The Devil returned to the river where he turned himself into a hoopoe, popularly known as Gypsy rooster. He got back in time to see the pigs fighting over something in the water, pulling at it with their teeth; and saw the swine-herd Iko run to disperse them, then the Devil saw him bend over the water and how he saw the drowned man. The poor wretch looked around in the hope of seeing someone he could call for help. But at that time of day nothing caught his eyes except a few storks soaring high up in the sky, over and over the same spot, and a sulky hoopoe.
The hoopoe perched on a rock hot from the sun and since the rock burned his toes, he kept shifting from one leg to the other never once thinking of moving somewhere else.
The mountain had receded far back to the west, enveloped by the summer haze like a Moslem woman, looking like something from a distant world. That something stood to the west of the Bulgarian lands, watching. Watching what, however, I cannot say! The moment he saw that not a soul would come to his aid, the swine-herd wiped his sweaty face with his cap and light as a grasshopper bore off after his frenzied herd, straight in the direction of the fords to his noontime resting place along that cursed river bed. His clothes clung to him, as if jealously guarding his skinny body. His nose thinned, his eyes sank deeper into their sockets and anyone looking him in the eye just then would have been lost then and there in the grey depths.
The Devil disguised as a hoopoe, passed by the swine-herd but did not sink into his eyes and quickly stole away. He had once tried to look at the swine-herd and had been terrified by the abyss in his eyes. In that abyss the man's whole soul lay bound by chains Each chain was locked by several padlocks, and the links of the chain writhed at the bottom of that abyss, clinking and rasping, heavy and muffled. The metal moaned as if it was not dead metal but metal cast out of live human ligaments. The Devil did not want to look into those depths a second time. He would only cast glances at the herdsman from afar and quickly look away.
He did the same this time, quickly turning away from the poor wretch and then saw a stork by the river. The bird walked along slowly, looking under the rocks, picking fast as lightning at bugs and then slowly, waded into the shallows of the river. The hoopoe flew up to come closer to the stork and as he alighted on the rock the pigs came rushing by. They kept coming at the birds, spinning their tails. The stork and the hoopoe hopped in the two opposite directions so as not to be trampled down. The stork kept hopping along rather clumsily, helping herself with her wings but tripped several times and once even sat down, hitting the river rocks with her wings. In the end the stork managed to get up and right away began smoothing out her feathers with her beak.
The hoopoe watched the herd rush by and disappear in the dust and shimmering air as if a summer whirlwind had swept across the river bed. Of all things in life, the Devil hated pigs and frogs the most. In fact he was terrified by them and therefore heaved a sigh of relief: 'Phew, phew!' when the stampeding herd disappeared and the swine-herd with it.
The stork went on smoothing the feathers of a wing with her beak. But however hard she tried she couldn't smooth out allthe feathers on the wing; some were ruffled and broken. Later on she flipped her wing toward the Devil and he saw that her wing hung limp. At times she would stretch it the full length of her leg and then could sweep it to the side and try to fold it like a folding yardstick, but couldn't make it go all the way and press it up to her body like the other wing.
She was an old bird. With the exception of the few ruffled and broken feathers, the rest were snow-white. At the wing tips and the tail the feathers shone bluish-black and the legs and beak glowed a bright red. The bird strutted around. She went on pacing up and down the river, tripping over rocks from time to time, wading into the swift current, not so much to fish as to cool off her thin, reed-like legs. Then she would come out on the sandstrip and stop at different of the numerous sheepfold resting places, absolutely motionless, staring into the distance.
The bird was in no hurry.
She simply paced up and down the river or stood still somewhere along, waiting. She paid no attention to the storks circling above in the sky. They were soaring so high that their silver circles were almost lost on the backdrop of the faded out sky.
The heat was unbearable. Objects around shimmered as if they were alive, the horizon seemed to writhe in spasms. Though nothing appeared from anywhere, the stork showed no signs of impatience or anxiety. After a while she folded one leg, raised it and tucked it under her body, stayi,ng perched on one leg in the haze. The hot air kept something down in an avalanche on the river bed, hushed in the heat.
The Devil disguised as a hoopoe started to lose interest not only in the stork but in everything around, too.
He was gradually overcome by frustration.
He decided to go down to the river for a drink, he even ducked down a bit to cool off but this did not ease his frustration. It had happened to him before, idleness often led to this feeling of frustration. This frustration is a typically Balkan mixture of melancholy and despondency. There is no medical term for it, and there is no cure. In Turkey, rather than trying to treat this feeling, they try to dispel it. In the 70s I had the chance to watch some dance girls in Instanbul with bare navels and in see-through shalwars. These dance girls with bare navels and in those shalwars at one point did a special bellydance for this special frustration. I recall they showed us foreigners no less than seven types of belly-dance. Though the word dance girls is used, I find it more to the point to say that belly-dances are acted rather than danced. The belly-dances impressed us all deeply, not only me but all the foreigners present, though the dancers had been selected to suit the taste of a man of the East, meaning they were well rounded and well gifted in every part of the body. The belly-dance comes from times of yore. It had been invented in the harems and was intended to dispel this Balkan frustration of the sultans and pashas,the beys and masters in the Turkish Empire of the past when they fell victim to it. Writer Emilyan Stanev once told me one of the Turkish sultans, I think it was Aziz, after whom the Turkish fez "azizie" is named, hated the rayah to extremes and whenever frustration seized him, he wouldn't have dancers to dispel his frustration. Rather he ordered his servants to lay the cobble stones in front of the Palace thick with cherry pits. Then he would put on his fancy sandals and start crushing the cherry pits underfoot. He would gradually be transported into a state of nirvana at the sound of the crackling cherry pits, telling his retinue that he would crush the entire rayah in his Empire just in this way. This is how Emilyan Stanev told it to me. He also said that the Turkish sultan had got so addicted to this game of his that he ordered his servants to carpet the cobble-stones in front of the Palace with cherry pits every morning and he'd crush them. And when he grew old and found it difficult not only to crush the cherry pits but even to walk, he ordered his servants to take over the whole job and, settled among satin pillows and with hookahs, dancers and opium smokers around, he contentedly watched his servants jumping about and crushing the cherry pits. The sight was so much mannia for his soul. In Istanbul I also saw, in addition to the belly-dancers, the covered marketplace, mosques, the Sultan's Palace and his harem. The drums on which the eunuchs covered with raw hide used to take the Sultan's white slaves out on walks were still to be seen in the cells. A slab-covered corridor linked the Palace with the harem. When the Sultan would start off from the Palace to visit one of his concubines, he would throw gold coins to the servants along the way. Gradually the corridor came to be called the Corridor of Gold. In one of the Palace halls when the padishah used to hold secret meetings with his most trusted people, there is a water fountain with several spoons. The fountain waters spilled noisily into a stone trough beneath. The noise of the falling water would drown out all the secret talk going on among the Sultan and his people. In this way the water fountain guarded the Sultan secrets from eavesdroppers. It seems there were many eavesdroppers in those dark days of the Sultan and eavesdropping was evidently wide spread since even the Sultan himself had to protect himself in this way from the eavesdroppers. Our guides told us that in those days both eavesdroppers and informers were rampant all of which shows why the Sultan was so suspicious of the servants in the Palace and in the harem...
The hot Istanbul air buzzed almost imperceptibly. The sound of the drawling prayers of the hodjas were fragmentary and distant. They were like a whine, as if something invisible hanging in the heat over the city kept whining. The slender minarets of the mosques quivered slightly in the parched air like a mirage, and obscure smells of the East floated in from all sides. Not that they were unpleasant, just unfamiliar and therefore strange.
The Devil, disguised as a hoopoe, had not been to Istanbul like me and did not know that the belly-dance had been invented to dispel frustration because he only roamed the Christian lands.He was also unaware that frustrationcould be dispelled in the mentioned manner of hopping around and crushing cherry pits. He was a stranger to the Moslem lands and shied away from them, and whenever he chanced to pass by the Heaven and Hell of the Moslem world, he would always be bewildered because the same tunes and exclamations issued from both Heaven and Hell. Out of both came the same smell of smoke, rice and mutton, wave after wave. "Christianity is no sweet-smelling flower either', the Devil thought at such times,'but the Moslem religion is something you can't make head or tail of".
As for the belly-dancing, I think that even if he knew about it he would hardly make the naked sinners from the Hellhouse do the belly dance for him because they would not ease his frustration, but probably make it worse.
Having nothing else to do, the Devil disguised as a hoopoe, remained perched on a rock in the middle of the river, totally depressed.
So both the stork and the hoopoe stayed motionless in the shimmering heat, for a long, long time.
The willows turned their leaves inside out and evaporated less water in this way.
Late in the afternoon storks began to appear from different directions. They flew low over the river, turning their heads this way and that, looking for a place to land. Some of the birds alighted in the river bed, others went on flying low over the corn all twisted in the heat, and came down behind it. Green, swampy meadows stretched out on that side of the cornfield. The air was filled with the noise of feathers and swishing wings.
The stork with the hurt wing perked up.
She flapped her wings several times, in her way greeting the birds flying overhead or landing in the river. Those in the river did not stay there long. After wading through a shallow ford they would run one after the other, hopping and pushing off the ground with their legs, they would fly low over the cornstalks and again land in the meadows beyond.
The Devil disguised as a hoopoe saw that after a time the stork with the broken wing started running across the resting place by the river. She would spread her wings wide imitating the other birds, bobbing along on her long red legs. Despite all her efforts she failed to push off the ground and fly like her brethren. One of her wings got caught in the rocks. She spent a long time trying to pull it out and then couldn't fold it back like the other one. It hung down and spoiled her neat appearance.
For a while the stork stayed motionless, then she started out a~ong the river bank across the rocks and sand silt. She found an abandoned mud road and calmly walked along it.
The road lead her to the high bank of the river.
She climbed up slowly with great dignity, she even stepped on top of the bank with a certain nonchalance.
When she reached the top of the bank she stopped. With a groan, the Devil unwillingly slid down the sizzling rock. Though still groggy from the heat, he tried to catch up with the stork. He saw the bird flap her wings and spin around, expressing her joy over something or simply dancing. The Devil was puzzled by the stork's behaviour, so he hurried up the river bank to see what it was all about.
Once at the top he saw that the green meadows around were full of storks. The birds had scattered all around. Some stood motionless, bunched together, others wandered around looking for food, while still others were smoothing their feathers or delousing themselves, some were just strolling around. Here and there greying storks were dozing, a few took off in groups and flew up into the air, but they flew low and then were in a hurry to land in the.meadows again. Some pushed off from where they stood straight up into the air, flapping their wings fast but they did not fly off. They hovered in the same spot as if tied by an invisible thread, hanging there suspended. Many of the birds clacked their beaks and the more stubborn ones kept hissing as they looked around for someone to fight with. Different birds were seen rising on their toes, continuously flapping their wings as if to air them. Several pairs of storks lifted off into the air and quite surprisingly started fighting but stopped soon enough. It was impossible to say who had won because they soon landed on the meadow and went around looking for grasshoppers or toads, walking almost side by side.
All these birds had gathered here to prepare for the migration. There were hundreds of them. New storks kept coming in from all sides, landing in the meadows.
It must be Makavei, thought the Devil. He had heard that storks flew off on Makavei. He wanted to come up with some other thought but at that moment he saw a frog in front of him.
The frog was breathing heavily in the heat. She had fixed her protruding eyes on the hoopoe and now and then menacingly opened her big toothless mouth, as if meaning to swallow him. The Devil disguised as a hoopoe was terrified of frogs. He immediately slipped off into the cornfields.
