17 May 2016

Night above the City

The last violet reflections of the day were fading away in the distance above the boulevard. Little by little the neon lights started illuminating the night. The people were in a hurry to go home or were about to go out yet, to give themselves to entertainments, were filling the pavements carrying sacks of products, backpacks, flowers, diplomatic briefcases, big and small bags or they were just holding their hands into their pockets; they were bypassing tightly, rushing together between the thick lines of cars, like little armies, moving towards the opposite pavement, stopped or delayed by the counter hordes rushed to the opposite direction, driven by the cold, pouring into the wide subway, heralded by their clamor.
An elegant blondish man above his midlife was sitting at a glass of Metaxa by the showcase of a miniature but cozy bar in the subway just by the stairs. He was observing the passer-by and the shop-windows arranged side-by-side at the opposite wall abstractedly. He liked it to drop in there at dusk where he as if felt the city in his own way. He liked the small dim bar where some visitor rarely sat for a long. He calmly put his hand in the pocket of his black overcoat of Palmerstone and took out a little orange cigar box Cohiba Esplendidos, a flame flashed from his fist and bluish airy fibers of smoke from his aroma cigarillo curved smoothly in the bundle of dim light from the small lamp above him. Immersed in the quiet jazz of Elington and Coltrane, he kept looking out where people passed each other into two directions: a busy man in a black leather coat, swaying rhythmically a briefcase for documents; another one who was looking for something into his pockets while walking; two elderly women who toddling slowly, were leaning either on their walking sticks or on each other; a group of shabby youths who were whooping and giggling in a loud voice; a rapt at a first sight guy with a colorful poncho and braided beard. The man was looking through the showcase and as usual he got surprised by the variety among the people, by the gaudiness of the world, when he noticed a young girl in a long light blue jacket, colorful earflaps and gloves who was handing leaflets at the opposite wall, a bit to the left between the window-shops of two stores. Although she was looking warmly dressed, she was tapping of cold with her feet and kept handing the leaflets to the passerby who hardly noticed her with a smile. Some of the people put the leaflets in their pockets, others had taken a look before dropping them into the rubbish bins by the banisters, and others smashed and threw them from a distance. There were such who folded them carefully but also such who pulled them out with irritation but as if nobody noticed either the girl, or her smile. And she had an incredible smile!

The man was observing the mood she was doing her job with curiosity. She was no more than twenty years old. Perhaps, she was a student and she needed the little money she was about to earn very much when she was staying at the cold but nevertheless this she looked happy. The man could only guess what made her eyes shining, what made her smile at the passing people, at an elegant woman, who had thrown a silvery grey scarf with some colored tassels above her black coat, at the pushing close-cropped young man in a white shirt and stripped necktie that was waving under his unbuttoned overcoat, at the couple in love who kept kissing while walking, at the old woman who was dragging her shopping bag limping, at the serious guy in a short leather jacket and cowboy boots. Her smile was giving a pleasure to him, her mood was contagious to him even through the window but he could guess how frozen she was.

He looked at his watch – it was time to go. He asked the waitress for the bill when a thought came to him. His deep voice silently told her something. The woman looked out, raised her eyebrows, smiled and nodded. He took his cigarillos back, buttoned his coat and let the waitress pass. She went out with a cup of hot aromatic tea nimbly. The first wonderment of the girl turned into a pleasant surprise when the waitress nodded at the man and then she smiled brilliantly. He did not know her and he did not want to know who she was – just a happy young girl. The adult man hardly bowed, jammed his soft hat on and went up the stairs. Somewhere behind him Elington’s piano and Coltrane’s saxophone were dancing intertwined further and further fading away into the clamor of the city.


Translated by: Vessislava Savova.


