2015

  1. Jochan Devletyan

    November 20, 2015 by Christopher Buxton

    On the 25th of November at 7 pm, next week, Annie and I will be on stage at the BCI London supporting Bulgarian writer Jochan Devletyan in his presentation of his collection of short stories: Man and a Half, published by Janet 45.

    Anyone conversant with the history of Bulgarian writing will know that the best classical and contemporary authors excel in the short story format. Perhaps this is down to a natural Bulgarian story telling talent, which reveals itself round every table where a company gathers to eat and drink. This is Jochan’s first published book of fiction, but he has learned his craft well – from his father, whom he describes as the best raconteur he has met and from his encounters with so many writers when he was working as Cultural Director in Plovdiv.

    The stories in Man and a Half  have masculinity as their common theme, with the Bulgarian contexts ranging from the Turkish subjugation  through the Communist period to the present day. They share a poignancy, a sometimes humorous, but more often tragic reflection of patriarchy under threat. The male characters are often isolated, obsessed, filled with remorse and seeking redemption for misunderstandings and lost opportunities. The dramas are played out most often in small tight knit communities where the individual is pitted against the locals. In his story “To murder a Forest” a misanthropic ex-forestry manager is at war with the local Communist Women’s committee – he refers to them as “slipper slappers” , not just because of the sound they make as they walk around block entrances, but also the way they slap down on your soul. For extract, follow link.

    The stories encompass a rich variety of mood. “Inheritance” gives us a larger-than-life portrait of an Armenian whose plan to emigrate to America is thwarted and delayed by encounters with fraudsters, a brothel madame, a band of vigilantes, and finally by the sight of a female ankle in Plovdiv. “The Double Girl” is a disquisition on the wonder and absurdity of human love – with an ending that might remind readers of a similar reflection on love by Philip Larkin in his poem “An Arundel Tomb”. In “Mercy”, a young soldier awaiting court martial and inevitable execution is horrified to witness  a young boy killing a white dove through the bars of his cell.

    Importantly in the context of recently fanned racist prejudice, the stories celebrate Bulgaria’s diverse ethnic population – a genuine respect for the culture of Bulgarians, Jews, Armenians, Turks and Roma is conveyed in the richness of the language.

    Annie and I are looking forward to Wednesday, where interested Bulgarians and non-Bulgarians will meet Jochan who will talk about his stories and also reflect on his time as a Cultural manager for over 30 years from the time of  Lyudmilla Zhivkova to that of Vezhdi Rashidov.