The corn rustled around him and hid him.
He walked into the corn disguised as a hoopoe and came out disguised as a human. He had picked up a yellow pumpkin to be more convincing, because he had noticed that almost every human who went into the cornfields would come out holding a pumpkin and decided that appearing with a pumpkin he would look more like a human, precisely because of the pumpkin. And in fact, whoever saw him thus, would have thought he was a man working in the fields. But as he appeared in this disguise and took his first steps in the direction of the storks gathered in the meadows, all of a sudden he heard a booming voice behind him that could have brought down the walls of Jericho.
'Halt!' the voice roared.
The Devil turned toward the voice and saw a man with a gun flying out of the corn.
The man ran straight at him, loading his gun as he ran. This looked like trouble.
The Devil rushed off on the double, zooming past the corn. He ran so fast that those big ears of his made the air buzz. In all the excitement he had clean forgot to throw away the pumpkin and ran swinging it with all his might. It seems the fugitive acquired extra energy and speed from this 'pendulum' because he started to take huge running leaps. When the pursuer saw the pumpkin disappear across the field in leaps and bounds and out into the storks on the ground, he stopped and fired into the air.
The bullet whizzed by angrily, looking for someone to bite along the way.
'It's no fun being a human', thought the Devil listening to the receding angry whines of the bullet.
Startled by the shot and the man bearing on them, one by one the storks began running and rose into the sky. The sound of flapping wings came from all sides.
The Devil went on running but did not let go of the pumpkin... After a while he merged with the storks altogether and rose lightly from the ground. His bare feet hanging in the air kept growing thinner, they turned red and gradually blended in with the tens and hundreds of red legs of the birds flying over the meadows.
Thus the Devil underwent another transfiguration.
After the Devil had in this way disappeared among the storks, the pumpkin was left
floating in the air. It flew a distance, glistening in the sun like gold, and rolled off into the meadows.
The storks circled around in the sky, clacked their beaks, played a bit and then came flying down into the meadows again. They did not in the least suspect that the Devil himself was among them, disguised by necessity as a stork.
The man with the gun was altogether dumbfounded by all he had seen. He was an ordinary watchman of simple mind and was often in a state of bewilderment or confusion. In those days, despite the advances in science and the spread of progressive ideas, there still were parts of Bulgaria where a simple mind could be found.
The stork with the broken wing witnessed the whole chase and he also saw how the pumpkin stealer had turned into a stork and mixed with the flock. She went on brandishing her wings and spinning showing how happy she was to have so many storks around. When the last of the storks had come down into the meadow again she finally stopped spinning. She tried again to fix her broken wing but couldn't. It was as broken as before.
Wasting no more time she strode toward the flock.
If, from a distance, she only heard the flap of wings as the birds took off or landed, now as she drew nearer to the flock she began to hear low hissing, cheeping sounds and the rustling of feathers. Most of the birds seemed to be moving about aimlessly but when the newcomer came up to the flock she suddenly discovered that they weren't walking about aimlessly. Instead each one was staring at the birds opposite him. Those standing still, flapped their wings now and then and stared in the same way at the birds, walking past while the more quarrelsome were looking for a fight. Some only hissed threateningly, stretching their necks forward. When a green grasshopper was spotted in the meadow, in no time at all at least a dozen would crowd up to the spot, pushing with thfir wings, pecking at each other angrily and the minute the grasshopper disappeared down some throat, all of them, down to the last, scattered in different directions.
Slowly, the stork who had joined the flock walked around, she hopped into the air several times to express her happiness in this way at seeing so many other storks around her. However she found it hard to stay up in the air, no matter how hard she flapped her wings because though the healthy wing scooped the air and pulled her upwards, the broken wing pressed the air and pulled her down to the ground. For this reason she was a funny sight and her landing was even funnier as she listed to the side as if she had been tripped. Almost every time, when landing, she would bump into one of the birds. That bird would immediately hiss at her and slap her with a wing so hard that she fell back. But she wouldn't give up. She went strolling through the flock just as exuberantly. She would stop here and there to watch the young birds take off with just one jump and, flapping their wings, stay suspended only a meter above the ground. The feathers on the wings would crackle with tension but the birds would not fly neither upwards nor forward but stay suspended over the same spot. In this way they checked both the strength of their muscles and the strength of every separate feather.
What fun those young birds were having!
She knew about these games. Many a summer had passed since she'd played like that, and whenever she saw young storks sitting in the air, she always recalled how she learned to fly. In the beginning she simply stayed in the nest and together with the other baby storks only flapped her wings. Later on she got the courage to stand on the edge of the nest and flap her wings there. The legs and beaks of all the baby storks were black. With every passing day they would get more and more pink, the wings grew stronger and the nest became too crammed. One day, as the little stork flapped her wings she sensed there was nothing under her legs. She looked down to see where the nest had gone. The nest was where it should be, the young bird had merely raised herself a span above the nest. Startled, she hurried back into the nest and security, but as soon as she stepped down something began to pull her upwards again. She started flapping her wings and jumping again. She managed to raise herself from the nest but she was not afraid this time and felt a pleasant tickling sensation go through her body.
One day at sundown all the little birds left the nest and arranged themselves along the rooftop. The nest was left gaping vacantly atop the house chimney, not a single young stork ever returned to it for protection. The hungry poultry-lice started dying after hopelessly waiting for the birds to return.
Week after week rolled by, the wings of the young birds grew strong, the feathers grew lustrous, their beaks and legs turned a bright red. They spent whole days wandering along the river and the fields looking for food. The fields were full of grasshoppers, bug-eyed frogs, slugs and wiggly lizards. More and more often the birds would fly over the meadows making circles in the sky. High up they would meet older birds. These birds would nonchalantly climb invisible spirals, not flapping their wings, just floating on the air currents.
Outlining their relaxed and soft circles, the storks were looking for the entrance to the air corridors along which, at the end of the summer, they were to fly south. The closer the end of the summer drew, the more storks rose into the sky, winding up along their invisible spirals. Meanwhile, more and more birds coming from all directions were congregating down in the meadows by the river. No one could say whether the birds high up in the sky were the leaders or just the scouts. As soon as they descended others would rise in their stead, circling and drawing invisible ellipses. This went on with no sign of hurry until the day they left.
One day the birds lifted off the ground with crackling and hissing, made a wide detour over the familiar field, the river and the village, bade farewell to the poor abandoned nests and bore regally south, in complete harmony as if they were not hundreds and thousands of storks but one single giant bird which had flown out of a cracked cosmic egg, and though they had gathered from various places, varying in age and experience, all the storks without exception were overcome by a peculiar intoxication, the swishing and hissing of the wings was deafening, feathers crackled and stretched ligaments whistled. The air gave way before the massive onslought of Qapping wings,whirlpools of air clashed, exploded and swirled behind the flock. At the same time these whirlpools of air turned,for a long time spinning round a featherfallen by chance. The disabled stork recalled how the whole world would gradually disappear and only the giant flock existed, borne through the blue vastness, powerfully drawn by its invisible star to the south, to the ancient caliphates and the Indies. I
Henceforth, the birds would pass through these air corridors twice a year each spring | and autumn. These corridors were very old, marked out by the storks from prehistoric ~ times. A strange, soft buzzing could be heard in the corridors. They were all aquiver and ; tingle. Different birds flew at different heights along these corridors, each guided by its distant star. The golden-eyed long-billed snipes flew swift and noisy, flew purring like spindles, the imperial eagles moving south reluctantly beating the~r wings heavily; there were colourful birds darting by or drawing arches, swift-winged swallows dived passed them; they were always in a hurry, those swallows: as if afraid to be late for some appointment. Delicate shy doves flew underneath with sudden quick movements of the wings, on the way to their Indies too. These dark-eyed, sweet and exquisite birds were hurrying to someone's funeral there. Sometimes, far far underneath the huge flock of storks, thousands of quails flew like thunder and lightning, crying: "Mroo-mroo". They simply tore the air with their short strong wings and flew in the lowest part, the very basements of the corridors.
What a grandiose sight were all these winged creatures. For them the whole world would disappear, only the great air corridors existed for them, visible to them alone. The distant stars decorating the ceilings of the corridors blinked faintly. The whole universe seemed to withdraw and listen to the swishing of the birds' wings.
I refrain from asserting with certainty, but I believe it is possible that birds experience a peculiar exultation on these long flights. I almost believe that as a result of the exertion of the muscles and the nervous system, as well as of the accelerated blood circulation, the organism of every bird begins to produce a specific type of narcotic which, similar to drugs used by athletes, keeps them going. These days, something similar occurs with joggers. These people are actually not running to keep fit! Unknowingly, they run until their body starts producing a special type of narcotic. As soon as the body starts producing this chemical, the jogger passes through the critical stage and maintains that his body had suddenly turned light and he derives infinite pleasure from running. And the more-he runs, the greater the pleasure... I have looked into the faces of many a jogger and by the expression on their faces, and in their eyes, I have discovered signs of a peculiar kind of delight; it is by no means the delight of physical exertion and running. The expression on their faces and the faraway look in the eyes of most joggers resembles the faces and expression of drug users. And that resemblance or similarity is extremely obtrusive... This, I think, is the value of jogging, if jogging has any value at all.
The stork had been so carried away that the wing drooped completely... She suddenly felt a heavy blow from a beak in the small of the neck, she stumbled forward, wobbled a bit and then fell forward on her breast. The broken wing doubled under her body, a few feathers were ruffled and crushed.
The bird remained spread-eagled on the ground, only her healthy wing stretched out. She turned around to see who had attacked her so viciously and suddenly from behind. And just on time too, because precisely at that moment the attacker came down on her with a menacing hiss, trying to peck at her in the same spot. She swung her healthy wing, she seemed to have concentrated all her bodily strength in that healthy wing. She slapped the attacker across the beak, the attacker veered and wheezed loudly. Then she rose slowly, smoothed the feathers of her hurt wing as far as was possible, taking her time, and when she had finished, looked around with composure.
She noticed many eyes fixed on her. Some were grey, others were black - according to the birds' ages, but irrespective of colour, nothing friendly to be seen in those eyes. More and more birds started crowding up behind these birds. Some even started to push with their fronts to get a better view. A muted, menacing hiss went up. The cornered stork shifted her weight nervously. She started to turn slowly in the direction of the hissing, stretching and folding her healthy wing. Her muscles were taut.
The threats came from several young birds. They were seven in all facing the lone stork. Their beaks burned a bright red, their necks were stretched out in a beautiful arc. A few stood perfectly still but two or three kept shifting their weight. They all looked very elegant and stood somewhat lightly and carelessly on their high legs. They were so very young... They had neither been blown over by summer storms, nor covered with soot from the chimneys, nor had they flown very long. They just had played and dived in the warm air, pleasant and tender as a caress, filled with the enchanting scents of summer. Now they seemed to be bored in this great crowd of older birds.
The older birds stood by calmly, either deep in thought or staring at the sky. They were waiting for the sky to open the invisible gates of the celestial corridors. That mysterious and soft buzzing, that almost imperceptible vibration that makes every bird's heart palpitate to the utmost would pour down from that sky. The young ones were also waitmg but were bored because they did not know just what was to happen in those swampy meadows full of birds.