29 April 2015

The Kiss

The neon advertisements were reflecting into the polished by the drizzle asphalt. It was rippling and the wet was permeating everywhere but he did not feel it. The tiny drops that were alighting on his face as if purified him and the man wrapped in his leather coat with lifted collar with his hands in the pocked, slightly smiled.
“It is time to kiss you,” – the woman by him whispered. – “We have known each other for years.”
“It is so. It was a good time and I was always ready for you.”
He was calm. There was no even a sign of the airily embarrassment that he had felt each time when he met her warm sparkling look somehow mysterious above her naughty smile. He was calm because this night all the conventions that had been chasing them for those long years, all the obstacles he had been waiting to melt, finally disappeared for good. Everything between them had already become clear.
“What are you thinking about?” – She asked.
He stopped and looked at her. He could not look away from her face.
“I think that I love you. Indeed.”
“You love me?” – She smiled. – “Isn’t it a bit weird? Nobody had loved me up to now... or at least, not indeed. In contrary...”
“People do not know you,” – he interrupted. – “They are hectic in their daily routine, they are chasing life and they have no time to look at you and feel you because of their wild ride. And you are not a kind of a person who obsesses, who stamps and looks for attention.”
“Yes,” – replied the woman and became thoughtful.
It was silent as if the city had fallen asleep soundly. They were walking calmly in the empty street without touching each other – he, because he was making decision and she, because she was awaiting still.
“Most of the people are blind for the beauty,” – the man continued. – “One needs a brevity to accept it.”
“But you did it. You have accepted me for a long time. Why?”
“Do not you deserve it?” – He wondered. – “But you have always been by me, you have helped me so many times!”
“No-o-o… I was by you just sometimes and I haven’t helped you. I used just to come from time to time to see you.”
“Despite of this, your presence helped me. Maybe, you haven’t always been by me but I felt you there. The feeling was so vivid as if you had never stood by me.”
“I know it. It is pleasant to know it that I have helped you in some way.”
“And not only once!” – The man said and raised his head indulged in his memories. – “When my career that I had worked for years failed, you were the one who didn’t let me sink and you again gave me a will to live; when my wife left me and I was on the edge, you were again the one who helped me to get on my feet; when friends betrayed me, exactly you helped me not to get mad and to keep going... I dare say that I do not desperate easily but when we met each other it was hard to me to overcome life’s obstacles and it was also hard to me to stay upright, with my head up and I kept living with a smile and with zeal only thanks to you.
“Thank you.”
The woman bent her head and looked at the colorful reflections on the wet asphalt.
“Do you remember how we met each other?”
The man smiled.
“How could I forget how you stayed at the end of my bed in the hospital when it was not clear if I would survive?”
“Yes, it was so. But I knew it you would survive.”
The rain kept sprinkling tiny droplets – light like a vapor.
“It is time,” – she said silently and looked at him with his warm eyes. – “I am about to kiss you. Are you ready?”
“You know it. I have been ready for years.”
Their intertwining eyes did not leave each other. She ran her hands on his shoulders, stroked his hair, embraced him slowly and very carefully as if even hesitatingly, touched his lips with hers. They were staying in the middle of the street, sunk in the most tender kiss which both of them had ever experienced.
When they started walking again, inseparably embraced, the world did not exist for them anymore. They did not notice the red lights that were nervously twinkling somewhere behind them. They did not feel people’s hesitation, they did not hear their voices:
“Nasty rain! Bring the stretcher and let’s load – we are wet all over!”
“Hour of dead 11:15 pm. Close the doors and let’s go.”
Translated by: Vessislava Savova.


