certainly is dark. No windows to trap any sunrays. Carefully, I take a step to the side. I take advantage of the glimmer of light piercing through the keyhole and let my fingers trail along the wall, the one adjacent to the door, for the switch. I quickly turn the light on. In front of me, spreads a long, long corridor. I am not sure where it leads to. It’s too dark to even discern what that large shadow is, at the end of the corridor. An object. A piece of furniture, maybe. Possibly a desk. I gape at the floor, watching my step. It is wooden, a light, caramel colour. The walls are painted white, but a trace of brickwork shades from beneath the paint. I can see why they’re painted. The white walls give an air of openness in this otherwise suffocating room. They make it falsely welcoming.
I cross the corridor leaving the entrance behind me. Along the way, I pass a wooden, dainty-carved table to my left and a fifties-style armchair of pistachio-velour on my right. As I am nearing the end of the corridor I am bathed in darkness once more. I walk towards the nearest switch and turn it on. Soon enough I can see the desk, but not only that. A tall, wide, wall-mounted bookcase reveals in front of me. Its shelves occupy the walls that surround the study, rendering the seating area in front of the desk something of a hearth. The desk itself is a mocca-brown colour and the chairs are a match. Light-brown leather pillows, too puffy for my liking, are placed neatly on each of the five chairs assembled in front of the desk.
I keep trying to think what this setting reminds me of, and for a second there, I nearly miss my favourite memory of them all. My Law School Library. Dima’s secret study reminds me of my Law School Library. This place could easily be mistaken for a library. After all, the bookcase covers up all of the walls in this room, if we exclude the ones along the corridor. And the shelves are dressed with books from the ceiling to the ground.
Books? I never thought Dima a bibliophile. Intrigued, I pace quickly towards the bookcase, unease building up inside me. There is something odd about this room. For one, there’s no direct sunlight coming in or air circulation for that matter, and I can feel my claustrophobia twitching its claws at me.
I gaze at the books and realise how difficult it is to understand what they’re all about. First, there’s so many of them and second, a lot of them are stacked so high up the shelves, way beyond my reach. I couldn’t read them even if I could get hold of them. As I come closer to this potent bookcase, with a bit of struggle I manage to pick up one of the books, which is, in hindsight and a broken nail later, stacked a tad too tight with the rest. Once I manage to take it out I can’t help but stare at the cover. The book is a dated hardback and the title is pressed against it, in burgundy letters. Right there, at the very centre of the book. The cyrillic writing makes it difficult to read. I turn it over in search for the writer’s name. Again, the name is in cyrillic but it is shorter and I just about comprehend the second letter “E”, the third “Z” and the final two letters, “EN”. “Herzen,” I mouth. I put the book close to my nose to sniff it -strange habit but I’ve had it forever – and to my surprise it smells only of paper. There’s no trace of dampness, no iota of dust. Someone is taking care of these books. I eye the rest of the books and I am tempted to pull them all out. I wonder the kinds of stories these books can tell. When you know how to read them, that is. I turn to look at the desk and I am surprised again to find that it is in immaculate shape. Clean, polished, well preserved.
I am making my away along the bookcase when, suddenly, I hear a rythmical thumping noise. Toum-toum-toum. I’m startled, obviously. I think about the turned on lights and contemplate switching them off, but I am too far away from the switches for that. Definitely for that first switch. And if anybody comes down here, they’ll realise someone’s in Dima’s secret study, well, because I’ve left the entrance door unlocked. The thumping resumes, this time closer to me than before. I follow the sound, taking small, soft steps alongside the room. And then it stops. Someone is snooping around Dima’s sacred territory. Who else is home apart from me, his mother and Joe the Giant? No one should be home, apart from us. And no one should definitely be in here. Not even me.