WHEN studying elsewhere, say, in a restaurant, I'm picky about the people seated near my table. I avoid noisy teenagers at all cost. I don't feel comfortable sitting beside families with children playing with their tablets—I have the unfounded (well, maybe not) notion that kids who dwell too much on the iPad will end up dumb and socially inept. I also don't like sitting near glass walls, where I can see the smokers outside. I get distracted because I think about their lungs and how they will look like when they're dying of cancer. And I hope they don't—but medical literature is overwhelmingly unanimous. Smoking is a health hazard. It kills—and I've seen enough "dying moments" to realize it's not an easy death.
Early this morning I went to my favorite breakfast place. I saw my spot, a quiet corner with good lighting and minimal human traffic. Beside my table was an old man lost in his thoughts. He was reading on his Kindle, a thinner, smaller version compared to mine. He was flipping page after page, drinking his coffee in infrequent intervals, in peace. Was he reading fiction? What was the story about? Clearly he forgot all about the world around him.
Sitting beside him was a wrong move, it turned out, because I couldn't focus on what I was reading. My bibliophilic interest in his material was too strong to suppress. Maybe I was envious of him—he seemed to have all the time in the world for literature. And my time outside the hospital? It won't be long before I go back to my old sleepless routine again. I don't miss it at all. I thought endlessly of the gripping tale of Theo in Tartt's The Goldfinch that kept me up last night.