Those were odd times – you could take out the eyes of the blind one, you could squeeze blood out of a stone!
After the Germans declared war on the Russians, everything went backwards. The years, which came were of bigger and bigger hunger. I was working in a pub. For such a job, as Nako said, they need cunning people and accurate scales. I liked the trade, I was good at it. As a pub keeper, I also sold the flour. I gave it in the form of rations. At that time there was neither a road nor a motorized transport to the town. We brought the flour on mules.
Once in the winter I sent people to load the flour from Banite. It happened that during the day I had to go down to town with three mules for goods. People brought the flour and shared it equally, and then brought me the money.
It was not easy to travel five hours from the town to our village, to walk in the snow deep to your knee, and to go with loaded mules through Slivov dol. It was terrible there. The path was narrow, icy and outlined by nature itself, winding in the middle of a sheer cliff for over a kilometer. You get dizzy looking down the deep abyss. Just a little slip and the cattle go into the abyss. One by one, I led the mules by the leads while I was walking with them through that damn place. I remember coming back in the dark. The night was like every other night –the moon cusp and stars in the sky and a quiet and dark village.
I unloaded the mules and went home. I had not passed the pub when I met Gego. He greeted me, shook his head, as if wondering whether to tell me anything or not, and pushed into my hand a hundred leva of the old money.
“What is this money for, uncle Gego?” I asked. “You do not have a debt”.
“I brought flour, Dimo, a load from Banite and I left it in my house.”
I got angry and I called to him:
“How did you bring flour? Who ordered you?”
“Well, I did it. I will not die of starvation.”
“If you brought it, you brought it ... But at least one sack you should get back because there’s no flour in the store either.”
And he told me:
“I gave Samura half of it.”
I turned red with rage, told him off properly and we parted.
The next day I just opened the pub and started sorting out the goods when someone opened the door and stopped out of breath on the threshold. I looked at him, it was Nako, goose-fleshed, bearded, wearing torn ox sandals and tied with a rope across his waist;on his back he had a towy shirt with patches of different colour. He pastured Churko’s oxen in the summer and in the winter he worked as a farmhand in one or another place in search for a piece of bread.
Nako came up, banged his fist on the counter, looked at me straight in the eyes and said,
“Dimo, you are my father, you are my salvation! My children”, he said, ”are starving. Give me some flour again if you do not want to send me to my dad in the cemetery.”
“You took your ration,” I told him. “I cannot give you any more, the barn is empty. And there is a law for this!”
He jumped up like scalded against me.
“Do you know the hunger law? Do you know”, he said, “this law! You may be a smarter man than me, but I’ve torn two or three shirts more than you.”
“Do you think that this threshing is just on your head…? Look, go to Gegov’s” I told him, “and ask them to give you twenty kilos of flour. Tell them I am sending you.”
I wore a note to him, Nako was pleased and left the pub. After a while he returned as a beaten man.
“They did not give me, Dimo! They did not give me, damn... “, he said ready to cry.
“I will not leave the things this way. We’ll sort it out somehow. Now drink a rakia and calm down.”
I poured him a glass of rakia. He drank half of it at once, wiped his mouth with his hand and you do know what he said to me?
“There is not ease anywhere. Yesterday the mayor called me in the municipality again. There were some strangers with him. I asked him, “Why do you want to see me, Mr. Mayor?”
“You owe money, that’s why,” he told me.
“When I have it, then I will give it to you.”
“Listen, now you can go,” said one of the strangers. “But when we come for the second time, bring the money!”
“When you come, you are welcome!” I told them. “But I cannot give you anything but my torn pants.”
The mayor got up from the table, came to me, adjusted his glasses, and shouted at me:
“You, he said, you got drunk like a Cossack! You smell of wine.”
“Do you want me to smell of milk?” I replied.
Nako was silent, took a sip of rakia and added,
“I have not seen meat for ten years, and they want me a tax on sheep... I will get out of the village”, he said, “I am tired of this harassment.”
“Where are you going to go?” I told him, “It’s like that everywhere. Nobody can escape from these wolf laws.”
Nako put his hands on his head. It grew dark before my eyes. Something hard and heavy like a stone stuck on my throat. I stopped sorting out the goods and told him,
“Those bastards can take off your clothes and leave you naked and rip your skin and still they won’t stop wanting more and more! Well, let’s both go to look for flour.”
I closed the pub and we left. The weather outside was icy. Nako shrank trembling of cold. It happened that we passed his house. Like the owner, like his little house - small, shattered, and there are such screams that make you have goose-flesh all over. I turned to Nako,
“We won’t come back without flour, it doesn’t matter how!"
As soon as we reached the Gegov’s house, I pushed the gate and told Nako to follow me. Without banging, we went straight inside. From a low room, Gegov’s wife popped out, all in flour, and stopped as if frozen to the spot on the threshold when he saw us. She understood what was happening, and she had kneaded all the flour. She had even lit the furnace. I told her:
“Give half of the flour to Nako!”
And she looked nice to me, showed me the empty sacks and said,
“I do not have any left, Dimo, I do not have! I got it all kneaded. You can see that I do not have any!...”
“Listen what I’m going to tell you: if it’s for a man, I’m so good that you may take the clothes from my back, but if I know that someone’s playing games with me and lie to me looking in my eyes – it’s hard for him.”
I got so angry, that my hair stood up. Nako, too, took the spade for bread. I could not stay calm anymore, and I shouted in such a way that I was afraid of my voice.
“Give the flour; otherwise you will not eat bread!”
The dough in the bread troughs was kneaded and was now rising. The fire in the furnace was still burning. I drew Nako.
“Take the the bread troughs!”
He was only waiting for that and pulled them so that he would spill the dough. Gogov’s wife hurled herself against him and they nearly started to fight with the spade if I had not separated them. I took the bread troughs with one hand, and with the other I pushed her. I helped Nako take them through the stairs, and the woman started swearing at us and all our relatives. We got out of the house. Nako rejoiced started to drag the bread troughs in the snow.
I accompanied him to his house. He brought me into a dark and smoky room. Inside there was only a wooden bed, covered with two or three skins and a torn fleecy rug. The door was crooked and from the cold the water in the copper pans had frozen. His wife’s eyes were red and wet from the smoke or something else, and a child less than a year old screamed in her hands. The others, I do not remember, five or six, cold and hungry, as soon as we got in, came around and stretched their hands to the dough.
Nako leaned under the bed and pulled out their bread troughs. His wife Gela, with ruffled hair, left the little one in the cradle and quickly kneaded the dough into them. She rolled up her sleeves and began to form it, making small round pieces of bread, sticking them to the stove. The kids, nearly naked in the middle of winter, sniffing, took the raw pieces of bread from the stove and ate them, so that their ears are moving, and tears were flowing from their eyes...
I could not stand it anymore. I left the house and went to the pub. I did not feel the cold that was freezing the ground, I was deaf to the wailing of the blizzard, but somewhere deep in my soul I felt a pain that made me clutch my fists.