Q. How many Peace Corps volunteers does it take to change a light bulb? A. None. Peace Corps volunteers don’t change anything.
Flimsy cabinets are padlocked shut. There’s a sad little three-bladed fan and a rusty hot plate. An empty egg flat and a jar of lyutenitsa, unopened, among jars of plum compote, opened. Julie’s dozing in a furry red chair. The sky is growing pale behind the whorehouse wallpaper curtains.
I spent my 26th and 27th years teaching English to Bulgarian teenagers. Their English mostly did not improve. My Bulgarian mostly did. I ate lots of beans and drank some beer and tried to stay warm. I helped my ex-boyfriend fail to start a business. I turned down invitations and accepted invitations and walked home late at night. I slept on trains and hard bus station seats and four-poster beds and shared single beds and woke up alone. I scratched my mosquito bites until they bled and asked the people next to me to watch my stuff while I swam in the sea. I shadowboxed fourth-graders and accepted fruit from strangers.
The 5:22 train is delayed by at least 100 minutes. The station chovek comes out rubbing his belly and laughing at us with all our baggage at 5am, hurrying in the dark to catch a train that isn’t coming for another two hours. There aren’t enough locomotives because the State hasn’t bought new ones for forty years, he says, laughing. This is his job.
Stop, sit down, let your best-laid plans fall away. Maybe you’ll get there in time for the bus. Maybe you won’t. Maybe you know someone who knows someone who’s going in the same direction. Maybe not, maybe not. Maybe you won’t get to where you’re going and you’ll still have a good time.
For a minute you feel readier to be gone than you’ve ever felt in your life. Then the laughing man invites you in where it’s warm. Julie falls asleep and the tiny radio hums a faraway Rhodopean wail. The fog rises in the valley and you wouldn’t change a thing about this dingy bleary-eyed moment. Not one thing.