For the Peasant, A Short Story by Doncho Tsonchev
Doncho Tsonchev is a Bulgarian writer (1933-2010). I’d like to share with you this story written by him. It’s short, but is worth reading. It made me thinking of how we’re changing our values… 🙂
Every evening before the news on TV I watch the section “A Little Commentator” – kids answer a question. These are our grandchildren I’m interested in – to them we’re leaving the world. This time the question is: “What is a peasant?”
A girl replays: “They have done something bed, the peasants.”
A boy: “They are those, who go to prison.”
“They are stupid, dirty” – continue the kids, until one finished like this: “They don’t eat anything, because they don’t have money.”
My wife looks at me, she knows very well that I’m listening to all this. I look at the table.
Bread. Cheese. Eggs. Sausage. In the salad – tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, carrots, onion. I’m thinking where is all this coming from.
I’m trying to not get angry. I’m getting blown by distant memories (an old trick of mine) – I can see the threshing board with which we used to thresh wheat at my granddad’s stackyard. I hear: “It’s harvest now, sing you slaves*.” I’m screaming as loud as I can to the mare to keep in the rut, because the plow is hopping. I’m thirteen years old, the corn leaves are as sharp as swords and even serrated at the edges – they cut my face and the sweat stinks badly.
I’ve grown up under a wall painting at home, called “Hail”. A black sky, a peasant with red belt is tearing off his white shirt – begging for God to spare the bread for his children. Near this painting my father used to say Yavorov’s** poem “Hail”.
I see aunts, sisters, cousins – all bent over the plants, the bundles or straight with a jug in their hands. Some nursing as in the great painting “In The Field”. All of them dressed up and beautiful, as beautiful on the apple background as in the pictures of The Master***.
Here people drink rakia****. I know where it comes from. And I’m asking myself, where these kids answers came from, that describe how the peasant is something so disgusting. From their parents – where else? Parents Bulgarian, no one of whom has been born in their inherited medieval castle. Parents, which with an inexplicable malice cut their own roots. Actually, the parasite doesn’t need a root.
I’m not even interested in the news any more, neither the sports. I’m just starring at the fireplace and thinking. Even the woods come from the peasants, which cut the trees, chop the troops, split them, load and unload, until they are brought home.
And it started a flock of questions – from me to me – for example why Tolstoy was in Yasna Polyana (transl: a Clear Meadow) instead of Moscow or Paris. Why William Faulkner had so many cows in his farm after he won the Nobel Prize and had money for three lives?
Why Brits are coming in our lands lately – to buy houses in tiny villages?
I don’t know. I’m giving up. A little coffee for waking up. Even it doesn’t grow on the pavement. One cigarette. Now it’s the tobacco. The strings, the blankets, the maids – bent again over the hard soil under the Southern Balkan sun. The poverty, the golden coins, the old garbs and the songs – all inherited from centuries.
This is how I fell asleep. In my dream I bowed down deeply to the hands, from which everything comes to the table.
* Bulgaria was enslaved for nearly 500 years by the Ottoman Empire
** Peyo Yavorov – a Bulgarian poet (1878-1914)
*** Vladimir Dimitrov The Master – a Bulgarian painter (1882-1960)
**** Rakia – a Bulgarian alcoholic bevarage