ПРЕЗ ЧУМАВОТО by Yordan Yovkov

ПРЕЗ ЧУМАВОТО by Yordan Yovkov

“Божием попущением тое лeто
удари една чума напрасно, и запали вся земя,
в касабитe, и селата. Не оста чисто ни едно село,
грeх ради наших!”

Стар летопис

Чу се, че в долните села, далеч не повече от един ден път, дошла чумата и хората там мрели толкоз много, че не сварвали да ги погребват. Тая страшна вест изплаши всички и, както ставаше и при друга напаст – когато се зададяха кърджалии или се повдигаше сефер и война, – мъжете се насъбраха на Черковното кафене, а жените по протките и се заловиха да тълкуват новината. И тъй като опасността беше еднаква за всички, примирението лесно идеше и в тая задушевност мнозина дори можеха да се шегуват и смеят. Но вечерта, когато всеки се прибра у дома си и остана сам, призракът на смъртта отново се изправи, неумолим и страшен. На другия ден всеки мислеше съседа си за молепсан от чума, затваряше се в къщата си и здраво залостяше вратите. Спотаиха се всички и само чакаха да чукне клепалото за умряло или да се вдигне плач в някоя къща.

А и самото време беше нездраво, задушно. Въздухът, отровен от тежките миазми на лешове и нечистотии, беше замрежен от прах. Същият тоя прах покриваше къщи, дървета и улици, тъй че всичко беше потъмняло и сиво, каквато беше и изсъхналата земя. Месеци наред не беше капнало капка дъжд. Горите насреща в планината горяха. Денем там се виждаше само дим, но вечер върху тъмните плещи на Балкана пламваше огнената линия на пожарите, сключена в огромен кръг, който все повече растеше.

Всички тия неща, твърде обикновени във всяко друго време, сега добиваха смисъла на знамения. Страх подкосяваше силите, помътваше разума. Страшната болест дебнеше отвсякъде и всеки гледаше да си помогне сам, както знаеше и както беше чувал. Чесънът стана скъпо и рядко лекарство. Не забравиха и силата на магиите: пред много протки увиснаха чудновати китки, в които имаше сух босилек, червена нишка и крило от прилеп или кълка от жаба. Из гиризите протекоха разноцветни води, в които се виждаха остатъци от варени билки. Някой се досети и запали в двора си огън от говежди тор. Скоро такива огньове пламнаха във всяка къща. Гъст миризлив дим изпълни селото, смеси се с дима от пожарите на Балкана и замъгли цялата околност. Не подухваше и най-слабият вятър. Тишината стана още по-дълбока и по-страшна.

Минаха тъй няколко деня. Никой не умря, чумата не беше дошла, може би и нямаше да дойде. Хората позабравиха предпазванията си, взеха да си приказват най-напред през плетищата, после по комшулуците и най-сетне излязоха и по улиците. Но никое зло не иде само. През тия няколко дни във всяка къща усетиха нужда от много неща. Брашното се привършваше и друга не по-малка опасност показваше вече страшното си лице – гладът.

Жените се вайкаха и плачеха пред мъжете, мъжете се срещаха край плетищата, разменяха по някоя дума и гледаха в земята. Утре селото щеше да пламне от страшната болест, какво ще правят? Да бягат в Балкана ? Но всеки имаше на главата си по пет-шест гърла и трябваше да се мисли за най-главното – за хляба. Трябваше един умен, един сърцат човек, който да каже какво да се прави и да поведе селото. Името на хаджи Драгана започна да се шепне по-често. Той беше човекът, който можеше да спаси селото. Първо това си го казаха помежду най-близките съседи, после премина от махала на махала и не след много време четирма старци, избрани от цялото село, отиваха вече към къщата на хаджи Драгана. Отиваха да му кажат, че съдбата на селото е в неговите ръце.

Из пътя старците позабравиха за чумата и мислеха как ще влязат в къщата на хаджи Драгана. Сприхав и начасничев човек беше хаджият, понякога ще те посрещне тъй, че не знае къде да те тури, а понякога ще те нахока и ще те изпъди. И когато старците стигнаха пред тежките, обковани с желязо порти на хаджи Драгановата къща и дядо Нейко, муфтарят, почука на мандалото, всички други сложиха ръце на патериците си и потопиха очи в земята. За голямо учудване, тоя път, щом казаха на хаджи Драгана кои са и защо идат, той на часа каза да ги пуснат.

И дворът на хаджи Драгана се стори на старците не такъв, какъвто го знаеха. Аргатинът, който вървеше пред тях, като че стъпяше на пръсти, очите му гледаха плахо. Никой от многобройната челяд на хаджият не се виждаше из двора, големите анадолски кучета не се и помръднаха на синджирите си. Но през оградата на градината заничаха вейки с жълти едри дюли и старците си помислиха, че ако те изглеждат тъй хубави, то е затуй, защото утре не ще има ръце, които да ги откъснат. Когато стигнаха под асмата и повдигнаха очи, там нямаше толкова листи, колкото грозде. И тия черни, набити гроздове им се сториха също тъй прокоба на напаст.

Намериха хаджият горе в стаята, седнал по турски на минсофата, с чибук в ръка, а други пет-шест празни чибука бяха наредени на стената зад него. Отпреде му на червения килим беше сложен филджан с кафе, в слънчевия сноп, който влизаше през прозореца, плуваше на тънки ивици тютюнев дим. Изути по лапчуни, старците безшумно минаха и насядаха по възглавниците. Скъп беше на приказки хаджи Драган и направо ги попита какво ги носи при него.

Мъдро, отмерено и бавно, дядо Нейко започна да говори най-напред за чумата, за страха на селото, после за немотията и тъкмо щеше да започне да приказва за глада, влезе Тиха, дъщерята на хаджи Драгана. Тя донесе кафе за всички. Отдъхнаха си старците, като видяха поне една весела душа в селото. Очите на Тиха, продълговати и черни като сливи, пак тъй дяволито си светеха, косите й бяха гладко прибрани на път, страните й пресни като праскова. Тя не се стърпя да не се закачи и сега и като подаваше кафето на старците, успя да им пришепне, без да я чуе баща й, че й е чудно как чумата не е взела още такива стари хора като тях.

– Да пази бог, чедо – каза дядо Нейко, – то като дойде, не гледа старо, младо…

– Не – засмя се пак Тиха, – стари кожи й трябвали сега, старите щяла да мори.

Докато хаджият разбере за какво приказват, Тиха излезе. Поизкашля се дядо Нейко, едно, да скрие шегата на момичето, друго, за да се приготви, и пак почна думата си. Отново приказва за чумата, после за глада, после пак за чумата. Най-после той свърши и рече:

– Селото на тебе гледа, хаджи. Ти баща, ти майка…

В тая решителна минута старците наведоха очи и чакаха да чуят какво щеше да каже хаджи Драган. Изведнъж весел, гърлест смях екна в стаята: смееше се хаджи Драган. Старците учудено го гледаха. Едър човек беше хаджият и както беше се дръпнал назад и се смееше, цялото му тяло се тресеше, а лицето му беше се наляло с кръв.

– Та затуй ли сте дошли при мене? – гръмна дебелият му глас. – Ами че аз… Ха-ха-ха! Аз сватба ще захващам днес, а вий за умиране приказвате.

– Какво думаш, хаджи – рече дядо Нейко, – може ли?

– Защо да не може? Женя Тиха, ви казах. Останало ми е едно момиче, ще оженя и него.

– Бива ли, хаджи? Хората мрат…

– Кой мре? Къде мрат? Какво ми дрънкате вие мене! Никаква чума няма, ви казвам аз. Ако мрат някои, мрат от страх. Така е – уплаши ли се човек, поиска ли да умре, ще умре. Не ми е изпила кукувица ума мене; ако имаше чума, залавях ли сватба!

Старците трепнаха. Надеждата, която всеки таеше в себе си, се пробуди и те й повярваха.

– Право казва хаджият – казаха си те. – Не ще да е чума, страх ще е…

Не отстъпваше само дядо Нейко:

– А глада? Брашно няма вече у никого.

Хаджи Драган махна с чибука си.

– Хамбарите ми са пълни. Има за цяло село. Ще дам на всички. Не ще им го дам току-тъй, ще ми го платят, когато имат, но ще им дам. А сватбата ще си направим.

Когато по-късно Тиха влезе и за трети или четвърти път внесе пълно бакърче с вино, от старото, червено вино на хаджият, тя завари старците, че приказват всички в един глас, весели и пийнали. И тя шеташе между тях, усмихваше се и по-смело им подхвърляше шегите си.

– Вий приживе помана ли си правите – казваше им тя.

А старците клатеха глава, смееха се и в сладкото опиянение на виното, което сякаш ги люлееше на люлки и ги караше да забравят възрастта си, тая черноока мома им се виждаше такава палава, такава хубава!