Reaching out, one of the young birds pecked at the distracted wounded bird. She immediately turned toward the attacker, readying to hit him with her wing. She wanted to return the blow and thus answer the challenge. But she failed to get even. The birds came at her all of a sudden, brought her down to the ground and simply kept sweeping her off with their wings. Pushing against each other they were trying to peck or hit her with their wmgs, but because they kept bumping into each other they got in each other's way.
The victim desperately fought them off.
She thrashed on all sides, pushed and kicked at her torturers. Thanks to the wide powerful swipes of the healthy wing she tried to ward off the attacks with a lightning peck.
She had learned to peck like that during all those summers when she went into battle with the snakes in the fields. Many a snake writhed in spasms under her blows. Many a reptile had the stork caught in her beak and thrown up into the sky while it writhed and hissed as if being cooked on live embers. The young bullies did not have her experience but they were agile. They brushed off her blows and most important of all - there were many of them.
They continued to attack her methodically and in a little while they had succeeded in pushing her to the edge of the flock's territory where more birds joined them. The new ones plunged from above, straight down from the sky. They were all bent on chasing her a distance away from the flock.
Seeing that all resistance was hopeless, the stork took time out for a minute to turn around from the enemy.
Then mindless of all dignity, she fled. On the way she would bump into a pensive bird or startle a dozing stork standing on one leg. Many birds pecked at her as she fled. They d~d not know why she was running but as soon as they noticed that she was fleeing they rushed up to peck at her, too. This is widely spread among birds and animals. God forbid they find out that one of them is weak or having to flee. Then one and all take to hitting him. This is what happens among predators - the predator tries to get at the persecuted no matter that they are kinsmen. It is the same with humans! It could not be otherwise after all man too is part of nature and no matter how hard he tries to guard himself against it he feels within him the low growl of the beast. Man also likes to chase the one who is on the run. And if he refrains from chasing after him, he picks up a stone and throws it at him. And all this in the name of some great virtue or idea.
Our victim stopped only after she had reached the mud road along which she had come a while before from the river.
She was all in tatters and was altogether disheveled.
The enemy did not go after her anymore. They were satisfied with having pushed, or rather kicked her out of the flock. Unperturbed they smoothed their feathers and went back to strolling about. They all walked in a group, very beautiful and refined looking. Their black-and-white plumage gave them an elegant look. They moved with a casual air but there was something challenging about them. These young birds were full of more energy than they knew what to do with. They were looking for a fight. May God forgive me, but they looked very much like the young people we have increasingly become accustomed to seeing around us. Somewhat bored, somewhat conceited, provocative and filled with scorn for the whole world. They are constantly chewing their bland chewing gum, they chew it mechanically and the more they chew, the more their eyes bulge out and turn red. They walk in droves and droves and not so much walk as move along. They are like the sands set in motion by rivers. They themselves are set in motion by happenings. This is some of the sour fruit of our times. They have been conceived without much love or thrill, they have been conceived by routine during nights neither too hot nor too cold, without anyone remembering whether there had been a full moon and stars that night, whether it had been light or dark, whether there had been a roaming wind to bend the trees and sweep and turn over to read old newspapers in the streets, or if a soft drizzle was trickling down the windows giving out melancholy taps along the tin gutters... This sour fruit seems to have been hatched simply to smash the panes in our windows stressing in this way their contempt for the world!
But there is only a short time for all of this, time is short. Thank God, the window panes are still intact because before they have the time to carry out their threat to the world these young people hurry to get married and, all their scorn and conceit evaporated. Soon enough they throw away these tatters - the same way the snake quickly slithers out of its old skin. And as soon as their baby rook appears, popularly called a cry-baby (probably because it cries a lot), one can see how these young people become confused and totally helpless. I am not convinced that marriage makes one more human!... It rather confounds people, confuses them, deprives them of their freedom without getting any resistance and by goading them, slowly, slowly sinks them, into the tracks, deep as abysses, tracks which have been traversed by those before us. Unfortunately these tracks deep as abysses are traversed in the time of our ignorance. But what can we do, since ignorance alone seems to be infinite!... We have all been going down these tracks so long that no one remembers when we started. They are so deep, these tracks and so narrow that one can neither overtake anyone or lag behind... Stalemate!... it is all a trap for man so he can reproduce, raise his children and prepare them for these tracks. In their turn they too will walk their little distance along the track, reproduce, raise their children and prepare them in turn for the track. From time to time some may be seen to free themselves from the harness and leave the precious load in the middle of the road. But the precious load does not stay in the middle of the road; it is taken up by others so it won't break the general rhythm of the track. It is a monotonous road but there's nothing to be done. The track must be followed. There is no one else to take it for you, just as no one can take a bath for you!
The young bullies will also grow old, never mind their strutting around now!
The outcast stork kept mournfully glancing back at the stork colony. Birds pottered about everywhere, singly or in groups. Some pairs of them stood aside delousing each other. There were separate groups of seven or eight or more storks. They were led by their elders who had greying feathers. Loners and philosophers could be seen here and there, waiting. They were neither smoothing their feathers, nor moving, but simply standing perfectly motionless, each staring straight ahead. These birds were ready to fly and were only waiting for the sky to give them the sign to take off together with the flock.
Seen in the background of the moving, constantly shuttling colony, birds were taking off and landing. In the background of all this winged medley the outcast who had been most disrespectfully and brutally kicked out, was totally despondent... as if it could be otherwise!... She was still trembling lightly, the taut muscles began relaxing.
Finally she relaxed altogether and sank to a kneeling position.
Storks bend their knees outwards so that their feet jut out to the front. Man bends his arms at the elbows in this way... She stretched her legs forward, stretched them out carefully on the cut grass and slowly brought her darkened toes together. These she carefully placed on the grass, too. Then she bent her head but without touching the ground with her beak, stared at a point or sign visible only to her. Her position reminded one of a Praying mantis. Her body did not tremble any more. Was the stork resting in this position or had she kneeled to stop the trembling? I cannot say and I doubt if anyone could. In the position of a Praying mantis the stork had turned totally inward, she was sinking into herself, altar and worshipper all in one.
The weather was slowly changing, the heat receded. The air steadied. Shouts of 'Ohoo, -ohoo...' were heard in the distance by the river but there was no one there. These were the shouts of that wretch, the swineherd. The twisted cornstalks were hiding him. And now he was chasing his hysterical pigs back in the village.
More and more storks kept coming from all sides and flying down to the meadows. A whole new flock poured in at sunset, there were more than a hundred of them. They landed right in the middle, and on top of the colony. Those underneath livened up, waving their wings. Some flew up into the air, there was even a fight. But all this lasted only some minutes. The birds soon calmed down, folded their wings, and those in the air came down. The newcomers started smoothing their feathers. By the time twilight had set in more storks were still arriving. Even later, when it was completely dark, our outcast could hear the air near her whistle with the passing birds.
Stars started twinkling and the sky gradually took on depth.
The flights had been completed.
The harvested fields slowly grew quiet, the silenced storks in their midst looked like a discoloured cloud which had softly descended into the middle of the field. The outcast stork had also quieted down. She was silent, listening for the sky to begin opening the gates to its air corridors.
Dozing ott the stork heard the sleeping birds snorting, the rustling of a wing as it stretched in a fumbling search for the birds next to it. Or the flutter of wings when the birds were startled in their sleep. Then everything was calm and quiet again, lulled by the soft snorting.
After midnight she heard a strange whisper. At first the whispering was so soft that it was hardly audible among the other noises. Someone was calling to her but very softly taking care not to wake the sleeping birds. She stirred to shake off sleep. In the middle of the field she saw the bright cloud of the colony. The birds were still sleeping, stirring here and there.
The starry night stretched from end to end. The stars shone brightly and made the darkness seem transparent. The sky too was transparent and the whole Universe looked transparent and very deep. There, in the vastness, it shimmered.
The sky had finally begun to open the gates of the air corridors. It was from there that the mysterious whisper came. It flowed over the dark humps of the hills, over the invisible and, the dark river, over the snorting in the stork colony, over the whole lands enveloped m a transparent darkness. There was something very confidential in that whisper. As if creation itself had put its mouth to the stork's ear, confessing its secrets.
She was altogether awake now.
She rose straight up. The feathers of her breast bristled. She fluttered her healthy wing, stretching it all the way. She tried to move the hurt one but it hardly moved since it had been cramped. She ran her beak through the bristling feathers on her breast several times. One after the other the feathers relaxed and smoothed down.
She looked almost neat.
Not stopping to listen, she paced through the field. When she came dangerously close to the colony she stopped. She cocked her head to hear better. A soft breeze was wafting from the north-east, that is why the stork turned to one side to face the breeze. In this way she could hear the whispering better. She saw a couple of falling stars, they scratched through the sky throwing sparks around which soon died out. Not a single star reached Earth and was lost high above the dark hills.
The whispering intensified. Soft music came to join it. The stork stirred and started making movements as if she wanted to shed something. As if a tick had suddenly stuck to the top of her head. Gradually she calmed and remained motionless for a long time cocking her head, baring it to the breeze.
It was not in fact a breeze, it was rather the night breathing into her face. Till midnight she had been deeply breathing in all the aroma of the Earth, and after midnight she was exhaling all these intoxicating aromas, condensing them.
And so, intoxicated and almost hypnotized by these dense aromas, the celestial whisper and music, the stork felt something beginning softly to sound within her. It gradually grew louder, filling her whole being slowly. She heard soft calls from far, far away. These soft calls were coming directly from the depths of prehistoric time.
The bird began to shiver.
She stood up on her toes and stayed that way for a while. Her heart beat faster in response to the distant call. She was being called and she was responding to the distant call... A giant wing rustled, a mighty bird though invisible in the darkness slowly flew over the land. The air started to moan and vibrate. And long after the giant wing had faded away, the a~r went on moaning.
Gradually, everything quieted. Disappeared and melted away in the mysterious whisper. Only the distant music continued. Someone was blowing with varying strength mto a horn.
Still on her toes, the stork peered into the bleary celestial corridors. She did not even see a bat fly through them. She saw a small twinkling star deep in the celestial void. Billions of stars blinked in the night, there were even first-degree stars among them, but it was this tiny star she noticed. It both lured and caressed her.
It was her star!
The star peered deep down into her soul and bathed all its recesses in a soft light. Not a single secret was left. Only someone very close can look at you that way and peer into your soul. When people who are very close look at each other, they look straight into each other's souls, shedding light on all its dark and intimate spots. And there is nothing, absolutely nothing that you can hide from the eyes of the person close to your heart when his eyes bore into you.
The stork went weak. Her legs were stiff so she walked to and fro, trying to put life back into them.
The soft calls continued to come in equal intervals, the invisible hornplayer kept blowing into the celestial horn, extracting terrifying sounds from it. The distant twinkling star kept pulsating evenly as if it were someone's lonely heart, wrung out of the darkness. This beating heart echoing in her breast caused the stork's heart to beat in the same rhythm. So does a drop of water echo when falling to the bottom of a deep well. There, towards that small twinkling star was where her road led. There, at the end, stood the ancient caliphates and Indies, the original home, the wintering place of them all. It was from there that came the soft but hypnotic calls.
The colony began to stir, they began to move around.
They tottered about, stretching their wings. They would stop, ponder over something or listen to something, then, lazily started across the meadows. They were like sleepwalkers.
The night shimmered to the east, the sky took on a violet hue. After that, there appeared a hesitant pink strip on the horizon. The ground under the sky looked black, heavy, incredibly large and much more like solid matter than during the day. The stars started to fade out.
Gradually, the whole sky went pale.
It was the edge of dawn.
