The meek sun peeked behind an overcast sky on the dilapidated buildings of Druzhba, highlighting the inner layer of the exterior. Birds called to one another, dogs stretching from their sleep, yawning wide before shaking the previous day off. Lines of light filtered through heavy curtains, not closed entirely. The hint of light caught dust motes dancing with majesty in the air. The walls peeled in corners, from the damp and the years of living in the same home. Books piled in haphazard piles along one wall, remnants of his wife’s past life. The double bed stood against one wall, one side of its wooden legs leaving bare patches in the parquet flooring. A pile of clothing, strewn on a sturdy wooden chair in the corner, lay forgotten. The dusty armoire, once full of his wife’s clothes, now stood empty of its occupants, its doors not closing properly and held together with a piece of wire.
The phone on the tiny bedside table rang. Its shrill sound pierced the dense silence of the room, joining a siren shrieking outside. The siren increased then faded but the shrill ringing sound continued. The figure grunted, turning away from the sound. The phone stopped, pausing for several moments before starting up its call once more. The figure rolled onto his back, wincing at the pain shooting up his right side. Struggling to sit up, he heaved his stomach to one side, reaching for the phone.
“Hallo?” he said, only to take several moments to cough and clear his throat. He sneezed, clearing his airways. Bits of spittle landed on himself. Grumbling, he wiped his hand down his shirt. “Hallo? Hallo?”
An apologetic voice said, “Oh, sorry, wrong number.”
Sighing, he pressed ‘End’, letting his arm fall back down to his side. Looking to his right, his alarm clock read: 08:23. Sighing, he shifted his weight, grimacing at the burning fire running up and down his right side. Using all his strength, he slid one leg to the edge of the bed before the other joined. The world blurred for a moment before righting itself. He rubbed the sleep from his bleary eyes. He glanced over at the calendar hanging above the bedside table, a red circle marking yesterday’s date. His eyes travelled down to his wallet on the table and he reached over, opening it. Counting out the money, he calculated he would have just enough before he needed to head to the bank to take out more money for his groceries.
Leaning back a little, one hand against the bedside table and one against his bed, he rolled forward to create momentum and stand up. It took several tries before he could stand on his own, his leg muscles quivering. The pain shot up his right side once more as he took a step. He lumbered his way to the bathroom. A few drops of urine fell into the stained toilet bowl before he finally gave up, his bladder bursting.
Standing at the sink, his eyes danced away from his appearance in the bathroom mirror. He squirted a little toothpaste onto his toothbrush and moved it towards his gaping maw. His arm muscles protested the movements but he finished brushing his teeth, spitting the residual foam into the sink. He cupped the cold water from the faucet and swished it around in his mouth before spitting it out. Tiny bits foam spittle landed on the faucet handles. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
In his bedroom, he pulled on his plaid shirt, buttoning it. The fire in his right side flared but quieted when he held his breath. His fingers fumbled with a few of the buttons, some escaping the holes. He stared at his pants, wishing they could just magically appear on him. Heaving a great sigh, he pulled them on, grunting as he tried to bend forward, his belly becoming a wall preventing him from further movement. He tried to suck in his rotund belly but resulted in a series of farts escaping him, almost wetting himself. He managed to pull his pants past his knees, making sure his feet peeked out of the other end. Holding one side of the pants, he used his other hand to push himself to stand. He tottered, almost losing balance but caught the other side of his pants in time before they dropped too far down his thigh. He lifted his belly up so his arms could reach below to fasten the pants. His fingers felt around for the zipper before zipping himself in. Several beads of sweat along his snowy hairline slid down his neck from the effort.
He shuffled through his apartment until he reached the front door, grabbing the cap from the hook and placing it on his head. Looking down at his phone, he noted the weather, overcast with bits of wind, and pulled on a light windbreaker. Locking the door behind him, he headed for his favourite coffee shop and ordered a coffee. His right side ached as the hot liquid sloshed in his belly. Taking a cigarette out, he lit it, the smoke curling around him before stolen by the slight breeze.
Sat in the coffee shop, he watched as young teenagers sauntered by, their excited voices overlapping one another like little puppies. Men strode in, their phones taped to their ears, their voices forceful while their expressions telling everyone how important they were. Women dressed in business suits paired with sensible shoes walked in, their faces tired as they ordered their coffee to go. He sighed as everyone passed him without a word, invisible to their eyes.