*

А след обяд стана тъй, както беше казал хаджи Драган: сватбата започна. Сред мъртвилото, което досега цареше в селото, и сред гъстия дим на огньовете изведнъж се зачуха гайди, загърмяха тъпани. По протките и по мегданите се насъбраха жени. Какво е туй? Луди хора ли има в селото? А когато разбраха, че хаджи Драган жени дъщеря си Тиха, същото казаха и за него: “Луд ли е? В такова време!” Но колкото и да осъждаха хаджи Драгана, ударите на тъпаните ги ободряваха, развеселяваха се, без да щат, радваха се и най-после свършиха с туй, че сами признаха, че хаджи Драган постъпва много добре. Хаджи Драган знае какво прави. Остана само една загадка: защо хаджи Драган женеше Тиха за същия тоя момък, чиито сватовници беше върнал преди месец? Тогава бяха помислили, че Тиха иска да чака Величка Дочкин, с когото се бяха искали и който от три години беше на печала. Какво беше станало сега – Тиха ли се беше отказала от Величка, или хаджи Драган беше се раздумал?

Ето за кое се приказваше по протките и по мегданите. А в това време дядо Нейко слизаше от единия край на селото към другия. Защо хаджи Драган даваше дъщеря си на Люцкановия син, добър и имотен момък, а не чакал да се върне синът на Дочка вдовицата, гол като хурка – това не го занимаваше. Хаджи Драган знаеше какво прави. Важното за дяда Нейка беше, че хамбарите на хаджи Драгана се отварят за селото и каквото и да става, глад няма да има. Това той разправяше на жените, покрай които минаваше, и завършваше:

– Чума няма. Ако имаше чума, луд ли е хаджи Драган да започва сватба?

И той казваше това не само да ободрява другите, а сам вярваше в него. И весел, важен като всеки муфтар и малко с помътена глава от старото вино на хаджи Драгана, дядо Нейко продължаваше пътя си. Той гледаше да стигне до долния край на селото, защото там беше си нарочил най-главната работа. Знаеше, че докато мало и голямо се чудеше где да се дене от страх, тук, в долната махала, дрипави нехранимайковци се събираха по механите и казваха: “Нас чума не ни хваща. Чумата е за чорбаджиите. Ние ще ги мъкнем на гробищата.” Сега дядо Нейко ги свари в механата, че държат чашите си, слушат тъпаните и се гледат като замаяни. “Какво е?” – питат се. “Какво е – отговаря дядо Нейко, – сватба.” И си излиза, като ги оставя да се гледат един други в очите и да се чудят.

Когато дядо Нейко се върна у хаджи Драганови, на двора под асмата, под черните гроздове, играеше голямо хоро. Играеха като луди, потънали в пот, като че бяха къпани. Нямаше врагове вече хаджи Драган, в двора му беше се събрало цяло село. Който беше на хорото, играеше, който не – отиваше при хамбарите и подлагаше чувалчето си: Вълко, кехаята на хаджи Драгана, сипеше жито като злато и бележеше с ножа си по рабошите. Дядо Нейко беше доволен.

Така вървя тая небивала сватба цяла неделя. Съмнеше ли се, всеки тичаше към хаджи Драганови. Развеселяваха се един други, играеха до премаляване. Но имаше нещо болно в това веселие. Пиеха вино, за да приспят грижите си, смееха се, за да прикрият страха си. И гледаха се плахо един други и всеки мислеше, че някой знае нещо лошо и не го казва. А вечер пожарите светеха на Балкана. Щом се приберяха у дома си, същите тия хора, които бяха се веселили на сватбата, сега заключваха вратите си и плахо се ослушваха. Залъците се спираха на гърлото им. Когато заспиваха, душеше ги тежка мора. И при слабия блясък на кандилата лицата им изглеждаха бледи и измъчени като на мъртъвци.

Дворът на хаджи Драгана беше пълен с хора. Чакаха да изведат булката. Но тъкмо в това време се случи нещо, което внесе голям смут сред сватбарите: откъм север, над кориите, се показаха орли. Гледаха ги всички. Много орли. Опънали широки криле и сякаш не хвърчат, а се плъзгат, като че ги носи вятър. Къде можеха да отидат тия орли, ако не там, гдето има мърша, гдето има леш. Отиваха право към долните села, а там беше чумата, там мряха хора. Никой не каза това, но всеки си го помисли.

– Какво сте се зазяпали? – екна силният глас на хаджи Драгана. – Я свирете! – викна той на слисаните гайдарджии. – Чорбаджийско хоро искам. Тежко. Хайде, захващайте.

И гайдарджиите, на челата на които светна по една жълтица, залепена от хаджи Драгана, надуха гайдите. И хорото се залюля от единия край на двора до другия. Сам хаджи Драган го водеше, на две глави по-висок от другите.

Лудешко веселие обзе пак всички. Но останаха някои настрана, които си шепнеха нещо.

– Виж какви са червени очите на хаджият! – казваше един.

– Тряба да си е попийнал.

– Не, плакал е!

А вътре в къщи, в стаята, където обличаха Тиха като булка, никой не беше останал освен нея. Дружките й бяха излезли да гледат орлите. Когато се върна първата от тях, Рада, която беше и най-вярната дружка на Тиха, видя, че Тиха беше си закрила лицето с ръце.

– Ти си плакала! – рече й тя.

– Кой, аз ли? Мислиш ли, че аз мога да плача?

И Тиха се смееше, но в очите й светеха сълзи.

– Ах, Тихо, ах, сестро, само да видиш колко орли! Ах, не е на добро!

– Я се остави!

– Тихо, сестричко, не се сърди. И що ти трябаше в таквоз време, да беше почакала. Можеше и Величко да се върне.

– Величко ли? Защо ми е Величко, аз си имам мъж. Кой знай къде го е тръшнала чумата. Дано тез орли неговите меса да късат!

За миг очите й потъмняха, но веднага пак се напълниха със светлина и тя се засмя. Влязоха и другите й дружки. Върху черните коси на Тиха сложиха червено було и пръстите на момичетата бързо започнаха да го диплят, да го редят.

Обичай беше да се плаче, когато булката напуща бащината си къща. Но сега плакаха не само домашните, но всички, плакаха дори хора, които не знаеха що е сълзи през живота си. Трябваше хаджи Драган пак да се намеси и сватбата тръгна към черквата.

Нищо не се случи из пътя, освен конника, когото видяха да влиза от другия край на селото. Тоя човек препускаше с всичките сили на коня си, кой можеше да бъде той, какво носеше?

Черквата се изпълни с народ. Запалиха свещите на полюлея и под него се изправиха булката и младоженецът. Започна се венчаването. Отведнъж откъм вратата се зачу шум. “Не сте ли го видели?” – викаше женски глас и в настъпилата тишина познаха гласа на Дочка вдовицата.

– Ей сега си дойде – говореше тя на най-близките до нея. – Скочи от коня си и щом му казах, право към черквата… Тук тряба да е дошел.

– Дошел? Кой дошел? – плахо попита някой.

– Аааа! Дошла, чумата дошла! – писна женски глас навътре.

И както беше гъсто насъбрано, множеството се поклати, готово да бяга.

– Стойте бе, хора! – завикаха някои мъже. – Нищо няма, нищо!

Поуспокоиха се и се повърнаха. Но отпред, пред олтара на черквата, остана празно. И ето, на това място се появи мъж, млад, но почернял, прашен. Очите му, устремени към булката, горяха като въглени, полюляваше се. Поиска да пристъпи, но се присви в страшни гърчове, на лицето му се появиха черни петна. Краката му се подкосиха и той падна.

– Чумав! – извика някой. – Бягайте!

Всички се урнаха назад, заблъскаха се, завикаха. След туй се чу тропот като от стадо и черквата, останала съвсем празна, светна. Под полюлея стоеше само Тиха. Искаше да бяга и тя, но видя една жена и се спря: беше Дочка. Тя гледаше падналия пред олтара, чупеше ръце, очите й бяха като на луда.

– Ах, боже, какво да правя – викаше тя, – син ми е, а е чумав! Ах, боже!

Няколко пъти ту пристъпва към него, ту се връща и най-после, като се хвана за косите и заплака, избяга и тя.

Тогава Тиха тръгна към чумавия – Величко беше, позна го още щом се появи. Тя се наведе, обърна лицето му, после седна на каменното стъпало пред олтара, тури главата му на коленете си и го загледа в очите. Булото й падна и закри нейното и неговото лице. Отзад, от потъмнялата икона, Исус ги гледаше и вдигаше десницата си.

Portrait of Halyna Petrosanyak

Yordan Yovkov (1880, Zlatitsa) is a pivotal figure in 20th-century Bulgarian literature. His profound connection to Bulgaria’s cultural heritage shaped his artistic vision. A prolific author, Yovkov demonstrated literary prowess in poetry, plays, and short stories, blending realism and symbolism to depict Balkan traditions and universal themes. Yovkov’s stories, with their intricate exploration of love, spirituality, history, and human experience, resonate universally. They transcend geographical and cultural boundaries, offering English-speaking readers a chance to delve into the complexities that define the human condition, as seen through the lens of Bulgarian life.

Yovkov’s global impact is evident as Thomas Mann featured “The Sin of Ivan Belin” in his world’s best short stories anthology. Ivo Andric revered Yovkov, Jules Romains admired him, and Yachar Kemal equated him with Chekhov, solidifying the significance of Yovkov’s contributions on a global stage.

ПРЕЗ ЧУМАВОТО by Yordan Yovkov

“Through the Plague” by Yordan Yovkov, translated from the Bulgarian by Teodora Gandeva

By the will of God, the plague struck

that summer, and all the land turned desolate,

the towns and the villages. Not a single village was spared

because of our sins!

