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The woman from the souvenir shop

The woman from the souvenir shop


Short story by Stefan Bonev


The woman in the souvenir shop was nervously finishing her last cigarette, with her shoulder resting on the door of her small shop. It had been another rainy week in the small touristic town. New holidaymakers hadn’t arrived at all, and those who had made the mistake to come, had spent the time looking out of their hotel room windows frowning.

In fact, she could buy a fresh pack of cigarettes straight away. All it took was turning the key to lock her door and cross the street to the shop on the other side. But she had wait at least till the evening. She knew, she didn’t have the will to quit smoking, but she could at least cut them down. Not so much due to health reasons. She was still young and had no serious complaints. But financially things were not good. The bills kept on coming, regardless of whether she had sold anything or not. She could not delay her rent, the security service fee, or the water, electricity or phone bills, not to mention taxes.

Bogdana started going to the hairdresser’s more rarely, she gave up manicure and forgot about fitness and yoga. She could not even remember when was the last time she bought herself new clothes. She could hardly manage the child support fee for her son, who stayed with his father after the divorce. She wasn’t angry about it. She even felt some guilt that she could not provide for her child as well as Ivan could.

A few years back, when she decided to start this business, she could still count on the family budget in cases when the expenses were too overwhelming. And the times were different back then. The tourists were more, and wealthier. Actually, she thought, she could still ask Ivan for help. She knew that despite all that happened between them, he wouldn’t refuse her. But she didn’t want to humiliate herself in front of him and especially in front of their kid.

She took one last pull at the cigarette and felt the horrid taste of the burning filter in her mouth. She put out the bud in the plastic cup with the remains of her coffee, sighed and went inside the shop. She was her own boss and could leave any time. Was there a point standing here and smiling at the occasional customers, most of which were only looking, asking a few questions and were leaving empty handed?

She used to pass her time browsing facebook, but last week the hotel across the street put a password to their wi-fi. Of course, paying for her own internet access at the present condition was an unthinkable luxury.

The woman sat behind the counter, put her chin in the palm of her hand and perused the shelves around her. It was fortunate that the goods she was selling did not have an expire date. For a moment she imagined that the dolls, dressed in national costumes were tins of cheese and the wooden and metal interior design pieces were sausages. She almost laughed out loud at the picture in her head. But on the other hand, one could live without souvenirs, but not without food.

This morning, as always, her breakfast was a stale snack from the bakery which made her stomach feel like a painful knot. She skipped lunch, and as for supper, she was confident she would find something in the fridge. If not – there were two or three fish cans in the larder. She would open one and eat straight from the can while browsing the TV channels. And so, until she fell asleep, as any other night, alone…

In the meanwhile, the rain had stopped and there were already some people in the street. The voices of a young couple, standing in front of her window, snatched her out of her slumber. She could not see their faces for the shelves at the window. “Let’s hope they buy something”, she thought. It had been days since her last income. “Now they will come in and buy something to remember their vacation. Never mind that it had been a rainy one”.

Bogdana stood up and hesitantly stepped into the middle of the shop floor. There was so much she could offer them! There were salt shakers and key holders with the coat-of-arms of the resort. They were new stock. Or there was this doll in national costume, carrying water buckets. She was her favorite but still Bogdana was ready to part with it. It was merchandise, after all… She would even give them a discount. Just let them buy something. Just let them bring more customers in. She knew this was how it worked. There were spells of quiet in the shop, but once someone entered, others invariably followed.

She put on her most kind and welcoming smile; even glanced briefly in the mirror. She liked what she saw and headed towards the door to ask the boy and girl inside. A shop window is just a shop window – there was so much more inside…

– Did you see the babe inside? – the girl’s voice reached Bogdana – You and I work our asses off at the grocery, while she smokes all day, drinks coffee, and probably earns more than us both.


 Translate Boris Sabev