The Scottish Book Trust Website suggested a topic for writing a 50 word story. As a writing exercise, I thought I would try to write one. Here are thirty such pieces written during the month of April, 2013.
Sofia was a ghost town, no people or cars, shop windows devoid of goods. Suddenly, a busy cafe, its patrons dressed in fifties clothes. The hubbub died as we entered. In silence they stared at Moustafa, a Lebanese giant, the three long-haired Americans,and me in flowing hippy clothes.
Before the collapse of Communism, the village thrived. Two thousand inhabitants sustained schools, a library and a theatre. There was full employment and no need to go elsewhere, every trade under the sun was practised here.
Now the young move to the cities for work, and the old are dying.
A Communist Party Club still exists in the village, frequented by some elderly residents. Other older inhabitants express their hatred of Communism, mostly those whose families lost wealth and power.
Communists tell me that, before the collapse, there was full employment, free health and education, and no homelessness.
Leo slept in strange positions. That looks uncomfortable, people would say.
He enjoyed running over the barn roof, and chasing his sister, Mishka, up trees.
When outside and wanted in, he’d stare hard at me through the window with those big Warhol eyes.
Leo died last week. I miss him.
The neighbourhood storks came north last month. Now they are sitting on eggs. In a few weeks time, four or five little heads will appear. Later, in July, the fledglings will gather atop the nest, flapping their wings. By mid September they will be gone. Another summer over.
He was a tug boat captain sailing the Caribbean Seas. Retired now, he spends his time drawing cartoons, writing reggae songs and making records. He has a lovely voice.
He met an English woman, fell in love and now lives in Bulgaria.
A Trinidian seafarer in land-locked Klimentovo.
The Mulberry Tree
The huge Mulberry tree dropped myriad fruits over many weeks. I’m not overly fond of mulberries and the rotting berries attracted a plague of flies, smelled rank, and stained my shoes.
The tree’s upper branches became entangled in the electricity cables, a dangerous situation.
So I chopped it down.
I’d love to volunteer at your art project, wrote Brecht.
Sure, come anytime, I replied.
I can’t come till November, he responded, my parents won’t let me travel until I’m eighteen.
Such a privilige, hosting this lovely young Belgian, as he took his first bold steps into the unknown.
The Village Bar
The place was empty during the winter months, too cold for people to abandon their stoves.
Nikolai closed the bar midweek yet, even on weekends, there were few patrons. He gave up, sold the business on to Milen and Violetta.
Young blood, a new beginning, perhaps a more encouraging scene.
A large number of foreigners live here, mostly English but other Europeans too.
A strange bunch, the English ex-pats, some of whom display an astounding arrogance, are rude and dismissive of local people, don’t mix or try to learn the language.
Little wonder that many Bulgarians resent their presence.
Water of Life
The local brew is fifty percent proof rakia made from fruit, peach and plum being preferred. Apples require too much sugar.
Some stills are made of copper, which most people cannot afford, so any metal drum will do.
I have no still but have an orchard, and willing neighbours.
People ask me why I live here. Some don’t see the attraction, others dislike incomers.
I point out that under European Union law, migration is common, many Bulgarians live in Britain and other Western European countries.
I’m met with blank stares. Bulgarians leave from financial necessity. Why am I here?
The language is not easy. Even my teacher admitted that Bulgarian is difficult for foreigners to learn.
The original alphabet, created by St Cyril and St Methodius, was so hard for the native population to understand, it had to be amended.
Bulgarians have a penchant for the obscure.
Everywhere, there are death notices, some accompanied by black, satin bows. In village and town centres, these notices abound.
Some are renewed and displayed over many years.
A cult of death in a land where most people live to over eighty.
I know of no other country with this tradition.
The bi-planes fly over the garden on a daily basis, so low you can see the pilot’s face.
They arrive every Spring, like the storks. They are here to spray the crops, and while not ecologically sound, are amazing to see. Rickety relics of an earlier era of aviation.