Old chronicle

Word had it that the plague had struck the villages nearby, places not farther than a day’s journey away, and that people were dying so fast that those who survived could hardly manage to bury them. The fearful news horrified everyone and, as was the case with every other menace — when brigands were on the rise or a war was brewing — the men gathered at the church café, and the women began to discuss the news in the village squares. Since the danger was the same for everyone, acceptance came easily, and in this atmosphere of closeness, many could even joke and laugh. But in the evening, when they came home and were left on their own, the ghost of death would rise again, relentless and terrible. On the following day, each thought their neighbor was plagued, locked themselves away in their homes, and latched the doors. Everyone hid in anticipation of the toll of the bell or а lament from a nearby house.

Even the weather itself was unhealthy, seemingly stifling. The air, poisoned by the heavy miasmas of carrion and dirt, was veiled with dust. The parched earth matched the dust-covered houses, trees, and streets, and everything was dark and gray. Not a drop of rain had fallen for months. Over the mountain range, the forests were burning. During the day there was only smoke, but in the evening the burning line of fires blazed upon the dark shoulders of the Balkan Mountains, which rounded off in a huge circle and grew bigger.

All these things, so ordinary at any other time, now took on weightier meaning as if they were portents. Fear was crippling the strength of character and clouding the minds of everyone. The terrible disease was lurking everywhere, and everyone was trying to help themselves, as they were told they could, and should, do. Garlic became a rare and expensive medicine. The power of magic wasn’t forgotten, either: one could see dried basil, red thread, and a bat’s wing or frog’s leg hanging in strange bouquets at many thresholds. There were the remnants of boiled herbs in the multicolored streams that lined the streets. Someone burned cow manure in their yard. Soon such fires loomed next to each house. Thick, smelly smoke filled the village, mingled with smoke from fires in the Balkan Mountains, that covered the whole area in fog. There was not the slightest whiff of wind. The silence became even deeper and ever more frightening.

Then a few days passed. No one died, it seemed the plague hadn’t come yet, and perhaps it wouldn’t come after all. People set aside their cautiousness and began talking with each other – at first through the fences, then they gathered in the neighborhoods and finally came out on the streets. Yet the plague wasn’t the only evil. During those few days, people in every house felt the need for so many things. They were running out of flour and hunger – no less of a danger – was beginning to show its frightening face.

Women were wailing and entreating their men; the men would meet by the hedgerows, exchange a word or two, and then stare at the ground. The village would be on fire with terrible disease any day now, so what could they do? Hide in the Balkans? Yet each of them had five or six bellies to feed, and the most important thing to think about was bread. It took a clever, hearty man to step up, say what should be done, and lead the village. People started whispering Hadji Dragan’s name even more often: He was the man who could save the village. At first, people were cautious to keep this amongst their nearest neighbors, then the word spread from neighborhood to neighborhood, and not long afterward four old men, chosen from the whole village, were on their way to Hadji Dragan’s house. They were going to tell him that the fate of the village was in his hands.

Along the way, the old men thought less about the plague and more about how they would enter Hadji Dragan’s house. He was a quick-tempered and unpredictable man, who sometimes greeted his guests as though he didn’t know what to do with them, and sometimes directly scolded and sent them away. When the old men reached the heavy, iron-clad gates of Hadji Dragan’s house, Grandpa Neyko knocked on the latch, while the rest of them put their hands on their walking sticks and stared at the ground. To everyone’s surprise, when they told Hadji Dragan who they were and why they had come, he immediately let them in.

Hadji Dragan’s yard seemed different than the one the old men had known. The servant walking in front of them seemed to be stepping on his toes, his demeanor timid. None of Hadji Dragan’s large family could be seen in the yard, and the big Anatolian dogs did not even move on their leashes. But twigs of large yellow quince trees were showing through the garden fence, and the old men thought that if they looked so beautiful, it was because there would soon be no hands to tear them off. When they reached under the vines and looked up, there were not as many leaves as there were grapes. And these black, big bunches seemed to them likewise to presage a calamity.

They found Hadji Dragan upstairs in his room, sitting cross-legged on the sofa, with a chibouk in his hand, and five or six other empty chibouks lined up on the wall behind him. In front of him on the red carpet stood a cup of coffee, and thin strips of tobacco smoke were floating in the beam of sunlight that entered through the window. The old men silently walked in, wearing soft leather slippers, and sat on the pillows. Hadji Dragan was not very fond of talking and directly asked them what had brought them to him.

Grandpa Neyko started talking wisely, measuredly, and slowly – first about the plague, about the villagers’ fear, then about the increasing poverty, and he was just about to start talking about the imminent hunger, when Tiha, Hadji Dragan’s daughter, came into the room. She brought coffee for everyone. The old men were relieved to see at least one cheerful soul in the house. Tiha’s eyes, elongated and black like plums, were still shining devilishly, her hair was neatly tucked away on the sides, and her cheeks were as fresh peaches. She couldn’t help but joke as she was handing the cups to the old men. She managed to whisper to them without her father hearing her, that she wondered how the plague had not taken such old people as them.

“God forbid, child,” said Grandpa Neyko, “when it comes, it doesn’t choose between old and young.”

“No,” Tiha laughed again, “I heard she needed old skins now, and she would kill the old ones first.”

By the time the hadji could hear what they were talking about, Tiha had left. Grandpa Neyko coughed on one hand to cover up the girl’s joke, and on the other, as a way of getting ready to speak. He talked about the plague again, then about the famine, then about the plague once more. Finally, he finished and said:

“The village looks to you, Hadji. You’re our only hope…”

At that decisive moment, the old men lowered their eyes in anticipation to hear how Hadji Dragan would respond. Suddenly a cheerful, throaty laugh echoed through the room: Hadji Dragan was laughing. The old men looked at him in astonishment. Hadji Dragan was a big man, and as he pulled back laughing, his whole body was shaking and his face had become red.

“So, is that why you came to me?” His thick voice rumbled. “Well, I… Ha-ha-ha! I’m preparing a wedding today, and here you are, talking about dying.”

“What are you talking about, Hadji,” said Grandpa Neyko, “is it allowed?”

“Why not? It’s Tiha’s wedding today, I’ve told you. I have one girl left, I will marry her off, too.

“Is that right, Hadji? People are dying…”

“Who’s dying? Where are they dying? What are you blabbering on about? There is no plague, I tell you. If anyone’s dying, they’re dying out of fear. That’s how it goes – if a person is scared, if he wants to die, he will die. I’m not out of my mind; if there really was a plague, would I even be putting on a wedding?!”

The old men shuddered. The hope that everyone secretly held in themselves awoke and they trusted it.

“The hadji is right,” they were saying to themselves. – “It couldn’t be a plague; it must be fear…”

Only Grandpa Neyko persisted.

“What about hunger? Nobody has any flour anymore.”

Hadji Dragan waved his chibouk around.

“My barns are full. There’s enough to feed the whole village. I will give everyone flour. I will not give it to them just like that though, they’ll have to pay me back when they can, but I’ll give it to them. As for the wedding, we’re going to celebrate.”

Later, when Tiha entered the room and brought a full pot of Hadji Dragan’s old red wine for the third or fourth time, she found the old men talking all at once, merry and drunk. And she walked among them, smiling and throwing her jokes at them even more boldly.

            “You’re commemorating yourselves while still alive,” she told them.

The old men shook their heads, laughing, and in the sweet intoxication of the wine, which seemed to rock them on swings and make them forget their age, this black-eyed girl seemed so naughty, so beautiful!

* * *

The afternoon passed as Hadji Dragan had said it would: the wedding began. Bagpipes were playing and drums were played at full blast in the thick smoke of the fires amid the deadness that now reigned in the village. Women gathered in at the fence doors and meeting places. What was going on? Were people going crazy in the village? And when they found out that Hadji Dragan was hosting his daughter Tiha’s wedding, they said the same about him:

“Is he crazy? Doing something like this at such a time!”

But no matter how much they condemned Hadji Dragan, the beating of the drums cheered them up, they became merrier, rejoiced, and finally ended up admitting that Hadji Dragan was doing a good thing. That Hadji Dragan knew what he was doing. But one mystery remained unresolved: why was Hadji Dragan marrying Tiha off to the same young man whom he had denied a month ago? At the time, they thought that Tiha wanted to wait for Velichko Dochkin, whom she’d wanted to marry, but he had been away for three years. What had happened then, the women wondered— had she quietly given up on Velichko, or had Hadji Dragan changed his mind?

This is what they were talking about in the village squares. Meanwhile, Grandpa Neyko walked down from one end of the village to the other. Why was Hadji Dragan giving his daughter to Lutskan’s son, a good and wealthy young man, rather than wait for the return of Dochka the widow’s son – poor as a church mouse, not that all that concerned him… Hadji Dragan knew what he was doing. What was important for Grandpa Neyko was that Hadji Dragan’s barns were opening for the village and whatever happened, there would be no famine. This he would tell the women as he passed by, concluding:

“There’s no plague. If there was a plague, would Hadji Dragan be crazy enough to organize a wedding?”

He would say this not only to cheer others up but because he believed it. And cheerful, and important as any village mayor, with a slightly clouded head from Hadji Dragan’s old wine, Grandpa Neyko continued on his way. He was trying to get to the lower end of the village because he had a job to do over there. He knew that while the young and the old wondered where to hide out of fear, there, in the lower neighborhood, the ragged and the scoundrels were gathering in the pubs saying:

“No plague can catch us. The plague is out for the rich. We will be the ones to outlive them.”. Grandpa Neyko found them in the pub holding their glasses, listening to the drums, and looking at each other as if confused. “What is going on?” they kept asking each other.

