Extract from One and the Same Night

Extract from One and the Same Night by Christo Karastoyanov published by Janet45 2014

(7th February 2013, Thursday)

One afternoon when, who knows why, not one of that whole herd of literary poseurs turned up and they were sitting on their own by the stove in the editor’s office, the poet asked him about how much truth there was in what folk said – that he’d been to Paris.

And he waved his hand.

“I went to say a bonjour to the French,” he said with a self-deprecating grimace, “adolescent stuff…”

That’s what he said…but later he laughed and said it was a real odyssey – that journey of his.  He was only seventeen, when after some youthful brawl in Yambol, he decided to go outlaw, and then get out of Bulgaria. Problem raised; problem solved – no skin off his nose! From Yambol he hit the road to Varna, in Varna he got fixed up with someone else’s passport, doesn’t matter how, he got on a ship and off to Costanzia. From Costanzia to Bucharest. In Bucharest some official looked at his passport, looked at him, looked at the passport, looked at him…”Hang on Domnule,” he said at last. “I mean, it says here that you’re thirty, but you look like you’re still a schoolboy. How are you going to explain this?” he asked. And he answered boldly to cover up any embarrassment. “I can’t actually grow a beard,” he said.  “I just look young!” And that guy told him, “Go on, get out of my sight, I don’t want to have anything more to do with you, rascal of rascals!” And from Bucharest, hey, all the way back to Costanzia, from Costanzia he jumped on another boat to Istanbul.  In Istanbul however, at the very port, because he looked so disheveled, with cloak on his back and a broad brimmed hat on his head, they arrested him as a matter of course. And two cops were dragging him away to the police station. He said to himself that he’d not yet started but this lot would send him back to Bulgaria, and a shame about the gunpowder, and in consequence, as they wound down a crooked alley, he simply kicked them both and from there – straight to Father Pasterov in the Exarchate. Pasterov, a guy from Yambol sheltered him and he worked for him a whole month, before he got fed up with being in one place.  And he slipped away to Jaffa.  And from Jaffa to Alexandria that the Turks still called Iskenderia. From Alexandria – in a circle and hey back now to Jerusalem…

“And now you can laugh at me,” he added, “but on the twenty fifth of December 1913, right on the dot of Christmas, your obedient servant became a Hajji.”

“What?” the poet giggled, “became a what?”

“I became a Hajji!” he laughed. “I’m not lying. Dipped myself in the river Jordan, there, honour bright.  Now I’m a Hajji and that’s a fact.”

“Just you see!” the poet replied. “I’m lost for words. So now you can style yourself Hajji Georgi Hajji Sheitanov!”

“Oh and Hajji Georgiev as well,” he shrugged his shoulders.

“The first devil Hajji in the history of humankind,” cried the poet in the same approving tone. “Not to be sneezed at!”

“Come on, it’s hardly trivial! I even sent a postcard home. So on, so forth, finally your son became a Hajji, don’t worry, mother, don’t cry – I’m OK. And on the postcard.  The Garden of Gethsemane. It was a really beautiful card, to cheer my mother up…”

Well, it doesn’t matter, in Jerusalem he knuckled down to a job in a bakery. You might say he settled down even, he managed a whole ten days there, before they sacked him, to get him out of their hair. And they sacked him, because some beggar had been passing by and he’d given him seven loaves. If it had been just one loaf, the boss might have been kinder, but seven – never! And as he screamed and as he shouted…”Hello,” he yelled. “What’s up Bulgar? What’s all this rubbish?! How come you’re handing out my bread right, left and centre?” So he told him that he didn’t understand anything about retail, shame, though he claimed to be a Jew. “It’s really straightforward,” he claimed. “I give him seven loaves and for a whole seven days he won’t be hanging around to put off the customers and interfere with your business!” That meathead of a boss didn’t have an ounce of humour, no matter that he was Jewish, and he unceremoniously kicked him out of the bakery. He shrugged his shoulders, spat in his face, told him what he could do to his mother- lengthy Yambol-style, and in January – 1914 already – he lit out for Cairo in all his heroic magnificence. In Cairo , of course, everything fine and dandy – libraries, pyramids, camels, Nubian prostitutes, baklava, bags of dates just for pennies, Turkish police – like they didn’t know what God to worship, because now it’s neither the Turkish Empire nor entirely a British colony –overall, tranquility plus English tourists with parasols. But nil revolutionary activity. Nada! He told himself that he’d no business where there was no revolutionary situation, so off he went back to Alexandria, where with no passport, no money, no nothing he slipped on board a ship. Alexandria’s an international port, isn’t it – if you just want ships. This one turned out to be Russian. Passenger boat. He stowed himself in a lifeboat and the ship lifted anchor and set out for England with a stopover in France. Really revolutionary stuff, but then hunger, there’s hunger!…

“Couldn’t hold out” He explained in all seriousness.  “Revolution is revolution, but you can’t stay hungry!”

