by Zdravka Evtimova


"Come to my place quickly! I'll treat you to a piece of Marko as soon as you arrive," my friend Rossa called me on my mobile. I listened, hesitating. Yesterday, my husband bought a big knife and said he'd use it to slash my throat. I wasn't too impressed to be honest with you. Let me first explain the way the whole picture looked.

Marko was a 21-year-old donkey whose proud proprietor was Rossa's father, Uncle Kiro. The man prepared his cart, then took Marko and went to steal tiles, scrap iron, sawdust, plus everything else one could lay his hands on in these parts. I was one of the few who knew the truth about the old donkey and I didn't take pride in that knowledge. To cut a long story short, it was Uncle Kiro himself who turned Marko into minced meat and subsequently into sausages. I was well informed about the substantial role these sausages played in our small town.

Uncle Kiro was stealing scrap iron when Marko fell on his belly and started hiccuping and sighing. Then suddenly the animal's back stopped twitching.

"Why are you doing that to me, man?" Uncle Kiro said to his beast. "Who shall I steal with now? My wife is an old rail like the rusty ones at the railway station. My daughter (he meant Rossa, of course), will never get married because no one wants her. The two geese are both so lazy they'd rather kick the bucket than do a stroke of work. I am old and worn out like your horseshoes, Marko, but I go filching. Can't I get a drink like an honest man instead? And what can I steal, my friend? Everything worth stealing has already been stolen. I go out thieving and who do you think I meet? I meet my competitors. They've gone out to pilfer something or other, too. So what happens when I see them eye to eye, I ask you? Do we steal the way we should? Not at all! We all sit down and get drunk together. Tell me, Marko, didn't I give you a chunk of my bread all the time? I did! So don't die, man. Are you leaving me with the slothful female pair, with the old one and the young one? Are you? You can't die now!"

But Marko kicked weakly and stuck out his tongue at his master. Uncle Kiro was in a quandary. A donkey that weighed more than two hundred pounds should not meet his maker like that! Imagine more than two hundred pounds of edible meat dying under your nose while the refrigerator in your house was as empty as your pocket. No way.

I didn't know if Marko died first and then Uncle Kiro slit his throat with his penknife, or Marko was slaughtered first and then passed away. As far as I knew, he'd rather cut Rossa's throat. (That hen doesn't get married anyway. She just gapes at the TV all day long. And why you think she does that: to learn something useful like making money? No, sir, not at all. She watches the stupid series and cries her eyes out. When her classmates come back from Italy or from Spain, all of them visit her and don't go out of her room for a week. At the end of the day none of them marries her. And her classmates are damned right if you ask me.) In my opinion, Marko must have died most respectably before he and his master stole the scrap iron, then Uncle Kiro cut his dead throat with his penknife. What I saw with my own eyes at long last were forty-two sausages, hanging under the eaves of Uncle Kiro's house. The man himself sat in a shabby armchair, a bottle of beer in his hand, unable to steal any more, tears in his eyes. He chewed at a piece of sausage, swilled down beer and wept for Marko.

"Come quickly, you sleeping saucepan!" Rossa, my best friend, called me on my mobile once again. "Hurry up. There's almost nothing left of Marko."

I believed her. There was hardly anything left of Marko and I knew the reason why: Rossa had tried one of the sausages.

"It felt as if I gnawed on a paving stone," she told me later and I was sure that was true. Marko was a very old donkey, may he rest in peace. Rossa told me Uncle Kiro buried his ears not far from the Struma River. Whenever Aunt Dena, his wife, picked a quarrel with him, he went to Marko's buried ears, drank beer and mourned. Even his competitors, the other thieves with carts, went and cried for the buried ears. They all remembered the way they had gotten drunk with Uncle Kiro.

When Rossa tried Marko's sausage for the first time, something quite unbelievable occurred. She met a guy by the name of Dancho. He was not one of her classmates, those who went to Italy and Spain and stayed in Bulgaria for no more than a week. He was a Bulgarian, every inch of him, and had never traveled far from his native village of Kralev. On account of that he didn't know anything about Rossa's classmates and her inordinate love for the TV series.

"You are magnificent. I am happy," he told her after they met in one of the numerous cafes in our town. An hour later he said he wanted to introduce Rossa to his mother. Dancho was 31 and Rossa was 31, too, so they'd make a good couple, he said. Rossa got scared and winked her eyes uncontrollably, unbelieving. She had got accustomed to being assured she was magnificent for no more than a week. Then the guys vanished. She dubbed them "classmates" for the sake of convenience although most of them were either ten years older or ten years younger than her. Generally speaking, plus or minus ten years didn't make a difference to Rossa. The guy remained her classmate, and that meant that at the end of the week he collected all his shirts and socks and beat it for Italy or Spain.

Dancho, however, did something different. He paid a visit to Uncle Kiro and told him, "Rossa is absolutely magnificent, you know. I can't find a more magnificent woman than her not only in my native village, but also in the capital of Bulgaria. So, if you don't mind, I'll marry her."