            “A wedding, that’s what’s going on,” Grandpa Neyko answered, leaving them looking each other in the eyes and still wondering.

When Grandpa Neyko returned to Hadji Dragan’s yard, under the black grapes, he saw people playing the horo dance. They were playing like crazy, drenched in sweat as if they had been bathing. Hadji Dragan no longer had any enemies, the whole village had gathered in his yard. Whoever was at the dance was dancing, and those who weren’t were going to the barns to fill their sack: Vulko Kehaya, Hadji Dragan’s kehaya, poured wheat as if it was gold and marked the tally sticks with his knife. Grandpa Neyko felt content.

This was how this unprecedented wedding went on over a whole week. As soon as the new day broke, everyone ran to Hadji Dragan’s. People cheered each other and danced to their limit. But there was something sick about all that gaiety. They drank wine to put their worries to sleep, they laughed to hide their fear. And they looked at each other shyly and each one thought that the other knew something bad but wasn’t saying it. In the evenings the fires would light the Balkan Mountains. Once they returned home, the same people who had been having fun at the wedding now locked their doors and listened timidly. Suddenly they would feel a lump in their throats, as they were falling asleep, they felt as if they were suffocating. In the faint glow of the lamp, their faces looked as pale and tormented as the faces of the dead.

Hadji Dragan’s yard was still full of people. They were waiting to take the bride out. But then something happened that caused great confusion amongst everyone: eagles appeared from the north, high above the barns. Everyone watched them. So many eagles. They had spread their wings wide and they didn’t seem to fly but glide as if carried by the wind. Where could these eagles be headed, the people thought, if not to a place where there was a carcass or a corpse? They were surely headed straight to the lower villages, which is where the plague was, where people were dying. No one said that aloud, but everyone thought it.

“What are you staring at?” Hadji Dragan’s strong voice echoed. “Play!”, he shouted to the astonished bagpipers. “Play the chorbadjiisko horo. The heavy one. Go ahead, play!”

And the bagpipers, each with a golden coin given by Hadji Dragan shining on their foreheads, blew the bagpipes. And the dance swayed from one end of the yard to the other. Hadji Dragan himself led it, two heads taller than the others.

Everyone was overcome with delirious joy again. But there were a few who were whispering something on the side.

“Look at how red Hadji Dragan’s eyes are!” someone said.

“He must have drunk too much.”

“No, he has been crying!”

Inside the house, there was no one left in the room where they had dressed Tiha except for her. Her friends had gone out to watch the eagles. When Rada, who was Tiha’s most loyal companion, came back inside, she saw that Tiha had covered her face with her hands.

“You’ve been crying!”, she said.

“Who, me? Do you think I cry?”

Tiha was laughing, but the tears were shining in her eyes.

“Ah, Tiha, dear sister, there are so many eagles! Ah, it’s not a good omen!”

“Leave that be!”

“Tiha, little sister, don’t be angry.” But why did you choose such a time, you could have waited. Velichko could have returned.”

“Velichko?” Why should I care about Velichko, I have a husband. Who knows where the plague may have struck him? I hope those eagles are now ripping apart his flesh!”

Her eyes darkened for a moment, but then immediately filled with light again, and she laughed. Her other friends came into the room. They put a red veil over Tiha’s black hair, and the girls’ fingers quickly began to arrange the veil’s folds.

It was a tradition for the bride’s family to cry when the bride was leaving her father’s house. But now it was not just the family who was crying but everyone, even people who hadn’t shed a tear in their lives. Hadji Dragan had to intervene again, and the wedding ceremony headed toward the church.

Nothing happened along the way except for the horseman they saw entering from the other end of the village. The man had been racing on his horse with all his might. Who could he be, what was he bringing?

The church filled with people. They lit the candles on the chandelier, and the bride and groom stood beneath it. The ceremony had begun. Suddenly there was a noise from the door.

“Didn’t you see him?”, a female voice cried, and in the ensuing silence, people recognized the voice of Dochka, the widow.

“He’s just come home,” she continued talking to those closest to her. “He jumped off his horse, and as soon as I told him, he headed straight to the church…. he must have come here.”

“Come? Who has come?” someone asked nervously.

“Aaaah! The plague has come!” a female voice screeched from inside the church.

And as it was crowded, in a moment the crowd turned, ready to run.

“Wait, people!”, some men shouted. “There’s nothing to be afraid of, nothing!”

The people calmed down a bit and started going back. But up front, by the church altar, there was an empty space. And there, in that place, a man appeared, young but blackened and dusty. His eyes, fixed on the bride, burned like coals, and he was swaying. He tried to step forward but cringed in terrible convulsions, black spots forming on his face. His legs sagged and he fell.

“He has the plague!”, someone shouted. “Run!”

Everyone rushed back, shoving one another and shouting. Then the crowd ran from the church like a herd of animals, leaving the space lit up. Only Tiha stood under the chandelier. She wanted to run too, but she saw a woman and stopped: it was Dochka. She looked at the fallen man at the altar, wringing her arms, her eyes crazed.

“Oh, God, what can I do?” she was shouting, “he’s my son, but he has the plague! Oh, my God!”

She got closer to him several times, then turned back, and finally, pulling at her hair and crying, she ran away.

Tiha then approached the plagued man – it was Velichko, she had recognized him as soon as he appeared. She leaned down, turned his face, then sat on the stone step in front of the altar, put her head on her knees, and looked him in the eye. Her veil fell and covered her face and his. Behind them, Jesus watched them from the darkened icon, with his right hand raised.

Portrait of Halyna Petrosanyak

Yordan Yovkov (1880, Zlatitsa) is a pivotal figure in 20th-century Bulgarian literature. His profound connection to Bulgaria’s cultural heritage shaped his artistic vision. A prolific author, Yovkov demonstrated literary prowess in poetry, plays, and short stories, blending realism and symbolism to depict Balkan traditions and universal themes. Yovkov’s stories, with their intricate exploration of love, spirituality, history, and human experience, resonate universally. They transcend geographical and cultural boundaries, offering English-speaking readers a chance to delve into the complexities that define the human condition, as seen through the lens of Bulgarian life.

Yovkov’s global impact is evident as Thomas Mann featured “The Sin of Ivan Belin” in his world’s best short stories anthology. Ivo Andric revered Yovkov, Jules Romains admired him, and Yachar Kemal equated him with Chekhov, solidifying the significance of Yovkov’s contributions on a global stage.

Portrait of Jeff Kochan

Teodora Gandeva, a modest language enthusiast with a BA in English and American studies and an MA in translation and editing from Sofia University, is devoted to introducing the richness of Bulgarian literature to the global stage. Teodora’s translations have been featured in publications such as World Literature Today and Asymptote, underscoring her commitment to transcending literary borders. Having previously served as an interpreter and lecturer at the University of Architecture, Civil Engineering, and Geodesy in Sofia, Bulgaria, and contributed to the Bulgarian edition of L’Europeo magazine, Teodora has seamlessly transitioned into a full-time dedication to the art of translation. When not immersed in the world of words, she takes delight in the whimsical escapades of her feline confidante, Dorian, and the enduring mysteries of the boundless sea.

The Lines by Dánial Hoydal, illustrated by Annika Øyrabo

The Lines by Dánial Hoydal, illustrated by Annika Øyrabo

Portrait of Halyna Petrosanyak

Dánial Hoydal (1976, Tórshavn) is a Faroese author and translator. He studied rethoric and computer science at university in Keypmannahavn and works as a communication and marketing consultant. In addition to children’s literature, he has written texts for the first Faroese opera, Óðamansgard, and lyrics to Ólavsøkukantatun. He has written a variety of stories and poems that have been published in books and periodicals.

Portrait of Halyna Petrosanyak

Annika Øyrabo is an illustrator specializing in paper-cut illustrations. She studied at the Danish Design School and the Hochschule Für Angewandte Wissenschaften in Hamburg, Germany.

Teendők halálom után by Miklós Vámos

Teendők halálom után by Miklós Vámos

Kovács Sanyit szerették Ladánybenén. Ő viszont szívből utálta a szülőfaluját. Annál erősebben csak a szülőapját, akinek legfőbb nevelési eszköze egy öreg, itt-ott repedező bikacsök volt. Sanyi megkérdezte, honnét szerezte, de nem kapott választ. A Kovács családban ritkán jöttek válaszok, ennek következtében a kérdések is elapadtak.

Kovács Bélát, az apját nem szerették Ladánybenén. A legutolsó ház volt az övé Csikós dűlőn. Lovakat patkolt, a kert sarkában lévő fészert használta műhelyként. Cigánynak tekintették, pedig tót volt, a nagyapját – Sanyi dédapját – még úgy hívták: Kožický. Állítólag Mária Terézia királynő idejében telepítették át őket Szlovákiából. Kovács Béla kisebb lakatosmunkákat is vállalt, hogy javítson a helyzetén, de hiába, sötét árnyalatú bőre miatt nem volt képes leradírozni magáról az előítéletet. A holokauszt idején elvitték, a cigányokkal együtt, csak akkor tudta igazolni magát, amikor a felesége utána futott a nagyapa keresztlevelével, amelyen szerepelt a dédpapa neve.

