A man looked at him from the mirror, whose resemblance could be described as an adult, who, surprisingly, was at the development level of a twelve-year-old boy. Jo gave this epithet to himself for the simple reason that the clothes that he could find in the closet were small in size, and on his dystrophic, but still mature body, such a wardrobe looked extremely stupid. But feeling that his dog was waiting for the treasured piece of meat, he cast aside the feeling of awkwardness that had begun to overcome him and, slightly tucking his black and white hair protruding from under his cap, went to the butcher’s shop.
By the time mister Thurlow finally got there, the hour hand on his wristwatch already showed six twenty-five. The young guy who was trading was already preparing to close, but Jo, who arrived in time, still managed to contact him. "Give me all sorts of scraps, no matter what" - such was his request, which the seller complied with, noting among other things that the tripe that his last buyer took had already managed to spoil a little. But Jo didn’t care one bit about this, because even back when he lived with his mother, he learned that the dog that guards the house (not the one that runs within its walls), to maintain her energy, she must eat a large amount of raw meat, and it does not matter whether it is fresh or slightly rotten. Never in their entire lives did they feed first Buddy (the Thurlow's first dog, whom Jo first saw during his childhood), and then Buffalo with all sorts of dog food, for the mother believed what was written in some old book on dog breeding, given to her by one former military man, her acquaintance.
Taking the bag of meat in his hands, mister Thurlow noted to himself with pleasure that for once he would please his faithful dog, who had been running around the territory entrusted to him for all these six days without the opportunity to eat anything. And wished good luck to the butcher - more precisely, his son, who sold in this shop - Jo headed back home with a smile on his lips. And imagine his surprise when, passing by his neighbours’ house, he heard his name pronounced in a ringing voice that was already familiar to him... He froze rooted to the spot at some distance near the fence. From the outside he probably looked funny - an adult man, dressed in shorts and a T-shirt that was clearly too small for him, was holding a heavy bag of rotten meat scraps in both hands... In fact, it was quite obvious that such a spectacle would inevitably cause laughter from his little neighbour. And so it happened.
Bursting with laughter, Delia sat on the fence, dangling her legs shod in black shoes. Jo didn’t know what to do, so he stood there a little undecided and decided to go to his house, but as soon as he took a couple of steps towards his wicket, he immediately caught her question in the back:
- Have you got a dog, ajussi Jo?
Mister Thurlow was a little surprised that the girl, who was essentially seeing him for only the second time in her life, immediately addressed him in such a familiar tone, but he didn’t even show it, but stopped again and turned to her (don't run away from the child, after all), said:
- Yes, we live here together, I'm at home and Buffalo is out.
- He's protecting you, right?
- Certainly. I can't stand dogs that eat their owners but don't do any good.
For some reason, Jo decided that there would be no shame in complaining to this girl a little.
- My dad thinks so too, - his interlocutor answered. - We never had animals at home, although I asked him...
- Yes, it's sad...
Mister Thurlow thought that this was the end of their conversation, and, making a slight bow in her direction, walked up to the wicket. Delia looked after him for a while, and then suddenly jumped off the fence and managed to run up to Jo just then, when he was already preparing to close the wicket and feed his dog.
- Will you show me your dog?
The girl said this and made a sad grimace. "She press on pity or how?", thought Jo.
- Wait, I'll feed him first, - he began.
- Yes-yes, I heard you promise him this, - Delia interrupted him. - But please let me look at it!
Mister Thurlow thought for a few seconds. He felt that the little neighbour, who, due to her age, was simply bursting with the bursting desire to learn as much as possible about the world, will never leave his humble person behind, and, trying to drive the dog away from the wicket, Jo almost quickly threw out his answer to her:
- If you ask your dad for permission and he doesn't mind, then I'm in!
Without waiting for Delia's response, he slammed the gate and headed towards the bowl where he always put food for Buffalo. The latter was already so exhausted from hunger that he tried to jump on the owner and tear the bag right as he walked, but Jo, who tried to instill in the dumb dog the concept of discipline, angrily shouted at him to be patient. When he finally reached the bowl, Buffalo still managed to tear the bag open with his teeth. Tripe, some chunks, and also some meat juice began to fall out of it, emitting a rather disgusting aroma of rotten meat. Mister Thurlow noted with displeasure that drops of juice fell on his bare legs and, sneeze, immediately rushed to the bathroom.
