by Stanislava Slavova-Petkova; translated by Traci Speed

A text by the 2019 Sozopol Fiction Seminars fellow and CapitaLiterature participant Stanislava Slavova-Petkova

Most of the houses in the village were uninhabitable. The residents of the rest of them were old people and Gypsies. On the whole, peace and love didn't exactly reign, but there was tolerance and an absence of extensive problems. The elderly Bulgarians were situated in the upper mahala, and their dark-skinned younger neighbors – in the lower one. The store on the village square was in the middle of the village and served as a linguistic point of contact.

Things changed that summer. The Gypsy kids who went to school in the next village were on vacation, and the calm in the village scattered in their wake. They went from house to house making mischief, and once they even broke a store window. Later, the main culprit got slapped up by his uncle, never mind that he was already 18, because it turned out that the store belonged to the local Gypsy leader, and now they had to fix it.

Anger quickly seized him and wouldn't let him go. The noise in his ears from the blows would not quiet down all day, and by evening, he had decided to test himself in the Bulgarian mahala. They never talked about it at home, as if it didn't even exist. He hadn't been there since he was a child; the place was a little secluded and uninviting, but now the adrenaline in his blood had turned into a devil that wanted revenge for the pain and humiliation he'd suffered.

His friend, hearing his intentions, tried to keep him from it. The idea of drinking in the yard of the old school was far and away better. But he wouldn't give up; he wanted to rage some place where he wouldn't get beaten for it afterwards.

There was light coming from only one house in the upper mahala. House was perhaps a strong word for it, the way most of its walls and the yard were overtaken by weeds, but there was a thin stream of smoke filtering from the crooked chimney. It didn't strike him as unusual that smoke was coming from the chimney in the middle of summer – not everyone here had electricity, and some people cooked the way people used to – over a wood fire.

He peered into the window. In spite of the torn curtains and the smudged glass, he managed to see that inside, there was just an old woman. She was standing next to a large hearth and stirring a big cauldron with a wooden spoon. The cauldron attracted him, as if thousands of magnets were becoming electrified within his skin. His gaze traveled hurriedly around the little room in search of other "valuables." There were some strangely beautiful metal cups arranged on a shelf beside the fireplace, each one with a different shape. He saw them with the eyes of a professional. They could even be sold on their own merit, and not just because of the metal they were made of.

While he was considering whether to break the window or to go through the high grass in the yard, a light gust of wind blew, and the back door opened with a doleful creaking. He was so startled that, for a moment, he thought there was someone else there in the dark. The old lady didn't even notice him come in. She stood there dumbly in front of her cauldron on the fire, just stirring and stirring. To save time, to not have to ransack the whole house, he shouted at her, asking if she had anything valuable, money from a pension, icons. First the old woman looked at him, then she shook her head. She quietly murmured under her breath, "They don't learn, it's the same thing every year." As she stood there, she pointed with her free hand to the shelf of metal cups. He looked around for something to put the cups in. He spilled them roughly onto the bed cover so he could carry them in it. Then it occurred to him that the old woman might not have any money, but there still might be something else she could offer him, and he turned towards her with a nasty smile. She was standing in front of him, but somehow not quite so hunched over now, and she was pointing the wooden spoon at him. He found it funny – did she really think she stood a chance? She gave the spoon a light flick with her hand, and the sticky green liquid from it burned him. The pain was simultaneously fierce and paralyzing. He noticed that he couldn't stand on his legs anymore, and he dropped to his knees. The old woman looked at him for a moment and then, without any effort, she lifted him up by his t-shirt and put him in the pot.

His parents didn't find him at home in the morning and went out looking for him among their neighbors. Afterwards, they started questioning his friends. When they found out he had tried to convince them to go to the upper mahala with them that night, his father grew pale and turned green, while his mother wailed as if at a funeral. From the wailing of the women and the moaning of the men, it was clear that the whole mahala now knew about his disappearance. His friends and the younger ones were bewildered. Around noon, the older people gathered in a large group and set out for the upper mahala. But only his mother got up the courage to knock on the old woman's window.

"Auntie, give him back, please. Nobody won't come here no more, everything'll be like before." Her face was covered by her tears and her running nose, and her head kerchief had slipped down onto her shoulders.

The Gypsy woman stood there for two days. She wouldn't eat or drink. Her husband gave up and only brought her food or water from time to time, since they remained untouched.

It wasn't until sunset of the second day that the window opened, and a bony white arm handed her a beautiful copper cup.

Stanislava Slavova-Petkova holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics and informatics from Plovdiv University, as well as a master's degree in informatics from Veliko Tarnovo University. She has published works on serious educational games as a method for digital presentation and preservation of cultural and scientific heritage. She works at an international company. As a fiction author, Stanislava writes mainly short stories which have appeared in periodicals and blogs. She has won third prize in the 2018 Irrelevant contest, organized by Bukvite Foundation, Bulgaria, which was given to her for most interesting short story character.


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