The Book of Houghts (1)
Chester was feeling more tired than usual after a hard day at the office. He had joined the company only two years before. He had come straight from university then, but now he was a junior manager in one of the biggest companies in Singapore. It was an important position to have and meant lots of extra work.
He could understand the jealousy that some of the other workers might feel against the 'new boy', as they still called him. He had risen quickly in the company. Many of them, however, had been there for years doing the same jobs. He could understand how bad feeling towards him might lie hidden behind their smiles.
But it didn't make life any easier.
He needed people whose advice he could trust when he had to make difficult decisions. He had to be sure that the bad feelings of the other workers didn't get in the way of the important business decisions he had to make. He knew he would never become a manager unless he could be sure of people.
Then there was Dorothy.
Chester was fairly sure of his own good looks. He was dark and slim and dressed smartly, but with an eye to fashion. He was a confident speaker and believed himself to be a sociable and effective junior manager.
But when it came to Dorothy his judgement disappeared. Dorothy was a bright girl who had just joined the company, straight from university. He was attracted at once by her intelligent eyes, her shy, pretty face and her soft, round figure.
Take today, for example. He had been given some new figures to check and he had asked Dorothy to read some of the details to him while he took notes. It was not until she had left that he realised that he had not written notes at all. Instead he had written Dorothy's name several times. He was too embarrassed to ask Dorothy for the details again, so he had to look them up in the office of old Mr Shaw.
Mr Shaw was known for always being in a bad mood and he was no different this time. He didn't like having to stay late to check figures for some junior manager. He didn't like it at all.
Chester hated it when he made mistakes. It didn't look good. But it didn't happen often.
He decided he would walk home instead of taking the train. It was late in the evening but he felt he needed the walk to clear his thoughts after a busy day. Anyway, it would be a little punishment for being so stupid earlier on. He decided that he would eat at the shopping centre near his home. He liked the Chinese food there.
As he walked towards his favourite Chinese restaurant, he saw that the lights were still on in an old antique shop. He had often thought of looking into this shop because he liked shops that sold old things. He stopped and looked. There were boxes full of old books piled outside the shop. On the shop window was a notice. It read: Sorry, shop closed today. Open again tomorrow.
He bent down to look at the books. He saw all the usual old books: school books, cookery books and other books with dirty, yellowing pages that were of no value to him. There was one small, old book, however, that he noticed at once. It looked much older than the rest of the books. He picked it up.
'Take it!' said a voice behind him. Chester turned to see a man of about eighty years old. The man had opened the shop door anekwas carrying another box full of old books. 'These have all been around for years. My nephew is taking over the business and I don't want to leave him with all this rubbish. Nobody wants to buy any of it, so take what you want - go on, help yourself!'
'Thanks,' said Chester as he put the old book into his jacket pocket and went on to the Chinese restaurant.
Chester sat at his table drinking a beer. He had been looking forward to his chicken and rice. When it arrived, he found that the chicken had not been cooked properly. It was pink inside. He decided to complain and called the waiter.
'Sir?' asked the waiter.
Chester noticed that the waiter was new to the place.
'I'm not eating this,' Chester told him. 'The chicken is pink inside - it hasn't been cooked properly.'
'It's rare chicken, sir,' the waiter said. 'Many of our customers prefer its finer taste.'
Chester looked straight at the waiter. He thought the waiter was not showing him enough respect.
'Really?' answered Chester.
'It's very popular, sir,' said the waiter.
'And I suppose the illness they caught from eating undercooked chicken was popular with them too, eh?' said Chester. Other people in the restaurant could hear. He was annoyed.
The waiter said nothing but his face turned red.
'Please take this chicken back,' Chester told the waiter, 'and give me a piece that has been cooked all the way through.'
'Certainly, sir,' said the waiter as he took the food and went back to the kitchen.
While Chester was waiting for his meal to return he remembered the little book in his pocket. He thought he would have a look at it while he was waiting. He took it out of his pocket and examined it.
It was small enough to fit easily into his pocket and was covered with old, fine leather. He had to clean off some of the dirt in order to read the title on the cover. At first the title seemed to be in another language with strange letters and shapes, but as he looked they seemed to change into English. He closed his eyes tightly and opened them again. He was mistaken, of course. He must have been. When he looked again the title of the book was there. It was still dirty but it was clearly written in English. It read: The Book of Thoughts.