  2. Are You –Phile or –Phobe? That is the Bulgarian defining question.

    October 27, 2015 by Christopher Buxton

    Let us imagine that back in the seventies I had two pupils who shared a desk – Ruska Filova and Rilka Russofobska. Ruska Filova studied Bulgarian philology at University and came to appreciate the superiority of the Slavic soul. Inflamed by her love of Russian culture, she became a teacher in a provincial town. She now endures low pay and complains that her pupils no longer behave. Rilka Russofobska studied English philology and now lives and works in the big city. They are both my friends on Facebook, and both now are engaged in a relentless war of words. Their sniping is reflected in myriad exchanges and shares by their similarly divided compatriots. Ruska Filova writes in capital letters. Rilka Russofobska relies more on patronising wit. As recipients of an exceptional education, both base all their positions on “incontrovertible facts”.
    To understand these positions, we have to examine the narratives that lie behind them. Ruska Filova repeats the narrative she learnt at school in the 1970s. Bulgaria – the oldest civilization in the world – was doomed to fall under the “Ottoman yoke” for 500 horrible years. They were rescued from barbaric slavery and “genocide” by the heroic self-sacrifice of the Russians. And in 1944, Russia again had to step in to rescue Bulgaria from an oppressive pro German “fascist” government and usher in a period of socialist stability with jobs for all, free health care and education, and pensions that guaranteed dignity in old age. Imprinted on her memory is the poster of Brezhnev clasping the Bulgarian premier Zhivkov in his armsBrejnev_Jivkov-2 and the slogan Eternal Comradeship from century to century. (Or at least up to Zhivkov’s fall in 1989)
    This narrative then helps form Ruska’s explanation of events following 1989. First the malignant west with the help of the “traitor” Gorbachov finally succeeded in undermining the Communist bastion. Then a succession of corrupt “democratic” politicians and criminal oligarchs, interested only in filling their pockets, destroyed the Bulgarian economy. As a result of closing factories, the nation is being fatally weakened by the mass emigration of the young and most talented. Meanwhile the west continues to exert its malign influence. Bulgarian Orthodox culture is under constant attack from NGOs espousing “western values” of multi-culturalism, gay rights etc. Bulgaria was sleepwalked into NATO and the EU, organizations that are intent on completing Bulgaria’s destruction. Attacks on the traditional Bulgarian family means that it is only a matter of time before gypsy and Muslim populations become the majority. The CIA dream of a friendly Muslim power stretching from Diyarbakir to Tirana will have been realised.
    Ruska Filova is keen to remind us that from the Crusades onwards the West has always been anti-Bulgarian. In the 1870s, the western powers supported the Ottoman Empire in their “genocidal” oppression. Some of her friends go so far as to suggest an infernal Jewish conspiracy, linking Disraeli with Suleiman Pasha, the perpetrator of the Stara Zagora massacre. On the anniversaries of the April revolution and the Battle of Shipka, Ruska posts that the Ottoman Bashibazouks represent “western values”. For her “western values” are unchanging through the centuries and are essentially hostile.
    This special hatred for Bulgaria applies to more recent events, particularly the Treaty of Neuilly following the end of the WW1. Then the Allied bombing of Bulgaria during the Second World War is denounced as a war crime and explained by Churchill’s legendary “hatred” of Bulgaria. Some of Ruska’s friends, who while being pro Putin do not share her enthusiasm for communism, blame Churchill for allowing Stalin to take over Bulgaria.
    It comes as no surprise then that for Ruska, Vladimir Putin is a hero and she readily reflects the Putin view of the world. She is horrified that Bulgarian politicians have showed such ingratitude to Russia by joining the anti-Russian NATO and that as a result Bulgaria will be dragged into World War 3 on the wrong side. (Even the “fascist” Tsar Boris did not allow Bulgarian soldiers to fight against Russia.) She applauds Putin’s bold stand against western influences. She points out that with his fearless involvement in Syria once again Russia will save Europe from the barbarians. She holds Western meddling entirely responsible for every crisis in the world – she will offer facts to prove that American provocateurs were responsible for the unrest in Ukraine. She will post pictures of the eviscerated bodies of East Ukrainian children and accuse the western press of hypocrisy in ignoring the “war crimes” of Ukraine’s “fascist” government.
    On the other hand, Rilka Russofobska routinely describes Ruska and her friends as brainwashed red rubbish. Of course she has a different set of facts and this forms a new narrative, which directly contradicts most of what she and Ruska learnt at school. For her the outstanding catastrophe in Bulgaria’s history (far worse than either the Ottoman “presence” or the WW1 settlement) was the illegal invasion by the Soviet Union in 1944 and the subsequent imposition of an alien communist system that resulted in the extermination of Bulgaria’s intellectual and entrepreneur class and the demolition of a thriving agricultural and industrial economy.
    Rilka even questions whether Russia has ever been a true friend of Bulgaria. Didn’t the Russian invasion in the tenth century lead to the fall of the first Bulgarian kingdom? Wasn’t the Russian Tsar’s “liberation” of Bulgaria just a move to gain Russian access to the Mediterranean? Great figures from Bulgarian history, Rakovski, Levski, Botev and Stambolov had all forewarned the Bulgarian people of the dangers of the anti-democratic Russian bear. Rilka is fond of repeating the story of the oppressed Russian peasants in the Tsar’s army in 1887, how they were amazed at the freedom and prosperity of their Bulgarian counterparts. And the Russians proved to be capricious. In the years following 1878 Russia shifted its friendship first to Serbia and then to Yugoslavia, thus preventing Bulgarians’ desire to re-unite with their “brother Macedonians”.
    Despite the catastrophe of WW1 Rilka puts a positive gloss on Bulgaria between the wars. She vehemently denies that Bulgaria was ever a Fascist society and praises the statesmanship of Tsar Boris III. She paints a golden picture of selfless politicians and civically minded Generals, steering a principled path despite Communist terrorists and peasant demagogy. Why then did the Tsar ally himself with Hitler? Rilka maintains it was because he had no choice. In the deteriorating Balkan situation, with Germany in the ascendant he had to put the safety and interests of Bulgaria first. But he was no pawn in Hitler’s hands. He refused to declare war on Russia, in spite of Russia’s murderous terrorist campaign. Rilka goes on to insist that it was down to Tsar Boris alone that Bulgaria’s Jewish population were not dispatched to Nazi extermination camps. This has led to some memory conflicts with prominent Jewish writers. Facts are exchanged like machine gun bullets.
    Jumping to the present day, how does Rilka explain the current state of Bulgaria to her former classmate Ruska? Well of course it’s the Communists to blame. Those far-sighted scoundrels had foreseen the fall of the Berlin Wall and had infiltrated every so called opposition party, so that whoever won the elections, Bulgaria would be asset stripped for the benefit of Communist children and grandchildren. Rilka also blames the Bulgarian people for being so easily hoodwinked particularly by demagogues and pseudo-patriots.
    She is alarmed at the rise in Vladimir Putin’s popularity. She calls Putin Putler and adorns his photo with a moustache. She periodically laments the weakness of the west’s response. Her heroes are Ronald Reagan and Maggie Thatcher.
    Of course Rilka and Ruska are extreme stereotypes, but their debate on Facebook involves a thousand divided voices, each accusing the other of being in the pay of the CIA or the KGB. Meanwhile, as one of my more neutral ex-pupils pointed out, Bulgaria is 75% Russophile yet it continues to vote for moderately Russophobe politicians.


