Cats under the Cars in Ocean City
The moment they entered the store, Lubomir realized that the girls were Bulgarians. They looked around shyly, making sure that there was no one to see that they were about to buy some liquor. The two were pretty tall girls with t-shirts and frayed shorts. Their long hair was falling on their shoulders, and their faces were childishly rounded and plump.
Lubomir hurriedly left his cash register to go to his assistant cashier, so that he could get closer to the girls waiting in line. It would have been a miracle if they were not speaking in Bulgarian.
“White or red?” he asked with a smile.
The girls were startled, but smiled at the tall young man.
“Well, how about something like cognac “Pomorie?”
“We have only Metaxas and Courvoisier, in big bottles, but they are not for students.”
“How do you know that we are Bulgarians and students?” asked the girl with the curly auburn hair and big motley green eyes.
“Well I have an expert eye…Let me introduce myself, I am Lubomir, my friends call me Lubo…”
The green-eyed girl was the first one to shake hands with him.
“My name is Nedyalka, but for my friends I am Nelly.”
“Katya”, added the black-eyed one, but she didn’t hold out her hand.
“Is the bottle for a party?” asked Lubomir.
“No”, replied Nelly, “We are celebrating a quiet victory… we have finally found a place to rent.”
“Well, where have you been living before? You must be from the group of students from Veliko Turnovksi University.”
“Yes, we are freshmen, I am from the English Philology Department, and Nelly is from the French Philology Department, with a minor in Bulgarian language,” Katya quickly answered.
“Katya is my interpreter.” added with a smile the green-eyed girl, “My English is bad.”
“Until this morning, we slept in the basement of the Stavros Hotel,” replied Katya.
“Is that’s the small hotel, facing the bay, and not the ocean?” asked Lubomir.
“Actually, it’s not that small. We clean three floors,” continued Katya. Mr. Stavros, the owner, gave us a small room next to the laundry room, 60 dollars per person per week. That was what they usually pay, and he withdrew the money from our weekly pay checks. He also wants us to eat at his restaurant, but the food is greasy, only pork and beef, the fish is expensive, the vegetables are expensive, too…”
“Why doesn’t he put you at the reception desk? You speak two languages, with Russian, it’s even three.”
“Because his African-American cleaning ladies left him. He paid them almost nothing. He asked us to make the beds, rub and clean the bathtubs and the bathrooms,” complained Nelly…
“He thinks that he is Strauss Kahn, doesn’t he?” said Lubomir.
“He is very obnoxious,” continued Nelly. “He told us that he has a brother in Thessaloniki, in the Agricultural Bank, and they have a Bulgarian woman as their maid. Only Bulgarians are taking care of their kids and seniors…And they are great lovers.”
The girl blushed and looked down.
Lubomir looked at his watched and said:
“My fifteen-minute break is over…You have really gotten yourselves into a trap…I have a lot of friends here. This is already my fourth year in Ocean City, and as people say, I am a “veteran of the hurricane season” of Ocean City.”
“What do you study?” asked Nelly.
“I am majoring in Economics and Law at the American University in Blagoevgrad. I am graduating this year…I am saving money for my tuition from the work here. My parents are retired… I work 70 hours a week, in this store and in the supermarket. At the beginning, I was only a cashier, but I have been promoted to assistant manager. They usually e-mail me an electronic contract in April. In America, good work and knowledge of English is highly appreciated.”
“Stavros has promoted me, too, but only to separate me from Nelly”, said Katya, “He made me a lifeguard.” “I sit on the stairs and watch how some old ladies are swimming in the swimming pool in their swim suits and with jewelry like Christmas trees. They are very funny.”
“Have you completed a course for life guards?” asked Lubo.
“No, but I know how to swim.” replied Katya.
“That is illegal”, said Lubo. “What does your new apartment look like?”
“It’s 60 dollars a week, too, but it’s a decent room with a small refrigerator and a computer desk, and it has a small balcony.”