So he crept out from under the awning. The ship was out on the open sea wasn’t it, no way could they drop him off and take him to a police station as a stowaway. He set off tiptoe down the deck to see what he could find and the first thing he spotted was a cabin with an open door, and in the cabin – lit up, warm, soft furnishings and a table. And on the table salami, cheese, bread, oranges, apple wine…Just the job for hungry revolutionaries! He slipped in, grabbed some salami, bread as well as a bottle of apple wine – all in the name of the future revolution, but when he was getting out of the cabin, an imposing woman appeared at the door. In a word a fat Russian. And she begins to scream: “Stop thief!! Help!” Straightaway sailors jump up from everywhere, they grab him, start pulling him, barge him this way, hoik him that way… He shouts to them that he’s no thief, he’s just hungry – but they shove and pull him… They get him really angry so he can’t hold back: he parts with the bottle and smashes it over the head of one of them. The whole deck is covered in wine and broken glass. And then at last the captain flies in…Flies in and yells “Hands up, hands up!” and waves a Mauser. Mauser obviously loaded!… Perhaps it wasn’t loaded, but still it was a Mauser, scary at all events! Sheitanov however – defiant. “I am a Bulgarian revolutionary” he says “who dies but doesn’t surrender So I’m not going to put my hands up, and I ‘m simply not handing over the salami!…”  “Really!” says the Captain. “Revolutionary, you say.  You revolutionaries,” he shouts, “I just can’t stand you. It’s just that you revolutionaries,” he says, “you don’t have anything else to do, but you still expect someone to feed you, so you can just wave flags and make speeches.  Revolutionaries!” he shouts.  “Nowadays if you can call yourselves revolutionaries…Once upon a time, you’ve no idea the revolutionaries there were!  They threw bombs and killed Emperors! You now, your mother and so on,” he cries, “you only know how to nick salami off folk!…What about you?,” he asks him sternly, “how many emperors have you managed to kill up to now?”, and he couldn’t work this bloke out, whether he was talking seriously now, or whether he was some kind of reactionary monarchist, or simply a smart-aleck. He tells him that no – he hasn’t killed an emperor up till now.  “There you are!” cries the other. “That’s always the way of it!  He hasn’t killed an emperor yet, but he’s managed to bash this poor sailor on the bonce!…”

“He was a smart-aleck,” interrupted the poet, “he might of course have been a rogue, but certainly a smart aleck!”

“Ey!” sighed Sheytanov, “he was a smart aleck. Still he puts his Mauser back in its holster and says, ‘Where would they permit such a performance? Come on now,’ he says, ‘revolutionary, non-revolutionary, let’s see your ticket!’ Me I’m now ready to burst out laughing. I tell him I haven’t got a ticket because I haven’t got any money and he says to me, ‘But of course, you revolutionaries, when do you ever have money for a ticket, you’ve got money for everything else, but for tickets – no way! According to you, folk are always in your debt,’ he says.   ‘Ain’t it the way?’ he says. ‘We’ll set you free, so from now on you have to carry us around with no tickets! Tell me,’ he asks “where are you going?’ ‘Paris,’ I tell him. ‘Because,’ I say “Paris is full of revolutionary masses.’ But he pats me on the shoulder and says, “Laddie! Of course,” he says “Paris is full of revolutionary masses, and they’re all waiting just for you to start world revolution. Me,’ he says, ‘I’ve never ever been to Paris, but they’ve told me that it’s full of revolutionary masses there and the whores wash every day, it’s scarcely to be believed. OK,’ he says, ‘I’ll take you now to the French shore, then from there on in, you’ll shift for yourself! All the way to Paris can’t happen, but I can get you to Marseilles at all events…I can get you to London if you want. There, I can do, but to Paris, no way!’  ‘I don’t want to go to London,’ I tell him. ‘There’s nothing to do in London, because they’ve got a king there, who’s first cousin to your tsar and there aren’t any revolutionary masses…’  ‘Your revolutionary mother!’ He cries. ‘If you don’t want to go, you don’t want to go…’ All in all we turn it into a joke, the sailors are now bursting out laughing, and captain takes out twenty roubles and gives them to me, if you please so I don’t steal the passengers’ salami. That’s when I bare my teeth. ‘I’m sorry, mon capitaine!’ I say, ‘I didn’t know that the lady was a passenger! I took her for live cargo!’ I add.”

“And he didn’t whack you with something?” the poet chortled.

“No,” Sheitanov answered.  “Not him, but the lady tried. ‘She,’ that was the captain who spoke, ‘might be cargo, but she’s paid for, but as for you,’ he says ‘you are just ballast, is that clear?!’ And that woman is about to have a seizure, you know… ‘Bastard!’ she shouts. ‘Scoundrel! Slanderer! I’m from a baroness’s aristocratic family!’ and she leaps at me. But the captain stops her.  ‘Madam,’ he says, ‘I won’t put up with any shenanigans on my boat!…I can just imagine what kind of  court toff you are, since you’re travelling on such a gothic wreck of a boat like mine…and don’t you force me now to start emergency procedures and confiscate everyone’s passports! I think one revolutionary without a passport is quite sufficient for today!’ And he says to the sailors, ‘Lads, keep an eye on this dragon and don’t allow her to run amok!’ and later he says to me, “Take those twenty roubles, and bear in mind,’ he says, ‘that I’m giving you twenty five roubles, but I’m keeping back five for the bandages for the sailor whose head you bashed and for Rivanol!… You break – you pay’.  All in all he turned out a serious guy.”