By Gabriela Dimitrova
The pleasure of hearing the clicking of hooves on the cobble-stone road countered the discomfort Sylvie felt each time the mule-drawn cart jutted with a crunchy thud. She loved everything about her Grandma’s country town, Montana, which stretched on 15 hectares of treasured coal-black Bulgarian soil.
‘YAH, YAH!’ Silvie husked, briskly whipping the mules’ wet backs.
‘Stronger and slower whips are what these donkeys need’, Sylvie’s Grandmother glanced over her broad shoulders, a silver lock hanging out from underneath her florid scarf. Silvia wished that their cart could overcome the grimy bus in front of them, which was supposed to look blue-white, but the incessant rain had decided to leave its mark on everything moving. Not on Sylvie. Not anymore. Since she came to her Grandma’s place on the first day of the summer holidays, there was not one minute she did not enjoy. The donkeys in the shed begged to be left alone with their rising and falling moist, snuffy muzzles. Well, she did not really mean to annoy them, but she found that the donkey's eyes were irresistible to her curious mind.
I have a wonderful time at Grandma’s. I am still wetting the bed at night, but I think it is because I have very nice dreams and I just do not want to wake up from them. Grandma wants me to wear a woollen singlet even I keep telling her I am too hot. She thinks this is going to beat my wettings. I eat very well. A lot of watermelon and fresh cottage cheese, but I have not put on weight. Grandma calls me a ‘worm’. Maybe it is because I play soccer with my cousins a lot, l am very fast and I am also a good goalkeeper. Mamma, can you send me more summer clothes? It’s been raining for a few days and the clothes can’s dry fast enough.
Sylvie’s mother put the letter down.
‘My Goodness, Sylvie must be enjoying it but poor Grandma must be washing a lot of muddy clothes’, Sylvie’s mum glanced over her shoulder, eyeing Sylvie’s father, a short man, with green-brown eyes, which on sunny days looked like two ambers. He had married Sylvie mum for her beautiful face. Sylvie had inherited her black hair and her large black eyes, but she took her curiosity about things from her father. Sylvie gaped at birds, singing on trees, stared closely at animals, trying to decipher their thoughts. Often animals ended residing secretly under blankets or in dark nooks of her house until her parents discovered them and handed them back over to nature.
One day, Sylvie’s Grandma looked worried about something.
‘Sylvie, have you seen Rizko, the orange cat?
‘Ai, ai, I forgot him tied up to a stick outside the veranda’, replied Sylvie.
‘Sylvie, you’ll make him sick’, scolded Gran.
‘Ai, Gran, I just gave him a few training tips but he’ll not sit still’.
Sylvie’s Grandma, a large woman with a small plump face, quickly untied Rizzo and let him come into the house. The cat trembled and kept falling as he was shaking the rain off his fur.
In the morning of the fourth day of the holidays, there was a noise in the front door and a shuffling of feet.
‘Hey, Sylvie, look what I got!’ beamed Zelio with excitement. He was Sylvie’s favourite cousin not due to his handsome physique and two years of being older than her, thirteen but because of his love for animals. He was holding his towering palms around a young kuku bird, which desperately tried to open and close its pinkish beak, begging for its mother’s attention.
‘Perhaps it is hungry’, the inquiring mouth spoke under Sylvie bulging black eyes. She crumbled a brown slice of bread and offered it to the bird with compassion. The bird did not show any interest in the bread, but did not refuse the water, which Sylvie slid under its pulsating chest.
For a while, the rain had stopped, and Zelio tapped gently onto Sylvie’s hand, ‘Let’s go outside and feed the animals’.
‘Oh, isn’t wonderful after the rain?’ Sylvie gleamed with squinted eyes against the wavering sun amongst the rainbow rays. Ku-ku, ku-ku, a kuku bird in the distance called out.
Sylvie’s grandma appeared at the window, worried, ‘Come insight, kids, the cuckooing does not bode anything good’.
‘Grandma, she is looking for her baby, don’t you think?’ Sylvie warmed up toward her.