  3. Some thoughts on Poetry in translation provoked by an exciting new development the publication of translations of two contemporary American poets into Bulgarian by Rumyana Emanuilidu’s Znatsi.

    August 6, 2015 by Christopher Buxton

    The moon and the sea, the forest and the mountain mark time with chasms and deserted ruined houses. They form a backdrop to a hundred synonyms for loss and grief and alienation, rendered in rhyme. This is romantic poetry at its extreme, heavy in symbolism, leading to an unwieldy abstraction. What it lacks is the everyday.
    This kind of poetry is difficult to translate.
    American poetry is grounded from Whitman onwards in the democracy of objects and the sense that even round the corner of the supermarket aisle between the tins of tomatoes and the frozen peas there is a sudden awareness of an almost impalpable truth. American poetry at its best is lucid – its evocation of experience is grounded on the positioning of images on the page. Words are objects. Sentences pin experience. And what emerges is a disarming lack of pretention. Read me, invite me into your mind, make of me what you will.
    In classic Bulgarian poetry, Vaptsarov achieves this objectivity in his evocation of Spring entering a factory. Hristo Fotev stands in the sea in Burgas and for a moment feels cleansed. Atanas Dalchev conveys the desolation of an abandoned house through his selection of key objects. Margarita Petkova conveys the ironies of human passion through everyday occurrences – jumping on a tram or shredding the petals of a flower. These poets translate.
    Katerina Stoykova Klemer, Manol Peykov, Kristina Keranova are at the forefront of translators bringing the best American poetry to Bulgaria. Klemer actually brought two American poets with her on her now annual visit: Cecilia Woloch and Clint Margrave. Audiences across Bulgaria had the opportunity to hear these poets read in English and were captured by their Bulgarian translation. Katerina Klemer is both a formidable poet working in both languages and an accomplished translator. Her achievement in publicizing and publishing contemporary Bulgarian poets in America is to be celebrated. Manol Peykov has recently published his excellent translations of e e cummings. It’s a really rewarding labour of love.
    And the publication of Kristina Keranova’s translations of two contemporary American poets, Billy Collins and Stephen Dunn, is an exciting new development in Bulgarian poetry publishing. Rumyana Emanuilidu’s new venture Znatsi publishing house has produced bilingual editions, giving any reader versed in both languages the chance to enjoy the original, feast on the wonderful translations and bask in that no-man’s land of possibilities that exists on the border between languages.
    Both Billy Collins and Stephen Dunn are grounded in the every day. Lucid exquisitely formed lines lead the reader towards a sudden awareness that discovery is possible. As Billy Collins defines the difference between the “houseguest” novelist and the poet: The poet is more someone who appears. You know a door opens and there’s the poet. He says something …closes the door and is gone….”
    In the words of William Carlos Williams – “no ideas but in things.”