Durva, fennhéjázó ember volt, nem tűrt ellentmondást. Haragudott a világra, mert cigánynak minősítették, a felmenőire, mert nem gyűjtöttek össze jelentős vagyont, a feleségére, mert csak egy fiút szült neki. Azt nem vette számításba, hogy egy másikkal azért vetélt el, mert ő ostorral kergette az asszonyt ki az utcára, valamiféle háztartási mulasztás miatt. Sanyi igyekezett megvédeni az anyját, ő is kapott néhány határozott sújtást az arcába, később ezeket himlőhelynek gondolták az emberek, attól fogva ő is azt mondta, hogy igen, elvakarta a keléseket, őt nem figyelmeztették, hogy akkor megmaradnak..

Háromszor szökött meg, vándorbotra kötött batyuval, de a csendőrök mindig visszavitték, olyankor az apja úgy megverte a bikacsökkel, hogy lábra se tudott állni. No, ebbül majd tanulsz, te barom! – és durr, durr, durr!

Mihály tisztelendő úr eljött a házukhoz, próbált Kovács Béla lelkére beszélni, ő elhajtotta: Ebbe senki ne dumáljon bele, én nemzettem erre a világra, ha akarom, én is pusztítom el, no, viszlát, tisztelendő úr, kívül tágasabb.

Sanyi csak hat elemit végzett, utána az apja a földeken dolgoztatta, sokszor maga helyett, mert a patkolás többet hozott a konyhára. Tizenhét lehetett, amikor az anyjának nem sikerült kimosnia egy borfoltot az apja ingéből, önként feküdt hasra a földön, hogy az ostorcsapások a hátát érjék. Kovács Béla ekkor – mindannyiuk meglepetésére – a derékszíjat rántotta ki a nadrágjából, hogy azzal üssön. Az anyja vinnyogó hangon könyörgött, Béla, ne a csattal, az isten álgya meg, ne a csattal! – ez olaj volt a tűzre, a fémdarab keményen durrant az asszony hátán, csontot ért. Sanyi odaugrott, élő pajzsként, a csatt a szemét találta el, furcsamód mind a kettőt, szinte megvakította. Megragadott valamit, ami gereblyének bizonyult, úgy emelte két kézzel a feje fölé, ahogyan a nagybaltát szokták, s odavágott vele. Kovács Béla összecsuklott. Az anyja jajveszékelt, jaj, édes Sanyikám, mit tettél, jajistenem, mit tettél! – rázogatta, élesztgette a férjét, hiába. Addigra Sanyi visszanyerte a látását, kifordult az ajtón. Szemerkélt az eső, a hűvös cseppek úgy landoltak a feje tetején, mintha parányi kavicsok hullanának a mennyekből. Isten ad jeleket?

Elkullogott a rendőrségre, köszönés helyett bejelentette: Hát, agyoncsaptam az apámat, gyüttem börtönbe.

Soká tartott még, amíg kimondták az ítéletet, szándékos emberölésért. A kirendelt védőügyvéd az erős felindulás megállapításáért küzdött, Sanyi azonban minden terelő kérdésre fittyet hányva azt ismételgette: Nem tom, tisztelettel, lehet, hogy meg akartam ölni, mer ez így má nem mehetett tovább. Az anyja végigzokogta a tárgyalásokat. Sanyi az ítélethozatal előtti napon töltötte be a tizennyolcadikat, ennek is köszönhetően tíz év szabadságvesztésre ítélték. A szegedi Csillagba került.

Kovács Sándort a börtönben is szerették. Mintha kivirult volna. Állandóan mosolygott. Sanyi, te minek örülsz már megint? – kérdezte egy rabtárs. Én, kérlek szépen, nem tudom. Mindig boldog vagy? Asszem igen.

A smasszerok is kedvelték, kivételeztek vele, amióta kérésre gyerekjátékokat faragott nekik, hozott anyagból. A vésőt és a kalapácsot csak az irodában használhatta, szoros felügyelettel. De látták, nem akar ő semmi rosszat se másnak, se magának. Csodás pici hintalovat, szuronyos katonát, Szűz Máriát és Szent Pétert készített, szalonnadarabkákkal fényesítve. Rábízták a könyvtárat. Vesszőtálcán hordozta szét a rongyos köteteket, s úgy ajánlgatott bizonyos regényeket, mintha olvasta volna.

Heti kétszer bejárt egy tanár, Sanyi szorgalmasan gyakorolta a betűvetést, a helyesírást, mag a számtani alapműveleteket. Ugyanaz az ember nyelvet is tanított, oroszt és angolt. Sanyi az angolt választotta. Pedig a smasszerok az oroszra akarták rábeszélni, annak több hasznát venné. Ő azonban ragaszkodott az angolhoz, a cirill betűkhöz nem volt kedve. Elhatározta, ha kikerül innét, mindennel foglalkozik, csak földet nem túr, állatot nem gondoz. Nadrágos ember lesz, városi.

A rácsok mögött megállt az idő. Sanyi alig érzékelte a napok, a hetek, az évek múlását. Arcszőrzete olyan gyér és vékonyszálú volt, hogy hagyta nőni. Az egyik fegyőr szerint Nepomuki Szent Jánosra hasonlít, akinek arcképe látható a közeli templomban, majd megnézheti, ha szabadul. Ő a szabadulásra nem gondolt, nem is vágyott. Jól érezte magát. Míg a többi rab szünet nélkül számolgatta, hogy mikor telik le az ideje, Sanyi élvezettel merült a napok végtelennek tetsző óceánjába. A börtönmiséken sokszor részt vett, noha az imák helyett a saját belső filmjeit nézte, amelyek élvezetekkel teli jövőjét vetítették. Ha kitölti a tíz évet, s nem eresztik ki innen a jó magaviselete miatt, huszonnyolc lesz, amikor a többszörös rácsajtókon keresztül a szabad életbe léphet. Még előtte az élet! Úgy képzelte, sütni fog a nap, és fúj a tavaszi szél. Azt valamilyen okból biztosra vette, hogy tavasz lesz.

Újságot a rabok nem olvashattak, rádiót nem hallgathattak. Mégis beszivárogtak bizonyos hírek, a barátságosabb smasszeroktól. A legalapvetőbb, újra és újra elterjedő értesülés az volt, hogy általános amnesztiát hirdet a kormány. Ezt szerették bizonygatni a magukat legokosabbnak hívő elítéltek.

Egyszer csak azt a bizalmas hírt árulta el Sanyinak valamelyik fegyőr, hogy kitört a forradalom. Ugyan má, gondolta ő, a szociálizmusba nincsen forradalom. De egyre több jel utalt rá, hogy talán mégis. Megkettőzték a smasszerok számát, és csökkentették a kedvezményeket, például a séta időtartamát, ahol a rabok feltűnés nélkül cserélhették ki értesüléseiket. Valamelyikük talált egy eldobott újságot a kerítés mentén, gyorsan átfutotta, mielőtt elkobozták tőle. Tüntetnek az egyetemisták Budapesten. Az írók kiáltványokat fogalmaznak és tiltakoznak. Uramatyám.

Másnap bezörgettek minden cellába, s megparancsolták, hogy körletenként vonuljanak a zuhanyozóba. Mi a fene? Hetenként csak egyszer mehettek oda, s tegnapelőtt voltak.

Hatosával kísérték le az embereket a földszinti helyiségekbe, ahol a látogatások zajlottak. Senki nem akarta elhinni, de valóban szabadultak. Visszakapták a civil ruhájukat, ezeket papírzsákokban őrizték, többnyire megpenészedtek. Akié nem, az se járt jobban, mert a rabság idején kihíztak mindent. Érdekes módon Kovács Sanyira passzolt a cejgnadrág és az orosz nyakú ing, amiben bevonult ide, a cipője is illett a lábára, csak a fűzők szakadoztak el.

A kétszárnyú vaskapuhoz vezető első udvaron néhány öltönyös ember álldogált, valamennyi szabadulóval kezet fogtak, és sok szerencsét kívántak a Budapesti Forradalmi Bizottság nevében. Egyikükről lehetett tudni, hogy híres színész, a bátyja is itt raboskodott, a politikaiak közt.

Kovács Sanyi megállt a poros utcán. Ősz volt ugyan, de a nap sütött, s fújdogált az enyhe szél, cirógatta a haját. Most aztán hová? Kaptak búcsúzóul némi pénzt, tellett volna vonatjegyre, hogy eljusson Ladánybenére. Oda azonban nem kívánkozott. Kevéssel azelőtt kapta a hírt, hogy az anyja, aki újabban már nem látogatta, meghalt. Hiába, jobb ötlete nem lévén, mégis odavonatozott. A vasútállomáson és a görbe utcákon nem ismert rá senki. A Csikós-dűlő végén a ház elhagyatottnak látszott. A kertkapu nincs lelakatolva, berúgta. Néhány macska és egy kóbor kutya rebbent szét. A gyom térdig ért. A verandán leült a dikóra, ahol az anyja szokott megpihenni az egész napi lótás-futás után. No, most aztán?

