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- Ru?

Prior to that moment, I had never seen Yuri in his casual clothing. Hadn't even dreamt of it. There hadn't existed a parallel universe, in that setting, prior to the instance our eyes caught.

He seemed even taller than what he was at school, if that was possible. Perhaps that was due to the fact he was wearing clothes that fit him for the first time; a dark green fleece sweater that was zipped all the way up to his chin, tightly laced boots, and dark jeans that fit the length of his legs.

His mother stepped into my field of vision, saving me a few seconds to collect myself. She took the two black plastic bags that Yuri was carrying.

- Ru? Yuri said again as soon as his hands were free. - What are you doing here?

- I...I came...my—my mother...prepared some food that she thought I should bring over as thanks.

I had never called Eline my mother. I could feel my cheeks heating up.

- Oh. Okay.

I swallowed.

- Do you want to stay? Yuri asked.

- No. I'm gonna go now.

I was painfully aware of the way the collar of my shirt was cutting into my neck, constricting my air supply.

I wasn't going to befriend Yuri. I had done what was asked of me. It was best if I left now.

I turned to his mother.

- Madame Karamova. I bowed. - Thank you for having me, I said, giving her a timid smile.

- Where are you going, Ru? His mother asked, her eyebrows drawing together, - You just arrived, stay for dinner. We'll have your mother's gulaars.

I didn't know if it was impolite to decline her offer. She was staring at me very intently. Impoliteness was a sin in my household. If somehow the news got back to my father that I had behaved rudely at a stranger's house, I was sure to regret it.

I hesitated.

The kitchen grew stifling hot. The moisture from my palms could single-handedly supply the Caspian Sea.

Yuri tugged the sleeve of my windbreaker, drawing my attention away from his mother.

- Come on, I'll show you my camera.

Without protest, I followed him out of the kitchen. We rounded the corner in the hallway. The noises emanating from his siblings' room grew louder. Yuri didn't seem as interested as I was to find out what was happening behind the door to our left. He guided me up a flight of stairs and opened the first door on the second floor. He waited patiently for me to step inside before he closed the door behind us.

The room contained a single bed with a wooden frame, an armoire that reached up to the ceiling, and a desk pushed against the short side wall. Yet despite the sparse furnishing, there was no empty space. His room was cluttered with tiny things. Not so many clothes, as toys, papers, paper planes, school books, shoes, and a myriad of religious, calligraphic, wooden carvings called hiklim.

Yuri, accustomed to the state of his room, went straight to the window on the opposite wall from the door and picked something up. He held the camera by its leather case. At first glance, it looked like a deformed stuffed toy. But then he unzipped the zip and there, in his hand, he held a Nikon analogous camera.

- Where did you get that? I asked, stepping closer to see the device. My nervousness dissipated as soon as I realised it was the real thing. The rounded lens butted out from the bulky body, and you could tell without even having to touch it that it weighed something.

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