  4. In memoriam Vladimira Zhivkova

    July 27, 2015 by Christopher Buxton

    Last month an extremely talented young writer with an  inestimable future died when the car in which she was traveling hit a wall of water, on the cruelly deceptive Sofia Burgas motorway.

    Vladimira Zhivkova was one year into a degree course in Journalism at the University of Sofia but her writing talent had already been noted by prominent editors.  Her fluency in English and German her voracious reading and  her irrepressible curiosity led her into easy contact with the widest range of people and environments.

    The following is my translation of an early piece published in Pod Mosta.

    My Grannie’s cuckoo clock

    by Vladimira Zhivkova

    In my Granny’s village house, there always hung in the entrance hall an old cuckoo clock. This cuckoo clock was the noisiest, most tedious and irritating contraption imaginable. Because it was a genuine antique, passed down to my grandmother from her grandmother, who’d surely bought it in the middle of the last century but one, it either speeded time up or slowed it down. We’d sometimes hear the cuckoo sing three times in an hour or not sing at all for four hours. This clock was an extraordinary item, it had its own opinion about what constituted time and allowed no repair. Sometimes it ticked slowly, counting three seconds for its one, and sometimes – so fast that it was as if the day was passing two frames faster than it should.

    One day I was waiting for Granny to come back from the shop and I was just lying on the sofa in the hall, reading the latest boring book from the school summer reading list. I was around seven or eight and I remember that it was about ribbons and sparrows.  It was odd, I suppose it still is quite odd, but I had one of those Grannies who insisted on their grandkids reading the whole school list.  Well anyway. So I was lying and “reading” – just listening to the ticking of the old wreck on the wall. Tick tock, tick tock, it ticked quickly, it ticked slowly, then three times quickly, four times slowly. Well what a botched job! But I took to thinking. This clock perhaps marks a person’s life time more accurately than the most expensive Cartier, Rolex or whatever other Swiss watch. Time is the most subjective concept in existence.  It’s divided between productive and unproductive, as we define unproductive as wasted or lost time.  We associate lost time with activities that do not answer to the productive stereotype.  For example if you’re going to work or school, you’re dashing round getting stuff done, running after buses or trains or even running to keep fit, this means you’re productive, in other words your time is not being wasted. So what that while you’re doing all these things, you’d rather shoot yourself than be pleased at how much you’re achieving. On the other hand if you spend the whole afternoon in carefree schlepping around the shopping mall, or slouching with a hot coffee or cold beer in front of the TV, or eating or sleeping, in other words with things that bring you the most pleasure, your time has been irretrievably wasted on trivia. So, if you and I have successfully followed my train of thought, we’ll arrive together at the conclusion, that things which we find tedious and boring, are things which require our attention and dedication, because they’re productive. But things that provide us with pleasure are a waste of time, because they are unproductive.

    But hang on a minute… So does this mean that so as not to waste my time I have to be unhappy and bored to death? I’ll save time on this quandary and shamelessly proclaim. There is not (or at least there ought not to be) any such thing as “time to lose”. Time to lose, spent in pleasure is never lost time.

    The world exists in such a speeded up turnover, that the measuring of time really resembles Granny’s clock. If I must be scientifically accurate: time is at once subjective and objective. Objective because it’s a linear progression of universal change.  Subjective because the speed of turnover depends on the awareness of the change, the sacred accumulation of everything.  The higher the awareness, the faster time flies by. The lower the awareness the slower time flows. When you are happy, time flies.  When you’re depressed it’s as though time drags by forever. Because higher levels of awareness bring a finer (lighter and quicker) energy to work on your experiences. Thus, when we are at a higher level, we deal with our experiences more quickly, and when we are at a lower level we deal with our experiences more slowly.

