Galia

After Petya went home, Galia would take the finished homework and chewed pencils and go into her bedroom and close the door. There, she would copy all the homework onto a separate piece of paper. She was pleased when she could get the pencil to make the same intelligent sounds Petya made, though her numbers and letters always looked different: While Petya’s figures slanted neatly to the right, Galia’s angled in all directions. Sometimes she got too bored to finish, but most of the time, she made it to the end, only to crumple up the page and throw it in the dumpster on the way to school the next morning. In the end, it did not matter if she turned in Petya’s work or her work or no work at all. There was no action or inaction that couldn’t be remedied by a bushel of onions or potatoes or a bottle of Jim Beam.

BY Marina Banova, Age 8

It was a seemingly flawless system, giving to each party what it needed. Tati got the marks he wanted: Galia’s record in the dnevnik displayed a satisfying row of pot-bellied sixes. The teachers looked forward to having Galia in class. That year, they would be able to buy a sheepskin slipcover for the living room sofa or a month in a cottage on the Black Sea coast.

Galia got ten leva for not talking in class. Maika said it would be better if she didn’t show off, and like a good girl, she didn’t say a word. Petya, on the other hand, answered all the teacher’s questions. No one liked her — so skinny and smart and unfashionable in her home-sewn jeans.

Petya’s mother increased the price for Petya’s services each year and could be seen wearing a new coat, a new dress, a new gadje on her arm as she walked down the square. With each new boyfriend, Petya’s mother looked younger and prettier and more in love. She dated them, one after the other, until she met Zdravko, the best handyman in town. Him, she dated for years, but only when there was something in need of repair.

Perhaps Petya got the least from the deal: After a while, she tired of pumpkin pastry and stopped eating the squares on her plate. Maika started giving her money for snacks. This ended, however, when Maika learned that Petya was using the money to buy hotdogs for the hairless dog in the square. The diseased creature, which many hoped would die, looked round and happy and was starting to grow fuzz.

This system carried on without so much as a pause or hiccup until Galia reached the tenth grade. That year, she had an American teacher who got angry with her for not speaking in class.

“I get these beautiful homework papers from you, but you won’t say a word,” Dean said to her early in the year. His name was Mr. Riley, but he told them to call him Dean. They were working through a chapter called “It’s a Crime” in their English workbooks. “Can I hear you use fraudulent in a sentence?”

Galia opened her mouth but seemed to have forgotten how to make any sounds. It was impossible to think with all the classroom snickers and the boiling sounds in her stomach. She stared at the list of words she had been assigned to memorize. Trangression, felony, misdemeanor, corruption. She knew them all, and yet what could she do with so many words, so many inhibitions?

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