It is morning. After a disturbed night with a sore throat, my wife, Annie is asleep. I am up, reading newspapers online. The telephone rings from the bedroom. Only my mother-in-law, Milka, would ring so early. She often ignores the time difference, spurred on by an urgent need to dictate the latest medical advice culled from her weekly medical newspapers. Annie is an only child and Milka at 86 has devoted her life to her child’s, her grandchildren’s and my welfare. In this she is very close to the Bulgarian stereotype of parental duty.
I race to the phone – of course too late – for Annie is moaning and rubbing her eyes. Milka’s voice screams through the receiver – I have to hold it a foot away from my ear. And even then I find it impossible to make out what she is saying, still less to interrupt and get clarification.
Chri-i-s! Is it you? Are you well? A-a-a-n-ni-ie! They’ll be cutting off the left leg and arm! Oh Go-o-d! More of this. Unable to break through the wailing, I pass the phone to Annie, seriously worried that Milka has had some accident and needs a drastic operation.
Annie speaks but with little purpose as Milka refuses to recognise her daughter’s voice. It’s not you! It takes a further two minutes of shouting to establish that the person lying in our English bed, answering our English phone is Annie. At our end we are thoroughly alarmed. There’s been frequent mention of cutting of limbs – but whose? First we think it is Milka’s limbs that are in danger and start thinking of getting emergency flights out to Bulgaria. Then we think it is Yanka, the woman who looks after Milka. One thing is clear – Milka is hysterical and cannot hear us properly. At last we talk to the only slightly less hysterical Yanka.
So what has happened? Five minutes earlier Milka received a call supposedly from the English Embassy in Sofia. A voice informed her that her daughter Annie had been in a dreadful car accident. The result was that Annie’s left arm and left leg would have to be amputated. Otherwise she would die and in order to carry out the operation the doctor needed seven thousand leva.
I need to emphasise at this point that my mother-in-law is not stupid. She is as sharp as ever she was. Milka knows that you don’t pay for emergency operations in England And she is well aware of scams. The Pensioner newspapers she reads are full of stories of old folk parting with enormous sums. Typically, sons or daughters have been involved in an accident, and money is needed for operations or police bribes. Time is given for the anxious parent to get his/her money together and pass it on to a stranger who is parked up down the road.
Once I could smile sadly at the gullibility of those conned out of their life savings in this way. I was complacently certain that Milka would never be fooled by such a well known transparent fraud No longer! Milka’s visceral emotion overcame all her logic – even to the extent of refusing to recognise her own daughter’s voice. The criminals knew that once they had planted their lurid horror film pictures in Milka’s mind there would be no moment of scepticism. A Bulgarian mother does not stop to check, when she believes her child is in danger. I have no doubt that had she got access to 7000 leva in her flat, Yanka would have been dispatched with it.
Whoever rang my mother-in-law is guilty of causing her grievous harm – worse I would suggest than one occasioned by a street robbery. We dread to think of the consequences of our not being at home when Milka rang. Fortunately good friends and relatives were there to help Milka calm down and accept that her beloved daughter was whole. In this time of emigration so many isolated Bulgarian mothers and fathers are vulnerable to these all too common spiritual assaults.