Part One - 08
The new B3s –three boy AFs –were soon calibrated and took up their positions. Two went straight into the window, with a big new sign, and the other was given the front alcove. A fourth B3, of course, had already been bought by the spiky-haired girl and shipped without any of us meeting him. Rosa and I remained mid-store, though we were moved to the Red Shelves side once the new B3s arrived. After our turn in the window had finished, Rosa had taken to repeating something Manager had said to us: that every position in the store was a good one, and that we were as likely to be chosen mid-store as in the window or the front alcove. Well, in Rosa's case, this turned out to be true. There was nothing about the way the day started to suggest such a huge thing was about to happen. There was nothing different about the taxis or the passers-by, or in the way the grid had gone up, or the way Manager had greeted us. Yet by that evening, Rosa had been bought, and she'd vanished behind the Staff Only Door to prepare for shipping. I suppose I'd always thought that before either of us left the store, there would be plenty of time to talk everything over. But it happened very quickly. I barely took in anything useful about the boy and his mother who came in and chose her. And as soon as they'd left, and Manager had confirmed she'd been bought, Rosa became so excited it was impossible for us to have a serious talk. I wanted to go over the many things she'd have to remember in order to be a good AF; to remind her of all the things Manager had taught us, and to explain to her everything I'd learned about the outside. But she just kept rushing from one topic to the next. Would the boy's room have a high ceiling? What color car would the family have? Would she get to see the ocean? Would she be asked to pack a picnic into a basket? I tried to remind her about the Sun's nourishment, how important that was, and I wondered aloud if her room would be easy for the Sun to look into, but Rosa wasn't interested. Then before we knew it, it was time for Rosa to go away into the back room, and I saw her smiling over her shoulder at me one last time before she disappeared behind the door. —In the days after Rosa left, I remained mid-store. The two B3s in the window had been bought, one day apart, and Boy AF Rex also found a home around that time. Soon, three more B3s arrived –boy AFs again –and Manager positioned them almost directly across from me, over on the magazines table side, alongside the two boy AFs from the older series. The Glass Display Trolley was between me and this group, so I didn't converse with them much. But I had plenty of time to observe them, and I saw how welcoming the older boy AFs were being, giving the new B3s all kinds of useful advice. So I supposed they were getting on well. But then I began to notice something odd. During the course of a morning, say, the three B3s would move, little by little, away from the two older AFs. Sometimes they would take tiny steps to the side. Or a B3 would become interested in something through the window, walk over to look, then return to a spot slightly different from the one Manager had chosen for him. After four days, there could be no more doubt: the three new B3s were deliberately moving themselves away from the older AFs so that when customers came in, the B3s would look like a separate group on their own. I didn't wish to believe this at first –that AFs, in particular AFs handpicked by Manager, could behave in this way. I felt sorry for the older boy AFs, but then realized they hadn't noticed anything. Nor did they notice, as I soon did, how the B3s exchanged sly looks and signals whenever one of the older boy AFs took the trouble to explain something to them. The new B3s, it was said, had all sorts of improvements. But how could they be good AFs for their children if their minds could invent ideas like these? If Rosa had been with me, I would have discussed what I'd seen with her, but of course she'd gone by then. —One afternoon, when the Sun was looking in all the way to the back of the store, Manager came to where I was and said: ‘Klara, I've decided to give you another turn in the window. You'll be by yourself this time, but I know you won't mind that. You're always so interested in the outside.'I was so surprised I looked at her and said nothing. ‘Dear Klara,'Manager said. ‘And it was always Rosa I was concerned about. You're not worried, are you? You mustn't worry. I'll make sure you find a home.'‘I'm not worrying, Manager,'I said. I almost said something about Josie, but stopped myself in time, remembering our conversation after the spiky-haired girl had come to the store. ‘From tomorrow then,'Manager said. ‘Just six days. I'm giving you a special price too. Remember, Klara, you'll be representing the store again. So do your best.'My second time in the window felt different from the first, and not just because Rosa wasn't with me. The street outside was as lively as before, but I found I had to make more effort to be excited by what I saw. Sometimes a taxi would slow, a passer-by would stoop down to talk to the driver, and I would try to guess if they were friends or enemies. At other times I'd watch the small figures going across the windows of the RPO Building and try to understand what their movements meant, and to imagine what each person had been doing just before they'd appeared in their rectangle, and what they might do afterwards. The most important thing I observed during my second time was what happened to Beggar Man and his dog. It was on the fourth day –on an afternoon so gray some taxis had on their small lights –that I noticed Beggar Man wasn't at his usual place greeting passers-by from the blank doorway between the RPO and Fire Escapes buildings. I didn't think much about it at first because Beggar Man often wandered away, sometimes for long periods. But then once I looked over to the opposite side and realized he was there after all, and so was his dog, and that I hadn't seen them because they were lying on the ground. They'd pushed themselves right against the blank doorway to keep out of the way of the passers-by, so that from our side you could have mistaken them for the bags the city workers sometimes left behind. But now I kept looking at them through the gaps in the passers-by, and I saw that Beggar Man never moved, and neither did the dog in his arms. Sometimes a passer-by would notice and pause, but then start walking again. Eventually the Sun was almost behind the RPO Building, and Beggar Man and the dog were exactly as they had been all day, and it was obvious they had died, even though the passers-by didn't know it. I felt sadness then, despite it being a good thing they'd died together, holding each other and trying to help one another. I wished someone would notice, so they could be taken somewhere better, and quieter, and I thought about saying something to Manager. But when it was time for me to step down from the window for the night, she looked so tired and serious I decided to say nothing. The next morning the grid went up and it was a most splendid day. The Sun was pouring his nourishment onto the street and into the buildings, and when I looked over to the spot where Beggar Man and the dog had died, I saw they weren't dead at all –that a special kind of nourishment from the Sun had saved them. Beggar Man wasn't yet on his feet, but he was smiling and sitting up, his back against the blank doorway, one leg stretched out, the other bent so he could rest his arm on its knee. And with his free hand, he was fondling the neck of the dog, who had also come back to life and was looking from side to side at the people going by. They were both hungrily absorbing the Sun's special nourishment and becoming stronger by the minute, and I saw that before long, perhaps even by that afternoon, Beggar Man would be on his feet again, cheerfully exchanging remarks as always from the blank doorway. Then soon my six days were finished, and Manager told me I'd been a credit to the store. Above-average numbers, she said, had come in while I'd been in the window, and I was happy when I heard this. I thanked her for giving me a second turn, and she smiled and said she was sure I wouldn't now have to wait long.