Mae was waiting next to Evelyn when Alan and I stepped through the door.
“W-welcome home brother. How was your day?” Mae asked with blushing cheeks. Evelyn wore a large grin on her face. “I had her practise it!” she mentioned proudly. To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure how to handle this situation.
“It’s been great, Mae.” I answered with a smile, which probably came off as slightly awkward. Her eyes seemed to examine my expression, then she returned the smile and nodded. Evelyn had converted the couch in the living room into a bed. On the white pillow laid a small book.
“It’s not much, but since it’s your official birthday today, this one was kinda hard to get...” Evelyn paused for a second, “Oh right - we’ll go buy you some new clothes tomorrow morning. You, Mae and I. You can’t go to Anuit-City in that attire.”
“Shopping yay!” Mae shouted in excitement.
“Thank you, Evelyn,” I replied wholeheartedly.
Before I went to bed later that day I asked Alan if he had a clock for me to borrow, since it would make my homework much easier. He went into another narrow room, opened some cabinets and rummaged through a few dusty boxes.
“Ah! Found it!” He handed me a small, silvery pocket watch, which had some simple lines engraved on its edges.
“I’ve got it from a friend but honestly, I’ve never had much use for this stuff, you can keep it.”
A mixture of soft blue and purple shades fell through the window and onto my blanket and face. I stared at the watch in my hand. Alan had just gifted me this like it was nothing, but now that I took a closer look, it appeared rather valuable. I considered reading Evelyn’s book for a few minutes, but decided against it - this training had priority. An hour per day, huh? Concentrating on the watch and the rhythmic movements of its clock hand, I started to count. After a couple minutes it got incredibly boring. Was it really necessary to practice it for that long? Time went by slower and slower but I couldn’t quit. Each time I thought about putting the watch away, Lory’s face would pop up in my head. I had to restart over and over though, probably every five minutes or so since every little thought interrupted me. This really sucks, I laughed to myself, more in desperation than anything else. After an hour had passed, my mind was left blank. The rhythm remained in my head as if I was still counting subconsciously.
I laid awake for a couple more minutes, staring at the dark purple patterns which reflected on the ceiling. The soft rustling of leaves and quiet chirping of crickets outside finally let my body grow heavier. Just before my sight turned black, for a short moment, I could see a distant figure. The silhouette reminded me of a little girl. Despite only perceiving blurred shapes, I was certain that I had seen this person before. I tried to go closer but the image turned darker and darker as I drifted into sleep, unable to remember the dream when I woke up the next day.
The air was still fairly cool since it wasn’t even noon. We were close to the market I had once visited. The light yellow houses with their red rooftops were a strong contrast to the blue sky. The chirping of birds above us was drowned by the snorting of ox-beasts, which were busy carrying large heavy wagons, and the ranting of their owners. Mae was hopping beside me, humming a melody I didn’t recognize. She seemed pretty energetic today, which was weirdly infectious, if it wasn’t for the few people who stared at me and the worn-out clothes I wore. At least they didn’t make any comments this time since Evelyn was carrying herself right next to me like a member of some noble family.
A few bells rang as we entered a store which consisted of a small room and a spiral staircase. The space between the light-grey walls was filled with a labyrinth of clothes. An old woman with a wrinkled face and multiple dark spots on her hands observed me with squeezed eyes from behind the counter. Whether because I was dressed like an orphan or because she couldn’t quite see me, I did not know. Once she recognised Evelyn however, the old woman lit up.
“Ah, my dear. Nice to see you again, how can I help you?” her voice sounded at least thirty years younger than what she looked like.
“My son here needs some new outfits,” Evelyn replied as she playfully swung her arm around my neck. Covering her wide gaping mouth with her hand, the old granny replied in shock, “Oh dear, I didn’t know that you were into this kind of stuff so early. Have you really known your husband for that long already?”
“What are you talking about?!...I didn’t...Just do your job!” Evelyn resigned, red faced. Mae looked at her mom in visible confusion. The granny dragged me up the spinning staircase onto the second floor, while the other two stayed back and skimmed through the rows of fabric. There weren’t nearly as many clothes around here as there were on ground level. We stopped in front of a cabin placed in one of the corners. The old woman grabbed my chin with her veiny, skinny hand and inspected my face seriously. Her eyes started at my chin, met my eyes, which was quite awkward if I’m being honest, then went up to my hair. She took a step away and spinned me around while not taking her eyes off of me.
“I see,” the granny mumbled and rushed out of sight before returning with a whole pile of clothes.
“Try these first!” She said, handing me a shirt and trousers before pushing me behind the curtain.
Each time I stepped out of the cabine, the old woman would circle around me a few times, judging my look.
“Unacceptable, try the next batch!” she commanded, obviously unsatisfied.
We repeated this process a couple more times and for some reason, my legs really began to hurt. I don’t like this shopping, I thought to myself. I stepped out again - this time Evelyn and Mae had joined the granny with their own shopping bags, just that Mae was now also wearing a large white sunhat. Their eyes widened but the old woman didn’t flinch as she gave me the next batch of clothes.
“Whoa!” Evelyn shouted in surprise when she saw me once again. Mae nodded strongly in approval with her arms crossed, the sunhat whipping on her head, while the old judge finally appeared to be pleased as well.
“This boy is pure gold, you should become a model for me. Well done, Evelyn!” she winked, causing a few venes to twitch on Evelyn’s forehead.
I watched myself in the mirror - I was wearing a washed-out-blue shirt, whose sleeves were rolled up to my elbows, and dark-grey pants that stopped right above my knees. A pair of tired eyes examined me when I looked up at the reflection of my face.