The colony was in full motion. The outcast stork watched it all with envy. She saw several birds taking high hops. They would flap their wings hard two or three times and then land in the meadows again. Others turned their necks and rubbed their heads on their backs for some time. Still others went to smoothing their feathers with their beaks and pulling at them, to test their strength.
At one end of the flock a stork started to clack his beak. Like a mechanical toy that stork was! There was a lot of inspiration and elation in that rattling sound. Storks clack their beaks with that much inspiration and elation in the spring when they mate. But who would think of mating now at the end of summer when the powerful call to depart was floating over all the birds' heads and when the air corridors were booming by now. However the stork paid no attention to the celestial thunder and spinning round and round filled the fields with his own merry clacking.
The colony began to congregate around him, annoyed by his incessant clacking. Some pecked at him in warning, but the bird was in heat and instead of quieting down started to clack even louder. He had reached the pitch of excitement. He warded off the peckers, slipped into the midst of the colony, clacking away. More attackers joined the first ones. Then, to evade them, the stork flew up into the air. The outcast saw him flapping his wings hard and fly straight up off the ground because he was surrounded on all sides by birds attacking and hitting him and he had no way to launch himself. This is very difficult for a stork. During take off, these birds need a runway so it can first run along the ground flapping its wings hard in order to work up the necessary speed But then several young birds flew up into the air together with the mating bird. They closed in on him and began hitting him.
Seeing he had no place to run to and that he could not evade his pursuers, the bird plummeted down into the middle of the colony. He was hoping to hide among the crowd of birds somehow. He had stopped his mating call.
The pursuers darted off after the bird but since there was no empty space underneath they bore down on the colony.
A real storm raged in the colony now. A fierce fight was unleashed in its middle. A stork would try to escape by flying into the air but several others would immediately rush at him all at once and would run him down before he had a chance to stretch his legs backwards. When landing, the storks that were fighting swept away the ones standing in the fields. These in turn hit back to get even. In all this turmoil no one could say who was fighting whom and what the fighting was all about.
The mating stork had long gone silent. More than that he seemed to have vanished into thin air while the turmoil he had caused went on. Several times whole groups lifted off into the air and waged an air battle. Then the birds dispersed and slowly landed one by one in the fields while a new group rose into the air and each and every bird tried to tumble down the one next to it, in addition to trying to sustain itself in the air.
Gradually the brawlers dispersed and when the colony quieted down again, the storks saw a hoopoe creep out, sighing: 'Phew-phew!'
The hoopoe skillfully zigzagged round the birds' legs. Leaving the long-legged colony behind, he came upon a small knoll sparsely covered with grass, and climbed up it. In fact that knoll was a molehill. A pair of moles lived in the fields. They constantly expanded their underground lodgings like a labyrinth, pushing out the dug earth. Small molehills began to appear. Sparse, wild grass grewontop of them. Livestock refused to graze there and the knoll stuck out like hair on a mole. The place was perfectly suited to a hoopoe, in fact a better one could not be wished for!
The stork who was kicked out by the colony cast a furtive glance at the hoopoe. She recognized him as the despondent hoopoe from the river. She paid no more attention to him and started pacing restlessly up and down alongside the colony.
The birds in the colony became restless as well. Someone or something was beckoning them... No man is ever beckoned in this way by anyone, except perhaps in death... The thunder in the sky had subsided, only a faint swishing was audible, as if there was a strong air current up there in the corridors. A tremour passed through the colony. A few of the outermost birds took a run through the fields and took off. They were followed by others who gathered up speed in leaps and bounds. Then the others also started running and powerfully flapping their wings, until finally the whole colony was running. The first ones ran the fastest, the last ones ran the slowest. As soon as the first birds were in the air stretching their necks out, those behind lifted off the ground to make room for those hip-hopping after them.The noise made by the birds' wings grew louder, something like an avalanche. Whirlwinds formed in the air.
In a single moment the entire colony had risen into the air, it glided softly forward and slowly gaining height, soared over the fields.
The air began to howl filled with thunder from the strong beating of wings. The wing feathers swished and whistled leaving the air in whirlwinds behind them.
The poor bird with the broken wing started running with all her might across the meadow. She stumbled over molehills, she even fell a few times and as soon as she got up she would start running again, flapping her healthy wing with all her might. The other wing trailed along the ground, hitting the molehills but she did not pay any attention to it and went on running and comically bobbing up and down.She hoped to be able to get a firm hold of the air after every leap and by climbing it, to finally reach the open vortexof the air corridor and squeeze herself inside.
The colony continued to go aloft.
Having reached a certain height, the flock circled in the sky several times. The birds were in no hurry to depart and slowly circled over the earth. All the while they were regrouping the flock. Body to body, wing to wing, hundreds of pairs of wings. It was as if these were not birds but the atoms of a flock, regrouping for a compact formation.
In flight flocks of birds acquire a peculiar compactness, a certain weight and speed. In a flock all the birds have the same weight and fly at the same speed. This can clearly be seen with fast-flying birds such as the golden eye birds, the wild geese and the starlings.
Sometimes starlings fly in thousands in a single colony, plummet down to the earth suddenly, almost literally fall to the ground but before they have reached it, just as abruptly they rise, as if overcoming an invisible obstacle. Or they dive and swerve as they fly, resembling giant whirlpools and never does a single bird ever collide with any of the others. Rather than hundreds and thousands of birds it is as if a single; giant creature is soaring here, stalling all carefree in the sky, and there playingdiving in the air or suddenly zooming out like a torpedo. If a hawk is chasing sparrows and a man happens by, he will see the sparrows hurtle like meteors into the nearest bramble. In flight, a peculiar, single current is created, we could even talk of a unified energy field. Here, each flies separately in his private, intimate field, inside his aura, barely touching the private field or aura of the bird closest to him. This can also be observed with fish. Shoals of fish move calmly in the water, sleepy and slow, but at the slightest sign of danger they rush forward and if a predator is right behind them one can see different fish jump up the water, then quickly dive back and again look for the shoal. Not a single fish bumps into the others despite the deadly threat. These shoals of fish move along as if they did not consist of thousands of small fish but one giant Scandinavian otter which now dives in the dark depths, now rises to the surface in play. Witnesses maintain that the giant otter has a length of between 18 and 30 metres and can be even longer... in the same way if we throw a handful! of sand up in the air the grains of sand will fly without colliding and having reached a certain height, after losing their velocity, they will start falling, again not colliding. It can be said that celestial bodies in the Universe float in the same manner, not colliding despite their high speed. Their speed is mindboggling. The whole material cosmos flies at those mindboggl-ing speeds and every star, planet or galaxy, rotates inside its intimate and lonely field, its own sad private aura.
It is only man, my brother, man bumps into others as he walks, into his brothers!...
So the storks finally regrouped the flock. Slowly flapping their wings, they floated regally to the south. I use the word regally because this word precisely fits best this mass flight of the birds.
The stork left behind in the meadows, stopped running and stumbling over the molehills with the sparse grass on them. She twisted her head so that she could watch the receding flock without having the sun in her eyes, to hinder her. The colony was moving south while at the same time sinking deeper and deeper into the sky.
The stork was not alone in watching the receding colony.
I too watched the receding colony and heard the powerful thunder over my head. The celestial depths allured me. My spirit abruptly broke away from my body, rose and flew with the birds. It quickly reached the open air corridors. They gaped like precipices. A roaring and swishing issued from their huge mouths. My spirit peeped in for only an instant and returned to soaring higher and deeper into space, fast penetrating its emptiness. The emptiness lured it on.
It stopped only when it saw cracks in the sky.
Other skies peered in from behind the cracks. These altogether new, strange levels of the universe. Star smoke curled around in the celestial cracks and slowly went into spirals. It was as if a giant grass-snake was coiling there lazily, its scales shining. Or was it rather some cosmic creature, absolutely unknown and unsuspected, closing its spiral?... It is hard to say!... The corpses of gods floated along majestically and lightly amid the star smoke. The gods had been petrified into eternal rest. Their faces looked like stone, as did their bodies. Not a single hair was to be seen on any of the faces or bodies. They were absolutely smooth. The corpses of these gods resembled, to an extent the corpse of a cosmic drowr~ed man, the difference being that none peered through the narrow slits of their eyelids. And none of them had fresh wounds on his shoulders. The gods spun around slowly, each turning on his own axis. It seemed that this c~rcular movement kept them suspended in space and propelled them forward.
It was a hypnotic sight.
Giant embryos were also to be seen floating through the star smoke. It was impossible to say whether they were the embryos of future gods, scattered on the different levels of space, or just dead embryos... Tt became intolerably cold.
My spirit felt the cold and hurried back.
I was greatly relieved when my spirit touched my body.
I looked at the stork. The poor bird still stood there amid the molehills, her head tucked under her wing. The bad wing. The bad wing, hanging to the ground, gave her a crestfallen look. Nearby, the hoopoe was dozing on the knoll with the sparse grass. He too looked mournful.
A few early autumn crocuses in the meadow with their violet flowers added to the cheerlessness and melancholy of the landscape. Silvery cobwebs floated in the air. Hardworking spiders were trying to wrap up the earth. I am sure, had they succeeded in wrapping it up, they would have inevitably towed it to a dark corner of the universe where they would have sucked at its juices!
After a while a man carrying a hoe on his shoulder appeared from the direction of the river. He limped and was smoking. The stork stirred. She raised her head to see the man better but stayed where she was.
The man with the hoe had a thoughtful, sad look on his face. He did not look either at the stork or at the hoopoe. Having left the meadow he stopped. He took the hoe down, leaned against its handle with both hands and started "feeling" the molehills with his eyes. In places they were scattered at random, in other places they stood in almost straight lines, in other places still they zig-zagged.Some molehills stood solitary or in groups of three or four. The whole meadow was more or less covered with molehills. The knolls with grass marked the subterranean paths of the blind creatures. Some were old, born in the winter or spring, or last year or the year before last. Some were from the sun~mer and there were some really fresh ones from the day before yesterday or yesterday. They stood in black knolls in the meadow like so much coal. This was rich, fat humus which the blind moles kept digging up and pushing out with the soil... The man leaning on the hoe observed the molehills, puffing at his cigarette. The sad look on his face remained unchanged, his eyes looked deep in thought. He was a young man but he looked as though half of his fleet had sunk. It was impossible to say what this man's grief was. I don't think he was actually grieving, it was just that his face had been moulded so that it constantly showed grief and deep thought. There simply are people whose expression is always sad, though they may be happy inside and even feel happy. Very often appearances do deceive. If you look at a silkworm, or especially if you touch it, you will be disgusted by this trifling worm and will pull your hand back in disgust, forgetting that this cursed little thing is making a miracle as this cold little worm, chewing the bitter mulberry leaves, transforms the bitterness into the most refined of silks. Thus man chewing the bitter leaves of life tries to turn the bitterness to his benefit. But the more he chews, the more bitter the cud becomes. And this bitterness crawls out onto the faces of men to leave its deep and lasting imprint! 'I would like to cry out here: Hey, man, cud-chewer! We've chewed enough cud on the hills of life, we've munched more than enough and still have failed to turn the bitterness to our benefit and sweeten our lives!
It seems man never will succeed in finishing the shrine of his spirit and is forever doomed to stay among its ruins! Personally, I pray that this shrine will never be finished. When I am among ruins my soul becomes excited, my imagination stirs and stretches and leaves its den. I cannot explain why this should be so but in front of ruins I am deeply moved. I feel a touch of something on the verge of dying and vying with time, or rather growing into time and another cycle churn its decomposition. Every feat completed, just as every building completed, seems to me foolish and conceited. I prefer ruins.
