Last November I stood beside a library shelf with three friends—one of whom would soon become my boyfriend. I had invited them all to my house for fall break. My hometown library, with its blue soft interior and grainy quietness, was a safe place for me to wonder whether Jonathan liked me as much as I liked him. Since—I unabashedly admit—I had extended the invitation to him with ticklish ulterior motives.
We pulled a thin book from the shelf at random: A Chance of Sunshine by Jimmy Liao. That we should have discovered that particular book, now out of print, was more extraordinary than we knew.
The four of us sat down and read it aloud together. It featured broad, fabulous illustrations, each accompanied by a one-line sentence translated from the Chinese. It opened:
He’s a musician.
She’s a writer.
She lives alone at #19.
He lives alone at #17.
He turns right. She turns left.
Jonathan is a musician. I am a writer. We lived next door to each other in college dorms. The irony did not escape any of us.
In the beginning, the young man and woman lose themselves in their respective work, but not without the nagging hope that they will one day find someone to love. They meet in a city park, fall in love, and exchange phone numbers—only to have the numbers bleared by the rain to indecipherability. Now separated, the two grow frustrated:
The rain is colder now.
The streets are louder.
The nights are longer.
No longer offer
The hope they once did.
The illustrations then revisit the earlier scenes: The park where the two met has decayed to a jungle of rubble and broken pipes. Grass has overgrown the merry-go-round they rode on the night they met. He goes on playing music in his head and she loses herself in her words.
The book stretched on so long we feared it would not end happily. But it did, with a hole knocked through the wall between their apartments and the promising words “the beginning.”
Since that afternoon, Jonathan and I have spent hours upon happy hours together in libraries. After discovering that the out-of-print book would cost us a few hundred dollars on Amazon, we delivered a nervous speech to the librarians. “We fell in love to this book,” we said. “Will you sell it to us?”
They wouldn’t. After realizing the book’s value, the library unshelved it but let us sit and read it when we came back to visit. The book, they told us, exists in only three libraries worldwide.
We could have pulled a thousand books instead of this one. But now I have my very own beautiful copy sitting in my lap—a graduation gift from Jonathan that I spent months guessing about. (“Is it bigger than a window fan? Is it smaller than an Etch A Sketch?”)
It gets better every time I read it.