Without waiting, Sylvie run inside and capped the anxious bird in her hands. Outside she sang, ‘Cuckoo, cuckoo!,’ hoping that her calling will lure the bird’s mother. A response followed after five minutes, but no birds flew the distance between the sound and Sylvie’s house. Soon, large warm rain drops fell on the children’s faces and warned them of a coming storm. They enjoyed getting wet and stayed until the rain made their breathing heavy and forced them back into the house... Inside, they rushed to the windows with the pattering rain. Steady streams of water took turns in washing the crystalline surface of the windows. No longer clear view could be seen, apart from the milky-grey mess of the rising steam and marshmallow clouds. The pitter-patter on the roof and windows gradually became a mad succession of thuds, followed by occasional rupture of lightning. Hail, thought the children’s Grandmother, criss-crossing her broad chest with her capped fingers of her right hand. ‘God, why do we need that?’
‘Do not worry Grandma, God knows what is good for us’, consoled Sylvie, ‘The pigs will have fun in the mud’.
A creak in the door alerted of a human presence. Sylvie run to her Grandfather, embracing his wet- jacketed waist.
‘We are getting flooded’, Sylvie’s Grandfather hugged Silvie and scanned her Grandma’s glassed eyes.
‘We got to climb to the attic, but the ladder is in the barn with the donkeys, what are we to do?’ sulked the grandmother, thrusting her hands at the sides of her waist.
‘Grandpa, I am going to fetch the ladder’, offered Sylvie confidently.
‘ No, you are too young’, Sylvie’s Grandfather coughed up a smoker’s cough and spat near the wooden stove, where dry wood was waiting for its use.
‘Two are better than one’, asserted Zelio, ‘come on Sylvie!’, and gently dragged Sylvie’s arm in the direction of the front door. The two children run outside, despite the grandparents’ shouting.
Outside was a loud live river, as animals were desperately trying to get out of its tide. Some were not so lucky. The flowing water was as deep as Sylvie’s knees, but Zelio’s strong arms and tall body gave her the reassurance she need – she heaved her light body toward Zelio’s, who pulled her against the slapping tide. Both mounted a near-by low pear tree. From there, they sighted the pigs, mute, floating down the street and large feather masses tangled up with clasps of hey.
‘No, not the pigs’, cried Sylvie.
‘Sorry, Sylvie! We don’t have much time, there is the fence. Hold onto it and climb up with me to the barn’, encouraged Zelio.
The rain slowed down and the water tide seemed to ease off. Sylvie and Zelio reached the barn, where the two goats had climbed atop the feeding basin and bleated in a chorus. The donkeys, a mother and her grown-up baby were deep into ther legs in water, showing off their teeth in snorted efforts to speak up their fears. When the water level fell, they started to throttle on the spot but resisted the children’s attempts to walk them outside. Zelio secured the wooden ladder with a rope and fastened it up to the rains on the donkey’s sides. Sylvie hugged the younger donkey’s long neck and glued her face onto the moist muzzle. Then she reached for an apple in the high above basket near the door of the barn and lured with it the two animals. They slowly walked outside and to the back of the house where there was a large wooden lid on the roof leading to the attic. The children climbed up the ladder and into the house, taking the ladder inside with them.
The grandparents, wet to their wastes and teary, threw their arms around the young rescuers. A happy succession of hugs and cries filled up the house.
‘Don’t cry Grandma! I told you we’ll be alright’, consoled Sylvie.
‘Oh no, you shouldn’t….your mother…’ Sylvie’s Grandma choked through her wet smiles. ‘Poor animals, we won’t have cheese and eggs for a while’.
‘My children, I’m so proud of you!’ Sylvie’s Grandfather’s chuckled.. ‘As a reward for your bravery ,I’ll take you to the bakery for your favourite sweets’.
Next day, Sylvie wrote:
I miss you so much. Zelyio and were the heroes of the day yesterday. There was a flood this morning and it took Grandma’s chicken and pigs away. But we managed to rescue the donkeys and the two big goats. Grandma and Grandpa are very proud of us. We are awarded a Big Day-out at the Bakery. Yum, yum!
P.S. And I did not wet my bed last night. Hooray!’