On an ordinary weekday afternoon, my mother took my sister and me on our weekly visit to the local library to find books on our latest curiosities. For my sister, puzzle and fact books, a stack of picture books, and bridge novels like the Magic Tree House series. For me, anything on the supernatural: reported ghosts and hauntings, urban legends, mysterious sightings of Bigfoot, the Salem witch trials, spellbooks and potions, a few Fear Street novels. My grandfather’s copy of Mysteries of the Unexplained, published by Reader’s Digest in the ‘80s, sparked my interest in the unusual after finding an “authentic” image of the Loch Ness monster above water, neck hooked like a giant dinosaur in between the pages of the heavy blue hardcover. Could it be real? I’d stare at it, wondering, wishing it were true.
I wore my Keroppi backpack from Sanrio gifts that I couldn’t wear to school because it was too small for textbooks, but perfect for the library. Fantasy and magic made the ordinary extraordinary for me, and filled my world with impossibilities that defied explanation, but never storytelling. I browsed the aisles in the YA nonfiction section looking for books on ESP: extrasensory perception, or the ability to use a so-called sixth sense to take in information and knowledge, including psychic capabilities, intuition, telepathy, and clairvoyance. I bent down to the bottom aisle to scan the call numbers when my backpack rustled.
I stood up. The thing in my backpack seemed to turn around and around again before settling in the center. I knew what it was, of course. Fearing that someone else might find out, I crept through the aisles and into the single stall bathroom in the children’s section, locked the door, and undid the cinching at the top of the bag. Inside, curled in a neat little ball, was a kitten. A kitten that my mother did not know was in my possession, a kitten adopted earlier in the afternoon without permission, a kitten that pranced around my bedroom, a kitten I’d already named Mia.
Mia leapt out of the bag and circled the tiny bathroom, letting out small cries. Quickly, I placed her back in the bag so that she wouldn’t make more noise but desperately feared that she would suffocate, accidentally get smashed, or meow. Once safely in the bag, she curled up on the blanket I placed at the bottom and settled in for a nap. I left the bathroom and brainstormed the best way to convince my mom that this kitten was already a part of the family - she’d been to the library with us, after all.
We made it home without Mia escaping in the library or drawing attention from any librarians. After dinner, I couldn’t keep my secret any longer and told my mom and dad that I had something to show them. I went into my room and brought out Mia. A girl in my class found her on the side of the highway in northern Illinois when driving back from Rockford with her family, I explained. I walked over after school and told them that I wanted to adopt her. Mia circled the living room carpet, and brushed up against the couches. My parents eyes grew wide; heavy silence filled the living room.
I sat on my hands, and shifted in my seat waiting for their verdict. After what felt like an eternity, my mother said, “You know, I did this once,” and she went on to tell us a story of how she brought home a kitten when she was a young girl. She was able to keep the cat, and she felt it to be some sort of karmic retribution that I would do the same thing, and be allowed to keep Mia. In the joy of knowing that Mia would stay, I decided to share that I also brought Mia to the library. My parents burst out laughing, and luckily thought it more amusing than troublesome. The library was my trusty accomplice, a safe haven, a good place to get caught with a kitten in your backpack if need be.
Kalliopi Mathios has a BSEd in Elementary Education from Loyola University Chicago with middle school endorsements in history and English. She taught elementary and middle school in the Chicagoland area for four years before relocating to New York to begin a career in librarianship. She completed her MLIS at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 2014. Before joining Teachers College, Kalli worked as a public librarian in Brooklyn, and as a collection development librarian specializing in the curation of K-12 classroom and school libraries. Currently, she is the Acquisitions and Materials Librarian with the Library Services team at Gottesman Libraries. In her free time, Kalli enjoys creative writing and recently published a small collection of short stories and poems.