Gincheto and I sit on the pavement in front of the bakery. We bake our faces. It is very pleasant. The sun paints yellowish-orange pictures on the inside of my eyelids. I ask her, ‘Under yours too?’
‘Yes, under mine, too,’ she says.
No one crosses the street. Not even a horse decked with blue beads and red tassels.
Gincheto and I don’t know how old we are. We haven’t been members of any of the Bulgarian Children’s Communist Organizations yet - neither ‘chavdarcheta’ in blue cravats, nor ‘pionercheta’ in red ones, or ‘komsomoltsi’. I will be; Gincheto won’t. She will die. We are aware of morning - breakfast, noon - lunch, evening - dinner, night - ‘Good night, Mom’, but we are not aware of the world or time.
To me though, mom has explained the difference between left hand and right hand, which I, in turn, am trying to explain to Gincheto. We are both sorry for the ‘left’ out hand. I tell her how mom ties my left hand to the chair when we eat, and keeps repeating: ‘Everyone uses their right hand. Understand?’ ‘Yea.’ I understand that my left hand is the dog which needs to run about but is kept on a leash in our yard.
Gincheto is my only friend. We are inseparable. I tell her everything. She tells me everything, too. We play a lot of games: with the doll whose hair you can comb, in our back yard we throw a ball against the back wall of the bakery, we play draughts. We uncover various treasures in the hospital trash - small glossy boxes, syringes without needles, and other things we know nothing about and use to play ‘doctor’. My brother is always mocking me, calling me a ‘garbage girl’. Sometimes he beats me up, and although I would cry of pain, anger and helplessness, my mom would say that all boys are such scamps.
My brother is older than me. He already goes to school. He is a chavdarche, wears a blue cravat and plays football with the rest of the boys in our street. I don’t find football interesting but when they are short of a goal-keeper, they call me in and I join them. My brother has promised to show me how to play marbles too. I will then teach Gincheto how to play.
Gincheto hasn’t got a brother, but she’s got a father. I have one too, but he’s not here. Mom says he’s gone away to ‘earn some cash’. Mom always says that - ‘some cash’.
Gincheto and I love watching the baker man making bread. We stand at the door. We feel the heat on our backs - the sun is staring at our necks; we feel the heat on our faces - the great oven is ready and waiting. A huge machine kneads the dough - slowly, slowly and heavily. The dough is soft and looks alive. Is it hurt? We don’t know but it smells nice. Then the baker takes a little of the dough. His hands and the dough are next of kin. He cuts it to pieces, shapes loaves out of them and then puts them carefully into the eager oven with a long wooden slat. Then it’s time for a break. The baker smiles at us and, without saying anything, goes out. When he’s back he takes out the bread with the same wooden shovel. Sometimes he breaks off a piece for us and smiles. Gincheto and I love the still-hot inner part the most.
Today the bakery is closed, but we still have the sun.
I tell Gincheto how I used to command the wind. I would stand out on the kitchen’s balcony, clasping the iron railings, the sky dark above me, and call out the wind in my head ‘Blow wind! Blow!’ and the wind would listen to me. Then I would tell it ‘Stop now!’ and it would stop. Well, not always, but almost always. I can feel Gincheto’s admiration.
And then she tells me about a dream. How she walks barefoot in the woods. It’s raining and muddy. Her feet dig tiny wells gathering rain water. And a huge snake, like the one my elder brother once drew for me, with its eyes half closed, crawls and drinks the water from the wells. Gincheto wakes up in tears. Her mother is not with her. I feel sorry for Gincheto.
Then we don’t speak. We close our eyes again and leave the sun to paint the insides of our eyelids.
Then the sun stopped painting. It became dark. We opened our eyes and saw the older boy standing before us, smiling. He was big, much bigger than my elder brother, and must have been a komsomolets. We didn’t know him. The older boy looked at the deserted street, bent over, opened out his palms and said:
‘I’ve got nice sweets.’