15 April 2015

The Lucky Guy

Shivering with cold people were entering the not big café hastily, brushing up their coats, wet with the slight snow. They were queuing in front of the bar plot, sitting at the tables, speaking on their mobiles or just watching the cars on the busy car park and the wet black branches of the trees, lit sometimes for a while by a cursory accidentally omitted by the fog pale sunbeam through the big windows. The hot right hits that had been playing constantly on the music shows were drifting quietly. Orlin looked at his watch. It was exactly 2 pm. He drunk up his cappuccino and rose up.
“I am about to drop in later. If you aren’t here, see you at the office” – he said to his colleagues.
“Why in a hurry?” – Maya was surprised.
“I have a meeting.”
“What a meeting at that muddy weather!” – Assen spread his arms on the adjacent armrests.
Orlin looked at them and said nothing.
“Being willing to go out, it can be only a date with some chick” – his colleague grinned at him.
“Who knows?” – Orlin winked and put his leather jacket grand.
“Well, well, well,” – Maya chuckled. – “You are revealed.”
“He is an old dog.” – Assen grinned again. – “Who knows what he is doing during his lunch break while we are bibbing coffee and beer.”
“Learn, dude, learn!” – Orlin chuckled.
“And you will leave us?” – Maya looked at him devilishly. – “Me, too?!”
“A faith, baby, what shall we do?” – He put his smart phone in his pocket and pushed the door.
The vapor of his mouth fused into the loose fog. He stopped for a while, inhaled the fresh air, raised his collar and started walking between the cars. He went out of the office parking, crossed the boulevard and turned down one of the alleys. He had ten minutes left and walked without any urge.
Indeed, he had a date with a woman whom he had been in a relationship for more than a year but the things had not been in ride. She had started avoiding him. He wished he had been able to understand why but that was one of the questions which he knew it was in vain. He had felt it for the very first beginning that they would reach that point sooner or later: she was married, had a child and though having felt lonely at home they had made it clear from the very first beginning they would not pass certain borders. She was not about to divorce and he would not let it happen because he knew it what a divorce could be nevertheless how much he wanted her to be together. He did not want to cause that to her.
He was wandering how he had been soft on her like a schoolboy; he did not expect it that he was able to feel such sensation at the age of thirty-eight, moreover that these feelings were not mutual. When – eight months since they met – he confessed it to her, she was definitely sure he was a great person, that she liked him very much, that she wanted him, that she wanted to relive their nights over and over again but she was not able reply his feelings. She and even he himself were surprised by his answer: that did not bother him. Orlin just loved her and that was enough. He sometimes wandered to himself and asked himself if he had not been going crazy but the situation was such and he did not ask questions.
The slight wet snow kept flying around but there was no wind and he was not feeling the cold. His watch pointed 14:14 (fourteen past two pm). The coincidence surprised him but he was there on time. He turned the next alley and he spotted her car twenty meters down. He was pleased that he was about to see her, despite of the compulsive feeling that a not easy conversation was waiting for him. This morning when he had called to hear from her she sounded even more distant than any other time.
“Hi!” – The man sat by her, slammed the door, bended and kissed her.
He knew she adored his kisses as much as he adored hers.
“You have not been in a mood those days?”
He was watching her, studying her face and enjoying every single detail.
“In contrary” – her voice was calm.
“It is not evident,” – he sat back on the seat. – “What’s the matter with you?”
She stayed for a while gazing through the window.
“You know it very well, Orlin. I can’t be with you as often as you want it.”
“But lately we have been dating once a month and only for a cup of coffee.”
“It doesn’t come to this.” – She tossed her head. – “You have to search for other contacts. You need them. And you need them as well as sex. I won’t and I am not able to give it to you as often as you need it. There are awesome women – I am just not able to give you what you want.”
“There are some, for sure, but I am not interested in them.”
“Look for the woman who will take my place in your heart.”
“You are an incredible person. You raised the bar too high.
“Nonsense! I am just an average woman. You see me such as you want me.”
“It is not so. I have been mainly among women both in the University and where I have worked so far. I have been watching them and I am able to distinguish…”
She was suspired and again started looking through the window. The man reached out and took her palm between his hands.
“See, it happened so: I do love you and I can do nothing. You know it – I want nothing more but what we have had up to now.”
She pulled her hand and put it on her lap.
“I am sorry I cause it to you! I feel nothing, Orlin! And you know it very well. Keep ahead because I’ll change nothing! You can’t stay at one place waiting for something that will never happen. What do you hope about?”
“To hope? It is hard to explain. I will miss you… so much… but… – the man looked at her thoughtfully. – “…usually when someone is fended off he or she feels affected and comes to hate the other one. However you either love or you don’t and to love only because you are loved, it is not real. That’s why I do not suffer: I do love you implicitly whatever you are about to decide or do. Surely, it sounds to you womanishly but it isn’t so. I can leave you and to start a big deal of adventures: there are as many woman as one could wish but I don’t want it. I am the one who has chosen to do it consciously.”
It was silent. There were no passers-by; even the noise from the near boulevard did not reach them. The man took a breath.
“And even if I go on, as you say it, it will be only a fuck because of the sports. Someday maybe I will meet another woman who will impress me but it will be neither soon nor will she shift you from my heart.”
“Nobody can live alone and how the time flies. For sure, you’ll find the ideal woman for you; the one who will love you if you keep looking for her.”
The man leaned back.
“You are also right.”
They stayed silent. The rare tiny snowflakes stayed on the sweaty glass, melted and slipped down leaving hardly noticeable transparent traces.
“I have to go.” – said she. “Don’t call me anymore, please.”
“I’d like to know what is going on with you; to know that you are fine, that everything is alright but... ok. You know you can always call me.”
The man stroked her face, kissed her continuously and went out of the car. He was staying on the pavement until she left and started off to the office. He was calm. Her hazel eyes, her mischievous smile, her laughter, their conversations, their nights… he would miss her painfully but he was not sad. Contrariwise, he was grateful to the faith that he had met her and had the possibility to love a woman as her. “Be happy, girl!” – Orlin smiled slightly and turned to the café.
“Well done to you, dude! You are very fast?” – Assen was mocking at him.
“I won’t hang about as you – an hour for a beer.”
“Two, we won’t incur only with one.”
“He is a veteran.” – Maya laughed and cladded herself because of the cold. – “But you avoid us too much because of secret dates.”
“What am I supposed to avoid you for?”
“I don’t know, maybe you don’t have to avoid us?” – She purred.
“And maybe that’s me who decides.” – He interrupted her and kept going to the next entrance.
“Let’s go up because it is a quarter to three.” – Assen said. – “I have so much work to do.”
He stopped listening to him and looked at his watch. It was really a quarter to three (15:15) as he could see at the pale glimmer of the sun. He started laughing. He knew it that one way or another, everything would be alright. He kept feeling her perfume and the taste of her lips. He was sure she would remember him. He was a lucky guy. 