Furcsamód a nedvesedő vályogfalakból áradó savanyú penészszag hatására sújtott le rá az éles fájdalom, akár egy kivégző bárd. Erre nem számított. Térdre hullott, és zokogott, vinnyogó hangon, ahogyan az anyja szokott. Istenem… szegény anya, elemésztette a magány. Most, hosszú idő után az apja is agyába ötlött, akit ő küldött a halálba. Eegen… az igazságügyi orvosszakértő szerint egy szemvillanás alatt meghalt, a gereblye három foga ütötte át a koponyacsontot, létfontosságú területen fúródva az agyba. Sanyi ezt el sem tudta képzelni, noha a bűnügyi eljárás alatt sokszor megpróbálta.

Megöltem az apámat, motyogta, milyen ember vagyok én? Nem volt képes lelkifurdalást érezni, de most már bánta, hogy elutasította az ügyvéd javaslatait, először azt, hogy önvédelemnek állítsa be a történteket, aztán hogy az erős fölindulást hangsúlyozza. Talán bűnhődni akart? Vagy szenvedni azért, amilyen helyzetbe az anyját taszította, aki nemcsak a férjét vesztette el, hanem a bevételi forrását is. Csak úgy tudott gondoskodni magáról, hogy eladogatott mindent, kezdve a műhely szerszámaival, folytatva a mezőgazdasági eszközökkel, a bútorokkal és a három parcella földdel. Mielőtt végső álmába szenderült, tárgyalt az egyik téesszel, megvették volna a házat magtárnak, erre már nem került sor. Sanyi nem bánta volna, ő úgyis elmegy innét, amint lehet s szabad. Kecskemétre. Vagy a fővárosba, ott pörög az igazi élet.

Délután lövöldözés kezdődött a falu főterén. Valaki bezörgetett az utcára néző ablakon: Ki van odabe? Sanyi ment a kertkapuhoz, csak én.

Gyerekkori pajtása, Józsi állt ott, Balog Józsi. Kezében kétcsövű vadászpuskával. Benyúlt a függőleges lécek fölött, és magához rántotta, átölelte: Sanyiii, te ithol? Sanyi egy pillanatra hátrébb lépett, kinyitotta a kaput, és visszaölelte. Úristen, mennyi mindent csináltak együtt kiskorukban, tették a rosszfákat a tűzre, s kapták a kiadós veréseket az apjuktól. Sanyinak újra csorogni kezdte a könnyei.

Hát én azt nem is tudtam, hogy téged kiengedtek! – Józsi hangjának most már nagyon cigányos lett a kunkorodása. Korábban nem így beszélt, vagy Sanyi nem vette észre. Amnesztia, suttogta. Naccerű, gyere velem! Hová? Hát te nem tudod? kitört a forradalom, barátom, elkergetjük a tanácselnököt meg a párttitkárt, és most má jó lesz!

Derűlátó lendületének egy töredéke átragadt Sanyira. Ő is elővette az apja ütött-kopott flóbertpuskáját a kamrából, s noha töltényt nem talált hozzá, vitte magával. Mire odaértek, legalább harminc fölfegyverkezett ember rikoltozott a tanácsháza előtt. A faluban szolgáló három rendőr holtsápadtan állta körül a bejáratot, pisztollyal hadonászva: Oszoljunk, emberek, mer baj lesz! – ismételgette az egyik gépiesen. A kutya se törődött vele. A cigányok bátorodtak föl leghamarább, kapanyéllel terelték félre a rendőröket, eszetekbe se jusson, hogy lőjetek, forradalom van, ha nem tudnátok! – betódultak az épületbe. Addigra a tanácselnök és a többi hivatalos személy már meglépett a hátsó kijáraton, széjjel spricceltek.

A cigányok ledöntötték az iratszekrényeket, és kitörtek néhány belső ablakot. Aznapra ennyi volt a forradalom Ladánybenén.

Este az iskolában tartottak gyűlést, kokárdákkal az ingükön. Sanyinak Józsi adott egyet. Megalakították a Forradalmi Bizottmányt, amelynek feladata a falu vezetése. Balog Józsi lett az elnök, a cigányok egyhangúan rá szavaztak, ő pedig addig erőskötött, míg Sanyit választották helyettesének. Utána átvonultak a kocsmába, megünnepelni, hogy mostantól ők az urak itten. Sanyi szinte soha nem ivott alkoholt, a vegyes pálinkától hamar berúgott, és az asztal alá csúszott. Józsi vitte haza, lefektette a tiszta szobában az egyetlen ágyra, ami megmaradt a bútorokból. Sanyi a forradalom következő két napját átaludta, hiába zörgetett be érte a barátja, hogy menjenek gyűlésbe. Így nélküle hozta meg a legfontosabb döntéseit a Forradalmi Bizottmány öt tagú vezetőségéből a többi négy. Józsiék nyári konyhájában.

Mire Sanyi csatlakozhatott hozzájuk, már nagyon éhes volt. Józsi anyja megetette szalonnával, friss kenyérrel és juhtúróval. Nem győzött hálálkodni. Az enyhén púpos asszony csak nevetett, enni azér mindig jut, akárkik a kormányok, csak lehessen állatunk meg kertünk, erre tik is ügyeljetek. Engedelmesen bólintott. Fogalma se volt, hogyan kéne ügyelni rá. Majd alakul.

Hallották a rádióban, hogy a ruszkik kimennek, nagyon örültek, erre is koccintottak. Ehelyett a ruszkik inkább bejöttek. Az országúton görögtek a tankok és a teherautók Pest felé. Ajjaj, mondta Józsi, bajba leszünk!

Úgy döntöttek, meglépnek innen. Balog Józsi nagybátyjához mentek, Dabasra. Ott töltöttek néhány napot, aztán Sanyi köszönetet mondott, és elindult Budapest felé, gyalogosan. Ahol ráesteledett, megaludt a földeken.

Vecsésen tartóztatták föl az oroszok, fegyverrel kísérték egy gépállomásra, amelyet gyűjtőhelynek rendeztek be. Legalább ötszázan vártak itt a sorukra. A legkülönbözőbb rémhírek terjengtek. Kihallgatás után nyomban kivégzik őket. Sőt kihallgatás helyett. Megint az lesz, hogy málenkij robot, mint negyvenhatba, s visznek Szibériába, sopánkodtak az idősebbek. Vagy olyan lágerba, mint a zsidókat a németek, oszt nekünk annyi!

Ezek egyike sem ígért semmi jót. Sanyi úgy döntött, az első adandó alkalommal megszökik. Erre akkor nyílt mód, amikor lovaskocsival kihajtottak a gépállomásról, valamilyen raktárba indultak, kenyeret és konzerveket vételezni. Egyetlen géppisztolyos katona volt hét fogolyra, az is a bakon ült a fuvaros mellett. Amikor bekanyarodtak egy szélesebb utcára, Sanyi átvetette magát a saroglyán, s belehengeredett a gyommal sűrűn telenőtt vízelvezető árokba. Lehunyt szemmel számolt magában húszig, míg a keréknyikorgás elhalkult. No… megúsztam?

Csak akkor folytatta útját, amikor besötétedett, igyekezett a településeken kívül maradni. Fázott, nem volt nála meleg ruha, kénytelen volt lopni köpenyt és lópokrócot egy istállóból. Iratait és kevéske pénzét a nyakában lógó vászonzacskóban tartotta, amit Józsi anyjától kapott. Fogalma se volt, merre jár. Vasúti sínek állták útját. Éppen közeledett egy hosszú tehervonat, csikorogva meg is állt. Isten küldte, gondolta, és fölmászott a vaslétrán az utolsó vagon peronjára. Amint a szerelvény indult tovább, letelepedett a fékezőfülkében. Hamar álomba merült.

Nem tudni, mennyi idő múlva ébresztette föl, két egyenruhás. Sanyi automatikusan a magasba emelte a karját. Nyugi, fiam, mink vasutasok vagyunk.

Annyira összebarátkoztak, hogy elárulták Sanyinak, ők a maguk részéről átszállnak egy másik vonatra Rákosrendezőn, és meg sem állnak Sopronig. Mostan át lehet szökni Ausztriába. Onnan meg, ki hová vágyik. Anglia is lehet? Mér ne, fiam, Ausztriába hontalanok leszünk, kapunk nanzen útlevelet, az mindenhova jó, kivéve Magyarországot, hehe.

Portrait of Halyna Petrosanyak

Miklós Vámos (1950, Budapest) is a Hungarian writer who has had over forty books published, many of them in multiple languages. He is a recipient of numerous literary awards, including the 2016 Prima Primissima Award, one of the most prestigious awards in Hungary. His most successful book is The Book of Fathers, which has been translated into nearly thirty languages. His ancestors on his father’s side were Jews who perished in the Holocaust. Fortunately, his father—a member of a penitentiary march battalion—survived. Out of the five thousand Hungarian Jews sent off to their deaths late in World War II, only seven came back. His father was one of them. Vámos was raised in Socialist Hungary unaware he was a Jew. In an effort to save himself from his chaotic heritage, he turned to writing novels.

The Lines by Dánial Hoydal, illustrated by Annika Øyrabo

Strikurnar by Dánial Hoydal, illustrated by Annika Øyrabo

Portrait of Halyna Petrosanyak

Dánial Hoydal (1976, Tórshavn) is a Faroese author and translator. He studied rethoric and computer science at university in Keypmannahavn and works as a communication and marketing consultant. In addition to children’s literature, he has written texts for the first Faroese opera, Óðamansgard, and lyrics to Ólavsøkukantatun. He has written a variety of stories and poems that have been published in books and periodicals.

