Boots By Alex Shpatov
And this is how on this late pre-Christmas Boston afternoon, just twenty minutes after she bought them, Martina returns the Italian boots in question along with the till receipt for over $450 and asks for her money back.
“But please, is there something wrong?” asks the nice concerned girl behind the counter, but knows that whatever the answer, one way or another she is legally obliged to return the client’s money.
“Well…” Martina begins, but realises afterwards that there is no way that she can explain it to her.
There is no way to explain how on leaving the shopping centre suddenly and without any obvious reason she remembered how just a little more than ten years ago instead of shining shops with beautiful sales girls and sophisticated consultants, she went with her father to choose shoes among the epic and almost mythical stalls of Iliantzi, just when last year’s trainers had totally worn out on both feet. Could the sales girl understand at all what it meant to shove yourself into a tram from one end of the town to the other in anxious fear of those kinds of ghastly low grade Turkish trainers Nice or Adibas that with a little more care (which she did not lack at all) could pass for originals, at least until they began to unglue by the third week… Absolutely impossible and pointless. She didn’t even know where Sofia is.
And could she explain the blocks in Sofia to her? Could she explain to her at all how important it was for one to have a cellar and that precisely because of this, in the tall blocks in Bulgaria, there was a specially constructed intermediate floor of cellars so every inhabitant had access to this supreme treasure. Whether the sales girl in question could possibly imagine what it meant to live in such a place with a two metre high ceiling, little twenty centimetre windows, surrounded on all sides by pipes and leaks. Did she know what it meant never to have held a birthday party because you were always afraid that your classmates might find out where you live (and constantly lying that you have a house in Dragalevtsi and sometimes adding yet another one in Koprivchitsa).
And because now she gave $450 for some pathetic shiny boots, could the girl on the other side of the counter imagine what $450 dollars meant to Martina in 1996? That back then it was money for the whole family for six months ahead! And that while in America she played Scrabble and Monopoly, Martina and her classmates engaged in the following pastime – spotting the exchange rate for the dollar and mark in the local area and competing in predicting by how much it would rise by the time they got to the centre (and afterwards buying pastries in pairs, because there was hardly any child who had enough money for a whole snack).
Actually the school, in spite of deprivation, was excellent, just as, by the way, were her marks, mixed in with an additional complement of Olympiads and competitions. “I’ll buy you new trainers only if you get a full six for the year” – her father said to motivate her, and look she actually succeeded. Every year at the beginning of July, they set out on the tram, crossed the entire city and found themselves in Iliantzi’s mazes of stands, warehouses and stalls. Afterwards they walked everywhere to the furthest and most out of the way corner, to assure themselves that they had found the strongest, cheapest and smartest trainers, her father paid readily, she immediately put them on and they went somewhere to drink a Fanta….
“Well…” Martina said again to the sales girl and unconsciously continued in Bulgarian. “They don’t feel comfortable for me to wear.”
“I beg your pardon?” The girl turned towards her, baffled.
Afterwards things got better. At last they built their new flat, her father found a much better job and even bought her normal shoes for her birthday, which at last she was able to celebrate normally with her fellow pupils. After that they accepted her here in America, she graduated again with excellent marks and here she is now – a young economic analyst with the kind of prospects to make your head spin….
“Sorry” Martina recovered herself. “I simply don’t feel comfortable in these boots, that’s all.”
From Letter to Ogygia by Yanitsa Radeva
Ten minutes. Sometimes five. That’s how long his rapture lasts. From the beginning in the Prologue, his look is somehow solemn, joyful, his glances over there, where he expects her to appear, register things as he wants them: the street, its mood suffused by a recent shower, which will set the scene of hands sinking into each other, intimately. The reflection of buildings on her photo chromatic lenses and later – their paling in the shade of the room where her eyes will appear, black as cherries, enough to lose a man in their blackness, sweet, melting. The clock steadily counts the seconds of the first minute like cherry stones and spits them on the pavement. At the third, mostly at the fifth, doubts begin, he reminds himself of the place, the agreed time, compares the facts – and somewhere in the middle of the sixth, his toes mark the first nervous taps. The seventh brings the first reproach for the no show. The curtain rises on the next act. Gradually the black eyes lighten, already they are not so dark, become brown, matt brown, impassable, alien. And they become like all other eyes, sending out glances in the street. This is happening, while she is trying to hold for the green traffic light a hundred metres further down. His fingers tap out the number of her mobile phone to give her one last chance to restore his image of the cherry blackness of her eyes. And exactly as she hears the insistent ring tone of the man with a special place in her phone book, the light changes to green. She hurries to catch up the lost minutes. When she arrives at end of the tenth, Reproach has appeared on the stage. He is cloaked in an impenetrable sulk and if at all possible doesn’t look into her eyes which peep from behind her photo chromatic lenses. Yep, I say, his rapture lasts ten minutes.
“What are you drinking?” he asks in the café a little later, his voice still coated in hurt, disappointment with me while I am wondering where to put my jacket, my bag, my very self. However while I am wondering where to put myself, somehow I don’t feel guilty. While I meekly stir the sugar into the black tea, still there comes no feeling of guilt. I mean, don’t women wait and wait, I begin to ponder. Every woman has her Penelope element. And why don’t men wait sometimes or will that emasculate them?