Translated by: Vessislava Savova.


03 April 2015


Tullius heard the noise of the galloping hooves at the last moment and turned at the moment when a horseman jumped out of the nearby dune. He was a Carthaginian. The rider stumbled and took out his sword and attacked the Roman immediately. Tullius jumped aside, cursed the loss of his horse, took out his spatha[1] and raised the oval shield. Pressed, he had no big chances against his enemy. He had to pull him down of the saddle. At the next attack, Tullius went down the horse itself and hit its snout with the shield. The surprised animal jumped aside, harshly stood on his back legs and the Carthaginian meltdown the ground in a cloud of ash sand. That was the perfect moment for the Roman but the smashing heat and his big tiredness said their word and he missed the instant to astound his enemy.
The horse had raced about twenty meters aside and then both of them were face to face. They were chasing each other behind the shields. The desert sun was heating the Roman’s helmet, his sandals were sinking into the soft sand, strong haze was blurring everything in front of his eyes, and some drops of sweat were pouring down his eyes. Tullius wiped them with a harsh movement and again held position.
Thoughts about that he would not be able to go back to the camp and worn his people were rolling into his head. And it was important! Hannibal had gotten reinforcement and his soldiery exceeded with about twenty thousand of people the Roman one. That fact, along with the war elephants he was about to use, gave him a big advantage.
He again remembered about the ridiculous accident that had left him without a horse: the animal had tripped over not a big sand pit and had broken its leg and there was more than a day of riding till the camp. He had to reach there by all means and to move faster. Tullius had given up the bigger part of his accoutrements and provisions but he advanced slowly. He had slipped the bellows of water over his shoulder and taken only the long sward and the big shield, provided for hits at the height of the saddle but they did not give him an advantage in the close handgrip. That would probably cost him his life but the thought he had fallen still at the first mission as a tracker was surging in his mind.
He was wondering what the Carthaginian was waiting for. He could overwhelm him with ease: the Roman was at the edge of his power, moving slowly and lamely. His enemy could see that but did not attack. Tullius gazed at him and noticed that his movements were also heavy. He made a step, a second one, rushed at him, their shields collided into each other with a muffled rumbling, the blades rang and the hit was weaned. A scuffled followed – the hits were running down but they did not cause damages. The thought that if he won, he would not only save his life but would gain horse too gave some power to Tullius. However his enemy did not give up although he was not able to prevail.
He did not how much time had passed. Their battle had continued for a long time, with short pauses which both of them gifted to each other with no words to restore their power but that time they were at the edge. Tullius was leaning on his big shield more than wearing it. The Carthaginian before him was also staggering. They wore the swords down. The heat was unbearable. They were watching each other. The Roman made a few steps back, put the bellows cautiously and took a few sips of hot, insipid, rewarding water. The Carthaginian kept watching him without moving. “A cursed land! It was far much better in Carthage, nearby the sea!” – Tullius was thinking but the campaign had led them to the South, to the draught, to the desert where Zama – the last bigger city under Hannibal’s ruling – was.
Suddenly he flinched. The Carthaginian dragged his feet to the horse that was sniffing the sand and the dry weeds down-in-the-mouth, keeping an eye on him. He had to stop him, he was lost without the horse, he did not have let him go. He raised his shield, clutched the handle of the sword and rushed forward cumbersome when, in his surprise, the Carthaginian raised his arm and pointed at him with his finger. The Roman stopped in a wonder – his enemy made a gesture as if he was drinking and at the next moment patted the back of the horse twice.
He did not understand what he was supposed to do but the Carthaginian repeated the gestures. Tullius made a step ahead, looked at the horse more carefully and saw the empty bellows which was hanging down the saddle. Suddenly he realized the meaning – the Carthaginian could not survive without water but was decisive to defend the horse and Tullius was lost without a horse. He tottered. The heat was incinerating him. He was wondering what to do but nothing came into his mind. Obviously their powers were equal and even if the fight continued it was not clear who would prevail. On the other hand, he had to reach the camp at any cost as well as the enemy his. He had no choice.
The Roman winked, approached carefully, raised his bellows and stretched it slowly. The dirty palm of the Carthaginian gripped the neck of the bellows, touched his sweat hand and Tullius loosened his fingers after a while of hesitation. The Carthaginian started pouring the contain in his throat devouringly holding the sword with his right hand and not losing sight of the Roman. When his enemy stopped drinking, Tullius sat up. He did know what the other one was about to do. He squeezed the handle of the sword harder while their eyes kept gazing at each other but the Carthaginian gave the bellows back. The tiredness was on their faces, the blades in their hands were hanging down the ground. The stranger slowly put the sword in his scabbard without letting the handle down watching the movements of the Roman. Tullius also took his sword back and the Carthaginian nodded, patting the horse.
Both of them had been riding for hours. The Carthaginian was leading the animal and Tullius who had already known the locality well enough knew they were going to the plane where the both armies would go into a battle. The hours were going by. The horse was hardly crawling and the Roman had lost hope that he would reach on time to give his information although they had been riding all the day and night. They met the sunrise in that way – a weird view of a legionary in a cuirass and a hermit in leather armor, riding one behind another on a half-dead horse among the sandy desert.
At about noon a far noise that became stronger and stronger growing to quiet reverberation reached their ears and when they climbed up a big eminence, the rumble of the starting battle hit them. Tullius was terrified. Aghast, he was looking at the chased into a trot dozens of martial elephants trained to cram, the bracelets with terrifying spikes on their feet, stepping against Scipio’s phalanx. He nearly cried when the centuries regrouped immediately forming corridors through which the monsters passed inflicting minimal damages. Some of the elephants had been slaughtered with the long pikes, others got frightened by the ensuing mess, rushed back and cannoned into Hannibal’s ranks. The cavalries mixed together on the far side, the first ranks clashed shields… it was not clear what the outcome would be hoping his failure not to bring doom to his people. The stranger by his side was watching tensely the mess of people, horses, vexillum[2].
Tullius could not stay anymore; he had to be down. He moved and the both strangers looked at each other – the one of them with a shield with red and black feathers and the other one with a weird leather headwear – tired, sweaty and dusty. They both could and had nothing to say to each other.
The Roman stretched his hand, the Carthaginian nodded as an answer and they separated. Rome and Carthage were holding the last battle near Zama under them.
Translated by: Vessislava Savova.

