To my father
The young man from yesterday came again today. He appeared at the same time, around 10.30 a.m. and ordered a double coffee. He was around twenty, with dark brown curly hair and motley coloured eyes. I had a strange feeling at the first moment I saw him. He seemed familiar to me in an unexplainable way. I am a rational man – I have never believed in what one can’t touch. I listen with understanding the talks about souls, which are connected by karma, and so on and so forth, but my attitude to them is over with this – understanding and respect to the right of everyone to believe in anything which makes them happy. Nothing more. Things are very simple to me – we came from earth and will become earth. But this is not what matters now. What really matters is the following: I have faced a paradox for the first time in my life. I am sure I have never met this man. And still I have the feeling that I know him. I am not one of those annoying lonely owners of bars who just wait for someone to enter to start talking to them. I feel good with silence. I have observed my clients twenty years now but I do not have the need to communicate with each and single one of them. I am not interested in their stories. My life has passed in loneliness and even though, at least in summer, I am surrounded by people who come and go like migratory birds, this doesn’t disturb my usual state of being wrapped in my own thoughts. But now suddenly I want to talk to this young man. I would like to learn something about him.
My bar is small and self-service. I have never had staff. He came up and ordered his coffee. Then I did something unusual. I looked at him while preparing the coffee and threw in:
– Is this your first time here?
– Is it so obvious? – he laughed.
His voice was warm and hearty.
– The village is small and I own the only bar. It is not difficult to recognize the newcomers. I don’t remember names. But I remember faces. And yours seems familiar to me. Still I don’t remember having seen you.
– No, I don’t think we have met. Not here, at least. My parents have been here but there is no way for you to remember them. It was too long ago. Actually – he laughed again, this time in a bit awkward way – they claimed that I had been conceived here.
The coffee was ready and the man took it to one of the tables. He drunk it slowly while turning over the pages of a newspaper, got up, waved to me and was gone.
The thought of our meeting was preying on my mind by the end of the day. It didn’t leave me during the night either. I dreamt about walking with him on the sea coast, silently, in complete agreement. We were bare-foot and were walking and walking.
And here he is today again. While he is waiting for his coffee, I am breaking my order again.
– How are you today?
– Fine, thanks. I had some busy months and now I am enjoying my holiday.
– Yesterday you mentioned that your parents had been here. What are their names? Perhaps I would remember them.
– Their names are…were Marina and Pavel.
I am looking at him without being able to say a word. It seems that he starts feeling uncomfortable.
– So many people have passed by here. You couldn’t remember them.
– Do you have their picture?
– Yes, I have one – he muses – Funny, when they were alive, I never had their picture with me. But I wanted them to be with me in this journey.
He takes out of his wallet a yellowing portrait picture. A young woman with dark eyes and hair and serious face looks at me from it. A young man with a moustache embraces her shoulders. His face is gentler, his expression – softer. I feel weak in my knees and I lean my hands on the bar.
– Is something wrong with you? – the man asks, looking alarmed.
– No, don’t worry. It’s from the heat. I am fine – I say with a parched throat.
Twenty years earlier was my first summer in this bar. The season happened to be poor, there were no tourists. Every now and then Russians and Czechs were coming as well as some Bulgarian families and that was it. All the rest were local people. Nevertheless I felt good. I was twenty and I liked my job. It was interesting to observe the newcomers and when there were no clients, I was reading. I had got started with Dostoevski and was so absorbed by his work that I was happy every time I was alone. Many things made me happy back then. For instance, the summer. In a village like this, by the sea, winter is a dead season. While summer is something different – everything breathes, lives, populates vigorously. And the sea changes – it transforms from something one observes to something one becomes part of.
Every morning I went to swim before opening the bar. As I was swimming, I was feeling the litheness of my young body. I was imagining how one day I would leave. How I would go to a remote island where it is always summer and will work in a beach bar, wearing a Hawaiian shirt. I wouldn’t serve oblak and rakia, but would make the most exquisite and exotic cocktails with skillful movements. Beautiful girls in bikini with chocolate suntan will sit on the chairs around the bar and will smile at me. Accept for one girl who will shyly wear a top. She will have long coal tar colour hair and pearl teeth, will sit alone by a remote table and will patiently wait my shift to be over. That’s what I imagined and was sure that it was just a question of time to reach to the island and to my girl. I didn’t have a plan but just a feeling that things will come together in such a way – that Destiny would take care of my transformation to this tropical being. I only hoped that my girl would be patient enough to wait for me.
One evening, towards the end of my working time, a middle-aged couple entered the bar. I didn’t have other clients and was wrapped in ”Crime and Punishment”. I quickly left the book aside and stood up behind the bar. They approached me and ordered vodka for the man and white wine for the woman.
