THE OLD MAN AND THE MOUNTAIN, A short story

by Rumen Pavlov; translated from the Bulgarian by Rumen Pavlov

A text by the 2018 Sozopol Fiction Seminars fellow and CapitaLiterature participant Rumen Pavlov

It's difficult to talk about this, it's difficult but someone should do it, the old man wanted only to confess his sins before his death, there was no priest in the village, I had lost my way in the Blue mountain, I heard some voices and went downhill through some thorns, I met some old people and asked them where I was, they were crying like infants, especially an old woman, she turned out to be the old man's wife, she explained everything to me, she didn't tell me where I was, only told me come to confess him, poor man, he shouldn't take his sins to the grave, I agreed, instead of arguing, I couldn't miss this chance, a hundred years old telling me about his life, she took me to a little hut nearby, the old man was lying inside the only room, all skin and bones, his eyes invisible, shivers went down my spine, the old woman left us alone, he waved at me, I approached him, he asked me are you the priest, in feeble voice, I said yes, he caught my hand, it was as if I thrust it into the ground, he pulled me softly towards him, I felt that he wanted my ear to his mouth, I put it there, I sensed the smell of soil, the old man started talking about his childhood, about the premature death of his father, how he'd stolen a piece of cheese once to feed his sister and his mother, after that, during the war, he witnessed some of his fellow villagers being tortured but he couldn't do anything because he was still a kid, then he vowed to start punishing, as years passed by, he really did it, during the second war he was punishing so much that he became high-standing and respected military man, he quit after the war because he got fed up with gossips and plots, he came back to his village to live in peace but there was a big problem, his wife couldn't get pregnant, they thought she had a problem but it turned out the other way round, he shut himself up, he didn't speak at all, he was just looking after his garden, a cow and some ten sheep, his wife shut herself up too, she stopped letting him in her bed, he started cheating on her, so did she, there was great tension between them and their fellow villagers, so they moved to the little mountain hut, they decided to wipe the slate clean, they talked about their infidelities, she cried a lot, he cried without tears, they started an idyllic life, they were growing old, their urges too, he couldn't get rid of the feeling that something was missing, he started looking for it in the mountain, one day, while he was walking amongst wet ferns and haystacks, he made his way to a cliff which had attracted him with its inaccessibility for a long time but this inaccessibility appeared to be fictitious because he was able to climb the cliff without great efforts, he sat in the warm moss on the top and stared into the distance, he stared, he stared and little by little he realized everything he wanted to, he realized why he was living, he realized the meaning of all his deeds until then, the distance answered all his questions, he decided to share his knowledge because he already knew everything, first he would tell his wife of course but somewhere there he saw something, something very small which made him realize he must've kept all the answers to himself, otherwise life would become too easy, so what, he shouted and his voice echoed over the calm trees and suddenly he felt he was talking to himself, he smiled, bowed to a hawk which was flying low above and jumped in the ravine on the other side of the cliff, when the old man reached this point his breath stopped, a smile appeared on his face and the room lit itself though it was already evening, I jumped out of the bed without knowing why, opened the window and shouted as loud as I could, the hawk answered me, suddenly I turned into the ants, the caterpillars, the beetles and the squirrels, and I saw the world through their eyes, I remembered how I'd stolen the piece of cheese to feed myself while my mother and my sister were starving, how I witnessed the tortures during the first war and felt unexplainable pleasure by the look, how I started killing to get a higher position during the second war, how I didn't want children, unlike my wife who was talking only about that and was crying all day long but I didn't pay any attention, how I preferred another company to hers and although she'd found out, she never did anything like that because she knew I would kill her at the first suspicion, how we stayed in this mountain hut during our whole life, the mountain hut she hated more than everything and how one day, while I was in the mountain, picking mushrooms, I heard someone shouting "So what?" and a dull thud shortly thereafter, coming from the other side of the summit, one hawk, two hawks, three hawks appeared over my head and started calling me, and calling, and calling, and I jumped out of the window and fell over the old man in the ravine, I embraced him and realized it was better not to talk about those things.

 

RUMEN PAVLOV is 32 years old, living in Sofia. He graduated from the Second English Language High School in Sofia and has completed a BA in International Economic Relations from the University of National and World Economy, and an MA in film and TV art from New Bulgarian University. Rumen composes music and takes part in the projects of Sensory Theatre Sofia. He writes poetry (in Bulgarian and English), short stories, and plays. He translates, mostly poetry but also prose, from English into Bulgarian and vice versa.

 

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