[1] Spatha – long, Roman cavalry sword, longer than the infantry gladius.
[2] Vexilluma military standard or flag carried by ancient Roman troops.


27 March 2015

The Free Will

Paul sat languidly in the driver’s seat of his car, staring at the dashboard without really seeing anything. He still hadn’t figured out how or why the powerful S.U.V., regardless of its brand new tires, slid and got stuck into the snow heaps beside the road, engine dead, ignition useless. It was snowing heavily for almost three days now, piling up, covering everything to the point that the narrow road was practically invisible. He glanced absentmindedly at his cell phone just to be sure it was still out of range. He was cold, and outside it was already getting darker. If he didn’t want to be found frozen he had to think of something. But the closest village was kilometers behind him, and up the road ahead was all empty houses followed, eventually, by his own villa.
He smiled faintly. Until Monday at the weekly meeting, no one would care enough to wonder where he might be. Of course they would be surprised, him having been always at the office before everyone else, they would give him an hour, his secretary would try to reach him on the phone, and probably by noon someone would call the police who would most certainly send the obligatory patrol car up to his villa. Sure, the board was going to be gracious enough to pay for the expensive coffin, colleagues and acquaintances would cover him with flowers, and three days later, everyone would’ve forgotten him, the new guy being already chosen in his stead and all that. The King is dead, long live the King! Missed by nobody.
That was the reason why, years ago, he chose this remote mountain location for building his luxurious villa, his own personal shelter where no one could trouble him. He was tired of all the people pestering him with invitations for fashionable events–their one and only purpose, getting to his money and connections. He had seen it all; the so called high society not unlike any other disease, had his share of double-crossing friends, had long since learned to sever away everything connecting him with the polished emptiness of people chasing after their usual agendas of fame and glory by means of scheming and treachery.
He turned on the windshield wipers and peered into the gray afternoon outside where the twilight of the dying day would soon turn into impenetrable night. All around him there was only bluish whiteness, walls of it both sides of the road, punctuated by the trunks of the pine-trees. He wasn’t afraid, he didn’t feel any kind of alarm, and he didn’t care. The elegant dashboard clock showed almost 5:30 pm on the 23rd, the numbers gleaming in the gathering darkness.
And yet, he had to decide what to do. He eased back, and was about to close his eyes when, through the muffled silence of the falling snow, he heard the sound of a car engine while at the same time next to him an old pick-up truck slowed down and came to a stop.
Feeling his legs numb from the long wait, he stirred, opened the door, and got out.
“You okay?” the heavy old man with a thick, short beard called at him from the truck. His worn-out leather coat was unbuttoned. “Car troubles?”
“It’s dead, the ignition’s useless,” shrugged Paul. “I have no idea what might be the problem.”
The stranger circled the S.U.V., looked closely at the snow heap, and stood up. “This road won’t lead you anywhere.”
“It leads to my villa, but it’s a long way off.”
“I see. I could give you a tow,” the man scratched his beard. “But it’s dark already and the snow’s getting heavier. We won’t make it far. I am doing some repairs at a cabin nearby. We could go there, and tomorrow we’ll see what we can do.”
“Absolutely not! I am not accustomed to sleep in other people’s houses... Look, thank you for your trouble, but you don’t even know me, I don’t want to be of any inconvenience–”
“Not in the least,” the man said without looking at him, already bringing the tow cable from the truck. “Get in your car, and off we go!”
Paul’s brows knitted. He couldn’t stand to be ordered around but he didn’t have any other choice. Now that the chance to spend the night under a roof had presented itself, the thought of freezing to death wasn’t all that unimpressive.  While the pick-up truck towed him he made a couple more unsuccessful tries to start the car engine, and eventually gave up, gradually realizing his dependency on this complete stranger.
He couldn’t see anything beyond the chaos of snow-flakes darting about the lights between his car and the truck, holding the steering-wheel with numb hands, staring hard at the truck’s red lights which floated in front of him in the surrounding darkness. It wasn’t long before he started to relax. The last thing he would have expected was getting anyone’s help in such a remote place. Нe could hardly believe his good fortune. Sometimes life offered nice surprises indeed.
They were making way slowly and with extreme caution but twenty minutes later the pick-up truck headed away from the dirt road and the head-lights bathed one of the abandoned houses which seemed to be undergoing some kind of renovation.