“How did you find it? In July, everything is full.” said Lubomir.
“With Nelly’s French, she fascinated an old lady of French descent…Mrs. Konstantenblaue is the foreign students’ guardian. Our friends told us about her… She immediately found us a place to live and reassured us:
“I don’t want you to think that all the locals here are greedy and bad…”
“Some of our folks in the Black Sea region are bad, too”, added Lubomir. People who live near the sea are also greedy, and they think only about their profit.”
“She told us to leave a letter for Stavros with her phone number…And after work we took a taxi and left the place…”
“I will find you a better job”, said Lubomir. Two Ukrainians from the supermarket left for Baltimore. I will ask them to give you their hours.”
He looked at his watch and walked back into the store. He bought a bottle of Courvoisier with his credit card, put it into a plastic bag along with the receipt, and went outside to see the girls.
“This is for you. It’s for our meeting each other.”
“We cannot accept such an expensive gif,” said Nelly.
“Okay, we can drink it together then… Can you wait for me at the café? My shift will be over in an hour, and I also have a car.”
“You have a car?” exclaimed Katya. “Do you want to stay in the States?”
“No” replied Lubomir. “My home and work will be in Bulgaria.”
He went back to the store, but he didn’t really want to leave the girls. Katya and Nelly looked around at the square on M street with the big parking lot and many shops. Next to Ross, the store for cheap clothes and things, there was a café with free Internet and fresh sandwiches. They would spend most of their evenings there. In the hot and humid American summer, the Internet was their refuge, going back home, e-mails with their families, and reading Bulgarian newspapers online. They would go to facebook too, looking for their friends, or making plans for the rest of their time in the States on the program “Travel Abroad.”
They calculated the money they had saved for dream destinations like Niagara, New York…Paris. “Visit Niagara and die” is canceled for now. They will have one day for New York and two days for Paris. “See Paris and die”…Their parents bought them the flight tickets with Air France and the short stay in Paris, because Nelly wanted to buy French books. What else, small gifts for friends and most importantly, two new laptops, which would give them the so longed for independence from the family computer.
“How come we didn’t meet Lubo before?” asked Katya. “He looks like a decent guy.”
Nelly was silent; something stirred her soul thinking about the tall and handsome, “hurricane veteran.” She didn’t know that at that same moment, he was thinking of her and his future. He had already sketched the portrait of his future wife and the mother of his kids: a beautiful, an intelligent woman, with a career, and most importantly, a well-balanced personality. She will be supported and protected by him. He thought about faithfulness, love, mutual respect and no open marriages…A wedding in a church, before that an engagement and he despised the idea of young people living together before the marriage…
The girls set off for the café with the Internet, but they froze when they saw Mr. Stavros looking around the parking lot. He was short, fat, lewd and fast. They squatted behind the car in front of them, but a cat that was sleeping in the shadow snorted and ran. Stavros saw them and walked towards them with a big smile. Nelly and Katya stood up from the ground.
“Hi, girls! I was looking for you in the café. I came to pick you up with my car, because it’s going to rain.”
The girls looked at the clear sky.
“We left a letter for you…”
“I didn’t see it. What letter?”
“Well, we found a new place to live. It’s better for us.”
Lubomir stepped outside and listened to the conversation.
“You can be left without a job…This is a hotel, it is summer, and I want my staff to be at hand.”
Lubomir interrupted him:
“Oh, Mr. Dominique Straus Kahn, how are you?”
Stavros pretended not to hear him.
“Today, two Ukrainians asked for a job. I will get students again…”
Lubomir started again.
“If you don’t like Nelly and Katya, you should give them a two-week notice to resign, and you will have to pay them for the two weeks while they look for a job. That’s what the law says.”
“Bulgarian women, cats under the cars,” Stavros replied angrily and left for the parking lot.
Friendly laughter followed him.