Complacency resides in a feat completed. Tragedy resides in ruins. It steals through them or suns itself on top of them like a lizzard. It is this lizzard that is the very soul of ruins. You may not see him but he sees you all right. I could even say that he sees more than God. And then again, what could God possibly see with his colourless eyes! I was told the story of a very sad black man who stood in the heart of Rome last year with a sign reading: 'God has no colour!'... The lizzard does! And his eye is not colourless either, it is black as a bead': piercing you to the heart when looking at you. He, the lizzard, can be much more than God Almighty. God Almighty cannot slither like a lizzard, neither does he have claws on his paws like the lizzard, nor can he be as agile and deft as the lizzard to crawl along the sunny spots, the smooth rocks and vertical walls of the ruins!
God cannot do what the lizzard can!
The man was smoking, leaning on the hoe. He stirred and thus brought me out of wandering among the ruins. Stopping at several fresh molehills, he spat into his palms and started digging them up with the hoe. He worked slowly. He dug up and spread the earth evenly around. He seemed set on destroying all molehills by wiping them off the face of the earth. He destroyed them methodically, as methodically as lice are eradicated. He did not wander off or take a rest, that is why it all went smoothly.
Soon, the meadow around turned black with the dug up earth.
The stork noticed this. She moved and started toward the man with the hoe.
Why did the bird walk over to the digger? Whenever a man went out in the felds and started digging the ground or tilling it, the storks started toward that man because in the dug up earth or the tilled land frightened earth-worms came to the surface, different crawling bugs, spiders, larvae, beetles, as well as well-fed black crickets. That is why the stork started toward the dug up molehills.
The man who was digging stopped. He looked up and down at the disabled bird, took a few steps back, limping. His face was still sad.
He said: 'Come on, come on, brother!'
The stork was startled by the human voice but did not run away and remained where she was. The man lit a cigarette, his face was enveloped in smoke. He started to cough, coughed a while and began digging again, rather plucking the molehills the same way corn is plucked. The bird stood looking at the glistening hoe, then mustered some courage and stepped forward.
Right at the edge of the earth spread out around in the meadow she found an earth-worm. The earth-worm stretching with all his might trying to sneak underground again back to the dark, but the bird was faster. She simply moved her head fast as lightning, the earthworm writhing in knots flicked up in the air. In a second he had disappeared into the red beak of the bird. A low clacking was heard and the bird snorted contentedly. Immediately she noticed a wingless creeping grasshopDer. The grasshopper, brought up into the daylight by the digger had panicked. He ran forward, then stopped, then he returned, stopped again and ran again and stopped again only to dash off again. He was looking for a solution or salvation. He was like a madman.
The bird resolved his dilemma by a blow with her beak. She did it as though she was lending him a hand!
She saw an earth-worm stretch out on the freshly dug earth. Tkis was very close to the digger. She dared not step closer and with deep regret observed the creeping creature sneak through a small crack in the soil and disappear in it, pulling in its tail in jolts.
At one point the digger cried out:
He stopped digging, pointing to a green grasshopper.
The grasshopper was a big and heavy one but this did not impede his virtuoso leaps in the air. He dropped to the ground and an instant later spun round and flew quite a distance through the air. He would leap into the air twisting and turning. It was hard to guess what direction he would take. The stork bore down at him at once. She saw where he
landed but when she came near the creature spurted into the air, flew past her, his wings buzzing angrily and heavily. The stork looked round to see where the grasshopper was landing but was too slow because of the drooping wing. Her prey was nowhere to be seen.
The creature had found a hide-out and was sitting there motionless. In nature everything that moves is visible and becomes easy prey. The motionless stand a greater chance of survival. That is why when danger threatens them they freeze in their tracks.
The green grasshopper, called a hip-hop by the digger, knew the ABC's of survival even before he appeared in God's world. He stayed motionless there in his hide-out. The stork was looking for him, pacing to left and right of the upturned molehills. She knew the leaping prey was somewhere around. The locust stayed put and waited.
He could not hold out long, however.
When the predator came threateningly close, perched on her long red legs, almost up to the sky, he dashed up and under her legs, and flew away buzzing. On landing he swerved so he could have a better view of his pursuer.
The stork saw where he landed this time. Wasting no time she ran toward him. Her running was awkward, storks are bad runners. And long before she had reached his landing place, the grasshopper flew up in a beautiful green arc, darting to the right. He was light green, the arc he drew was light green too but because as he flew with the sun shining on him brightly, the light green arc had a silver sheen, and the grasshopper himself had a silver sheen in the sunshine.
That locust was truly beautiful!
And so how could he die!
The predator continued on the run after the fugitive.
In this way bird and insect chased each other in this or that direction either going far into the meadow, or again returning to the digger. Sometimes the grasshopper flew right past the bird's head well out of the reach of his enemy. The stork's maneuvers were not very energetic and agile. However she wouldn't give up the chase. In this game called life, the pursuers usually stand a better chance than the prey. Though much heavier than the grasshopper the bird probably knew this.
The leaps of the pursued gradually became shorter. On her part, the bird too started to slow down, gasping for breath, while the flying insect crawled, spun round a lump of earth or was readying for the next leap.
The digger, leaning on the hoe, was watching the chase with great interest. Sometimes the pursued and pursuer would go so far away that he would not be able to see the grasshopper at all, though he strained his eyes looking for him. He could see only the stork running to and fro. From a distance that running looked more like a bizarre dance than the chase of a grasshopper. The direction and the rhythm of that dance were determined by the grasshopper's leaps. The bird took four-five energetic steps to the right, stopped up to a count of two, then she took four-five or six strides, only to stop again, turn round full circle and, helping herself with both wings, rushed forward in long jumps.
One, two, three, four, five...
Let me note here that not only the digger watched the chase, the hoopoe too showed an interest in it. He flew up softly singing: 'Twit-twit!' and moved up closer alighting on the knoll with the sparse grass for a better view of the chase. At one point the stork came to a halt as she was running. One leg remained suspended in the air, she clacked her beak, lost her balance and doubled at the knees, leaning on her wings and tail. When she stood up she saw the man digging up and levelling out the molehills. She did not immediately start toward him but stayed back to rest awhile. Several times she bent her neck, smoothing out the feathers with her beak.
Inside her throat, doubled up and exhausted, the green grasshopper was dying.
While the stork rested contentedly, she noticed that the digger had stopped working with the hoe. He was holding it, ready to swing again and was tip-toeing around several molehills. Reaching one point he stopped as if stalking something or listening for a sound. Then he suddenly swung the hoe and jerked it toward him. Some earth crumbled over his feet and he jumped up. He shook the earth off his shoes and clutching the hoe more firmly, ready to swing it at any moment, carefully skirted the uprooted molehill. He was being extremely careful.
He was watching for the mole working underground. He had seen it push out earth onto the molehill, the molehill itself was stirring as if alive and grew bigger right before his eyes. That is why the digger swung his hoe, hoping that by driving it deep in the ground he would dig up both the mole and the molehill. But he failed. The blind creature proved to be faster than the hoe.
The man stood motionless but his eyes roamed about, looking to see if the molehills nearby showed signs of movement. He saw one of them stir. He took several fast but stealthy steps towards it, trying to make no sound as he brought down the hoe... All he managed to dig out was some earth and a stone. The edge of the hoe came down in the stone and drew sparks from it.
'Heh!, the digger exclaimed, and the hoopoe added: 'Huh-huh!'
The mole seemed to have vanished. She was hiding down in her labyrinth listening to find out if that thing was still there on the roof of her house. The digger moved carefully still tip-toeing. He did not want to scare off the blind digger underground. He was on the ready to swing the hoe. He leaned forward slightly, his face was drawn and still sad. His eyes had lit up. The hunter in him had been awakened. He was watching several molehills at the same time, all of them new, and was waiting for the underground digger to begin pushing out the crumbly earth with her muzzle again so that he could bring down the hoe with all his might and dig out the mole together with the molehill.
At that moment there were two diggers in the meadow. One stood with his iron hoe on top of the biological scale, while the other digger stood on the lowest part of the biological scale. She was digging up the meadow from below and from time to time pushed the dug out earth into the open to form a new molehill right at the feet of the man above. That is, literally. But that underground digger was not alone. No one could estimate exactly how many diggers there were underground. One, ten, a hundred?... We had said a pair of moles live in the meadow. That is true. These two bred new little moles which grew up and in their turn they bred little moles who in their turn grew up and had little moles. The new moles did not lag behind their predecessors. The new-born carried on and in this way the biological chain did not break even once, on the contrary it grew stronger. The fruit of all that strengthening were the hundreds of molehills in the meadow. Man fought them every year, razed them from the face of the earth, but the hardworking and tireless underground diggers.worked and worked, making new molehills. In certain years the meadow had been practically doomed to abandonment due to these molehills because it was hard for a mower to wade into them with his sickle. He had to spend more time fighting the molehills than cutting the grass and often had to sharpen the sickle as it quickly became blunt.
On the one hand the man wanted to make the meadow suitable for the sickle, while on the other the moles were trying to expand and make their underground abode more comfortable. They constantly(one might think they worked round-the-clock) dug into the ground, pushed out the earth and thus expanded and enlarged their living space. They were especially active in rainy years. Should their abode be flooded, they would abandon it and begin to dig into an entirely new site looking for dryer ground. These were endless blind alleys. They had neither entrance, nor exit, only blind creatures could wander round them living their hapless life. In this world Mother Nature had alloted everyone a place to live, for the fish - water, for the birds - air, for the moles - underground. In fact life itself crept in everywhere, spreading its tentacles both high into the sky and deep down into water and underground.
Although blind, the creatures sensed with their molish senses that someone was walking up there heavily and threateningly. It was as though a bandit of some sort had climbed on the roof of their home, making such a noise that the roof rumbled and groaned under his feet despite the fact that up there he was tip-toeing and trying not to give himself away. He was walking on tip-toe, but had no idea that every step he made echoed loud and clear throughout the whole underground kingdom and that all the underground inhabitants had stopped to listen to figure out where the bandit was going. Whenever the man stood still, they could even hear his heartbeat above their heads. The man did not know that his heart betrayed him in such a treacherous fashion.
True, the mole was very low on the biological scale. But compared to man she was the older earth inhabitant. When one day man appeared in the meadow in the form of a savage and a forehead no higher than an inch, the mole had already dug out her underground palaces, had gone blind and had sunk till the end of time into the darkness of the earth. To forestall being forgotten or unnoticed she left a mark behind her, precisely these dear little molehills which in time were overgrown and made the earth look pimply. Man, being a later arrival, and a savage at that, had no rights over the mole or her molehills. He would sit on a fresh molehill, staying there awhile only to realize that the molehill was beginning to move as if alive. The savage jumped up like an ape and once his feet were on the ground, he stared at the molehill. He spent quite a while motionless staring at the tiny molehill in front of him. In a while he noticed that the molehill stirred wriggled somewhat and began rising and the savage in his turn rose to full height poised for attack. But the thing did not attack him, it just kept wriggling and growing in front of his eyes. The earth itself was wriggling and rising. Finally it stood still. And another molehill started moving and rising. The savage could not stand there staring at the molehill any longer, got scared and ran off. He stopped after several running leaps, turned back to see if the molehills were still in place. Then again he dashed off, stopped again and so running and stopping along the way till he was swallowed by the deep dark forests... From that day on the savage began to conceptualize. One day he went up to the molehills holding a big stone, chose a molehill and spent a lot of time hitting it with the stone but to no avail. He had obviously thought the molehill similar to a turtle and by hitting it on the back with a stone he had hoped to crack the shell open and eat it.
