She’s not the tax-collector’s assistant’s sister-in-law that I wrote you about earlier. That one is married to the tax-assessor and he found her a job in town so that she would always be at hand. It’s not the other, either. The one who gets the white letters and gives one-lev (1) tips to the messenger, Old Loulcho. This one is new. Her name is Penka. She’s from another district.
They say this lass graduated three years before she came to our village. Since she couldn’t find any open teaching positions in the villages, she worked as a knitter in town. There had been an immense flow of school intelligentsia. She had no friends in high places, and she didn’t know the right people, either. “When she came to our village, her hair was as curly as the hair of the priest’s dog. But within a month or so, it bristled up because its ondulation (2) had come to a sorry end,” said the tax-collector.
“She appealed to me quite a lot last fall when we hired her, but now she’s lost her good looks, poor girl. She’s lost weight, and looks like she’s been fasting for months,” said the Mayor. “I can’t help wondering whether it’s the water in our village, or perhaps the climate.”
“What water and climate are you speaking of, Mayor?” Old Loulcho asked. “It’s money the girl needs! She hasn’t been paid for three months, and she’s been living only on bread and walnuts! If you ate only hard walnuts, you would look different, too. She hasn’t paid her rent yet, has no firewood for the winter, and her clothes are as scarce as hens’ teeth.
The other day, after the Chief Constable came to visit, there was some pork left over. I wrapped a little in newspaper and gave it to her. As soon as I handed it to her at the threshold, the poor thing gobbled it.
When she’s smiling, she doesn’t really feel like it. I reckon a little bit too long teeth she has. That’s why they just keep popping out! Smiling? Not at all! How could a living soul who hasn’t got one lev’s change in her pocket, as it were, smile?
Last Sunday the poor thing decided to go to Voulcho Karamilchov’s wedding party to watch the chain dances and enjoy herself. Suddenly, in front of Old Ghina’s house, she got stuck in the mud. She tried with all her might, but she couldn’t get out. On top of it, Old Ghina’s dog lashed out as if about to eat her.
She was scared, the poor wretch. Finally, she got out of the sticky substance and started running, without her shoes on. She left them in the mud. As she ran and cried, the village boys watched and laughed. Not only did they laugh, but they hooted at her, just as they would hoot at a wolf, those confounded scamps!
“You’re muddy, Schoolmistress?” I ask her. She replied, “Just a bit, Old Loulcho. A little bit, and … well, please get my shoes back because they are still there in the mud.” She then wiped her eyes.
I then went and scolded the youngsters, brought her shoes back to her, and said, “This is life, woman. This is our kismet (3) . When you are poor, you get stuck in the mud. The dogs bay at you. Above all, people laugh and hoot at you! … That’s all there is to it!””
1.Lev (noun); plural lev•a – A basic unit of currency in Bulgaria.
2.Ondulation (French) – Permanent Wave.
3.Kismet (noun) – Fate; fortune [Turkish, from Persian qismat, from Arabic qismah, lot, from qasama, to divide, allot].