Olya is a poet, short story writer and artist from Razgrad. She has won prizes for her haiku poetry. Her short story Man with a Cat moved me to tears.
To step out
with no roots
with no bark
with no leaves
lies by the bank.
did it set out?
has it stopped?
And is it resting?
How has it lived?
How long has it travelled?
The bare realitu
of someone’s life.
A dream –
to step out
on my palm.
reduces to a
And I wanted
to warm them.
on the space
and the time
of an alien
They swim –
duck flotillas –
to the brook!
Where do you say?
On the ground
with no root
on their own.
A wilful dream
I didn’t fly
I was grounded
and with the blisters
I took timid steps
on the grass.
before me –
a living stack.
It’s difficult –
Towards the top,
Have I got there?
A little further.
to play catch up.
that it’s shining?
Man with a cat
By Olya Draeva 2011
After work I popped round to the neighbour. I’d been close friends with his daughter – but she’d gone abroad.
Always the first to greet me was Mulberry, his cat. She squeezed through my legs and ran down the stairs.
I cooked something for supper, poured cascades of water over the greenery on the terrace and quickly passed a few comments on the weather and other insignificant matters before going back home to get on with my own work.
Usually Tefik stroked his cat, watched TV and said nothing. My questions remained unanswered. He didn’t even see me to the door.
One day I rang a long time but Tefik didn’t open up. The cat meowed piteously.
I took out the key that his daughter had given me before going away. I opened the door And the cat escaped. I couldn’t get her back. On the table I spotted a note, a laconic message. In crooked handwriting, it was categoric: “Make sure the cat doesn’t bolt and feed it!”
The next day I telephoned but Tefik didn’t answer. I rushed to get home and look for the cat. I was worried. Tefik had gone out without his medicine. Where was he?
I rang the door bell and Tefik opened the door, screaming in my face: “My cat! Where’s the cat?”
“It got out. It’s not the first time. You let it out yourself.” I tried to find an excuse.
“I’ll kill you! The cat! The ca-a-t!”
“You’re not going to kill me!” I interrupted him with crisp determination. “Sit down at the table and tell me where you’ve been! You disappeared just like….” I was going to say the cat but I stopped myself just in time.
“I went to see my other daughter. They told me she’d come back from abroad,” he answered irritably.
I knew they’d not been on speaking terms for years but a father’s heart is always forgiving.
“Why didn’t you call me so I didn’t get so worried? I’m sure they were pleased to see you?” I prattled on to hide my temper.
“They didn’t greet me. They’re still angry. I slept with his parents’ cows.”
“With the cows?”
“They’re so defenceless. No-one looks after them. I spent the whole night with them.”
My eyes took in the unusual state of the kitchen – or rather the topsy-turvy mess.
Gas lighter on the hotplate, bleach and other chemical cleaners taken out of the cupboard and tossed into the sink.
Tefik went into the sitting room and brought back an enormous clock.
“I give this to you. This is the most expensive thing I own. I brought it back from Russia, when I worked out there. You know, don’t you, that I’ve been round the world. And always working – lorry driver, builder, miner, for lots of money.”
“No I can’t accept such a present! Come on drink your medicine, eat something and lie down and rest. You’re tired. I’ll tidy up the kitchen a bit.” I didn’t dare leave him on his own till he had calmed down.
“Don’t touch anything!”
“Can’t I move the gas lighter off the hotplate?”
“So nothing nasty happens,” I didn’t know what to say. “It’s dangerous – you could blow up the whole block. Just think about the consequences.” I retrieved the lighter, cleaned up the chemicals, keeping Tefik the whole time in the corner of my eye. Whatever was he thinking? If I had fur, it would be standing on end, but I managed to maintain an outward calm.
“I don’t want to eat on my own!” Tefik complained.
“OK, I’ll sit down and eat with you.”
”I don’t want to eat with you – I want to eat with my daughter. They’ve all deserted me. I worked in every corner of the world for loads of money. I came back. They changed our names*. We left for Turkey. Started from nothing. We couldn’t get used to it so we came back . Here where we were born. And once again we started from nothing.
“My wife and son left to become gastarbeiders. My other daughter with her husband – they went too. OK she came back, but she’s still angry with me. Why is it only me to blame?
“I’m on my own. I want to eat with my daughter. Just her – the youngest one stayed the longest by my side. Why did she have to go as well? Why is it only me to blame?”
He suddenly jumped up and brought a large vase from his bedroom, thrust his hand inside and began to pull out watches and coins and throw them in different directions.
“Souvenirs of where I’ve been – Time and money, money and time. Why do I need watches? Why do I need money!” Tefik screamed. “Time has stopped for them. I don’t want memories. I want my daughter. I want to eat with her at the same table.”
The coins and watches fell on the tiled floor and shattered the gathering quiet with their malevolent clatter.
The cat scratched at the door.
*Translator’s note: In the 1980s the Bulgarian Communist government ordered all its ethnic Turkish citizens to change their names to Bulgarian. This led to mass emigration in 1990.