Lily sits at the window side and peeks out as the tram crosses Kiril i Metodiy, trods along Slivnitsa and turns on Opulchenska. Rulo, sitting next to her, pretends to be looking out too, every time she briefly turns her head in his direction, but goes back to staring at her almost transparent eyes against the summer afternoon light, the way the air coming through the open window plays with her red hair, and how her nipples under the t-shirt react to subtle changes in temperature. He knows she’s not wearing a bra, and his mind flies to that morning and the way she moaned, face up on the hotel bed, the way her nipples reacted to his tweaks and caresses and how he came all over her tiny breasts after a slow, lazy fuck session. A squirt of his spunk landed on one of her eyes, her right one, he recalls, as his cock is bent towards his left, and how they laughed and jumped in the shower together later on, the shower in the one bathroom shared by the whole floor, with white and blue old tiles, as old as the building itself, scrubbed every morning by a fat, kind, toothless old woman they’ve come to call Nana after several weeks there. A cold shower, as management only turns on the water heater on Saturdays and it was only Wednesday – never mind that, the cool water felt refreshing, invigorating. By 9 or 10 in the morning, summertime Sofia already felt like an oven, and the trickles of cold water hardened her nipples again, after the stifling heat of the room. The water, or the sight of the hard, red nipples, also made Rulo’s balls, achy and tired after an all-out orgasm, tingle and harden again, as they scrubbed each other’s backs in the shower.
The usual lack of direction and purpose had followed.
They had stopped by the downstairs open air market and bought a bag of fat, juicy cherries for breakfast. They had given up buying cheap coffee, as it was too bad, but cheap food was a different issue. They mostly shopped where the local housewives shopped and usually they got very good chow at more than fair prices: chunks of white cheese not unlike mozzarella but firmer, big loaves of just baked bread, jars of pickled cucumbers and peppers, and of course, the cherries, that were plentiful and delicious this time of year.
They got off the tram more or less at random, walked a few blocks and stumbled upon the old synagogue, a favorite place of theirs. Without saying anything, they sat at the granite curb across from the old building, enjoying the shade of the platana trees and a bit of breeze, and Rulo pulled out a can of their good tobacco, Samson, and started rolling. They had limited their cigarettes to 4 or 5 per day, as they were running out of Samson and couldn’t stand the vile Bulgarian stuff. He rolled a perfect smoke, using the tram ticket as a filter, lighted it up and passed it to Lily, who puffed pensively.
– Do you want me to tell you another story of my grandma and this here synagogue? A war story?
– I love the stories, R, but not right now. I’m a bit worried, she said, and passed him the cigarette.
He smoked in silence for a bit. He knew what she was worried about.
– It’ll be allright, you’ll see. I know it. We’ll go to the Consulate later. Hey, nice breeze, eh? Finally!, he added, hoping to take her mind away from where it was.
– Hmmmm. Yeah. Argie or British?
– Argie, Argie, Don Ferro said the Consul won’t be in today and it will be a good time to call my auntie.
– We’re not calling your auntie for another loan, are we?
– Different aunt, silly. She’ll be happy to lend a hand, you’ll see. We’ll have enough to get to Vienna, and we’ll crash at Rudi’s for a bit…
– You know…
– Nothing. I don’t know. We shouldn’t be so broke. It depresses the hell out of me, sometimes.
– Don’t get depressed. It’s a temporary situation. It’s been many months on the road, and of course it’s a bit tight, but we have a plan, right? We’ll get to London and find a cheap flat and work night and day, save every penny and then it’s Mexico, love. You’ll see. I know exactly what we’re gonna do there, it will be great. We just need a few more months, we need to get to the Smoke first and then…
– I like it when you call London the Smoke, it’s so old fashioned…
– Right, right. We’ll be fine, L. As long as we have each other, right?
– It’s just so hard. We’re burning our bridges, we’re falling behind, I don’t know how to explain how I feel sometimes… Audrey sent an email the other day, she’s making so much now, the band she’s working for is taking her to Tokyo and whatnot, all expenses paid and a fat check too, and we’re here eating the same loaf of bread every day – I burnt through my inheritance already, we sold everything we had that could be sold, you’re running out of aunts that will lend you money….
– No! There’s plenty of aunts. Don’t worry. It will be allright, you’ll see.
