Luda and Milena



Milena had large blue eyes, an elegant nose, and olive skin covered with a graceful network of fine wrinkles. “Her face is a battlefield for anti-aging creams,” Luda said of Milena, adding that she wouldn’t want youth that came from bottles and jars. Once, Luda brought old photographs of herself to class to show Milena that she, too, had been a real beauty. The photographs revealed an attractive woman with a sturdy hourglass figure, imposing dense brows, and very dark eyes. Some people saw a striking resemblance to the young Elizabeth Taylor, but Milena didn’t. Milena said that the young Luda looked like Saddam Hussein with bigger hair and a thinner mustache.

The two women met on the first day of a free E.S.L. class held in one of the musty back rooms of Brooklyn College. Luda was late. She had been babysitting her two grandchildren, and her son-in-law had failed to come home on time. Angry and flustered, Luda had had to run all the way to the college, pushing through the rush-hour subway crowd, cutting through the meat market on Nostrand Avenue, and having the following exchange with a large woman in a pink jacket:

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