We opened up the apartment door slowly. It had taken us forever to find it, given that we had both run out of data on our phones and had never been to Portugal before. We had been wandering around the city for over four hours. Perhaps it wouldn’t have lasted as long if we hadn’t gotten distracted by street musicians, coffeehouses, and the gelato shop on the corner. Almost as soon as we left the shop, Louise dropped her cone, and the raspberry and chocolate gelato immediately began streaming down the sidewalk. So we went back in and ordered again, while my mint gelato dripped on my fingers, causing them to become sticky with the sugar.
We had just finished the last bit of the waffle cones when they went up Rosa Rua. On the left hand side was the building they had been looking for. A three story building, with a gate and lock over the front door. We entered the code into the lock, and together we climbed the wooden spiral staircase up to the third floor, which was composed of two studio apartments. Louise pulled out the silver key for apartment B and together, we opened up the door. The golden light of the sun pierced my eyes as they slowly adjusted to the brightness of the room. The entire apartment was a mixture of dark walnut wood and a cream-white paint. It smelled fresh; a mixture of mint and lavender. But blended with those smells were the faint and familiar odors of paper and dust. Underneath the windows facing the sea, and stacked as high as the ceiling on either side of the windows, were books. Books stacked one on top of the other.
There must have been well over 400 of them. Most of them were placed so the binding of the books faced the wall; the leaves faced outwards, to the room. The ones with visible binding and titles looked like they were leatherbound, with gold leaf used for the title and author. A soft atmosphere permeated throughout the entire space and it seemed to be emanating from the books themselves. At first it almost irritated me that I couldn’t look at all the titles, and that I was instead staring at a varying mixture of snowy-white and yellowing pages. But then I realized it didn’t matter that I didn’t know the titles. Every book was sensational, and I knew Gustav was rather particular about the books he read.
As we walked closer I noticed two books sticking out. One was halfway up the third stack, the other almost at the top of the fifth one. Louise and I looked at each other and decided Gustav must’ve known we’d be there and that the books were meant for us. I walked over to the one near the top, and gently pulled it out. I was about to take a look at the title, when I noticed a torn scrap of paper inside, on which Gustav had written a short note in his shaky, firm handwriting. It had been years since I had received a letter from him, but just that morning I was looking at his handwriting from a letter he had sent when he first moved into this apartment. I quickly read the letter that he had just written, hoping to find some closure. I didn’t find it in his words, but he hinted I may find it within the book I was now holding. I realized I hadn’t looked at the title, and turned it over. The title contained the name of mountain where I first met Gustav. And the author was Gustav himself.