Many a summer after the savage, came the devil in the guise of a hoopoe. He alighted on a molehill covered with sparse grass, spun around on top of it and approved of what the mole had done by exclaiming: 'Hm-Hm!'... The savage gradually grew tame, his forehead grew higher by two inches and he became a tame savage, tilling the land, cutting the grass. He became master of the land and was terribly annoyed wherever he saw someone or something encroaching on his domain. The presence of the mole vexed him because she kept drilling his meadow and building more and more molehills and thus obstructed his cutting the grass. After he was tamed the savage overpowered many biological species, some he chased out of his domains, others he eradicated and hoped to be able to deal with the mole too one day by razing her molehills from the face of the earth.
If the digger and the hoopoe had watched the strange dance of the stork until then and her chasing the hopping and buzzing grasshopper, now the stork and the hoopoe could watch the no less strange behaviour of the digger. He paced carefully through the meadow, stopping, and standing in a stiff uncomfortable position, then he swung the hoe swiftly,letting it sink all the way up to the handle and then pulled it up with all his force. He dug up the whole molehill, kicked at the earth, over his shoulder and lit a cigarette. Having wrapped his face up well in the smoke, the digger started off again, carefully skirted the molehills, choosing one, stood alert over it, ready to strike and uproot it together with the I mole digging at the bottom with a single blow of the hoe.
This was repeated many times but not once did the digger manage to get the better of | the mole digging down below. It seems that mole sank down further below the instant he I swan" the hoe down on the molehill. Finally the digger got tired or bored. He left his work I in the field undone, lifted the hoe onto his shoulder and limping lightly made for the river. I Once there, he dug out some turf from the banks, built a small dam, then dug a narrow ~ ditch with the hoe, the water from the weir rose and flowed into the narrow ditch. Using I the hoe the man led the water after him. He stopped at places and dug deep with the hoe, the water rushed in the hole, then again started trickling slowly down the narrow strip dug up by the hoe.
Thus the digger introduced water to the meadow. And when water came into the meadow, the man withdrew to the shade of the cornfields. He sat smoking as he watched the water spread over the meadow and up and around the molehills and they were flooded one by one. Big bubbles emerged to the surface of the water, they got larger and larger but then they burst.
'Heh!', exclaimed the man.
The stork started through the flooded meadow, collecting ample booty. Great confusion had set in with the incoming water. It filled all the secret underground entrances and hide-outs and chased their inhabitants out. Surprised in their dens as they ran out into the blinding daylight, the stork waited for them with her unrelenting beak and insatiable throat. ..The devil watched the stork from his knoll eating with relish the creatures hopping and crawling in the water and sighed with disgust: 'Huh-huh!'
As he smoked the man inwardly rejoiced that he had thought of flooding the meadow, in this way bringing out all the moles. Although he was happy inside, even overjoyed~ seeing the air leave the mole vaults and making bubbles, his face remained sad.
At dusk he picked up the hoe and went back to the village. The hoopoe flapped after him, but passing by the corn he disappeared. Only the stork and the water whispering at her feet remained in the meadow. Far beyond the corn, the oinking of swine was heard and a man calling. That was the swineherd called Iko. He was rounding up his hysterical herd on the way to the village. The mountains to the west had invailed their faces, they did not look like Moslem women, veiled in a haze, they were drawing to see what was going on in the lands on this side, that is in our lands.
They saw nothing special.
The stork had overeaten.
Though there was prey in excess hopping about, stirring and crawling or drowned, she did not bend down even once to peck at it again. She remained motionless in the middle of the meadow. The water ran along, whispering. But whom it was whispering to and what it was whispering it's impossible to say. The bird stood there until darkness fell and the mountains were lost. In the darkness the corn in the field moved closer to the meadow.
Then the stork started walking slowly, found a small dry hillock and nestled there for the night surrounded by water on all sides. She knew that should a night-time enemy pass through the meadow he would not wade through the water and get his paws wet but would rather seek dry places.
The bird lay there on her hillock listening to the low rumble of the deserted air corridors.
Sometime later a dark shadow flew low, not parting the air. That shadow appeared above the stork several times and then disappeared. It flew as if it was roving in the dark. It was an owl. The bird of prey had left the forest hunting mice in the meadow. The water brought to the meadow by the digger had flooded the homes and barns of the field mice along with everything else. Tiny mice were scurring and squiming everywhere. The night owl plunged silently, grabbed the mouse or baby mouse in its claws, the rodent then embroidered the last embroidery in its miserable little life in the air with its short little legs. The owl swallowed the rodents whole. Soon after the owl a fox made its appearance in the meadow, lured by the squeaking of the mice. The stork saw her steal along, jump up stalking mousing and frolicking around the meadow for quite a while turning the panickine mice upside down. She turned them upside down by a single blow of her paw. With a swift blow the mice were turned over on their broken backs. The fox then leaned over the rodent and watched it with such curiosity one might think she was seeing a rodent for the first time.
There were little fox games in the warm darkness. Summer games, light entertainment!
The twinkling stars above made the darkness transparent.
The fox spent a long time creeping left, and right in the meadow. She made no sound. She tucked herclaws in, stepping only on the soft cushions of her paws. Squeaking loudly, the mice or the young mice did not mean to save themselves, quite the contrary, they were warning the other mice invisible in the darkness that a predator had appeared in their midst... The fox devoured her prey by tearing them apart with her teeth and this whet her appetite even more. She was very agile as most predators are. And deft!... But there was one (lace the owl bent her in speed. A frightened little mouse slipped under a handful of hay, almost under the fox's nose. She pushed her muzzle into the hay, raked it up with her paw, turned it over and scattered it. She was looking for the mouse. By then it had turned found fleeing to save itself. The mouse might have succeeded in going underground if the long-eared owl had not swooped down on it noiselessly from above. The fox turned around the moment the owl lifted the mouse off the ground in its tracks as it kept squeaking. The owl was flying awkwardly. The fox jumped up, reaching up with her paw but missed the night bird only ripping the air. Then she stood straight up, supporting herself on her tail, spun round on it like a spindle but the owl instantly rose higher. It flapped its wings, glided to the side, rose again and glided anew. It skimmed across the ground and before touching down it rose again. It seemed to be doing this to annoy the fox.
The owl finally landed at a safe distance and started devouring the mouse whole.
In the pale darkness the stork would see them and then lose them again and especially the owl.
She was Iying on her hillock but on the alert.
She was seeing a fox for the first time. She did not know that the fox was hunting mice, she thought the predator was just playing. He was simply dancing along, striking the ground with his paw, spinning and stepping forward, and then suddenly standing motionless, the paw up in the air. He resembled, to an extent, the digger with the hoe when he was stalking around the molehills during the day, uprooting them with a single blow of the hoe. Only the fox did not carry a hoe and used his paws instead of a hoe... The night owl in its turn imitated the digger but she did that in the air, now appearing, now disappearing as if falling from the sky, from the thunderous and howling air corridors. The noise poured out of their vortex to dance over the meadow and begin its own prowling. In search of what the stork did not know. She did not know because she had always spent the nights in the village, in the stork nest on top of the house chimney. And when the baby storks were growing up, she slept together with them there on the roof of the house. At night she would hear from up above the barking of dogs, the crowing of the roosters, all sorts of noises would she hear and sometimes she saw the sky begin to' shed stars. But she had never seen a long-eared owl hunt mice, nor had she ever seen a fox go mouse-hunting.The owl was like a dark blotch close-by. She only saw the moving shadow of the fox. Something told her that moving shadow was an enemy. She had seen a fox before. She lay awake waiting to see if the predator would wade through the flooded meadow toward her. She waited and shuddered.
Instead of the fox coming for the stork, something unexpected bore down on the cornfield and started crashing through it and trampling it down like a steam-roller. The crushed corn stalks popped and swished. Whizzing and heavy breathing came from that direction. A threat issued from there, blind forces were in control there and the more they wrecked the meadow, the more fierce they became. Then suddenly everything went quiet. It became so quiet that the stork could hear the distant bubbling of the river beyond the corn fields. But the thing again lunged at the corn. It moved blindly in the warm darkness and the noise increased. Soon after, the dark silhouette of a big animal appeared out of the nighttime popping and swaying meadow.
The animal stopped, munching loudly.
The boar grunted and reared up as if in no time at all all this in front of him would be trampled down.
This seemed a bit silly because it suited neither his size nor his strength to rear up like that. He was not very agile or nimble either to caper like that. It was more suitable for him to walk in a stately way along on the ground, fixed on it, as stately as a steam engine, sending up smoke and steam from every opening, throwing sparks, sizzling and hissing and running hot sweat down its red-hot iron flanks.
This time he did not rear up, only folded his ears close to his body. The bristles on his back crackled.
In her turn the stork rattled her bill in the dark and hissed a warning.
It was as if an invisible whip was lashing and ripping through the air. The bird spun round lightly, spreading her healthy wing towards the night attacker. At that moment, the bill and wing were the only weapons she had. Warm air unfolded and draped all around her, enveloping her in a friendly embrace, ready to take her off the ground at any moment, as soon as she flapped her wings and plucked her reedlike legs from the ground. Only a few flaps were needed by the bird and the air would have immediately offered her a launch' lifting her and flinging her into the great air ocean... But alas... At that moment the wretched bird looked like a one-handed knight, thrown from his horse, brought down on hostile ground. It was not up there by the stars, in the vastness of the air ocean that she would die, but here, amid the molehills and the water bubbling in the invisible holes! Here, you bedraggled one-handed knight! Here! Here!
My God, what am I saying! Am I praying for death to come!
The bird began a light dance. She swayed, her feet on the ground, simply swaying left and right. From time to time she hissed at the bristly mass as if saying teasingly: Come on you beast! Come on you killer!... Come on! Come on!
'Ar-r-h!', the boar roared.
The air shook. If there had been any windows around at the time, I am sure the glass in them would have shaken and rattled with this beastly roar.
The stork stopped swaying.
The sky held its breath.
And the boar bolted back. He fled with all his might. The earth groaned under his hooves. His throat growled like the mouth of a volcano, stifled with ashes, lava and rocks. The frightened beast ran fast through the meadow and dashed into the dark cornfields. One might think a tornado had descended on the meadow - such were the thundering sounds that raged within it. Then the stork heard the night beast tumble down the steep river bank. Unsettled rocks from the bank tumbled after him. His plonk in the river was so loud one might think that in its sleep the river had been pulled out of its bed and had been tossed out onto the banks. The boar started thrashing around there flapping around like a fish out of water. The river thrashed and flapped a long time after, until it finally rolled, flowed back into the river bed and started dozing off again, bubbling, ripping and muttering its disapproval.
The boar had run it over and flung it out of its bed. He tore straight ahead in the night, not swerving as from his path. He trampled and crashed down everything in his way. He was a frightening s~ght.
The stork stood a while longer listening to the receding thunder and when the last sound had died in the dark, she bent her knees and sank to the ground. In the dark, the poor bird looked ruffled, like an old newspaper discarded along the way, something dispensable, no use to read a second time.