Portrait of Halyna Petrosanyak

Annika Øyrabo is an illustrator specializing in paper-cut illustrations. She studied at the Danish Design School and the Hochschule Für Angewandte Wissenschaften in Hamburg, Germany.

Things To Do After My Death by Miklós Vámos, translated from the Hungarian by Ági Bori

Things To Do After My Death by Miklós Vámos, translated from the Hungarian by Ági Bori

Sanyi Kovács was well-liked in Ladánybene, although he despised his village with every fiber of his body. What he despised even more was his father, whose child-rearing method was limited to an old bully stick, its shriveled surface lined with a few cracks. When Sanyi asked where the bully stick came from, there was never an answer. Answers were rare to come by in the Kovács family, and therefore the questions began to dry up, too.

His father, Béla Kovács, was hated by everyone in Ladánybene. His house was the last one on the street near the Csikós ploughland. He shoed horses in a small shed, tucked away in the corner of the backyard. He was Slovak, but people assumed he was a Gypsy, though the last name of his grandfather—Sanyi’s great-grandfather—was Kožicky. The family supposedly had been relocated from Slovakia during the time of Maria Theresa. Béla Kovács took on smaller locksmith jobs to better his situation, but his dark skin continued to prevent him from being able to shake off the prejudice against him. During the Holocaust he was rounded up and taken away with the Gypsies, and he could only identify himself and save his skin when his wife ran after them, waving around his great-grandfather’s baptismal certificate to prove who he was.

He was a barbaric, arrogant man who refused to let anyone contradict him. He was mad at the world for labeling him a Gypsy, mad at his ancestors for not laying aside substantial assets. Mad at his wife for bearing him only one son. He did not take into account that she miscarried their second child because of the cruel beating he gave her with a whip, for what he claimed was some sort of unfinished domestic duty. She frantically ran out to the street to get away from him, with their son Sanyi trailing behind her trying to protect his mother from his beastly father who, without hesitation, flogged him too, across his face, leaving him with scars, which, once they healed somewhat, the townspeople assumed were pock marks, so he also called them that. No one warned him that picking off the abscesses would leave him with life-long scars.

He ran away three times, always with a cloth sack tied to the end of a stick, but the gendarmes took him back home each time. His return was met with brutal beatings from his father; he hit him so hard with the bully stick that for days he couldn’t even stand on his feet. This’ll teach you, you scumbag!—he yelled, as he thwacked him. Bam, bam, bam!

One day the Reverend Mihály stopped by the house and tried his best to exhort Sanyi’s father to pull himself together, but he refused to hear the priest out, no matter how hard he tried to talk some sense into him. He stood his ground and was firm in his resolve: No one can tell me what to do, I fathered the child, and I can wipe him off the face of the earth, if I want to. And now, if you excuse me, Reverend, get the hell out of my house!

Sanyi did only six grades in elementary school; afterward, his father sent him out to work in the fields, often to take over for him, so that he could carry on with his farrier job, which brought in more money than the revenue from the crops. He must have been around seventeen when one day his mother could not completely remove a stain from his father’s shirt. She took the initiative and lay down on her stomach at her husband’s feet, so that the majority of the lashes would be absorbed by her back. His wife and son were surprised when, instead of reaching for the whip, Béla Kovács began to undo his belt. Sanyi’s mother whimpered and begged her husband, Béla, please don’t use the buckle, I beg you, may God have mercy on your soul, don’t use the buckle! But her yowling only added fuel to the fire and before she could say another word, the metal buckle landed on her back, across her spine, nearly breaking her bones. Sanyi jumped to her rescue, did his best to act like a human shield, but the buckle somehow hit his eyes, causing him to momentarily lose sight. He grabbed the closest thing, which happened to be a rake, lifted it above his head as he would an ax, and swung it really hard. Béla Kovács collapsed. His mother screamed, Sanyika, ohmygod, my dear Sanyika, what have you done, ohmygod, what have you done?! She kept shaking her husband, trying to resuscitate him, but her attempt was in vain. By then, Sanyi had regained his sight, turned around, and went out the door. It was drizzling cold raindrops, as if they were tiny pebbles falling from heaven, landed on his head. Was that God sending some sort of sign?

 He made his way to the police station where, instead of offering a greeting, he announced: I killed my father and I want to turn myself in.

It took a long time for the jury to return with the unanimous guilty verdict for voluntary manslaughter. The defense attorney assigned to the case argued that his client acted in self-defense, but Sanyi brushed his lawyer’s deflective attempts aside: With all due respect, I might have murdered my father intentionally, because we couldn’t live with him no more. His mother was inconsolable throughout the trial. Sanyi turned eighteen the day before the verdict was delivered, and that also played a role in him receiving a ten-year sentence. He was sent to the infamous Csillag Prison in Szeged.

Sándor Kovács was well-liked in prison, too. He seemed to blossom behind prison walls. Sanyi, what’s with the constant happy mood? asked a fellow prisoner. With all due respect, I really don’t know. Are you always happy? I think I am.

The prison guards liked him too and showed favors toward him when, upon request, he started to churn out hand-carved children’s toys—tiny rocking horses, soldiers with bayonets, small statues of the Virgin Mary and Saint Peter—from whatever materials they brought in for him. Initially, he was tightly monitored and could use the small hammer and chisel only in the main office and under close supervision, but he quickly proved to be trustworthy. It became clear that he meant no harm to anyone, including himself, so they entrusted him with the library. He carried around the prison’s well-worn books on a handwoven rattan tray. His enthusiastic book recommendations resonated across the long hallways with gusto, as if he had actually read the books he was endorsing.

Twice a week a teacher came to the prison and, under his guidance, Sanyi diligently learned the alphabet along with basic grammar and mathematical skills. The same person also taught Russian and English. Sanyi chose English, though the guards tried hard to convince him to pick Russian. It would have been a more practical language for him, they said. But he could not be swayed, plus he was not electrified about the Cyrillic alphabet. He made up his mind that once he got out, he’d do anything but agricultural work—he no longer wanted anything to do with farms and stock-raising. He would be a white-collar worker, a city dweller.

Time came to a screeching halt behind bars. The passing of the days, weeks, and years barely registered with Sanyi. His facial hair was so thin that he did not bother to shave it and just let it grow wild. One of the guards said he looked like John of Nepomuk, whose portrait was painted on a nearby church wall, and when Sanyi got out, he could go see it. He didn’t give any thought to the day when he’d be released from jail. He felt content being institutionalized and had no desire to be free. While other prisoners could not stop counting the days until their sentences were up, Sanyi blissfully immersed himself in the myriad days that to him simply felt like a never-ending oceanic current. He often attended mass in prison; instead of reciting prayers, he covertly watched on the silver screen of his mind his own self-directed movies, which projected a future full of joy and hope. At the end of his ten-year sentence—assuming he was not let out early for good behavior—he’d be twenty-eight, with his whole life ahead of him. He was sure that the day he stepped across the prison gates, the sun would shine, and he would feel a spring breeze on his face. He somehow felt certain it would be springtime.

Prisoners were not allowed to read the newspaper or listen to the radio. But snippets of news still made their way into the prison through the friendlier guards. The most basic information that came up again and again was that the government was granting blanket amnesty to prisoners. Many prisoners who thought themselves to be the smartest claimed this to be true.

One day a guard confided in Sanyi that a revolution was underway. No way, thought Sanyi, there are no revolutions under Socialism. But more and more signs indicated that the guard was telling the truth. The prison doubled the number of its guards and decreased its extracurricular activities, such as daily walks, where prisoners might clandestinely exchange inside information. One of the prisoners found a discarded newspaper by the fence and quickly read it before it was confiscated. University students were demonstrating in Budapest. Authors were protesting and preparing manifestos. Mother of God, thought Sanyi.

The next day the guards rattled the rows of cell doors and ordered the prisoners to head to the shower room with their assigned groups. What the hell? Prisoners were allowed one shower a week, and they just had one yesterday.

They were chaperoned downstairs to the visitor area in groups of six. None of them could believe that they were actually being released. Their civilian clothes—stored in paper bags for years, now heavily covered in mold—were handed back to them. The few who escaped the villainous mold were not better off, because they had gained so much weight during their imprisonment that they could no longer squeeze into their old garments. Interestingly, the button-up shirt and linen pants Sanyi Kovács wore the day he came to prison still fit him perfectly; his shoes also felt comfortable, only their shoelaces had become thin and tattered with age.

Next, they were herded into the inner courtyard—a straight path led from there to the double iron gates through which they were to gain entry to the outside world—where a few men hung around, dressed in pristine business suits, waiting for the prisoners to arrive, so that they could shake hands with each one and wish them good luck on behalf of the Budapest Revolutionary Committee. One of them was a famous actor whose brother was also locked up for political sins.

Sanyi Kovács stepped through the iron gates and paused for a moment on the dusty road. It was a cool autumn day, but the sun was out, and it warmed him against the gentle breeze that cooled his face. He had no inkling of where he wanted to go. He stood with his feet glued to the ground and played around with the small allowance in his pocket that he received from the prison officials. It was enough to purchase a train ticket to Ladánybene, but he did not feel like going there. Not long prior to his release he received news on the passing of his mother. Despite the heavy loss, he was unable to come up with a better plan, so he took the train to Ladánybene. No one recognized him at the train station, and no one recognized him later either as he ambled along the crooked streets of his hometown. His family home by the Csikós ploughland appeared to be neglected and dilapidated. He kicked in the unlocked gate. A few cats and a stray dog scattered. Weeds brushed up to his knees as he approached the veranda and sat down on the rickety stool where his mother used to catch her breath after a long day of hard labor. He had no plans whatsoever.