    Nowadays people’s level of awareness is always high.  And not because they are happy. In their conscious lives everyone uses a finer energy, because they force time to pass more quickly. More and more often we direct our attention to reading our watches, rather than the clouds in the sky. Everything has to keep to an accurate schedule, with every second accounted for.  From getting up in the morning to closing your eyes at night. Because time is money, time is a resource, time is valuable and should not be wasted. It seems as though time is all these things but there is never time enough for ourselves.  We’re not a train or the metro are we?! We’re not pizza delivery kids to have our lives controlled by various hands on some clock dials?!  It’s true that everyone has a biological clock, but even so it doesn’t wind us up everyday. Time cannot stop but we can stop it. We can for a second forget our step, hang back, slow down our tempo.  The clock hands aren’t going to turn backwards but we can.  We can go back and drink our morning coffee, hug our kids and wish them a nice day at school, spend those fifteen or more minutes in fixing our hair or putting on that expensive lipstick, kiss your man and as in the films rearrange his tie.  Let’s go out and breathe the cold morning air filled with lime tree blossom, gaze at the clouds playing tag,  smile stupidly,  laugh maniacally,  cry inconsolably. Because a life lived to the full is not counted a thousand times every sixty seconds, but in the several thousand moments and memories which fill the film strip which will play before our eyes in our last minutes.

    Yes my small seven or eight year old brain managed to give birth to this deep meditation, I turned out a child genius. At the same moment Granny came home with a bag full of shopping and quickly fell to scolding me for wasting my time staring at the old clock, instead of reading the book from the list.

    copyright Vladimira K Zhivkova

    Translated by Christopher Buxton


  5. What I read in Bulgarian in April

    May 3, 2015 by Christopher Buxton

    Just last year, I posted my excitement at discovering a young new author on the Bg. literary scene, Jordan Svezhenov. With astonishing speed, he has a second book out: Anarchy on Three Seas -published by Siela. What I like about this writer is his positive portrayal of warts-and-all Bulgarian reality, with no trace of self pity or cynical loathing. As with his previous book, Arrhythmic Revolution, his heroes include abandoned old men from isolated villages, gypsies and  pole dancers. Again he does not hesitate to throw his canvas wider than the three seas of the title.   A self-centred womanising German based actor, the crew of a clapped out Russian warship, a lonely old Turkish businessman and a pair of startlingly dumb Ukrainian/Russian twins all converge on a Bulgaria which is threatened by a dastardly conspiracy conceived by naive semi-competent middle eastern terrorists.

    In Svezhenov’s absurdist mirror, Bulgaria is portrayed in all its deficiencies – corrupt officials, drug addled priests, brusque and cynical doctors, but the sheer pace of the narrative, the vigour of the main characters,and their colourful  language leave no time for depression or self pity. The result is a hilarious breakneck ride which never loses an essential sympathy  towards all his characters .

    I’ve included an excerpt in translation.

    From Anarchy on the Three Seas by Jordan Svezhenov Siela 2014

    Translation Christopher Buxton

    Dr Pandora Katastrova picked up the oily doughnut with two plump fingers and stuffed it into her mouth even before she’d swallowed the previous two, spraying powdered sugar and maple syrup all over her desk. Her routine was to treat her Kamenar village patients every Friday afternoon in her private surgery, but this did not include her starting on time.

    There was an urgent volley of knocks at the door.

    “Ye-e-s!” shouted the GP, her over-stuffed mouth adding another salvo of sticky crumbs to those already strewn across her desk.

    The office door creaked and a round face was framed in the opening.

    “Excuse me, when are going to see us because our kid’s got the runs and is throwing up, and just now he’s working up to do both?  It says that you start work at twelve, and now it’s twenty past!

    “Can’t you see I’m filling in forms?” yelled Katastrova through a cloud of powdered sugar and made a show of bashing a few keys on her computer.  “When I’m ready, I’ll call you!”

    As soon as the door closed, the doctor grabbed the remaining doughnuts from the box, stuffed them into her mouth and wiped her hands on an old diagnosis.

    “I don’t need that anymore,” she spluttered to herself. “He forgot to tell me he was allergic to laxatives. God rest his soul.  Do I have to think of everything?”

    Doctor Pandora Katastrova had an unwavering policy on the treatment of all her patients. According to her, all illnesses arose for three reasons – constipation, colds or stress.  And they were to be treated in three ways – laxatives, aspirin and tranquilizers.  Everything else was a world conspiracy on behalf of the drug companies. The Kamenar GP did not dispense prescriptions.  She opened a battered chest and sold medicine directly to the patients.  They called this chest “Pandora’s box”.

