THREE IN THE AFTERNOON
I told him to meet me at three in the afternoon, a good and sensible hour. When he finally arrived, it was twilight and there was no explanation for his lateness. We walked down the boulevard to the restaurant with the view he wanted me to see, but the waiters had already placed the chairs upside-down on the tables. On our walk back, we paused by the memorial for the fallen. He said three of the men had lived in his city and he knew one of their mothers. When they had taken her son’s photograph and affixed it to the large poster in the center of the city so far from where they had lived, the mother had been furious but powerless. Her son hadn’t been killed by those they were calling terrorists, and yet there was little she could do to prevent this state-sanctioned exploitation. We moved along, discussing this injustice. It was small in the larger scope of the war, and all-consuming for one woman likely preparing for bed as the two of us strolled and talked at midnight, her emptiness giving shape to the world as far as we could see.
The two of them liked to beat eggs and slather the result on the roots of their hair. They told the whole building to try it. Or, at least, all of the women. They were only seventeen but already thinking about how to make their bodies reach their true potential. So it was egg masks on the hair, and lemon-baking-soda mixture on the face, olive oil and one drop of almond oil for the elbows. The fridge was filled with their concoctions, but they called themselves “soap and water” girls. Or, at least, that’s what others called them. They would use the nights to smooth the contents of the fridge on their bodies, in front of the bathroom mirror, one that took up the whole height of the door. Their grandmother went to sleep early. If she was woken by a sudden pain or urge, or even boredom, she would find her way to the bathroom and then the fight would start. Why are you two always in here? she would scream. Back in her day, eggs were sacred, and with the amount the girls had used for their hair, she could have baked a tart so spectacular it would have been the envy of the whole neighborhood, or a cake with three layers and piped frosting, elegant enough for the engagements and weddings she held hope the girls would soon have. I just don’t understand, she would add, why you aren’t happy with what you’ve been given.
GENTA NISHKU lives in New York and grew up in Tirana.