All the while the boar was charging into the night, seized by some nameless terror Dark shadows flitted round him in all directions. It was hard to tell whether they were the shadows of something real or night spectres like the ghost in the meadow. In daylight these could have been most ordinary bushes and brambles,but in the dark they seemed to
stir and run beside the charging boar. This added to his terror. In primitive creatures terror is primitive too. Everything in the huge body had been mobilized to the full and concentrated on one thing - to flee! If the beast had had wings just then, even the smallest, he would have left the ground and happily soared over it all! He would have soared like a black bulk over the earth,like a prehistoric beetle. He would have- that was how precipitous his flight was!... Due to friction his bristles were electrified. If at first they merely crackled, later on cold sparks started running along them. Beautiful, almost epic was this flight in the dark.
The night itself was startled and woke up. The night opened its eyes, looked, slowly closed its lids and calmed. But it was awake and alert.
The crazed beast ran and ran. Heavy breathing filled the night as if some giant were shifting a rock, pushing it in front of him, huffing and puffing and threatening to sweep everything away from his path. In addition to the trooping and scurrying shadows he also ran into corn, sunflowers, melon fields, stubble-fields, as well as vegetable gardens, so tiny that if a donkey lay down in one of them its privates would lie outside. Each and every of these gardens was like an ant heap, there was everything there. To earn their daily bread people grew all kinds of vegetables: peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, leeks, onions, cabbage, cauliflower, gherkins, runner beens called so because they ran up high, winding round thin poles stuck in the ground. On their part the poles were called "bean runners". In this way the poles had given a name to the beans, and the beans had given the poles their name. Further down were the chill) peppers called Master peppers, capsicum for Royal pickles, carrots, celery, basil, savoury and God knows what not else.
The gardens were surrounded by rickety fences of entwined brushwood. Scarecrows were stuck up by the fences to ward off sparrows and wild boar. Old shirts, coats, vests, strips of cloth and plastic fluttered on these scarecrows, pieces of glistening white tin hung there clanking in the wind to the terror of wild beasts. In addition to the scarecrow and runner bean poles, these busy tillers of the land had also stuck in places along the fence a peculiar kind of briar. They used this briar to keep moles away. When someone dies this briar is also used to take his measurements for the coffin so as not to have to use a carpenter's folding rule. No one may touch this briar, neither man nor animal. It is a taboo. It can be even said that death alone is allowed to touch it if death can need permission for anything at all! She has access to everything. But in recent years it had been established that if this briar is stuck in the ground where moles are on the rampage, eating the roots of vegetables, then the moles move away to the neighbour's garden the next year. This mysterious briar seems to have a very strong, almost superstitious effect on moles.
Moles compete with wild boars because they are as good diggers as he is. They are really death for any garden they attack. However they only dig underground, eating the roots of edible plants and whatever root they cannot eat, they rip off. In this respect they are like wolves. When a pack of wolves attacks sheep in a pen, they are not satisfied with killing as many sheep as they want for food, they run riot in the pen and sometimes strangle the whole flock. People call these mores crickets to differentiate them from wild boar and the domestic pig.
The boar tore down the rickety fences on his way, together with the scarecrows in the gardens although they waved their empty sleeves and their rags in desperation and rattled with their tins.
The beast on the run could neither stop in front of them, nor could it swerve. Nothing could divert it along its flight. Neither the ghosts of the scarecrows which went scurrying across the fields alongside him, nor the fleeting shadows by his side. Once past the gardens that boar crashed into marshy land, overgrown with tall, thick reeds. Only the hissing wind could penetrate these reeds, but now the boar cut through, too. He sank up to his neck in the marshes, but he did not swerve, did not turn around and went straight through the reeds, sending whole flocks of marsh birds into the air - marsh owls, snipes and jacksnipes and moaning lapwings.
These birds went on a long time screeching, moaning and buzzing. Meanwhile the black meteor of a boar stepped onto solid ground, the fields gently rolled and rose, the terrain became hilly. The beast trundled along heavily. The hills came up one after the other, rising higher and higher. They were reaching up toward the Balkan Range. The boar, too, unwittingly, ran towards the Balkan Range, only not straight ahead but diagonally across the hills, just as all wild animals do, thus expending less energy and saving enough energy for a long run.
Up the hills he went and reached a big stone quarry. A huge avalanche of rocks rumbled down behind him. The avalanche roared and thundered a long time, whining afterwards even longer, grinding its rocky teeth. A burning dawn showed at the end of the stone quarry. Huge flames shot out, dancing and flickering in the dark. Blazing fires were burning there. The silhouettes of people with long two pronged poles flittered by the fires. They dragged up briars and brushwood with two-horned poles, some towed tree trunks along on their shoulders, flinging them from a distance into the fires protecting their faces from the flames with their hands. The silhouettes of the people were the colour of copper, so heavily did the fires bathe them in the fire light. To evade the roaring avalanche of rocks behind him, the boar had to pass through the fires and the people. He bore down awesomely. For an instant he became flaming red, it was as if black iron had turned red-hot! A hoopoe flitted before his eyes, the hoopoe flew up high. "Phew, phew", went its wings and turned flaming red too. The hoopoe himself had become a firebird! He zig-zagged through the flames and his flight resembled that of a bat, rather than of a hoopoe.
So this was where the crestfallen hoopoe of the meadows had come. So here he was, the damned devil!... Of course he's fond of fire, God loves water because it is devout, God-fearing and quiet! The Devil loves fire because it is a devil itself. Water is meek and melancholy. There is sadness in it when it flows gently and when it whirls slowly in a whirlpool or when it stands still, as if asleep while actually it is awake! Fire is a barbarian and a savage. No man ever dares touch it even with a finger! Should he do so his finger will be burnt off on the spot! Water, on the contrary, embraces man gently, caressing him all the time. It is kind and tender. And for this reason God made the Flood. He washed the face of the Earth with the meek water, filling in Earth's wrinkles, exterminating every living creature in it, but exterminating it with a caress, embracing it and kissing Earth with its wet mouth. Gentle and God-fearing is water even when it engulfs man on all sides to drag him to the bottom, to the sand and the silt. While fire burns man, it destroys man, burns him down to ashes. In addition to being able to burn everything within, fire can also set man's soul aflame. And when the soul is enflamed, it burns without leaving ashes!... Majestically and fabulously does a soul burn! When flames engulf the soul, then this is a sight second to none!
But what were these fires at the stone quarry?... These were the fires of several lime-kilns. The fires in the lime-kilns created such pressure that they raged tens of metres above the ground, spinning flames which madly thrashed about in the night. The fire kept exploding. The flames flew up into the air rearing through the darkness and dying in terrible convulsions, but at some fatal instant, the red-hot vortices of the lime-kilns spewed up new flames. They rose up high floating in the dark like fiery banners or fire-birds, or like the breath of dragons dying one and all, twisting about in the air. New ones appeared down below with thunder and hissing, born in an instant amid the columns of sparks and filling the night with their dance... I dare not try to describe these ancient lime-kilns which were burning that night at the mouth of the stone quarry, shooting out flames. These burning lime-kilns can only be compared with the heads of a septo-dragon, which had crawled out of the stone quarry and hurling flames in all direction.
The hoopoe flitted in among these flames in an ecstasy. After the boar appeared in the roaring stone quarry, the hoopoe disappeared together with him in the dark, but was soon enough back again. He appeared again amid the flames, now shooting up, now plunging down to the very mouths of the lime-kilns, flitting to the side, lost in darkness to reappear soon after high, high up, hardly noticeable, like a small copper dot. Folding his wings close to his body the hoopoe began to plunge down and faster down. On the way the flames licked at him, columns of sparks washed around him, but the little bird did not spread his wings out, did not try to fly away from the fire, he plunged straight down, until he finally glowed white and sank in the red-hot mouth of a lime-kiln. "Ugh! Ugh!", the lime-kiln would sigh and send out sparks. The others around her would also sigh and resume their rearing, whining, hissing, sizzling and throwing fire with renewed strength. These lime-kilns tore open their fiery wombs and flung flaming chunks into the night. The night was agape on all sides, hungry and insatiable... After a while the hoopoe appeared again all on fire and sputtering sparks. He flew amid the flames, touching them, diving in or steering away from them, playing like a bat plays by zig-zagging between objects, not touching them with his wings... The hoopoe was carried away by the fire!... So was I. Seeing the writhing flames, hearing the crackling and hissing embers, my soul stood on tip-toe. I fear that one day it will leap straight into the embers and start running around there just as the flames run around hardly touching the embers at all!
A man bathed in light was standing a distance from the lime-kiln. He had an unlit cigarette in his mouth and was trying to light a little tinder with flint and touchstone. The man had helped in setting the lime-kilns on fire but once the fire flamed up, there was no way he could go near to light his cigarette. He saw the boar too late because he had been busy with the tinder and the touchstone. To him the boar seemed to have come straight out of the burning lime-kilns and he could not make out whether this was really a beast of the night or some mysterious creature walled into the lime-kilns while the workers were building and stacking the lime. And now, when the lime had been sent up into flames, this mysterious creature had awakened and rushed out, only to vanish again into the dark n~ght.
The man did not find the answer because meanwhile the tinder lit up and his attention ent rely turned to the burning tinder. He waved it to make it burn stronger, lit a cigarette. Inhaling deeply, he bent down to pick up a long two-branched briar from the ground.He then gathered up a heap of brushwood and began pushing it toward one of the burning lime-kilns. As he walked toward the lime-kiln, he felt his face and hands get warmer and warmer. Then he suddenly saw a hoopoe with a fiery crest fly out of the mouth of a lime-kiln and begin to soar and dive into the flames like a real bird.
'A bird! A bird!', the man began to shout flinging the brushwood aside.
The othersalso stopped working with the poles and looked in the direction the man was pointing out but they did not see any bird and only the flickering flames taking various shapes so that they could be compared to different creatures - birds, pegasi, lizzards and dragons, beasts and what not as long as one had enough imagination... The man closest by said:
'That fire can look like anything!'
The other insisted:
'It was a hoopoe, I know what I'm talking about!'
By that time the boar was already climbing up a rocky hillock. It echoed hollow under his hooves just like an empty barrel might. Underneath the hillock there was a cave. The beast was running along the crest of the cave, as its vaults trembled and resounded. Inside, bats hung from the ceilings and walls, all of them with their heads hanging down, clutching at the rock with their tacks... When the boar trotted by heavily overhead the bats fell from the ceilings and as they hung head downward, so they flopped on them. Inside the cave a famous wine was maturing. It was startled and stopped maturing. There were many pagan drawings in the cave, with both animals and people in them and they were also startled and the deep cracks sighed and transferred the sigh from crack to crack in the cave until finally the echo turned into a barely audible whisper. In this way all the stone wombs in the large area reaching all the way to the western frontier were filled with whispers.
From there on the boar continued his run, now climbing over brushwood and tilled land, now coming down only to climb again. In every place he set the dogs barking, elsewhere the roosters sent him off scowing, human cries were also heard but all this was quickly lost in the night, reappearing now on this side, now on that. After a while the dogs too disappeared, and the roosters were not heard. The beast started wriggling through narrow Karst cracks, knocking over a rock here and there which would break off crashing and as it fell, would bring down more rocks. The rocks collided, crashing into each other. Startled wolves ran out of their dens and began howling low. Little cuns came out of the dens too, frolicking merrily. A stag was heard and a while later came the sound of his heavy beat over the ground with his hooves. Every living creature fled from the boar. In addition to making the ground shake under his feet, he startled dozing dogs, grazing wild animals, late travellers, small predators after their prey, wolverines hiding in their dens.