It didn't say who wrote the book.
Chester thought it must be one of those old books which offered advice about life. He felt disappointed.
He tried to open the book but it had an old metal lock which stopped him. Then suddenly the book seemed to open quite naturally at the middle pages. It was almost as if it wanted him to read it.
What he saw when he looked surprised him. The pages had nothing written on them and they were clean and white, not at all like the yellowed pages one would expect to find in a book this old. Did all the pages have no writing on them?
Just then the waiter returned with Chester's chicken and rice and placed it before him.
'Thank you,' said^lhester.
'My pleasure, sir,' answered the waiter with a smile.
Chester happened to look at the opened book. It now had writing on the pages which only a moment before had been clean and white. The writing said:
He wouldn 't look so pleased with himself if he knew what I had put on to his chicken while I was in the kitchen. That will teach him to make me look silly.
'Chester couldn't believe what he saw. Was this what the waiter was thinking?
'Anything else, sir?' asked the waiter politely.
'Er... no, thank you,' said Chester.
As the waiter walked off the writing disappeared. Chester looked at his meal. He didn't feel hungry anymore. And he could hardly complain to the manager about the waiter. Not without telling them about the book. Who would believe him?
Chester left the chicken and rice alone, paid his bill and went. He did not leave the waiter a tip.
When Chester got home he felt exhausted. He took out the book and looked inside it once more. The pages were now all white and clear again. Perhaps it had all been a result of his tiredness. He had been thinking too much about work - and about Dorothy. That must be it. There was no other possible explanation: he was simply too tired to think straight.
He went to bed and slept almost at once.
The train was less crowded than usual the following morning. He was lucky enough to find a seat for his short journey. He liked to watch people as they all sat or stood with faces that gave no sign of what they were thinking. Everybody avoided looking at another person in the eye -that might cause trouble.
Chester relaxed in his seat. He had decided that the experience of the night before was best forgotten. Who ever heard of a book that read thoughts? The whole idea was crazy!
Then he remembered that he still had the book in his pocket. He ought to throw it away in the next rubbish bin. Yes, that's what he would do. Get rid of the stupid thing.
He noticed that the woman who sat opposite was an attractive, smartly dressed middle-aged lady. Her eyes looked down and her face showed nothing of her thoughts. Chester wondered what she was thinking.
Should he look at the book?
Perhaps just a little look would be fun. Where was the harm in it?
He reached for the book in his pocket. He took it out.
'Go on,' he said to himself, 'you might as well try out the book. Just for a laugh. Do it!'
He opened the book and almost at once words in clear black letters appeared on the white pages. The words read:
I've given the best years of my life to him. Bank managers have married their secretaries before now. He must decide today - leave that awful wife and marry me or I'll shoot him and myself dead.
Chester saw that the woman's soft handbag had something in it that looked hard. Could it be a gun? He quickly shut the book and looked away.
Next he saw a tough-looking man wearing a T-shirt, showing his powerful arms, what was he thinking?
Chester opened the book. It read:
I like chicken better than pork. Fried chicken is the best. Followed by chocolate ice cream - my favourite. Mum's a great cook - I love you, Mum.
Chester couldn't help smiling at the man. The man saw him and gave him a dangerous look. Just then the train reached Chester's station.
Time to get off the train.
He closed die book and put it back into his pocket. As he walked the short distance to his office his mind turned from the book to Dorothy. He had been thinking of asking her out to dinner.
'I'll do it today,' he thought. 'But what if she hasn't thought about me in that way? Maybe she isn't as attracted to me as I am to her?'
For a moment his heart felt heavy.
'Hey, come on, Chester - she's not blind. She's sure to be interested - after all, you're a good-looking guy and you are a junior manager.'
Chester walked into his office. His secretary was already busy typing.
'Any messages, Miss Han?' he asked her.
'Yes, sir,' said Miss Han, 'from the Manager. He says he can't go to the meeting today about the Eastern business. He wants you to take over right away.'
This was the kind of opportunity he'd been waiting for. yHe would show them all just how good he was. This was an important piece of business. If he could make sure that everything went well he would get noticed. He would be an obvious choice for the next manager's job. If he became a manager he would be the youngest manager in the business!
And Dorothy would like that, wouldn't she? What woman wouldn't?
He thought of her soft figure in his arms. Her voice was whispering his name softly, Oh, Chester... Chester...