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April 19, 2009 by · No comments

Ivailo Dimanov

Photo: jesse.millan

There are some people that nobody loves. Either because of their past, or their peculiar personality, others – just like that, without obvious reason. Sotir Peshev is not only unloved, he is feared.

You, said Mr. Gavrailov – chief of a Ceremonial home, are no longer a simple undertaker; you are assistant chief specialist in sad ceremonies. Do you get it? Your noble profession is connected to the humane obligation to be the last to see the deceased off to the cradle of nothingness. And for this responsible activity, Sotir, one needs a vocation. This is no job for anyone. One needs vocation, plus philanthropy. We are happy with your services, because you justify the trust of the society.

Mr. Gavrailov is very eloquent. Sotir can listen to him for hours without being bored. Moreover he uses such sophisticated words, speaks beautifully and your soul suddenly feels a spur of spaciousness and coolness like in the Ceremonial hall, which stays unused. There are hardly any weddings lately, and, as Mr. Gavrailov points out, there is a misbalance between the sad and happy rituals.

Well, Sotir does not comprehend all his words. The hardest being “antropolatry”, a word Mr. Gavrailov often slips in here and there, meaning that we should be more compassionate.

Otherwise Sotir Peshev is not a bad person, on the contrary! Quiet and modest, honest as a small child, considerate of little animals. People with his proverbial diligence usually become world champions of heel-and-toe walk or Men of the year.

But not Sotir Peshev – mainly due to his profession.

It is unheard of a person with his profession to be announced Man of the year. Although, should we be honest, we must admit that Sotir Peshev deserves the nomination Man of the year. Last December the crematorium ran out of black oil and the municipality urgently conceded the neighboring kinder-garten and the stadium covered in weeds. All planned cremations were put into the paragraph of burials.

Sotir Peshev saved the city form that very characteristic smell, which can barely be distinguished in the predators’ cells in the zoo… And in July, when the sun was erupting like a volcano and even the stones started cracking, Sotir Peshev reported to the authorities that he over fulfilled the plan. Thus the members of the choir started looking at him with different eyes, almost with a respect. He himself somehow got used to the idea that he was an undertaker. Come to think of it, it was a pure coincidence, which took place on a gloomy, rainy Thursday. Here is how.

– Broth, hold a little the spade – called to him the undertaker Asen, a dark skinned Bulgarian, who had buried almost half the city, so people from the neighborhood avoided him, as if he is cursed and the mothers threatened their kids who refused to eat with him. – I will be quick, going to the little shop just to toss down two ouzos and am coming back. Who knows how much soil I have dug out today…

Sotir Peshev did not utter a word. He was devastated by the death of his relative – an 87 years old aunt of the sister-in-law of his uncle. He stayed under his bachelor’s umbrella and clutched the bouquet of died hyacinths together with the spade that was entrusted to him. He stayed in front of the open grave for a very long time. The hours were rolling like dried masses of earth down the crumbly slope of life.

He was expecting the undertaker to return any moment now. How long does it take to toss down two ouzos – next to nothing, so he will come back and cheerfully finish his work – Sotir Peshev was comforting himself, however the undertaker was nowhere in sight. When night fell the poor young man decided that something unforeseen has happened and it would be best to wait until dawn.

On the third morning Sotir Peshev felt animal hunger and for the first time his honest and naive nature was shadowed by a doubt. What if he doesn’t return? What should he do with the spade and this open grave?

No, no, Sotir is patient and well-mannered, he will wait. The other will definitely come. Obviously something has happened to the man. Could be that his wife fell ill, or he was called for a short military service, or something else… He will finish his work and will come back, he promised! After all this was his occupation for so many years, he couldn’t possibly purposefully ignore the source of his daily bread. He will come, Sotir, don’t’ panic.

He had already lost count of time when an old lady passed by the grave and offered him some boiled wheat in memory of the deceased.

– Who are you burying, son? – The old lady sat and took a gulp of brandy from an old bottle of lemonade, the ones with white porcelain cork.

– An old relative – Sotir wiped the icing sugar that stuck to his stubble of a beard and felt a surge of strength.

– How old was she, sonny?