After his coffee, he headed for the lake, an oasis within the city. The sun sparkled over the surface, turning the water into jewels. With each step, the air felt thicker. He took shallow breaths, the pain in his right side waking from its slumber. Finding a bench under the tree, he settled his weight down, staring at the lake. The pain retreated into its cave for the moment.
Young mothers pushed their strollers by, chatting with one another. A few other young people walked by, their heads bent at awkward angles, pushing their sunglasses onto their heads to stare at their phones. Two youngsters strode by, one on a bike trying to convince the other to ride on his handlebars. Blagoy nodded to a passing couple, their heads topped with white hair. The woman wore large round sunglasses, hiding her thoughts though the edges of her mouth turned downwards. The man squinted in the overcast sun. A young foreign woman wearing a running outfit and backpack wandered by, taking her time to look around at the benches and the lake before selecting one to rest. A golden labrador with matted fur lumbered its way towards him, nudging his hand with its nose. Blagoy smiled and pet his stray friend.
Taking out his cigarettes, he lit one, inhaling deep and exhaling the smoke. He switched hands so he could continue petting the dog. The dog, finished with the pets, backed up before shaking its entire body, its ears paddling against the sides of its head. The dog plopped down under the bench, flopping onto its side. It looked up at Blagoy before a light breeze rustled through its fur and closed its eyes.
His phone rang. Blagoy picked up his phone, saying, “Hallo? Hallo?” He couldn’t hear anything on the other end. He pulled it away from his ear and stared at it. Putting it back to his ear, he said, “Hallo?”
A pleasant female voice told him he had been chosen to take part in a survey. He agreed; he wanted to speak with someone. The air filled with twittering sounds of birds chatting like gossiping ladies. Looking out over the lake, he saw the tall buildings, the bland colour of their exterior against the greyness. Bits of sunlight glinted off the lake, blinding him. He raised his right hand to shield his eyes. The dog at his feet snuffled and shifted to another side, its ears sticking out at odd angles. Tiny flies buzzed around its head, its ears twitching whenever the flies touched down.
Blagoy leaned his hands against the bench and swung his legs to and fro. This could count as exercise, he thought, and he would tell his doctor about it. Looking up, he noticed the young foreign woman staring at him. He wondered briefly why she was in Sofia, or how she had wandered over to Druzhba. Would she remember seeing him or would he only fade into the background of Sofia?
He took his hat off and fanned himself. The old couple leaned towards one another, whispering. He remembered when he and his wife, Adela, used to do that. He lifted a hand and wiped his mouth, brushing the memories away. He regretted now how they never had any children; the years of heartache and anguish had been too much for them. For once, he wanted to walk over to the old couple and chat with them but he never moved from his spot. Pulling out his pack, he shook out a cigarette. Cupping his hand around the flame, he lit it and took a deep breath. His body recoiled before he removed the cigarette to cough, sputtering. He cleared his throat and placed the cigarette back on his lips.
Pushing himself to stand, he grabbed his right side as the pain blossomed in a rippling circle. Shuffling his way down the dirt path to the sidewalk, he waited until the pain dissipated before moving once more. The muggy air plastered his hair against his head. The walk home became dizzying. Sweat dripped down his back, taping his shirt against his skin.
He let himself into his apartment, hanging his hat on the hook and taking off his windbreaker. The pain gripped his right side and he grunted, doubling over as far as his belly would allow him. Shuffling to his couch, he relieved his weight on it, reaching into his pocket for another cigarette. Putting it to his lips, he let the nicotine fill his lungs and take his mind off the pain in his side.
He stared at his streaked windows, the sun dappling through the dirt. Above his apartment, he could hear the patter of running feet, the TV blaring. Taking another inhale, he blew out the smoke, creating a hazy cloud around him. He pulled out his phone, checking to see if he missed any calls or messages. Nothing.
He leaned against the back of the couch, sighing. Stubbing the cigarette out on the ashtray, he sat in silence, waiting for someone to reach out to him, to acknowledge him.
The sun disappeared behind a cloud, enveloping him in darkness. The pain had subsided to a dull ache. He pulled out his phone once more. The people at the store had lied to him — this device didn’t connect him to anyone. He bowed his head, staring at the phone, urging it to ring.
He dozed, the device cradled between his hands.