There, without wasting any time, he took off all his clothes and, contrary to his usual routine, decided not to fill the bath but to stand under the prickly jets of the shower. Thoroughly soaping your feet in order to completely get rid of the annoying smell, he noted to himself that, it turns out, he again made another promise, and it would be nice if this person had known him for a long time... Starting to wash his hair, Jo began to reason that making a promise to a neighbour who lives next to your house is not the same as doing the same to a person who lives God knows where. When he had already finished washing and began to dry himself, mister Thurlow no longer doubted the (in)correctness of his just made decision.
Jo started looking for something to wear. His beautiful suit, which he had stained with flour, continued to lie on the floor next to the bathroom - in a hurry to the butcher, he completely forgot about it - and in the end he had only the option of putting on the clothes of an overgrown teenager again. "It can't be helped", Jo said, and, putting cap on the go - no longer for the sake of hiding flour in the hair, but for health - went out into the yard. His faithful Buffalo was busy eating tripe. Jo couldn't resist the pleasure of watching his dog for a couple of minutes, listening as he let out a predatory purr as he paid tribute to his first meal in six days...
- Yes, chum, forgive me for not feeding you for so long, - Jo said barely audible.
Then he remembered Delia. I wonder if she really ran to ask permission from her gloomy father, or if she, seeing that her neighbour was busy, finally decided to leave him alone? Jo really wanted things to work out this way, but the sense of duty, which was caused by the promise given to her, forced him to go out the wicket. Covering it behind him, he looked around. The girl was nowhere to be found yet. Mister Thurlow decided to wait a couple of minutes and, not knowing what to do with himself, began to look at the fruit tree that grew on his neighbors’ property.
It was an apricot that old Harris Sherwind planted many years ago in memory of his deceased grandfather.Now, in August, there was no longer a single fruit on the branches, but Jo still had fresh memories of when Harris, who had previously lived here, was distinguished by the breadth of his soul, collected the fruits falling from the tree and went to his close neighbours, treating them to fresh apricots. Oddly enough, but last July - it was by this month that the fruits were already ripening - old Harris, apparently already preparing to move out of here, broke this tradition of his and not one of the apricots that poured on the branches fell into the mouths of any of his neighbors, including Jo. Either he simply forgot about the tree, or, more likely, he collected those fruits and sold them on the market - uncharacteristic for him, but normal behavior for a person who lives in the suburbs on his own plot.
The realization that the Yonce family moved in exactly the same month when all the apricots had long since disappeared caused Jo to have another fit of uncontrollable laughter. He, trying to restrain himself from laughing at the top of his lungs, bit the inside of his cheeks. The sudden pain caused a tear to come out of both his eyes, against his will. Mister Thurlow was about to wipe them with the back of his hand, but before he had time to raise his hand, he caught movement from the side of the neighbour’s gate in his peripheral vision. Forgetting about his face, Jo turned. His eyes did not deceive him - Delia was actually running towards him now, gesticulating animatedly. She stopped five steps from him and, not knowing where to put her hands, rested them on a fence post.
- Ajussi Jo, dad allowed me to go into your yard!
- For what?
All of a sudden, the energy typical of children her age made him wary, and Jo decided to play the fool.
- Well how can it be, ajussi Jo, you promised to show me your dog! - again making a sad grimace, the girl answered with some anguish.
- You know, - Jo raised his top hand and began scratching the back of his head. - For some reason it seems to me that you, uh...
- Am I lying? Oh, you're a cad! - Delia suddenly exclaimed with sudden aggression.
- Wait-wait, I just want to hear it from your dad in person! - Jo realized what he had done and began to make excuses.
- Huh, are you afraid? You big crybaby!
Declaring this decisively, Delia took a breath, tilted her head back slightly and, completely unexpectedly for Jo, spat right in his face. The latter stood stunned in place and looked after the girl, who was running towards her gate. Stepping over the threshold, she turned her head in his direction and sent him a smile filled with playful mischief. Mister Thurlow stood there without moving. He heard from someone that if swallowed it, this automatically lowers status in the eyes of the offender, so he patiently waited until the neighbour disappeared behind the fence.
