Tok whirled around, eyes wide with panic. "Where's the pan?"
Although his movements slowed down by a tiny fraction and his ears tilted back as if trained on a possible conversation, Tik kept rummaging in his rucksack, pretending he hadn't heard. On a good day, Tok already had no patience for it.
Today wasn't a good day.
He jumped up and in two strides was towering over Tik, drowning the older boy in a long, pale shadow.
"What have you done with the pan?"
"All our lines are busy at the moment," Tik said, clipping the words in a robotic way while laying vegetables on the ground. "Please hold, your call is important to us."
Tok gritted his teeth, breath coming in quick, angry puffs out of his nose.
A bunch of carrots made its way next to a cauliflower, tomatoes and a small wheel of soft cheese, and once it was all laid out Tik beamed up at Tok, squinting in the fleeting light peeking through dark clouds right behind his friend's head.
"How may I help you?"
"Pan. A metal container used to--"
"What have you done with it?"
"The pan!" Tok's face was red with barely contained rage, but Tik simply shrugged, taking a chunky earthenware bowl out of his rucksack. Tok frowned. "What's that?"
"It's a bowl." Tik was smiling, but he kept his eyes downcast.
"Look at me."
"Can't, the sun is very bri--"
"The sun is gone! Where did you get that bowl?"
"Not sure..." Tik tapped his chin, humming. "The bazaar, maybe?"
"The one we passed this morning?" A nod. "The one where I left you to go pee?" A nod. "With both our rucksacks?" Tik's head was now bobbing up and down with excitement, like a dog waiting for its master's praise.
Tok pinched the bridge of his nose in defeat. "How?"
The cry in his voice dampened Tik's eagerness, and he rolled back to a sitting position with his legs akimbo.
"You were gone for a long time--"
"I had to find some bushes! And besides, it wasn't that far and I could still see you."
"If you saw me and didn't say anything, doesn't that mean I had approval?"
"Appr--" Tok's eyes narrowed, suspicion rising. "What have you done?"
Tik was drawing circles in the dirt. "Are you mad?"
Tok closed his eyes and took a deep breath, forcing a small smile. "Just tell me what happened."
"There was this bowl, laying there on a blanket. You see what an amazing blue it is? And all the glittery bits in it?"
Tok studied the dish with distaste. The shape was halfway between a circle and a square. The paint wasn't even, with brown spots peeking from underneath and areas so dark Tok was sure that, had he touched them, they would have felt like pimples.
"So?" he ventured.
Tik beamed. "So I took it."
Tok's eyes narrowed. "What do you mean 'took it'?" Then realisation dawned. "The pan--"
"It's not really a big deal..."
"Were there any pans at the bazaar?" Tok was pushing the words through lips so rigid with fury they could barely open.
"Now that you mention it... no."
Tok grabbed the bowl and tried to lift it, but it was so heavy he could only manage a couple of inches. "And didn't that tell you anything?" he screamed, throwing the dish to the side. It fell on his rucksack with a shattering noise and they both froze.
A pool was forming in the dirt and Tok clenched his fists, trembling from the tension.
"I think that was the water jug."
"Yes... the glass jug that you took in exchange for the steel one we had!"
"Glass looks cleaner."
"Not when it's broken!"
Tok came down on his knees, raking his hands through his hair and holding his head tight. He shook it as a few drops of rain started to fall.
"The world as we knew it has been obliterated," Tok said, his words slow and purposeful, like the storm that was building up. Tik swallowed hard, bracing himself. "Cities destroyed, people dead. We walked for months before finding that bazaar." His arm shot out in a vague direction and Tik's head followed, only to be grabbed by Tok, who whipped it around and squeezed it hard between his palms, staring him in the eyes. "And now, you've given away our only way to eat!"
"No, I haven't!" It was hard for Tik to speak with his mouth squashed in a tight circle by the pressure of Tok's hands.
"Then how do we cook?"
"Cooking isn't eating."
Tok released the other boy's head as if throwing it away and Tik fell backwards, propping himself up on his elbows as Tok studied him in silent wait, arms crossed and a deep frown on his face.
"We're gonna die," Tok said eventually, and Tik sat back up with a sigh. "No food, no water--" Tik mouthed back each word as if reciting a well memorised script, indicating the feast he'd placed on the ground and the weeping sky in turn. The contradictions didn't faze his friend, but the mockery did. "Do you mind? I'm talking here!"
"Alright, I'm sorry, but..." Tik reached over and grabbed the discarded bowl, dusting it off and filling it with the vegetables. "Look! It looks way better than a pan and the food is just as tasty." Tok rolled his eyes and went back to his rusksack to retrieve the tent. "And also, just because the world ended in a big ball of dust and we're now reduced to a few homeless hundreds is no excuse to eat like cavemen." He huffed to enhance his point and gave the vegetables a spin in the bowl now full of water, with an accomplished smile in his face. "We can eat like proper people now. Out of proper dishes."
Tok threw him a look from under his dripping bangs, shouting over the thunder.
"We haven't washed nor changed clothes in months, we live out of rucksacks and what little we can hunt and forage. And we pee behind bushes--" He banged on the last peg with so much force it sank in the ground, and he raised his eyes to the sky in defeat. "but sure, crockery is a basic human need! If we ever manage to recreate some form of society we're bound to get billed for the privilege of owning some."
Something pointy and orange made it into his field of vision and he turned, meeting his friend's smiling face.
"You're always cranky when you're hungry. Here, have a carrot."