A whiff of sour mold from the damp walls penetrated his soul like an executioner’s sword. He was not expecting that. He fell to his knees and sobbed, whimpering like his mother used to way back when. He cried for his poor mother who withered away in a lonely existence. He also thought of his father, whom he sent to his death; it has been years since his memory had last crossed his mind. The report of the forensic pathologist stated that his father died instantly when the rake’s three prongs went through his skull, damaging the most vital parts of his brain. Sanyi could not imagine the rake lodged in his father’s skull, though he tried many times during the criminal proceedings.

Does it make me a horrible person that I killed my father? he mumbled to himself. He was unable to feel guilt but, for the first time ever, he regretted not having listened to his lawyer who had wanted him to tell police that he had acted in self-defense, and emphasize the flurry of emotions that surrounded the murder. Perhaps he wanted to atone for his sins? Or did he want to punish himself for creating a situation where his mother not only lost her husband, but all of her income as well? After her husband’s death, she could only support herself by selling off all her belongings, piece by piece, starting with the tools from the shed, then the agricultural equipment, and finally the three plots of land and her meager furniture from the house. Shortly before she breathed her last, she was in negotiations with an agricultural cooperative that was interested in buying her house to use as a granary, but she passed away before the deal was sealed. Sanyi wouldn’t have minded if the house had sold; he’d planned to leave anyway, as soon as he could, and head to Kecskemét. Or to the capital, the city full of excitement.

In the afternoon the town’s main square erupted in gunshots. Someone knocked on the street-facing window: Who’s inside the house? Sanyi walked up to the gate: It’s me, Sanyi.

There stood his childhood friend, Józsi, Józsi Balog, holding a hunting rifle in his hand. Reaching through the vertical planks of the wooden gate, he grabbed Sanyi and pulled him closer, and gave him a bear hug. Sanyiii, you’re home? Sanyi stepped back, opened the gate, and hugged him back. They were both overcome with emotions. Triggered by memories of childhood mischief—for which they got their fair share of punishments—Sanyi shed tears of joy and gratitude for having been reunited with his childhood friend.

I didn’t know you were let out of prison early, rejoiced Józsi, curling his words with a heavy Gypsy accent that Sanyi detected immediately. He used to not talk like that, or Sanyi hadn’t picked up on it before. He whispered in Józsi’s ear: Amnesty. Józsi was ecstatic: Great! Come with me! Where are we going? Józsi explained that a revolution had broken out: My friend, he said, it’s 1956, and we have a revolution on our hands! Let’s chase away the president of the council and the party secretary! Life will be much better without them, trust me!

Some of his optimism rubbed off on Sanyi; he located his father’s beat up Flobert rifle in the shed and, despite not being able to find any bullets, decided to take it with him. By the time they made their way to the main square, at least thirty armed men were shouting in front of the town hall. The town’s three policemen, their faces as white as ghosts, blocked the entry of the building and waved their pistols around. One of them kept repeating in a robotic manner:  Keep moving people, or there will be serious trouble! No one paid attention to him. It was a group of Gypsies—wielding long-handled hoes—who first worked up enough courage to chase away the police officers: Don’t even think about shooting at us, there is a revolution, in case you didn’t know!—they swarmed the building. By then, the party secretary and other officials had managed to sneak out the back door.

The Gypsies knocked over some cabinets inside and broke a few windows—that was the end of the Ladánybene Revolution.

At night they held a meeting at the elementary school; all the attendees wore cockades on their shirts, flaunting the national colors of Hungary. Sanyi got his from Józsi. They formed what they called a Revolutionary Committee, whose sole responsibility was to govern the town. The Gypsies unanimously cast their votes for Józsi Balog, so he became president. Once his position was secured, he insisted on Sanyi being his vice-president. Afterwards they went across the square to the local pub to celebrate that now they were the ones in power. Sanyi hardly ever consumed alcohol, so the bootleg pálinka went straight to his head, and he soon found himself under the table. Józsi took him home and laid him down on the bed, the only remaining piece of furniture in the so-called parlor of Sanyi’s house. He slept through the next two days of the revolution. He never heard his friend knocking on the door, reminding him that it was time to attend the meetings; therefore, the other four members of the revolutionary committee were forced to make important decisions without his input. The meetings usually took place in Józsi’s backyard, in the summer kitchen.

When Sanyi finally came to from his drunken stupor and joined the group, he was so hungry he could eat a horse. Józsi’s mother fed him a generous portion of bacon, warm homemade bread, and cottage cheese made from fresh sheep milk. He couldn’t thank her enough. The slightly hunchbacked old woman laughed and reassured him that there would always be food no matter who ran the country, as long as people had vegetable gardens and a few farm animals, which he needed to have too, if he wanted to survive. Sanyi nodded, though he had not the slightest idea where he would even start. God willing, things would work themselves out.

They heard on the radio that the Russkies were going to leave Hungary; the news made them happy; they cheered and clinked their glasses. But instead, more Russkies came in. The roads were swarmed with tanks and trucks, heading toward Budapest. Józsi sensed trouble ahead.

They decided to leave their hometown behind. Józsi Balog’s uncle lived in the nearby town of Dabas, so they headed in that direction. After hiding out there for a few days, Sanyi had enough and decided to set off to Budapest on his own. He walked during the day and spent his nights under the stars, curled up in the fields.

He almost made it to Budapest when he was stopped and arrested by Russians on the outskirts of Vecsés. They frog-marched him to an equipment yard that had been designated as an assembly point. By the time Sanyi arrived, at least five hundred people had been packed in there, waiting their turn. Frightening news circulated among the captured. They would be executed after interrogations. Or executed without interrogations. There will be malenki robot, like back in ‘46, then off to Siberia again, moaned the older men. Or to concentration camps, like the ones where the Germans kept the Jews, and that will be the end of us!

None of the options seemed promising. Sanyi made up his mind to escape at the earliest opportunity. The first chance came when they left the equipment yard on horse-drawn carriages, supposedly to go to a storage shed to bring back canned goods and bread. One Russian soldier with a machine gun was in charge of the seven prisoners, but he sat up front, next to the coachman. When they turned onto a wider street, Sanyi threw himself over the side and rolled into a weedy ditch that was used to divert water away from the streets. He feared with each passing second that the carriage might come to an abrupt halt, but it never did. He closed his eyes, lay motionless, and thanked his lucky stars.

Once darkness fell, he continued his journey, trying his best to stay away from populated areas. It was bitterly cold and he didn’t have any warm clothes, which left him with no choice but to steal a cloak and a horse blanket from a barn he passed along the way. Józsi’s mother had sewed him a neck pouch for his papers and handful of coins, whose overall value amounted to a pittance. He wandered aimlessly, but at some point he had to admit to himself that he had completely lost his bearings. And now a railroad crossing blocked his way. In the distance he spotted an approaching train, inching closer and closer, its wheels weighed down by heavy cargo; it eventually came to a full stop, producing a high-pitched, screeching sound. What a godsend, thought Sanyi, as he hopped up on the last coach. When the train began to move again, he cozied up in a small area that housed the brake system. He dozed off straight away.

It wasn’t clear how much time had passed before he was woken up by two uniformed men. He reflexively raised both of his arms. Everything is fine, calm down, they told him, we’re just ordinary railroad workers.

The three of them got along so well that the two men confessed to Sanyi that as soon as the train reached Rákosrendező, they would hop onto another train that would take them close to Sopron. From there, only a stone’s throw away was the Austrian border, where they could cross illegally and go anywhere! Even to England?—asked Sanyi, starry-eyed. Why not, sonny? In Austria we’ll automatically become refugees and get a Nansen passport that’s good for any country, except Hungary. Har!

Portrait of Halyna Petrosanyak

Miklós Vámos (1950, Budapest) is a Hungarian writer who has had over forty books published, many of them in multiple languages. He is a recipient of numerous literary awards, including the 2016 Prima Primissima Award, one of the most prestigious awards in Hungary. His most successful book is The Book of Fathers, which has been translated into nearly thirty languages. His ancestors on his father’s side were Jews who perished in the Holocaust. Fortunately, his father—a member of a penitentiary march battalion—survived. Out of the five thousand Hungarian Jews sent off to their deaths late in World War II, only seven came back. His father was one of them. Vámos was raised in Socialist Hungary unaware he was a Jew. In an effort to save himself from his chaotic heritage, he turned to writing novels.

Portrait of Jeff Kochan

Ági Bori originally hails from Hungary, and she has lived in the United States for more than thirty years. A decade ago, she decided to try her hand at translating and discovered she loved it. She is a fierce advocate for bringing more translated books to American readers. In addition to reading and writing in Hungarian and English, her favorite avocation is reading Russian short stories in their native language. Her translations are available or forthcoming in Apofenie, Asymptote, B O D Y, the Forward, Hopscotch Translation, Hungarian Literature Online, the Los Angeles Review, Litro Magazine, MAYDAY, and Northwest Review. She is a translation editor at the Los Angeles Review.

Trafika Europe