    Katastrova wiped her chin on the sleeve of her jacket, stood up puffing from her creaky chair, which had lost two of its five wheels, opened the door and looked out into the corridor. At her appearance the throng gathered outside her door thickened.

    “Who’s first?”

    “Me…” an old man barely croaked, squeezed among another twenty pensioners, four schoolkids, two sniffling women, eight mothers with small children and a worker with a bleeding hand.

    “But what happened to the child with diarrhoea and nausea?” the doctor knit her brows.

    “Couldn’t hold out,” someone called out.

    “Couldn’t hold out at the top or the bottom?”

    “Well looking at the puddle, I’d guess the top.”

    “Certainly from a nervous disposition,” Pandora concluded and nodded to the old man.  “Come in!”

    “Could I ask you something, just for a minute?”

    A snooty middle aged lady with chin lifted high and far too much lipstick applied to her fiercely pursed lips was elbowing her way through the crowd. She pushed her way to the very front, crushing the old man in her wake and waving a piece of paper. Katastrova looked her over and barked:

    “Just a question – four leva. Just a question and entering my office – six leva.  Just a question and following examination – fifteen leva. The Ministry of health doesn’t pay me for just a question.  It’s not within the clinical rule book.”

    “Well I…” the woman froze on the spot.

    “Make up your mind!” The doctor waited a few seconds and then as she’d got no reaction, she grabbed the old man by the collar and barked, “Come in and sit down!”

    As soon as the old man was settled on the couch and the chubby Pandora on her long suffering chair, the questions began.

    “What brings you here, Grandpa?”

    “Well, for you to measure my blood pressure, Doctor.”

    “It’s all down to nerves.  I’ll give you a tranquiliser to calm you down for now.” The doctor bent down towards her chest.

    “But I mean, you haven’t even checked. Is it high or low?”

    “What am I supposed to check?” Katastrova raised her eyes to the ceiling in frustration. “Whether it’s high or low, it all comes down to nerves.”

    “Well but what if it’s normal?”

    “You, how old are you?”

    “I’m 92” the old man announced proudly but with a trembling voice.

    “Well, how could it be normal at your age, are you normal? Are you constipated?”

    “No. How could I be when I haven’t got anything to put in my tummy. I practically don’t eat.”

    “Why?”

    “My pension’s not enough.”

    “Well how do you expect to have normal blood pressure, then? Do take aspirin for your heart?”

    “No.”

    “Well now you’ll take it and everything will be as right as rain.”  Pandora opened her chest. “Here’s a blister. Seven leva forty stotinki.”

    “That’s a lot, Doctor!” the old man’s eyes bulged. “At the chemist near us they’ve got them for stotinki.”

    “They’re no good. They’re for pickles. Don’t experiment, you’d pickle yourself with that fakery, you’ll get constipated, you’ll be stuck in the toilet and you’ll get a heart attack brought on by nerves alone.  Give me Seven leva sixty and off with you – alive and well!”

    “Wasn’t it forty?”

    “No.”

    The old man sighed deeply, pulled out a hankie in which he’d wrapped his meagre funds, counted out the exact sum, pocketed the blister and made his perplexed way to the door.

    He still hadn’t reached it when an indescribable din broke out in the corridor. You could hear shouting, strange booming music and women screaming.

    As soon as the old man pulled the door open, the cacophony burst like a wave into the room, and the second patient whose turn it was to enter, was swept aside by a dozen local swarthy gypsies, yelling unintelligibly and carrying some kind of white bundle. When they dumped the moaning package on the couch the astonished Pandora managed to identify under the many layers of white a young gypsy bride with the dimensions of a medium size whale. The whale emitted an intolerable howl – something in the middle between “gonnadieegonnadieegonnadiee” and an air raid siren. Pushed to one side, there was a creature, looking like a walking rake, in a light grey suit and spiky hair smothered in gel, joining his voice to the chorus calling for divine aid from at least half the world’s religions. This was obviously the bridegroom. At his back, mothers, stepmothers, aunties, in-laws and another thirty relatives seethed and screamed in horror, while the men who’d carried in the victim, stood in front of Pandora and belched out a barrage of conflicting information in three languages, from which The GP understood nothing.

    “Hey wait a minute!” Katastrova tried to out-shout the travelling circus and almost succeeded.

