Walters started scratching his thigh and realized that he didn’t have any trousers on, just a pair of boxers, and not precisely his best pair. Maybe the man outside hadn’t noticed, Walters thought, while grabbing the jeans from the floor. After shaking them up a couple of times, he put the jeans on. He sniffed his right underarm and considered whether the same T-shirt would do for another day. Maybe not. He took off his T-shirt, threw it under the bed and chose from the clean clothes piled on a bookshelf a green T-shirt with an infantile-looking drawing stamped on the front: A bloated shark piloting a ridiculously small ship.
He patted the back right pocket on his jeans and found it empty. An immediate rush of anxiety traversed his body, mixed with a warm sweat and a terrible itchiness on his scalp and upper back. Walters searched each one of his pockets several times, until he turned his head around and saw the notebook on the bed. He ran the three steps that separated him from his notebook, grasped the notebook and stuck it in his back right pocket. He felt safer after taking several deep breaths, and decided against walking to the bookshelf and having a couple of gulps of bourbon. Instead, he pulled from under the bed the blue, ragged bag that he would normally take with him when he went to prospect the basement of abandoned buildings. He placed the bag on the table and looked at the items inside the bag without focusing his attention on any particular one. Unconsciously, he picked up with two fingers a fragment of seaweed from the back of the diving regulator and flung it over the table towards a corner of the house.
“We should be leaving soon,” Jameson yelled outside after knocking the door three times.
“Yes, yes, almost done,” Walters yelled back. He took the large dive light with the pistol grip out of the bag and chose instead a much smaller dive light that he had been repairing the previous night. He also checked the pressure gauge lodged at the top of the small diving tank and decided that half a tank should suffice. He then stepped out into the balcony to grab the wetsuit that had been drying overnight, stretched out over two clotheslines hanging between the two short sides of the rusty railing.
The balcony was completely filled with two chairs, a wooden crate that served as a table, and some sacks that Walters had piled on the right side of the balcony when he moved in and that he would have to open and prospect to recall their contents. Walters gave a quick look at the contiguous balconies, and nobody was there, as he would have anticipated. All the houses on this side of the canal had their back walls aligned with the wall of the canal, and the balconies, all of them more or less of the same size, and separated from each other by less than an arm length, hung over the canal, one foot above the water. Walters had freedived under all of them in many occasions, catching air between dives in the spaces left between the water and the bottom of the balconies. On the other side of the canal there was a bricked wall topped with blackened hardwire, and some factory buildings beyond the wall.
Walters considered the sky and found it quite pleasant, just a few clouds here and there, the slight breeze barely caressing the surface of the canal. A perfect day for being down there, he thought, while scratching his cheeks. He poured a handful of seeds into the bird feeder and went back inside the house, stuffing the wetsuit into the bag. He broke a chunk of bread from the baguette on the table and shoved it into his mouth. The bag’s zipper didn’t work, so he simply pulled both ends of the bag together, flung the strap over his shoulder, and went and opened the front door.
“I think I’m ready,” Walters muttered, still chewing the bread.
Jameson remained impassible for a while, looking straight at Walters’ face, and then noted, with a helpful voice, “You are not wearing any shoes.”
Walters had to look down and check. “Yeah,” he agreed. He went back in, found his pair of leather boots under the bed, and put them on without any socks. Still sitting on the bed, he combed his hair back with his fingers and looked around the room for a while, like being in a second-hand bookshop for the first time, just perusing so many unknown volumes, hoping to find something he would recognize. He got up, went to the table and snatched another chunk of bread while still looking around the room.
“I think I’m ready,” he said, stepping out of the house and closing the door.
“Very well, then. This way, please,” Jameson said, very elegantly pointing down the street, as if Walters had never been there before.