BOYAN BIOLCHEV - prose
Schengen, Bulgarian Style
The Aegean Sea shore is barren and quiet – it is only the beginning of May. The whiff of the early summer has not yet reached the European Union and the tourist influx is still nonexistent.
The water in the Struma Bay is blue and calm; it does not conform to the tourist season but just with itself. It is cold and does not care for expensive advertising wasted these months.
The choice of a waterfront taberna is difficult because the whole shore is lined with tabernas. But the one I am stopping at now attracts the drivers on the highway from a distance. It is as if it says – it’s cozier here; they’ll rob you anywhere else.
Since it is not high season, it is natural that the taberna is absolutely empty. The tables are immaculately arranged and waiting for the paper cover, shining of cleanness, that will be collected after the client and will be disposed of in an ecologically approved manner. For now, there is nobody. Absent is the he eternal waiter who talks to you with a smile so that without understanding what he says you would sit anywhere and feel that the place has been kept just for you for a week.
I cross the bare tables in the shadow of the olive trees. I dip my hand in the sea and then I notice a woman squatting near the rocks of the small beach. She looks at me distrustfully and splashes the water with her hand pretending that it is her natural occupation. In a second, however, she disappears behind the rocks.
I return to the restaurant. Despite the fact that today is Sunday, the landlord appears seemingly drunk since Friday. He is asking me what I would like to have and, grasping that I am not Greek, queries in his broken English where I come from. After I pronounce the word Bulgarian, he nods politely and kindly retreats with an asthmatic cough into the back of the establishment.
And then, she shows up.
Hair dyed in black, rotting teeth, fixed dark eyes.
“Are you here on business?” she asks.
“I’m just hungry. It was you by the rocks, wasn’t it?”
“It was me. I thought you were inspecting… They do it like that here. They come as if they’re clients; then they pull out their papers and…”
“What should I inspect?”
“Well, I’m Bulgarian. I haven’t got a work permit. So the owner has told me to hide when some suspicious fellow should show up… Lest he should inspect…”
“Am I a suspicious fellow?”
She laughs: “No. As soon as I saw you playing with the water, I understood that you are a compatriot. When a Bulgarian comes, they all touch the sea first… what would you like?”
“What do you offer?”
“They all say that.”
“But I know. It’s really fresh…”
She shows her bruised hands; she has been cleaning fish in the kitchen since morning.
“I’m glad to see a fellow citizen. Otherwise, I keep silent.”
“The border is just one hundred kilometers away. If you cross it, you’ll find many fellow citizens.”
“This is what I mean. I haven’t got a work permit. They may not let me come back hare. My husband is unemployed. And my two sons are at university. It’s me who earns money… I can’t move from here.”
It is Sunday. I ask if she has a day off.
“Today is my day off,” the woman replies. “During the week I look after an old woman in the town. She is awful. She mumbles and det infuriated when I don’t understand her. She sends me to fetch things for her a hundred times and she’s never pleased. She’s immobilized but her eyes see everything. She hates me with her eyes. She is ruining me… Today, her son is with her. He is not bad; he pays well. And on Sundays, I have this other job here…”
She takes in a deep breath.
“I hope God would give her some more days! Her son pays good money. I wish she lived. Oh God!”
And since an experienced man does not speak with a knot in his throat, I said to myself:
“My God, you’re the God of us all! Please, listen to your creation’s prayer! Please, keep these two lepta of life at your feet.”
Translated by Todor SHOPOV