– Just for you to know that I will be closing soon – I said, apologetically.
– We won’t stay long. We have just arrived and want to get a bit relaxed after the long journey – replied the woman calmly – What were you reading?
The way she was speaking in a clear and distinct manner made me think that she was from Sofia.
– When we entered you were reading something.
– Ah yes…„Crime and Punishment”.
– Do you like it?
– A lot.
– Have you read any other books by Dostoevski?
– Only “Idiot” and “Brother Karamasovi”.
– This is not “only” at all.
She had long dark hair in which the first white threads were shining. She was not exactly beautiful but her face was nice, with visible cheek bones, slightly bent nose and thoughtful eyes. She had a full figure with heavy breasts and roundish hips. She was wearing a simple long dress, which was freely falling around her body, and flat sandals. The man was of middle height, with chestnut colour hair, bright eyes and a moustache. His shoulders were slightly bent, which made him seem hesitant or timid.
– Indeed it is not “only” – he repeated his wife’s words in a distant manner with the same hard and clear articulation.
They took their drinks and sat by an end table. Soon after I put the label “Closed” and patiently waited for them to finish. I was watching how they talked quietly, leaning their head one towards the other. When they were leaving, I wished them a nice evening.
On the next day they came early in the morning. They greeted me and asked for coffee.
– Where are you at with the book? – the woman asked.
– Have you read it?
– Long ago.
They sat at the same table. I continued to serve other tourists who were passing by before going to the beach. From time to time I happened to meet the eyes of one of them or the other. As in the previous night they were talking quietly and calmly. They appeared again in the evening, this time earlier, and again ordered vodka and white wine.
In the next days they kept on coming every morning and evening. Our communication broke through and we were chatting. I got to know that their names were Marina and Pavel. They asked me about my life in the village and how the winter months were passing. One evening, when there were no other clients, the man came alone. I asked him where the woman was and he said she was tired and had stayed in the room. He offered me a drink to keep him company. At first I refused by saying that I didn’t drink when working. However he insisted and I agreed to a little vodka. We sat at a table near to the bar. I felt a bit uneasy in his company because he seemed to me a nervous man. Besides I am myself not very outspoken and am not good in small talk. In this case however my worries were on vain. He cleared his throat slightly, made a pause and started talking, while looking somewhere beside me:
– I met Marina twenty years ago at the National Library. I was a last year student and was working on my thesis, whereas she was at first grade and was reading for her exams. She was not stunning but I immediately noticed her. Her beauty was different. Exquisite. With a style. She was classy. I looked at her a whole week behind my books before approaching her. She looked very concentrated and serious while she was reading hers and taking notes. I didn’t believe that she would pay attention to me, such an interesting girl. I was wondering how to establish contact. I have never been very skilful with women. At the end I went to her and told her, stuttering, that she had made an impression on me and I would like to go out with her. She stayed serious but was not cold, didn’t push me away. She calmly said her name. I said mine too and…I was done. I was so embarrassed. I wished her a nice reading and withdrew. On the next day I went to her and invited her for a coffee after we had nodded to each other from distance and had spent some two-three hours over our books. To my surprise, she accepted. There we started a conversation which was going so easily and naturally that my embarrassment melted and at the end I even dared to invite her to theatre. She accepted again and when I went out of the library, I had the feeling that I had wings. Sofia looked different and life seemed beautiful. Soon I would be a graduated engineer, there was a chance for me to be allocated in Sofia and now the most interesting girl I had ever met would go out with me. And really these were good years despite the regime and what they say now. We were calm about our tomorrow and we didn’t have to make too many complicated choices. Marina and I started seeing each other and it was not long after when it became clear that, even though it was hard for me to believe it, our feelings were mutual. A year later we got married. Meanwhile I had started working in a state company and after the wedding, with the support of her parents, we got a small one-bedroom flat from the state as a young family. Life couldn’t have been better. We decided not to hurry up with the child so that she can graduate. So years slipped by, she graduated, got a job in her field and we were ready to become, to put it so, a real family. But the child was not coming. Months passed, two-three years passed and at the end we decided to have medical examinations. It became clear that the problem was in me.
Pavel sighed, looked shortly at my face and continued:
– Marina is a lovely woman. She is the best thing in my life and the most important one. When she heard the result, she embraced me and said: “We are fine this way too”. We discussed adoption but the procedure turned out to be too long and complicated and that’s how it stayed. But there is no day without me suffering from not being able to give her a child. When I see the way she looks at other people’s children…
Pavel sighed again as if to regain his composure.