People are averse to neutering their animals.
Consequently, there are many stray dogs and cats in Bulgaria. Starving, sickly creatures that frequently become the object of abuse from sadistic individuals.
People with compassion, who feed and offer friendship to these unfortunate animals are, more often than not, ridiculed.
We salvaged the hardwood beams from the dismantled haylofts. These huge tree trunks, more than fifty years old, will help re-roof the gallery barn. Those remaining afterwards, will go into the roofs of the old house and a new studio. Recycling: a priority and a pleasure.
This is a fertile land. We are surrounded by rolling fields of wheat, rape seed and sunflowers. The soil and climate are perfect for weeds also. They flourish in abundance. Trying to stay organic, it is a constant struggle to contain these impervious plants which smother flowers, shrubs and paths.
UFO Studios is an international project. We host volunteers who help with the garden, the fruit harvest, and renovations. In return, they get bed and board and time in a peaceful location. Many are artists who leave their mark. To date we have hosted fifty seven people from thirteen countries.
A full house can be invigorating. Several nationalities under one roof leads to interesting times, the exchange of ideas about life, art and politics, is inspiring .
Sometimes we simply relax with good food, music and films.
It is rare to have an empty house and quiet garden, rare but welcome.
Saw my first lizard of the season today. It scooted across the road in front of the car. Luckily I was able to avoid it. A brown snake was not so lucky last year. It looked like a branch. In the rear view mirror, I saw it writhing in agony.
Evening in the village square, 1
The ten and eleven year olds amuse themselves with a game similar to hopscotch yet played on the sloping , concrete storm drain. Violet’s daughter is, undoubtedly, champion. Her speed, daring turns and backward moves display a fearless athleticism. The others lag far behind.
Simple childhood pleasures, a joy to behold.
Evening in the village square, 2
Now the children are playing ‘tig’, racing all over the square with boudless energy. I and other, older people, enjoying a drink outside the bar, smile as we watch the children’s exuberance.
Reminds me of a friend, Dorothy Clark, who wrote a poignant poem about age observing youth.
Evening in the village square, 3
Fourteen swallows are dancing overhead, their choreographed moves beautiful and unfathomable. Their numbers are nothing compared to the huge flocks of starlings that used to swirl and swoop above Glasgow. The Council netted their brooding places, and set out poison. Now Glaswegians are denied the pleasure of that marvelous phenomenon.
Having mental health problems, Petar was ostracised, not a soul spoke to him. He also had diabetes and gangrene so frequently smelled like death. Slowly, I got to know him a little. Bought him a beer, gave him the occasional cigarette. I was the only one who attended his funeral.
Animals graze freely on common land, the herder’s wages the only cost to their owners. Sometimes one will see a hobbled donkey or cow, feeding along the roadside verges. And, not infrequently one may see a horse wandering around unfettered. So laid back here.
Market Day 1
It’s market day and very hot. The town is busy with people in tee shirts and sunglasses. Ice cream and candy floss vendors entice children, as do the trampoline and bouncy castle. Teenage boys compete on the firing range.
A festive atmosphere heralding the approach of summer.
Market Day 2
Shaded by trees, the outdoor cafe buzzes with conversation. So much work to do at home, the garden, the house, and on the computer. But, my weekly market shopping done, I enjoy a brief siesta. With black coffee and whisky to hand, I scribble words in my notebook.
Market Day 3
An identification card and lighter are placed before me. My automatic reaction is, no, as too many beggars target foreigners. Then I watch the deaf and dumb man go round the cafe tables. I relent and purchase the over-priced lighter. Disabled people recieve scant public support here.
The Day of Flowers
Name days are celebrated in Bulgaria and today is the day of flowers. As a woman named Margerita, I was invited by Violeta to celebrate at the bar. Joined by her sister Petya, and cousin Todor, we had coffee and cake, ice cream and whisky. Appropriately, I was given flowers.