Finally, the strength of the fugitive petered out and he gradually slowed down. At long last he came to some undergrowth, squeezed in but the undergrowth cracked and fought him off. The undergrowth was almost impenetrable and could be entered by force.
It had sprung up on the site of the abandoned cemetery of my home village Kalimanitsa. The village was within the confines of the former Berkovitsa country, in the very outskirts of the country. My poor home village!... It was written off the list of inhabited settlements by state decree in 1974 because of a prospective dam. From then on only grass and nettles grew there and the cemetery was so wildly overgrown that a human could not set foot there. It was covered with blackberries, blackthorn, hawthorn, wild briar - gentle and fragrant. All sorts of bushes grew there, traveller's joy rose from the ground and twisted round the old trees, wattling the wild pears, elm-trees, durmasts, crab apples tying them up and drooping from the branches while new traveller's joy sprouted and crept up to meet the old traveller's joy. Wild plum sprang up from somewhere and also tried to shoot up. It was as if all the frenzy of my beloved homeplace had collaborated and gathered in the abandoned cemetery to conceal it from human eyes. All this blossomed, ripened and fell to the ground. totally wasted. It blossomed again, ripened and fell to the ground to blossom again.The blackthorn end wild plum would be covered with blossoms like popcorn, the briar shyly bloomed, the thorny hawthorn gently opened its flowers. A strange aroma enveloped this wilderness, a strange fragrance spilled out of it, that of human vigour and human sweat.
When the relatives of the deceased came, and that happened rarely, they would circle the wild cemetery, cast flowers from a distance crying 'Rest in peace!'... The wild growth in the cemetery would not allow humans to enter. That is, the dead did not want the living and would not let them come near because they had forsaken them.
They did not allow humans in but they allowed the boar to come in!
He raked up the ground with his muzzle and made, as tar as it was possible a laying place, crept in and slumped into it, surrounded tenderly by the thorny embrace of the briar, the blackberries and the hawthorn. Old tombstones covered with lichen stood guard and watched over him on all sides. Underneath lay the white bones of the dead, also embraced gently by the roots of the briar, blackberries and hawthorn. There, in the dead silence of this murky wilderness, this jungle, dating to the summer of 1942, lay my father. A few years later my grandfather passed away. He too was buried in this cemetery, next to his first wife. My grandfather had been married twice, my father was his offspring by his first wife Tsveta. With his second wife Stanika grandfather had an adopted son, that son had gone to live in Sofia. He took his mother along my grandfather's second wife, and when she died he did not bring her back to the village but buried her in Sofia. Then the adopted son decided to exhume mygrandfather's bones from this poor village cemetery. He was shaken to find that grandfather had melted all into the ground and only the bones and leather belt he used to tie up his pants with had remained. So, taking the bones and the belt of my grandfather, the adopted son transferred them to Sofia and buried them next to the second wife. As if he knew (and how could he) next to which of his wives grandfather had wanted to lie till Kingdom come, and whether he might have wanted to lie between the two of them.
Poor grandpa! Had he stayed in the wild village cemetery. he might have seen the boar squeeze through the impenetrable bush and might have heard the magpies call out to one another in the dark, whispering their pagan magpie prayers.
Two days later, the stork in the meadow saw the peasant with the hoe appear again. This time, instead of a hoe he had a pole on his shoulder and he was driving a few sheep and one hornless goat in front of him. The sheep walked with their heads hanging low. They stepped along, bumping into each other. The goat was all black. Unlike the sheep. it walked with her head straight up. Her head was large and ugly, with bulging eyes. They made her face look silly. It would be naive to expect a goat to have a wiselooking face but this big-headed black goat really looked silly. The sheep had no expression at all. Their faces were motionless, expressionless and blank. There can hardly be another domestic animal like them, with a face so consistently blank. The sheep, even when about to be slaughtered and the knife is at their throat, go on being indifferent - that is how stupid this animal is, so docile that it is beyond comprehension.
A young ram brought up the rear of the herd. It wore a black apron. From time to time it dashed forward and jumped on the nearest sheep in front. He would try to mount the sheep but the black apron across its belly hung between it and the sheep so that the young ram spilied its semen over the apron instead of fertilizing the sheep. The owner had taken precautions because otherwise the young ram would have fertilized the herd too early and the sheep would start wearing too early, at the beginning of winter when the weather is cold. Lambs cannot be bred in the pen then and man must raise them in the house by the fireplace.
On reaching the flooded part of the meadow, the man stopped. The herd stopped alongside him. The goat stopped out, smelling the water but did not drink it and only wagged her head. She obviously did not like the smell of it. The stork stood in the middle of the meadow deep in thought. When she saw the man with the sheep and the big-headed black goat, she stirred, livening up. She started toward the herd slowly. 'So, you're here, are you?' the owner of the sheep said and ventured a smile. He looked around the meadow and noticed that all the mole hills had been flooded. But when his eyes wandered farther on, he started. On the other side of the flooded area, the meadow humped slightly, the ground was higher there and better drained, the water could not settle there. And right there, on the higher ground, the man saw tens of new molehills. They were fresh ones from yesterday or the day before. Some wound round as in horo dances, others meandered zig-zagging and there were still others, loners, scattered in random all the way to the cornfields.
The underground diggers, fleeing from the water, had withdrawn to the higher and drier areas of the meadow and had hastily dug up their new, underground lodgings.
'See now, Storky-corky, how things have gone!', said the man pointing to the new molehills with the stick.
The stork looked at him, then the other way round, shifted and stood still. The poor creature could not understand what the man was saying.
She saw him wade through the flooded area. The sheep bleated and followed their master, the young ram jumping along after them. Having reached the molehills, the man stopped. He started looking at them over with a bewildered expression as if he was seeing molehills for the first time. It seemed to him all the molehills were moving. He started hitting them with the stick. He hoped to frighten away the underground diggers in this way. In a while he stopped beating with the stick. 'I must be really crazy!', the man thought. 'How on earth can one man fight the ways of the world when they've been here since before time! How on earth can I fight God!'
A month or two later, the stork saw him again leading the small herd. 'All the meadows
are moleridden!' said the man shaking his head, seeing the ground grow increasingly pock marked because of the molehills.
The days grew shorter and greyer. The weather became rainy. The fields were filled with black crows. The sky was also filled with crows. They swarmed out of it incessantly, as it hatched by the fog, the leaden greyness and the rain. These crows came from the north and spent the winter in the lands south of the Danube river. Together with them flew the marsh and water bird flocks, using the ancient air corridors... It was getting colder. The wind persisted, it kept blowing from the north and helping the birds along in a southernly direction.The stork left the meadow. She found shelter by a dyke surrounding a moderately large lake. Impenetrable reeds grew down by the dyke. At night the bird stood there, listening to wild ducks plonk in the swamp and the bitterns mooed so grieviously, it was as if they were calling for help.
One day hunters and dogs surrounded the reedy swamp. It was drizzing and the dyke and the reeds had been submerged in mist shoulderhigh. Much time passed in silence. Suddenly the dogs started barking, shouts were heard, a gun went off. The reeds reared and shook as if a steam engine was passing through them. However, the steam engine huffed heavily, abruptly released all its steam, stopped, sinking into the silt. The reeds went dead quiet. Muffled human voices were heard and exclamations, and the hunters soon appeared out of the fog. They had tied a dead boar on a rope. It was the same boar the stork had seen in the summer. The hunters were dragging him along, all of them pulling the rope. Dogs ran around. Rounding all this up was the man with the sad face, a gun slung across his shoulder, a lit cigarette in his mouth. Though he limped there was a certain stateliness in his gate. In the fog all the hunters looked like ghosts. Then the man with the sad face noticed the stork on the dyke, he smiled and said: 'Well, storky-corky, we spoiled the ol' boar's ball. We'll stretch his hide to dry!' The stork stood cheerlessly on the dyke, having absorbed all the cheerlessness of autumn, cheerlessly watching the hunters drag the shot animal over the muddy and soggy soil. It lay on one side, swaying heavily. The fog quickly obscured everyone. A few lapwings flew low over the dyke. They circled above the reeds, moaned a bit and flew off, crying out mournfully through the fog. They seemed to have come for the soul of the shot boar to take it away with them.
Nothing else was heard in the field. Only the rain came down, cold and monotonous. One night the rain turned to snow. In the morning the stork saw the ground had turned all white. Overnight it had been covered with snow-white stork feathers. At dusk, the man with the sad face walked over the dyke. He was herding his small herd. The herd looked whacked by the cold. 'Well, brother!' the man said to the stork, 'Looks like we're done for? Winter has come. We can't stay here on the dyke!' And as he said this he herded the stork too with the herd, tapping and steering her in the right direction. Before it was dark, the stork found herself in a warm shelter, in a big barn. The barn looked familiar. She had seen it from high up while in her nest or flying over it. She had not noticed anything peculiar about it. A barn like any other! But while outside the winter was taking over, overpowering and lasting, inside the barn the poor bird was sheltered and warm!
She slept little. She often woke up going on a vigil, listening to the sounds of the night. She heard sheep and the young ram close by. They breathed evenly, snivelling and smacking blissfully behind the wicker fence. At intervals the brass bell of the goat was heard, very soft and lulling. The boar hide stretched out on the wall resembled a dark door to something very distant, a door to a recollection. Mice squeaked conspiringly from different directions in the dark. Sometimes the stork heard them overhead as if they had made their nests in the very roof of the barn.
These were field-mice. As the weather grew colder and the first snowflakes appeared whole colonies of these rodents moved to the village. The tiny agile field-mice settled in the warm barns, in the pens, in the haystacks and straw, in the corn stalks heaped in the gardens and yards, under wickerwork baskets for corn. They built comfortable hide-outs, warm mouse nests, drilled secret paths in all directions and in no time at all created a real mouse empire. They could hardly wait for the sun to set and immediately started running to and fro in their empire. It was cries-crossed by complex labyrinths. My sweet little creatures! They scurried single or in droves, in droves through their labyrinths, stopping awhile, starting off again stopping anew and starting off anew, chattering away.
These small and delicate creatures had been created by God Almighty in a moment of weakness and compassion so as to have someone skit deftly and merrily under his table, collecting every crumb falling from it. But the Creator had to foresee that before the mouse arrived under his table, the cat had already taken position there. It pretended to be sleeping, purring yet stalking the mouse through the very narrow slits of eyes like two peep-holes (two judas) ready to pound on it. The cat fiercely chased every mouse, literally up the wall. The devil witnessed this chase several times. Indignant at God's injustice, he scraped some cinders from the chimney of his hell-house, kneaded the cinders with the devilish spittle and from the mixture created a black six-legged and flat gnat, to be more precise - the cockroach. The gnat (or cockroach) finished skittered like lightning out of his hands, dashed and took up a position right under the table, right next to the Almighty's feet.
It started feeding off on the crumbs of God's table. It showed great gluttony and disgust was unknown to it.
One day God's eyes fell on it under his table. It seemed to him smelly and repulsive. He felt disgust and spat.
As He spat He said:
'This is not my creation! This is not the work of my hands! This monster can only be the limb of Satan!... Darkness and night be for it!'
In turn, as soon as man noticed that God was disgusted and had spat on it, man did not want to lag behind his God. To win his favour he too was disgusted by the cockroach and spat on it.
The Devil, seeing everything pertaining to the cockroach under the table was outraged by God and man, spat in disgust himself and went.
Translated by Ilyana Sherkova, 1990