In front of the house sat my host, Nora, her neighbor Vika, a nice neighbor whose name I can never remember, and a sleepy woman I didn’t recognize holding a bag of sunflower seeds. Nora made space for me on the bench. On the ground sat Vika. She was barefoot, using her slippers as a tiny seat. She sat with her legs open and her elbows on her knees.
The first time I met Vika she came to the house and we read her Bulgarian/English phrasebook together. She has a rigid perm and wide gaps where teeth should be. She shaves off her eyebrows and pencils thin lines in their place. Nora arrived to find Vika and I reading. I understood almost no Bulgarian at this point. Soon after Vika left, Nora frowned and explained many things to me, and I only understood one word: лоша. Somehow I figured out she was talking about her neighbor Vika. Later in the context of Vika I would learn the Bulgarian word for whore.
Vika still boldly arrives uninvited, and is unfailingly friendly to me. Nora has her cut her hair sometimes and tonight they seem cordial, although she is the only one sitting on the ground.
Everyone has their sweaty handful of seeds, the empty shells spray from their lips as they talk. Tonight the topic is the nameless, nice neighbor’s fatigue after having sex with her husband, and the drunken brawl that took place two nights earlier in front of Nora’s parents’ house.
The night feels like to ignite at any moment. The pale heat lightning flashes constant and unnoticed, the yellow moon sulks low in the sky. Three meters away, Aishena, Vika’s tiny mother-in-law, is tending a little trash fire to keep the mosquitoes away. Her bare arms looks chewy and veiny in the toxic light. Aishena prides herself in ceasing work and eating only when absolutely necessary. As gnarled and slight as she is, she is still quite pretty, her posture striking and her teeth strong. Sandrina, her granddaughter, favors her over her mother and in Sandrina’s dark eyes you can see exactly how Aishena looked many years ago.
Sandrina comes walking down the street with Nora’s girls. The three of them are often together. Sandrina laughs and runs like they do, but her eyes never lose their calm seriousness. What will their lives be like when they are the age of their mothers? Their grandmothers?
The biggest girl, Ariena, scampers several meters down the street. She stands in the middle of the street with her arms outstretched. Looking at me, she counts to three in English, and, on three, Sandrina and Diana sprint towards her, plastic sandals slapping the pavement, each girl slapping the bigger girl’s hand as she crosses the finish line.