“My name is Assen,” the man offered his hand after they got out of the cars, and then unlocked the front door and disappeared inside. “Electricity’s out again.”
Paul hesitated on the doorstep. After a while he saw light flickering from a lantern on a wooden beam.
“Come on in, and close the door,” Assen said. “I’ll make a fire. Give it ten minutes, and it’ll warm up. Nothing better for the job than some live fire, I’ll tell you that much.”
He lighted up a few more lanterns until the inside of the room was bright enough. Paul closed the door and took off his long leather coat. “Does it happen often, the electricity I mean?” he asked.
“Well, yeah, quite often.” The man shrugged. He was putting more wood into the fire. “One of the reasons I’ve adapted the fireplace for cooking. I’ve set my eye on a pretty little portable generator for cases such as this but – can’t seem to make the time of finally buying it. It couldn’t be cozier though. Not that it’s worth mentioning it anyway. Make yourself at home. It could’ve been worse, right?”
Paul glanced around the room while Assen took the task of cooking them some dinner. The huge fireplace filled most of the left wall; in front of it, in the middle of the room, there was a heavy couch with two massive armchairs. To the right of the front door stood the table with it’s four chairs. The wall straight ahead of him had two half-opened doors leading to their modest rooms. Not your typical luxury flat but it was clean and tidied up.
“I’ve got only wine but it’s quite nice. I’m sure you’ll like it.” Assen offered him a glass. “Risky business there, your adventure into the mountain on a weather like this?”
Paul nodded taking the glass of wine. The man sank in one of the comfortable looking armchairs.
“Like everything else,” Paul said. “Yet, you’re not at home for the weekend, too.”
“I live here.”
“And I thought I was the only one crazy enough to go straight for the woods. Though even I visit occasionally. Talking about adventures.”
“I’m used to it, and I am ready for everything. And that old truck would never give up on me,” the man said, a thin smile in his beard.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with this car,” Paul said. “The electronics must’ve gone haywire. Would’ve definitely done the same for me if it only had managed to start.”
“It happens,” Assen nodded. “Why did you decide to build your villa so far away from the city?”
“Away from the city, away from civilization... It’s peaceful here.”
“The civilization?” One of the eyebrows of the older man went up. “Tired of all the people’s nonsense?”
“Something like that.”
“I see. People often could be – “ He sipped from his wine and stared for a moment into the fire. “ – a bothersome lot. Can’t live without them, though.”
His guest shook his head. “On the contrary. It’s even better without them.”
Silence, punctuated only by the crackle of firewood and the sizzling meet over the improvised grill. When the older man didn’t answer Paul stirred on the coach.
“I am better off without all the pest, always trying to get what they want, never remembering of you except when they need a favor, oblivious to your own problems, not interested in the tiniest bit of who you really are.”
“Yes, but they could be of help if there’s need.”
“That would be the smallest fracture of the whole, and even they would consider doing it only if they’d gain something out of it.”
“You speak like La Rochefoucauld. He had that theory, in his Maximes, that every virtue’s just a vice in disguise.”
“La Rochefoucauld?” Paul gave him a long thoughtful look. “You may be right.”
All of a sudden he had the feeling that he might have offended the other man who had just saved his life, so he added up.
“Though it’s only natural for anybody to be of help in such situations.”
“Of course,” Assen said. That little smile again. “And you – are you of any help, or do you seek in turn your own personal gain?”
“Well, yes. I do help. Although these days I often come to regret it. They’d suck up for anything, and then they’d just disappear, sometimes before that – maybe even try to trip you up.”
“And you’ve never sought anything for yourself out of it?”
“Never,” said Paul, firmly. “I don’t need anyone’s help, nor I seek anything whatsoever for myself from them. I already have more than I’ll ever need; there’s nothing they could give me.”
“And then you decided to leave The Pied Cow...”
His host got up to fetch an empty plate, and then took the meat and the vegetables out of the fire. Paul gave him another long look.
“It seems like you’ve read a lot of books,” he said as they were sitting on the table.
“Obviously, the same goes for you, too. Let’s eat while it’s hot. Cheers.”
Their glasses rang.
“Which doesn’t answer the question why do you want to get away from the people.”
“Do I have to explain it?”
“I think that you have to explain it to yourself first.”
Paul frowned.
“You said it yourself: the city, the one which is called The Pied Cow.”
“I hope you don’t fancy yourself a prophet?”