Lily looked at him for some time, and hinted at a smile. But the worry persisted, the nagging feeling that she was wasting her time with this fellow; handsome, yeah, full of interesting stories and unusual ideas and above all else, possessed by an adoration for her that now, after about a half year as vagabonds together, showed no signs of diminishing. She would like to be as carefree as he was, but most of the time couldn’t manage it. As for the reasons, who knows. Rulo seemed to have a lot of aunties and other relatives ready to wire him some money when it was needed, and she felt insecure that she had no such luck back home, wondered how long their luck would last. Also, he was incredibly cheeky when it came to approaching complete strangers for odd jobs, and sometimes it worked, she was nowhere near his level of devil-may-care attitude. She never mentioned it, but she would like a nice hotel for a change, a place with a private bath and hot water every day, not just Saturdays, maybe, and sitting down at a nice restaurant and ordering whatever she felt like eating. She also missed Britain, her friends there, the sense of security, the possibility of lucrative or at least stable jobs, and wondered why he never even mentioned going back to his native Buenos Aires, wondered how it was possible to cut ties so completely, and only remember Argentina when they were down to their last few crumpled bills and coins and needed someone there to help them.
It was a few years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Bulgaria was slowly getting acquainted with European style capitalism, which meant a lot of disoriented people, a few astute entrepreneurs with either brains or connections making a killing, some fast food franchises popping up, and new, shiny cars imported from Germany mixing with the old Ladas and Trabants.
One of these new cars, a BMW with diplomatic plates, screeched to a halt after passing them, and a tall, blond guy stepped out of the back seat, smiling at Lily and pretty much ignoring Rulo. “Scheisse”, Rulo thought to himself, as the fellow approached them and Lily stood up, smiling back at him. They had met him at the British Consulate the other day, some Oxford arts program coordinator working for the British Council, in Sofia to promote a show of contemporary English art and find new Eastern European talent, or some such tripe. He had an insufferably posh accent, wore his idea of hip, ‘cool’ clothes (tight black jeans, mostly, biker boots, and ghastly see-through shirts), and smelled of expensive perfume, which is to say, of money. He also had the annoying -at least to Rulo- habit of repeating everything twice.
– Welly well, welly well, hello there, Lily!, he said as he approached, flashing a megawatt, whiter than white smile.
– Hi, Clark
– And hello… ummm…
– Diego de la Vega. You can call me Zorro.
– I beg your pardon?
Lily, who had stood up as Rulo remained sitting on the curb, discreetly kicked him, and kissing Clark on both cheeks, smiled and said,
– So nice to see you again! My friend’s name is Raúl, or Rulo. Nice motor you have there!
– Yes, yes! The ambassador was kind enough to make it available for me… capital chap, capital chap… you must meet him!
– How’s the whole art exchange thing going?
– Fabulous, fabulous, in fact I’m on my way to this art gallery, must be one of the nicest they have here, one of the nicest, there’s an opening tonight and word is some British press will be there, so everything needs to be perfect, perfect… would you… why don’t you come with me, Lily? Oh come on, come with me, you’ll love it… good bubbly and hors d’oeuvres, too! What are you doing, anyway? Checking out this old church? You can do it later, surely. You can tell your friend to come along too, he said, as the smile disappeared and he looked down on Rulo, who was pondering what effect a hard punch in the crotch, from his sitting position, would have on Clark.
– It’s not a church, it’s a synagogue. You know, a Jewish church. But no, thanks. I gotta go make some calls and stuff…
Lily didn’t say anything, smart girl that she was, but looked at Rulo and he knew exactly what she meant, so he added,
– But Lily, why don’t you go? Go, go, check out the art and the bubbly, you can tell me all about it later…
– Are you sure? You’re gonna go see Don Ferro, right?
– Right, today’s the day to make the calls, like I was telling you, Consul’s out, so… we can meet later, yeah? At the hotel? Will they give you a ride back?
– Certainly, certainly, Clark interrupted, pleased with the direction the conversation was taking. Not to worry, where are you staying?
– She will tell you, Rulo said, as he finally stood up and grabbed Lily’s hand. See you later, OK? Take care, ciao.
– You sure you don’t mind?
– No, go ahead, L. Enjoy.
– Jolly good, jolly good, Clark interrupted, as he made signs to the driver to back up a little. He gallantly opened the door of the car and let Lily slip in, casting a last venomous glance towards Rulo before getting into the sedan himself. Soon, they were gone, and Rulo sat again. After a while, he rolled himself another cigarette and slowly smoked it, looking at the old building and thinking of nipples and cherries.