Jo was overwhelmed by a whole ocean of feelings. He felt resentment, shame and fear at the same time. The first is from the fact that they spat on him, the second from the fact that with his words he clearly did something wrong, and the third from the understanding that an offended child could complain to his formidable dad. Slowly moving his feet, mister Thurlow walked into his house. Entering the bathroom, before putting his cheek under the running water, for some reason he took a piece of this saliva on the tip of his finger and brought it to his nose. These white bubbles gave off a faint aroma of mint candies. Apparently, mister Yonce has a liberal attitude towards spoiling his daughter with sweets, Jo thought while washing his face. Well, or a wayward girl (after what he had just experienced, he had no doubt about it) herself, when she wanted it, contrary to her parents, she found the desired forbidden fruit. Mister Thurlow decided so, because Delia's father looked like a domineering man who clearly had his family under control, and it would obviously not be sweet (in every sense) for his daughter without any effort on her part.
Wiping his wet face after the water, Jo remembered her cry "You big crybaby!". Were two tiny tears on his face really that obvious? Or was Delia angry that an adult man suddenly, for no reason at all, began to fawn over her and make excuses, like her young peers? A suspicion crept into his thoughts that among her classmates she clearly has the status of an out-and-out hooligan, who only acts like an obedient girl in front of her father. Unsure of this theory, mister Thurlow threw a towel on the washing machine next to the sink and trudged into the kitchen. He knew for sure that he didn't want to eat - firstly because he had a good lunch with a friend that afternoon, and secondly, this spit from Delia managed to completely discourage Jo’s sense of appetite, which had gradually begun to increase in the evening. Therefore, having already automatically opened the refrigerator, he did not take anything from there - fortunately there was nothing to take anyway, there was nothing in the refrigerator except an empty glass jar of some kind of sauce.
Slamming the door, Jo took off his T-shirt, wet with sweat, and, throwing it on the radiator, went into the office. There, his gaze immediately fell on a leather folder, which seemed about to burst from the papers that overflowed it. He opened it and pulled out sheets of paper on which, in his small handwriting, he had written information about Munich's book bestsellers. Mister Thurlow's eyes ran down the list he had painstakingly compiled during those five days spent in his cramped hotel room... Yawning, he packed the sheets back - he absolutely did not want to continue this work, at least today. All Jo wanted at the moment was a good night's sleep. He didn’t try to persuade himself - he went into the bedroom and, taking off his shorts, which were too small for him, fell flat on the pillows. He made himself comfortable and wrapped himself completely in the blanket. Multi-coloured lines hovered before his eyes, quickly intertwining with each other. Gradually he fell asleep.
- Forgive me, Jordan Thurlow, - for the first time during this time, the inspector interrupted the prisoner's story. - But for some reason I was amused by how your relationship with this person developed. First, in your words, you almost died under her gaze, and then unexpectedly, you fought back! As they say, from love to hate!
Jo, a tired of talking, was breathing deeply and looking forward at the policeman. He, having taken on the role of listener, for obvious reasons, did not show a single sign of fatigue - on the contrary, he looked slyly at mister Thurlow, clearly interested in his story. Jo did not reproach the inspector for interrupting his story.
- No, mister inspector Galbraith, there was no affection that evening, and where would it come from? - he answered the last phrase of his interlocutor. - Then, standing on the outside of the Yonce's fence, I was scared. I felt like I had been shot with a bullet laced with poison.
- You're a joke though, Jordan! I have never heard such a definition of the arrows of the Cupid from anyone at all!
The inspector, teasing his interlocutor, noticed that wrinkles appeared on the latter’s face near the eyes. Might have thought that Jo was trying to fight off the onset of sadness. However, this only lasted a couple of moments. The prisoner suddenly smiled and answered:
- Who knows, mister inspector, maybe it will be easier for strangers to notice such changes!
Jordan sniffled and wanted to blow his nose into his sleeve, but inspector Galbraith prevented his action by taking a clean handkerchief from the pocket of his gray jacket and handing it to his interlocutor. He thanked him, blew his nose noisily a couple of times and put the handkerchief on the table next to him.
- Yes, take it for yourself, what am I, greedy or something? - the policeman said cordially.
Mister Thurlow thanked the inspector again and, putting the handkerchief in the pocket of his orange prison suit, continued his story from where he was interrupted a couple of minutes ago.