– 87, God rest her soul…

– A-ha, she passed away young, how can you say she was old. She could have lived a little longer, poor soul. Look at me, I am going to be 94 this coming fall and have no intention to die as yet…

After some time a bad smell started emanating from down the coffin and Sotir Peshev decided not to wait any longer and start acting. He took off his jacket and the tie, rolled up his pants and with the entrusted spade he managed to cover the grave in an hour and a half. Just as he was about to sit and rest, would you believe it, a fat man with a mourning stripe comes to him. Walking and calling out:

– Eh, are you the new guy? Come with me to plot 62, for there are two burials today. You are going to make a good profit…

Sotir tried to say something, but he felt like there was a whole flock of ravens in his throat, perched on his vocal cords like on a freshly ploughed field.

One of a sudden he felt a strong desire to drink an ouzo. However that man started pulling him towards the other end of the cemetery and Sotir, willy-nilly walked through the covered with weeds and oblivion last stations of our flesh.

Twenty years have passed since that moment. Sotir Peshev is still making relentless rounds of the old graves, and digs new ones. There is no way out. Life is following its unwritten laws and no one can stop it. Eh, this stone has been tilted like the tower of Pisa. The difference is that no curious tourists will stop here. Anyway, someone has to take care of the dead, too.

Here – they built a new Ceremonial hall, renovated the old Home of the diseased, the municipality gave a flat to Sotir Peshev. Well, it was real shame that part of the old cemetery was flatted down by bulldozers and turned into an auto morgue. They scattered old iron of dead cars over the bones of dead people. As a monument of man’s stupidity. A disco was erected on the place of the little shop and now even the dead were invited to dance at night.

The eyes of Sotir Peshev were turned in this direction constantly. That is from where the undertaker Asen was supposed to appear. He had promised to have two ouzos and return.

Gradually the whole life of Sotir Peshev turned into a long and permanent expectation. Every day he convinced himself that the other will come, will take over his responsibilities, thus changing the life of Sotir and enabling him to fulfill his childhood dream to become a pilot. Then he could flyyyyy, as much as he wants and even more.

Then they will see who Sotir Peshev is, he will amaze them and then they will not turn eyes away from him and avoid him, might even start respecting him, as should be. They might even invite him to BTV, why not. Then Mr. Gavrailov will see what a big philanthropist Sotir Peshev is, how much anthropolatry he has accumulated in his soul. And how much sorrow…

While waiting, Sotir Peshev missed so many trains. He did not manage to make a family, grew old very quickly. His bachelor’s habits were in constant partnership with the loneliness, so he lived monotonously as in a prayer for the dead. He did his job conscientiously. The only little spark of hope that the other one will return, was warming inside his cold as marble soul.

And there, today everything went upside down.

When the hearse carried the coffin, Sotir had already dug the grave, so only the mourning ceremony was in order and… God rest his soul!

Obviously this dead man did not have many relatives and friends, because apart from the officials, there was only one emaciated woman, probably a relative of the diseased.

Sotir was not very fond of staring. It was when he was about to nail the cover that he accidentally looked at the cold, dark face and he shuddered.*

– Here you are, finally! – Drops of perspiration appeared on Sotir’s temple. – You came back, after all? I have been waiting for you some 20 years, how could you? – He was talking to him as if he was alive.

The relative of the dead man stopped sobbing, spitted on her bosom and disappeared. The official put away her cassette player with the ready recorded text – same for the good and the evil ones.

Now it dawned on Sotir Peshev that he was not waiting in vain. Here, his waiting was over!

So finally he was free?!

And his soul became light as a balloon. Like those that Mama Leone – the Feathery sold during happy rituals…

And such a sudden urge to drink overcame him, you can’t believe!

– Hold the spade, Crazy one! – He turned to his colleague – I am going to drink two ouzos, for my throat is as dry as the grave of a freaky* person!

Late the same afternoon one of the airplanes of the local parachute club buzzed high over the city. Sotir Peshev was looking from above the white spots of the grave stones gradually diminishing and people turnng into letters poured out of an obituary. Soon the cemetery turned into a small black dot, and then it merged with the rest.

The ex assistant chief specialist in sad ceremonies was looking down and was talking to himself.

– Eh, Mister Gavrailov, the soul of a man needs to fly. While he is alive, not after he dies! Because in this world there are happy occasions, too, not only sad ones, isn’t that so, Mr. Gavrailov. Very happyyy…

Translated from Bulgarian by Petia Tsenova

Categories: Frontpage · Prose


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