– I am ready to do anything for her. That’s why I am here today. I have had this idea for some time now and I think that you are suitable for its…hm, realization. You have made a very good impression to both of us. You are intelligent and – more importantly – you have a good heart. You are hard-working and nice to the clients…When I shared my idea with Marina, she started crying, got insulted but then agreed. Tomorrow is our last night here. And the moment is good.
Pavel became silent as if he didn’t know how to continue. His voice went down and he looked into my eyes:
– In other words, we want to ask you for a favour. So that we try…you try to give a child to my wife. You wouldn’t hear from us anymore, we wouldn’t bother you with anything, nor would the child know about it. It would be mine, ours…only…the material would come from you.
I felt my face blushing. I felt like standing up and running, running, running where my feet take me. I wished these man and woman had never entered my café. I wished I hadn’t accepted that drink. That we hadn’t started this conversation.
But here they are now, asking from me something unthinkable. How could he think, how could he imagine that as I am sitting here with him, I would go and…Unthinkable.
I had had only one woman. It happened the previous summer. They were two female friends, in their thirties, on holiday. They started talking to me on the beach in the early evening and invited me to join them for dinner. I accepted and after the dinner we came to the same bar where I work now. There was another barman at that time, who later left for somewhere, and that’s how the place got vacated for me. So then after the beach we came here and drunk vodka. One of them was smiling at me in a peculiar way. She was looking me into the eyes and was constantly touching me. After a while the other one said she was tired and left. The two of us stayed alone and had one more drink. I remember me being very dizzy and feeling very good, and not being embarrassed at all. She was telling me that she was married and she shouldn’t drink vodka with an unknown young man while laughing. She paid the bill and we got up to leave. She said that she couldn’t invite me to her place because she was sharing a room with her friend. I replied that I was not sharing a room with anyone and I found this very funny. And that’s how we found ourselves in my small room, in the back garden, behind the house where my parents were sleeping. We started kissing and undressing, we fast found ourselves in my single bed, she sat on the top of me, started moving madly, I felt completely helpless against this new, shaking sensation, and…This had been my entire sexual experience.
How to tell to the man in front of me, who looks at me with such hope, that I find what they ask from me immoral? How to go with his wife when I would think all the time about him and how does he feel and I don’t know whether it would work out at all…
– There is no need for you to reply now – Pavel started talking again – We will come tomorrow morning and if you accept, we would agree the details. All our hope is in you. Marina is at a certain age already…if she doesn’t become a mother now…- he sighed and looked down.
Fortunately, it was almost the end of the working day and I didn’t have other clients. I finished a bit earlier than usual and went home. I was feverish despite the heat. I couldn’t close my eyes that night. I was turning in bed and trying to get my restless thoughts into sleep. Unsuccessfully.
In the morning Pavel and Marina came at the same time as in the previous days, took their coffees and sat at their usual table. I was avoiding their eyes but it Pavel didn’t wait long before coming to me.
– So, what did you decide?
I was wondering how to tell it to him. I can’t. I am sorry. Find someone else.
– I agree.
– You agree? Oh my God! – he almost started embracing me. I felt sick. – Well, will you come to our table then to plan it?
So the three of us sat together and made a plan for the evening. Marina would come and pick me at the end of my shift. I would take her to my room. Pavel would wait in the car outside and when we are done, they would leave.
So in the evening Marina came. She was prettier than usual. She had put a lipstick and something on her eyes. When I approached her, I sensed her perfume. A heavy, sweet scent which, if I close my eyes, I could feel even now. She was wearing one of her dresses but I hadn’t seen that one. It was dark blue with tiny flowers. She was looking at me in her serious way but there was something new in her look. She waited for me to finish the accounts and we left silently for my place. We passed without a word by the house and we crept into my room. I didn’t put the light on. When we entered, she embraced me and I felt her full lips on my neck. We kissed. I was surprised to realize that I was not thinking about her husband. Suddenly the present became very condensed. Like a bottle of champagne at the moment of the cork flying up. This time I was in the active position. It was different from last summer – not only because of this. The experience was different. Marina looked into my eyes; she was caressing me and kissing me all the time. I didn’t go on for long and this was not the purpose anyway. Even though – if I have to be honest – at this moment I was not thinking about the purpose. I had the feeling that I was falling into a chasm and this falling was the most delicious thing I had experienced by then. Marina stayed lying some more time with her legs folded on her breasts. I remember me caressing her hair and face. I tried to say something but she put her finger on my lips. Then she got up, put on a tampon, put her clothes on without looking at me, kissed my lips and whispered:
– Thank you – and she left.
I heard the car engine and I fell into deep sleep.
– And? Do you remember them? – the young man is asking and is looking into my eyes with expectation.
– No, I don’t remember them. I am sorry.