Galya Clark is a journalist, who lives with her family in UK. In Bulgaria she was reporter on the national newspapers, Editor of a magazine, published in English, author and presenter of the television programme “Diplomatic missions” in EBF TV. Galya has a PhD in History (1991) and has got academic articles about aspects of Bulgarian and British history. From Britain she continues to write for the Bulgarian and British media. In the last few years Galya has been writing fiction. She is a member of a Writing Club in Hethersett, Norfolk.”
The Raspberry Picker
by Galya Clark
He went into the tiny room; his steps were slow and tired, his shoulders as bent as the ceiling of the room. His hands, prickled from the raspberry picking. The season was nearly at its end. He had come back from the farm a bit earlier than his wife and son; he didn’t feel too well. Here, nearly never, was he alone with his thoughts. Of course – four in a small room. The whole family. They shared the good, and the bad side of the life in the UK.
Ages ago – when a great youngster, tall and handsome, Peter charmed the lasses with his accurate and kind manners, with his cultured, educated talking. He was one of the best students in the university. His smile was fascinating and he could play a bit on the guitar. And what had he dreamed for? Today, in his 50s, he could hardly remember what his dreams were then, in 1983. To pass his exams well; then to find a good job, of course, in his subject from the university. To have a good family – beautiful and good wife and children, of course.To travel.To have a villa and a car. He was send by the university in Soviet Union as an exchange student. It was a wonderful time, being with his colleagues, but it had all flown away.
‘’Petre, what are you thinking and thinking about? Why did you leave before the end of the shift?’’ Gergana, his wife, asked him. Her hand reached out for a cigarette packet. She quickly made a couple of instant coffees; poured into random mugs from a charity shop.
‘’I am not feeling good, Geri, I don’t know what is wrong with me. I asked the boss for permission to leave early.’’
Gergana shook her unkempt hair, shuffled by the work. Her, previously pretty face, when a girl, with long dark hair, was slightly fatter, with small double chin and shorter hair.
Sexy student in 80s, nowadays she was looking as rough as an aunt, from the work, she
hasn’t got time for makeup and hair style. What hair style, she hadn’t got time for dying the hair and everyone could see her greyish white roots.
‘’C’mon, Petyo, hold on! Only a little time left till the end of the season. We’ll be back home soon. There they will welcome us joyfully.’’
‘’Geri, you are right. But all our British pounds, which we now make with sweat and bramble’ thorns, will go for food and bills in the Bulgarian winter.’’
‘’Empty life, desolate abroad’’ Gergana was muttering. She even didn’t think that those words were said ages ago from other people; that her life is in a circle and there is no stopping. Stomping on one and the same place. Life cliché; life of hundreds of economic emigrants.
‘’This sort of life, obviously, it is not for people of our age, Petyo. Our son, Stanislav, can handle it better; he can pick enough even for bonuses. Same with Mariana, his girlfriend. But what other option have we have got in our home town?’’ she asked rhetorically.
‘’Yes, Geri. You are right. When I was working as taxi driver in our town, I remember how bad it was. Then – even that poor occupation disappeared. Unemployed. No future.’’
Peter drank his coffee and with an apologetic voice said that he is going to go out for a walk; to clear his head. With strained steps he went toward the bridge and again sank deep into thought. The river was calm and gently greyish. The willows were hanging over the railing with all their tenderness and beauty. Down, in the river, ducks with brown and emerald feathers were swimming quietly. In the back of the bridge one could see “Cherry tree” pub, with its ancient façade and two beautiful flower baskets in front of it.
For the fifth year he was picking fruits in England in the season and didn’t even learn a good English, no time. All of his bosses in the farm were Bulgarians. Ah, that bastard Ivo – twenty
some years old only, but behaving as a master of the castle; only issuing instructions and looking scornfully at people. Nooo, it is not normal for your boss to be so young. In fact, it would not be too bad if he was just young, if he were respectful and kind. But nah. How those cunning bastards learnt to bully workers, I don’t know, Peter was angry.
His foot swung and barely escaped slipping into a puddle. Hold on to your teeth, his internal voice whispered. You will be fine.
‘’Hey, hello, man, are you still in the farm’’ he was stressed by a voice.
‘’Da, Ventsi, da. And you? In the car wash of the Albanian guy?’’
‘’Yes. Listen, do you know, tonight there is a Bulgarian party in the city. Come.’’
‘’What for – ciggies and rakia plus moaning and praising, isn’t it all about?’’ with a note of quiet pain Peter’s voice sounded.
‘’Not at all, man. The party is a community one; some women organise it, if you remember from the last year. Everybody is bringing some food, so it will be plenty of tasty Bulgarian stuff, cooked by the ladies. Maybe will be some program, don’t know.’’
‘’Ok then, I will tell to my people. We might see each other there. Ciao ciao.’’
The hall of church which the local Bulgarian community used for parties and school gradually filled up with people. On the tables the women left banitsi, pitki, pancakes. Everybody took their places to see the short program of traditional dances, before to scoff the banitsi. So much they raved for Bulgarian homemade food. True, that there was a Bulgarian shop around, but who has got time to buy ingredients and cook. Also, with British products the taste of Bulgarian food is not the same. Especially young, non-married men were yearning for cool bite, in Bulgarian way.
‘’Are those seats next to you free?’’– with apologetic smile Peter asked a young family with two children.
‘’Of course, please, sit.’’
The hustle and the bustle of the opening gradually subsided with broken microphones and bad sound. After the short performances of the few children, some prompted by the teacher,, the scene was taken up by beautiful girls, dressed magnificently in their Bulgarian folklore costumes. Their scarlet cheeks and lips aligned with the color of the suits and flowers around their braids.
Peter’s stomach shrank, the wonder sounds of Bulgarian horo dances flew from the speakers. The group was amateurish, yes, but well advanced under the teacher’s choreography and lessons. What good luck that there is a Bulgarian folk dance group in this provincial English town! Peter and Gergana looked at each other happily. Who would think that Pesho would be excited by these sounds of folk instruments and dances? In the 1980s, he had been a fan of western pop music – from Eric Clapton and Dire Straits through Deep Purple and The Beatles. His heart did not tremble for folk music. The folklore was somewhat old fashioned, it was out of date, and he and his peers were fascinated by “wires” as was the nickname of hard rock music.
But now? A tear descended from beneath his tired eyelids, followed by another. He tried to cover them, but Gery noticed. She looked at him gently, her staring eyes piercing into his heart.