And since man’s love lasts just so long, I ask myself, without him can’t one write at least one novel?
How to pack small and light for a journey without forgetting something important by Maria Doneva
Always before setting out I imagine with horror what it’s like to be an ant who has carelessly found its way into an intercity bus. A litlle black ant, glistening and brave or even more insignificant – brown. It crawls in the dust, avoids the spots of spilt oil, smells the higgledy-piggledy parcels with interest. It creeps over some bag, and then in a second, it’s there inside the bus – at one hundred and ten kilometres an hour and doesn’t understand a thing.
I don’t feel sorry for flies and other winged pests big or small – perhaps because I don’t know their social customs. But the fate of the small homeless ant fills me with fear and terror. What will happen to her, will she find new friends, home? Inappropriate fantasies. A husband?
When I travel in a bus, I avoid reading, because it makes me ill. I only don’t feel sick when I peep over at the magazine of my neighbour sitting diagonally across the aisle or at the exceptionally stupid newspaper of the passenger next to me. If the newspaper were mine – not that I would have bought it, never ever! – but if it were mine, I wouldn’t have read any of its articles. And anyway, furtively, I don’t manage to read even one, and I’ll never find out what will happen to the woman who has married one and the same man for the fourth time, or even whether Marek FC will qualify for….I don’t know, I couldn’t see – he turned the page.
I don’t like getting to know my fellow travellers. Unless they are young, attractive and clean-limbed all in one go, but usually they aren’t. So I don’t introduce myself. I like to be on my own on a double seat, especially in the summer – to slip off my sandals and to lift my feet up. I’m not afraid of anything, not ashamed, not worried. Like I said earlier, I don’t know anyone. If some familiar face appears, I prefer to hide behind the curtain or to bury myself in the newspaper (The Grandad’s with Marek FC). Of course I’d hardly have the courage to make out that I’m a completely different person and I’ve never seen my one time colleague or classmate.
And in the winter I listen to the roar of the engine and I’m always afraid about what will happen if it gradually gets dark and the engine stops and the snow slowly covers the bus up to its windows. Then over the roof….Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad, especially if it silenced the radio with its awful stations which someone transmits especially for the driver and are unlistenable for anyone else.
I like to see animals through the window. Storks inspire me. Donkeys make me bray in excitement. Birds of prey on the pylons transfix me. The lakes, which we pass, make me imagine moments that will never come to pass. Their chill blows on me, I’ll never feel it. I’m always impressed by the beauty of the sky, of the rivers, of every view – I never get tired to this.
I like to sleep on the bus. We pass towns, keep on the road, while I sleep. I dream very quickly. Sometimes I remember what I dream.
I like travelling alone. I don’t need entertainment, neither answering questions nor holding conversations. The inevitable inconveniences of travel free me from the guilt that I’ve left a child at home and I delight in solitude. Just that I don’t have anybody’s salty snacks to munch.
As far as luggage is concerned, I don’t have any idea how to pack little, light and not to forget anything important. Usually I take lots of unnecessary stuff.
I welcome advice on this question.
THE RED ONE by Alexandra Chausheva
“………because every one of my imaginings is me,
his transparent skin
that is me,
his seed – that is
I am sketching myself
I kiss my orange lips.
I was the red one,
Him – was it him?”
Men like colours
Every day I think, that he still exists somewhere out there, within the borders of this town, in the streets of this town, and we don’t meet. But he’s out there and breathes, and eats, wakes up, even goes to the toilet. Sometimes I wish I was a ghost so I could come right up to his back, peep from behind his ear, while he doesn’t know and laughs.
I sit at home and think up stories. I work out my life. I always reckon to do something and so I dream at least several hours a day. If you could look into my head, there would be the morning awakening – an hour of random thoughts, little about my parents, and several hours reading from a book others’ thoughts and dreams.
I want to dream of him. I can’t.
I can’t find him.
I search for him, but in my dreams there appear only useless wet beaches after the rain. A dove is buried in the damp sand, just its head can be seen. I approach. I cannot believe it. It feels such terror that only its head flies away. I bend down and see in the sand the red ring of his throat.
I try and do something else. I write. In a story I write about myself, with myself. Sometimes I am a man, I can be a thing too. I change my eyes, I examine myself alone. I distance myself from my imaginings, write them down and let them go, they don’t torment me any more. I am doing the same thing now. The red one should have disappeared after the full stop. I am running from a man who I can’t even dream about. In the morning I love the sun, which shines at my window. I look through the railings of the balcony, how down below people are passing, strange how they hurry towards somewhere; some even run. Surely they have names. Surely the world begins with each one’s birth and ends in his death. How many worlds are ending at the moment? Two thousand apocalypses are the result of heart attacks today. After I wake up I like to eat grapefruit, I delight in the texture of the small transparent pink segments and the way the light filters through them. The juice sprays just for a second in a transparent moist cloud, then subsides. It gets in my nose and it smarts a little.
I wonder what he smells like.
Once with an acquaintance I climbed up, while the bells of Alexander Nevski Cathedral were ringing. He said he had the feeling that he could smell the sound.
Perhaps he smells like a copper bell.