It was hot, very hot. The forecast was for unbroken sunshine and temperatures in the mid-30s. It was weather for hiding from the sun, not indulging in it. Our month-long sojourn in the village had started well enough, apart from problems when travelling, with a sudden attack of gout, the very painful arthritic complaint of the joints, which had sent me to an Austrian clinic and then the A&E department of the local hospital – but that’s another story. I was just having my afternoon rest in the shade of an old cherry tree, when the inevitable trail of friends, ne’er-do-wells and villagers seeking work (money) began.
Bang, bang, bang on the steel, six foot high gate to our ‘yard’, – Mr! I have come to read your water meter! Every year this happens, and every year I tell her that there is no water meter and that we pay on base, which is decided by the number of occupants of the house, in our case the minimum, as we are only in the house two or three times a year. The meter reader gave me a black look, and because of my limited Bulgarian she frowned deeply, wiped the sweat from her brow, and with a toss of her head to frighten me, blurted out ‘’I will come back when your wife is here’’, and stamped off down the rutted street. Well, that was that for another year when we would again play this little charade.
I was just settling down to my book again when, bang, bang, bang on the gate “David, David” This time it was the local builder, who I had promised some work to if we could afford it. After we had been through the pleasantries, how was his wife, his children, his grand children, mother-in-law, health etc, he raised the question of the insulation of the house, a job dear to his heart, and one continually postponed because of my pocket. After I had informed him with great sadness “nyama pari’’ (no money) he deftly changed the subject. Did I know that the wall outside the house was in dangerous condition, that it was in imminent danger of collapsing and perhaps crushing some small helpless passing child? His rates were now very favourable, due to the economic crisis causing lack of work. “Well let’s wait until Galya, my wife arrives,” was my reply, as my Bulgarian being only of the “restaurant variety” couldn’t cope with the intricate negotiations which should take place. This is where he gives a price, I halve it, and we negotiate from there. He trudged off down the dusty street fanning himself with his dirty old cap.
I’d just got settled, when again bang, bang, and the frail voice of a child this time. I could see her wriggling fingers squeezed through a gap in the gate in supplication. A Roma child. “What do you want?” “Money, money, money”, well at least she could speak English! GO AWAY.
The afternoon wore on and the sun began to lose its heat. Bang Bang Bang, David, David, David, Timmy our dog was barking madly and I again got up. At the gate was a local Baba, (grandma) Danka, and two women of Roma extraction. Did I want to rent the house? “No it’s not for rent”, “well how much”, “IT’S NOT FOR RENT”, “how much?” I conjured up some ridiculous figure and they gasped and stood back. “We’ll come again when Galya’s here.”
The sun had moved round, so I had to move my chair into another shady location and at that moment the neighbour Stefan appeared in his garden. David! zdravete, kak si! He started to wave his hand in a downwards motion which meant come here. This could only mean one thing, he wanted me to go round and drink some of his strong, domashna (village) rakiya with him – Now I’m not averse to a little rakiya but, with my medical condition and at four o’clock in the afternoon, this signals the end to any meaningful activity for the day! “Ne, ne, az sim bolen – no alcohol”. He looked shocked and muttered under his breath – “When Galya comes manichko”. “O.K day after tomorrow, chetvurtuk, you will be our guests under our summer shelter” – a new construction in his garden that he was obviously very proud of.
Later I decided to go to the local bar for a cold beer, and to pick up e-mails from my laptop, which would usually connect with a wi-fi signal from one of our friends who had a house nearby. As I slid out of the gate, Stefan and his wife were sitting on their bench outside their house taking the evening sun. “Oh if you’re going for a beer I’ll come with you.” He trundled along beside me chattering away, most of which I couldn’t understand due to my limited Bulgarian, and the fact that most of his teeth are missing and he speaks in a strange dialect that even Galya couldn’t understand. We sat in the bar drinking a cold beer, which he described as sladoled – “ice cream” – too cold, as he puffed happily away on a cigarette. Well it kept the mosquitoes at bay! The wi fi was too weak to get proper reception, so I gave up. But at least the beer was cold and we could sit in comfort and watch the Chalga girls singing and cavorting on the small TV at the corner of the bar. The perfect end to another, “peaceful” day in the village!
© David Clark, August 2013
(Photo: Leah Sawyer)