    At that moment the gypsy wedding band turned up playing a wild dance and began to push their way in to join the others in the room, but the drummer and the fat tuba player the got stuck in the door frame, so the musical accompaniment was left to blare in the corridor. This didn’t help reduce the noise, as in the corridor the reverberating Balkan pop became even more deafening.

    “She’s having a baby! A baby! Help Doctor! You’re father and mother!” Katastrova at last managed to make out something comprehensible from the screams, yells and billowing waves of belly dance music from the band.

    Pandora pushed through the relatives who were squashed against each other in the tight space like bus passengers at rush hour, she reached the unfortunate bride, whose extremities overlapped all four sides of the couch, and she pressed her stomach lightly.

    “Now let me see if you’ve got contractions! Does it hurt here?”

    “It hurts everywhere, Doctor, gonnadieegonnadieegonnadiee, Lord, Lord! Vasil, I‘ll bite your head off, putting this baby into me, without me knowing, fuck your dirty mother!”

    “Who are you calling dirty you slut!” yelled the bridegroom’s mother and leant forward to slap the expectant mother.

    But in all the confusion she struck the bride’s father on the back of his neck. He roared like a branded bull and began punching all about him. His frenzied reaction dragged the thirty squashed gypsies into an uncontrolled melee. Everyone tried to thump someone else while at the same time avoiding the whizzing fists, slaps and bottles. Only the restricted space, which did not allow for much mobility, saved the participants from serious injury. And the band provided enthusiastic backing to the scrap with a fine galloping tune.

    “Stop this minute, before I don’t whack the lot of you!” Pandora’s voice rose above the chaos. “I think that the contractions have started. Has the water broken?”

    “What idiot brings water to a wedding, hey!” yelled the bridegroom’s father. “Pour the Doctor a glass of rakia! I’m going to be a Granddaddy!”

    “He’ll be a boy, a bo-o-o-y! If it’s hurting that much, it means it must be a boy coming out. We’ll call him….” The Bridegroom’s mother looked hastily about her, read a product label and made her decision, “Rivanol.”

    “Long live Rivanol,” shouted the best man and, to the booming drum out in the corridor, led a spontaneous line dance, which got a little stuck in the crowded room.

    Goodness knows how but a live cockerel appeared in the hand of the best man.  In his drunken devil-may-care state, the youth waved the bird madly over the crowded relatives. In a second the poor creature suffered a massive shock and a rain of feathers and droppings poured over their heads.

    “Here, grab this knife, Horatio! Kill the cock for the baby’s health!” came the encouraging yell and in the next second a sharp blade cut through the bird’s shrieking throat.

    Hot drops of blood joined the feathers and shit flying through the air. The agonizing headless bird, slipped out of the hands of the unreliable best man and jumped spiralling over the heads of the guests, increasing their screams, which even drowned out the drum beating out a belly dance out in the corridor.

    It took all of Doctor Katastrova’s strength to suppress this spontaneous outbreak, and turn back to concentrate on the suffering mother-to-be.

    “Help us to push this baby out! If it gets stuck, it’ll suffocate!” she yelled at the crazy crowd and began to squeeze the gypsy bride’s tummy.

    The bridegroom’s mother and two aunties joined in pummelling the folds of flesh, as if they were kneading an enormous cheese loaf, and a small bridesmaid, jumped with both feet straight onto her big sister.

    “One!… Two!… Three!…” the doctor ordered and the band took up her beat.

    The gypsy bride, gave a powerful push, and her face got as red as an Easter egg. She was convulsed in pain, but felt that relief was close at hand. Just one more heave, and yet another, and…

    Suddenly from beneath the layers of white cloth and folds of fat, came a continuous roll of thunder, a mixture of non-stop machine gun fire caught in a cheese tin and an erupting volcano, and the air was filled with the sharp smell of fermented beans and sour cabbage.

    The musicians choked and their instruments quickly fell silent, as the crowd of relatives attempted a panic evacuation from the surgery, almost demolishing a wall in the process. Only the terrified bridegroom walked in circles and asked in a high pitched voice:

    “What’s going on? What’s going on? Is there a baby? Is there a baby?

    “No baby!”  Katastrova’s replied, coughing with relief. “Just gases!”

     

     

     


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