That statement rendered Rossa speechless. Her classmates had said before, "We'll get married some day," but how could that festive event become reality when the bride was in Pernik, Bulgaria, while the bridegroom dillydallied in Madrid, Spain? Hardly possible at all.

Another friend of mine, Maria, tried Marko's sausages, too, although she felt a loathing for donkeys. You wouldn't believe what happened. On the following day she met a guy, Genady by name, on the train to Sofia. She was 34 and he was 32. Maria worked for the National Steel Industry Trust in an old workshop, so she could never trim her nails the way she'd liked. She, too, had a few classmates, but they were considerably less in number than Rossa's, maybe because Rossa was slim and tall while Maria rolled in her own lard. No matter what, that Genady guy from the train told her, "You are absolutely magnificent! I am thinner than my own shirt, but you are just what I've imagined a woman should be! I'd like to introduce you to my mother. I want to marry you."

And that was not all to the story about Marko.

Unfortunately Aunt Dena, Uncle Kiro's wife, a quiet and perfectly normal fat woman, tried Marko's sausages as well. Not that her teeth were that good, but as ill luck would have it, she got herself into trouble. She had a nibble at Marko's sausages, and, of course, on the following day she was accosted by a funny sort of bloke as she sold stockings and T-shirts from her stall in the marketplace in Pernik. The guy had a shaggy disheveled beard and looked as strong as Uncle Kiro's bull. He told Aunt Dena, "You look magnificent to me," bought her a vanilla ice-cream, and in the afternoon he went to visit her in her house.

It was at that time when Uncle Kiro grabbed the same penknife with which he allegedly slaughtered Marko and rushed to slit the bearded guy's throat. Unfortunately, the intruder was stronger than that bull in Kiro's pen. The newcomer bandied words with Uncle Kiro and the two men got into a fight. Aunt Dena watched them, grinning radiantly over the pot of vegetable soup that simmered on her kitchen stove.

Then still another friend of mine, Mira by name, tried Marko's sausages, and on the following day, again on the morning train to Sofia, a fellow told her, "You are . . ."

You should guess what Rossa did. She started selling Marko's sausages at the price of 50 Euro a slice. If somebody expected that the price would frighten the ladies from Pernik, I'd tell him he'd never met a lady from Pernik in his life. Rossa's house thronged with women. And they were not only 30-year-old beauties. There were 17-year-old girls. I saw 50-year-old ladies, 60-year-old matrons, and grandmothers with walking sticks. I noticed a girl from the elementary school with a 50 Euro bill in her hand.

That was the reason why Rossa called me on my mobile for a third time. "Hey, sleeping saucer!" she said. "You've got to get moving. Soon there will be nothing left of Marko and you'll rot like an apple in a pantry."

Rossa was my next-door neighbor and she could very well listen every time my husband Tosho and I had quarrels over money. Apart from being in total disagreement about the way I should spend our income, I got into arguments with Tosho on a number of other issues. He had warned me he liked the waitress in the local eatery, so I'd better watch out for him. He said also he was sick and tired of me. He implied he could at any minute beat it for Spain, but at the same time he underlined that he'd bought a knife to do me in if I tried a piece of Marko's sausages.

The men who owned old donkeys, all of them from the group of Uncle Kiro's competitors, took their beasts to the same locale near the Struma River and cut the animal's throats. They even borrowed Uncle Kiro's penknife, paying him 8 Euro an hour. None of these guys had a beast of burden any more, so the scrap iron and the tiles remained unattended. The sausages from their donkeys failed to bring anyone saying to a girl, "You are magnificent."

"You silly saucepan," Rossa scolded me on my mobile. "I keep one piece of Marko especially for you. Your husband is as lazy as Marko's buried ears, and he's got a roving eye. He doesn't have two pennies to rub together, does he? Don't waste time. Come quick and eat that piece of Marko's sausage. You have one child, and you'll bring her up this way or other. Take my word, Tosho doesn't care for you. Why should you put up with him, you fool? You get fatter and he knows it."

"Okay," I said. "I'm coming."

Before I set out for Rossa's place, I threw the biggest knife in our house in the Struma River. It was the same weapon my husband had bought from the marketplace, the one with which he intended to do me in. I had hardly taken a couple of steps when I saw my husband Tosho. It was obvious he hadn't found the big knife that rusted in the mud of the Struma River. He'd grabbed an axe instead.

"If you go and eat that sausage, I'll cut your head off here and now!"

"Oh, will you?" I said. "I'm curious how you'll do that. Even if I remained headless, I'd go and eat that sausage. You'd better remember that very well."

Then Tosho hurled the axe on the ground and shouted, "You are magnificent. You are the only magnificent woman among all women I know. I tell you the honest truth and you don't have to go and eat that damned sausage. Let me be cold and dead like Marko if I'm lying to you!"

Rossa's father and the rest of his competitors, who didn't have donkeys any more, drank brandy together in the café across from our house.

"Hey, Tosho," they yelled. "Why are you telling her she's magnificent? Don't you have eyes in your head, man?"


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