“No, but this doesn’t mean you don’t have to be sick of constantly considering everyone else’s fussiness, when you are swamped with their problems and you are expected to solve them all, while at the same time no one cares you have your own work to deal with, that you have so much other things to do in the first place... You are always obliged to watch your manners, you have to mind your socially accepted behavior, you have to be what you are expected to be, you have to make nice to every fool who thinks themselves the salt of the earth...
“Wait a minute,” Assen said. “That’s a lot of ‘you have to’s. Why do you have to?”
“What else?” Paul said with a surprised look. “Because – you have to – because if you disturb their order, the society’s order, and you start to drop off gradually. They are voiding you, looking at you with suspicion. Personally, I don’ give a damn but it’s bad for business. After all, you have to work with them, otherwise you wouldn’t be making any progress.”
His host put down the fork and the knife, leaned against his folded fingers and took a good look at his guest.
“Their order... And who’s to say that’s the definitive order? For them, it’s a given some things must be done in a particular way, but who are these people?”
Paul shrugged.
“Why – everyone!”
“Nah, you don’t really believe that at some point all the people gathered up on a big clearing in the woods, and then pulled together a large list of proper ways to do things, a prescription for every possible situation which might occur, do you?”
“Of course not, but in time the common order of things has been enforced and–“
“Yes, but there has to be a certain person who, so to speak, has had the final word to each point on the order of the day?”
Paul blinked.
“Well, probably, or at least a group of people.”
“You see? Nothing is a given from the beginning. Every point from the order of things has been thought of at some time, at a time before it actually existed, and then applied.”
“But if it’s accepted, then it’s been proven that it works.”
“Why do you oppose things once proven and accepted, then?”
“I’ll tell you why,” the man stopped him. “Because you think a lot of things could be done in another, better way. Which is good, although you have to direct your discontent more properly.”
There was no answer.
“You’re no longer happy to be just the camel. You stand before the great dragon, with its “Thou-shalt” written all over its scales, but you haven’t given your holy “Nay” yet.
Paul was still staring at his host, silently.
“What’s stopping you? Haven’t you heard that great people are great because they have given the finger to everything and everyone?”
“It’s not that easy when you are responsible for a few hundred people. You cannot just turn into an innocent child when you are the head of a large firm.”
“What could be better than this!” Assen said, now even more excited than before. “You have the authority to do it. How do you know that it wouldn’t be for their own good?”
“The time of the pioneers is long gone,” Paul shook his head, returning to his dinner. “Now everything is more dynamic, you do things the fast way, there’s no time for pioneering when there are working models. Such a thing might be done only by an extraordinary person, some kind of genius acknowledged by all.”
The room shook by the roaring laughter of his host.
“Show me a genius who’s ever been acknowledged by everyone unless he have thrown back first all common acceptance!”
“Oh, come on! First off, geniuses are not born every day, and second, they are acknowledged by people. This is the reason they are followed and revered.”
“Nothing could be farther from the truth!” Assen’s laughter continued. “Most geniuses are what they are because they’ve accepted themselves as geniuses. Don’t you understand? The world feeds itself on fashion, the world needs its idols! Sure, the riff-raff stand in their gray line thinking exactly like you, but there are also those few who have spat in the face of the multitude, took on their own way to be noticed after the fact. Furthermore, they’ve been idolized by the same people they’ve spat on – some of whom also destined to be turned from the gray line.
“Yeah, right! Ruler of reality! I’ve heard that. How many have perished taking this path? How many of those who’ve been turned, as you called them, were idolized, and how many of them ended up drunkards?”
“Those who end up this way don’t know what they are doing, or where they are going. They don’t realize they are actually right. All they want is some change but they’ve got no goals, nor any kind of strategy. They’ve reacted like kids: I have no idea what I want, but I don’t want this. Exactly the thing you are doing now: you are not satisfied with the status quo of your life, you want it to be different, but instead of changing things, you run away from everything!”
Both men looked at each other over the table. Neither of them moved. Assen sighed, took a sip from his wine, and leaned back.
“Who you are – that’s determined by whether you have a goal, what kind of goal it is, and your own conviction while attaining it. Have you forgotten all of your dreams?”
