There’s this hatch, about two foot by two foot, set into the outside of the building, near the door. This is a library. When the library’s closed, if you want to avoid a fine, you post your book through this hatch. It says: ‘Library of Birmingham – Book Return’. I have a strong desire to do this during opening hours just for the hell of it: to take the little man on the other side by surprise. “Hey”, he would say, “That got me on the head – it hurt!”
The last time I saw a hatch like this, years ago, it was in a convent wall in Florence. It wasn’t for books. It was for babies. Catholic women who had fallen from grace had few other choices: the medieval church could dream up some pretty nasty sanctions. So women would creep out at night with their pathetic wriggling bundle and post it, maybe with an anonymous letter, through the elaborately carved stone hatch. I presumed there was someone on the other side to catch.
The other night I couldn’t sleep. I roamed the city centre in the small hours, thinking. As I passed near to the library, I saw a woman with a bundle. She looked this way and that, but didn’t see me. She kissed the little bundle then posted it through the hatch. The notice had been changed. It said: “Library of Birmingham – Baby Return”. I hope there was someone on the other side to catch.
I wondered: maybe this is a place where you can borrow babies too?