Gincheto and I love sweets - especially toffee and hard candies. We took a look at his hands’ contents. We hadn’t seen such sweets before - wrapped up in papers of different colors, shining in the sun.
‘I have a lot more,’ he said, and thrust his hand into his bulging trouser pocket. ‘Shall I show them to you?’ he asked Gincheto.
‘Only I can’t do it here,’ he said, ‘It’s a secret. Where can we hide?’
‘In the back yard, behind the house,’ said Gincheto.
I felt bad that he was talking exclusively to her, but, then, she was my only friend, wasn’t she?
Gincheto went to show the elder boy the way to the back yard. I sat there waiting.
Later Gincheto told me about it. The elder boy suggested going to the outhouse in the back yard. I can’t stand that wretched place. There’s a big hole inside and it smells bad. I knew that Gincheto didn’t like it and I couldn’t understand why she agreed to go there. It’s probably because the boy was older than us and had sweets. When they went in, he stepped over the hole, stood against the wall, turned around, and told Gincheto to bolt the door with the rusty nail hook. They stood facing each other, the elder boy and Gincheto, with the smelly hole between them. ‘Promise not to tell anyone!’ ‘Okay.’ Then the elder boy unbuttoned his trousers and out popped something, which, according to Gincheto, was much like the snake from her dream, only shorter and with only one half-closed eye or perhaps a mouth; Gincheto wasn’t quite sure about that. The elder boy told her, ‘Touch it! Fondle it and it will give you sweets!’ Gincheto touched it - it was hot, not unlike the warm dough of the baker’s loaf, but firmer. The elder boy started breathing quickly and heavily. ‘What is it that you’ve got under your pants? Show it to me!’ He bent over and lifted Gincheto’s dress. Then he pressed a finger against that small spot which she herself sometimes touches before she falls asleep. At that moment Gincheto heard her mother calling her. She turned the crooked nail and burst out of the toilet.
Few days after Gincheto and I are sitting in the kitchen; mom has got something cooking something on the stove. It smells delicious. Gincheto and I are wondering why the elder boy didn’t give her the sweets at once.
‘Do you think he will come again?’ I ask her.
‘I don’t know,’ she says, combing the doll.
‘They sure looked tasty.’
‘Why did he unbutton his trousers and show his snake?’
‘Who? What trousers? What snake?’ Mom asks me.
‘Gincheto and I are just talking, mom.’
‘Maria, stop with your imaginary ‘Gincheto’ stuff. Enough with your fantasies! How many times I have to tell you that ‘Gincheto’ doesn’t exist? You’re no longer a little girl.’
Mom doesn’t understand a thing because she’s alone and hasn’t got friends.
We, Gincheto and I go on talking, this time without using our voices.
‘Next time he shows up, ask him about the sweets first and when he gives them to you, run,’ I tell her.
‘Ok,’ she agrees, ‘I’ll give some to you too. We’re friends, aren’t we?
I smile. It’s nice to have a friend.
Then one day, after we had our milk and bread-and-butter breakfast outside on the pavement in front of the bakery, the elder boy came again and again Gincheto and he they went out back. She asked him about the sweets straight away, but he told her, ‘You should beg first.’ ‘Please!’ said Gincheto, and he replied, ‘Well done, my dear.’ Gincheto loves praise. The elder boy praised her quite a few times afterwards, ‘Well done, my dear, really well done. Yes, like that...Good...Good...’ And then I simply don’t remember. No, I don’t remember.
I wake up. I’m not at home. I look around. Mom is right next to me. It is very white around me. I ask her about Gincheto, she gives me a strange look and says she’s gone. I don’t trust her. I call Gincheto quietly, but for the first time there is no answer. She must still be with that elder boy. It’s not fair to leave me alone like that. We are supposed to be inseparable friends, aren’t we? Mom hugs me and starts crying. ‘She’s gone,’ she says, ‘Gincheto’s gone, Maria.’ I have a headache like never before, and I feel a dull pain in the small spot. I’m sad. About everything.
© Rositza Borkovski