Paul thought for a little while.
“And ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law’?” he muttered after a moment.
“More precisely: fulfill your own will, and the law will be fulfilled,” Assen smiled. “Which doesn’t mean that everyone should do whatever they want, by shear impulse, that they could satisfy the whims and desires of their souls without doing harm. ‘Love is the law, love under will.’ And this means working and doing things with joy, finding joy in life. In any way – right now, you are at the very opposite of all that.
“Quite the heresy...”
“And why is that? The free will. Ask, and you shall be given. Your own namesake has already established that although everything is allowed, it’s not necessarily good for you.”
Paul leaned back in his chair. His eyes wandered over the flames in the fireplace, followed absentmindedly the flickering shadows, stopped at the light of the lanterns.
“When you put it this way, it sounds logical – the principle of correspondence, right?”
“Actually, the all seven of them,” Assen nodded. “At the end, everything boils down to them.”
The crackling of the burning wood has all but died now, the embers pulsing in different bright red nuances.
“I am tired.” The older man got up and threw a few more logs into the fire. “Time to rest.”
“Do you need help here?”
“Thanks, I’ll take care of it in the morning.”
Assen opened one of the doors to the inner rooms.
“You can sleep here. I’ll be in the other room.”
Paul spent a night full of strange dreams of which he couldn’t remember anything, but he felt refreshed. It was still early so he tried to sleep for a little while longer and when he realized he couldn’t, he decided to take care of the fire in the dining room, thinking he might also check on his car, though he already guessed the problem with the failed electronic ignition had to be beyond any immediate repair. He left his bed and looked at his phone. Still out of range.
He opened the door and crossed the dining room. The table had been cleaned up already. His host probably had done it last night after all, or maybe he, too, hadn’t slept much. Paul went nearer the fireplace, looking for more firewood. There wasn’t any. The fact that the fireplace had been also cleaned surprised him. Crouching in front of it, he took a closer look. It was not only clean of ash, it was so clean as if it hadn’t been used for a very long time. He stood up and turned around. He started walking slowly around the room, looking at different objects. The lanterns were all covered in cobwebs, the table had a thin layer of dust on top of it, the sink was full of congealed plates. He felt a chill running down his spine.
Paul put on his coat and opened the front door. Outside, it was sill cloudy but the sudden whiteness of the snow blinded him for a moment. He needed to find Assen, to ask what was going on here, but there was no one. The pick-up truck had disappeared, there wasn’t even tracks in the snow. For a second he tried to decide whether to search around the house for his host, though he could already see it would be pointless. He ran to his car, got in, and slammed the door. He was tense, he didn’t know what to make of it all, but after a few minutes he felt safe and relaxed a bit.
He closed his eyes in an attempt to comprehend the situation. He couldn’t. The cold made him drowsy. He had to get away from here immediately. Then he stirred in the driver’s seat, looked around him and stiffened in surprise: it was still snowing heavily, piling higher and higher, the narrow dirt road almost completely blocked; the gray light of the day seeped away into the dusk which would soon turn into a pitch-dark night. All around him there was only bluish whiteness, walls of it both sides of the road, punctuated by the trunks of the pine-trees. There was no sign of the house.
He glanced at his elegant wrist watch. It was past 5:30 – the shimmering date on the dial being the 23rd. He allowed his arm to fall slowly, and then laughed out loud, but he already felt better and stood up straight at his seat. He had to do something unless he wanted to freeze to death here. He reached for the keys, and hesitated, his hand in mid air, wondering whether the ignition would fail him again, but then he took a long breath and turned the key.
The engine gave out a dull roar and the familiar muffled rumble filled the compartment of the S.U.V. while at the same time, next to him, someone’s pick-up truck slowly went by, its red lights gradually disappearing after a moment into the distance ahead.
He got out of the snow pile. For a second he thought of catching up with the truck, to make sure, crazy as it seamed, but in his mind, he once again heard the conversation from last night – or rather, from the last fifteen minutes – and that made him stop. He thought of all the things he’d dreamt of, the ones he never made the time doing. His eyes searched for his villa high into the mountain and he smiled. He’d get there some other time. He turned the car around and started back for the city.