The bell tinkled again. Another customer had entered the shop. No, thought Eulaia. Why now? And as the door was opened and closed, not only did an old man enter but also a strong gust of wind invaded the place. At once the picture she had placed face down on the desk was blown off and went sailing through the air to land face up on the carpet at the feet of the charming man.
‘Dobry den,’ said the regular customer as he walked past them, moving to busy himself in the military history section.
Eulalia darted toward where the paper lay, knocking her knee in her haste to retrieve the drawing. But the man beat her to it, and picked it up in his two hands, studying it with obvious delight.
‘My goodness,’ he exclaimed. ‘Is this your own work?’
‘Um, yes,’ said Eulalia. She held out her hands for him to give it to her, but he was not finished yet.
‘Incredible. So detailed, so lifelike. Did you…Did you see this…this…fish?’
Eulalia dropped her eyes. ‘Of course not,’ she said, trying to laugh.
‘Really? But it looks…it looks so real.’
‘It’s from my imagination.’
‘Your imagination? Wow! I wish I had an imagination like yours. Imagine this were real. Imagine such a thing as this did exist. Because I have seen something almost as strange myself.’
Eulalia frowned. ‘You have?’
‘Yes. A decade ago, mind you, but I will never forget it. A creature in a forest, in Ireland.’
‘I would like to hear about it.’
‘You would? You wouldn’t think me crazy?’
‘Not even a little bit? Because I always think the finest people in the world are not afraid of the bit of crazy inside them.’
Eulalia smiled, her guard back down. ‘I would like to hear about it very much.’
‘Then I will tell you, as long as you let me tell you over dinner.’
She dropped her eyes to the floor. ‘That would be…very nice.’
When she looked up again, the man was looking at her askance, but the smile remained firmly in place. ‘Are you sure you didn’t see this?’
She looked back down at the floor then across to the bookshelves. She could feel a telltale tick betraying the lie in her features.
‘You did see this, didn’t you? My god, you really did see this. Miss Eulalia, these are more miracles than one day can contain. Not only do you and my niece share the same rare name, we have both seen magical creatures that people would scoff at and think us mad if we dared to talk about them. I’m Upravda, by the way.’
He extended his hand. Eulalia took it in hers. It did not seem the thing to do for either of them to let go.
‘Eulalia and Eulalia, the creature in the Irish forest, and this…this magnificent fish you simply have to tell me all about. Over dinner, of course.’ He looked down at the drawing once more. ‘You know, if I had seen such a thing as this, I’d be careful whom I shared the news with too.’
‘Wouldn’t you take it as a sign you must be…clinically…insane?’
Upravda laughed heartily. ‘Oh no, Miss Eulalia. If I had seen something as beautiful and magical as this fish, I’d consider it an omen something else beautiful and magical might be going to happen to me.’
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