CLOVERLEAF OF LOVE
Kosta Furnadzhiev is running among the goats, scattered about the cloverleaf. He is hollering and brandishing a cudgel in different directions.
The intersection of the two highways, one above the other, as well as the entries and exits leading to them is - only God knows why - called "CLOVERLEAF’’.
The mountain of asphalt and concrete resembles more an old man’s hand with its fingers spread out than the delicate beauty of a cloverleaf. It is situated about a hundred meters off the end houses of the village of Moghilino, and it seems as if it is hanging low over the village. Stores, motels, cafes, and restaurants have sprouted up all over the cloverleaf; but they cannot make it look more attractive, as gold rings and bracelets would not smarten up an old lady’s distorted hand.
There are many better places where a goatherder could put his flock out to pasture, but Furnata* has been taking them out to the cloverleaf for the last few weeks. The goats are grazing the scarce grass along the highway and plucking off the shrubs; all against the incredible din and smell of exhaust filling the air. Kosta makes a habit of coming to the cloverleaf because he wants to immerse himself totally in the rhythm of the incessant movement and roar of cars and trucks. Watching the diverse stream of passengers is a delight for him. The passengers usually stop by for a cup of coffee under the parasols of the cafes, or walked along the fruit stalls run by local villagers. Huge tractor-trailers, carrying goods from far-away countries, stop by in the spacious parking lot fenced with wire netting.
While the goats are grazing peacefully, Furnata usually observes the medley of people and events, and shouts at his flock. His vivid imagination transports him into another world; a world far away from his native village of Moghilino. He has left his birthplace only twice to accompany his son to the hospitals in Sofia and Germany. The doctors could not help the boy, and Angel went blind. Furnata and his wife began living in the darkness their only child was wrapped up in. The mother had wasted away with sorrow, and a year ago she quietly left this world of pain. Kosta had found her in bed, with a hard - set smile on her face.
"Whom are you leaving us to?" murmured Furnata and rubbed his eyes, misty with tears.
Darkness envelopes all Angel’s thoughts, desires and dreams. What is he thinking about? What is he dreaming of? He is a sixteen year old man, robust and handsome. Whenever Furnata observes his son’s faltering steps, he falls into the grip of despair. What are his body sensations? Nobody can penetrate the darkness. Every day his father brings presents for him: bars of chocolate and cookies wrapped up in gaily- colored paper that are invisible to Angel’s eyes. Furnata sits next to his son, holds his hand gently, and tells him stories about the diverse streams of passengers, the huge tractor-trailers, the cafes, the restaurants, and the motels at the cloverleaf.
"Dad, I want you to take me to the cloverleaf..." says Angel one day.
"Yes, sure... Of course we’ll go there!" answers the father.
Over the next few days, Furnata puts his flock out to pasture and watches the cloverleaf closely. The movement sticks in his mind as though he is an experienced detective. His eyes followed each step and gesture of the girls who are there every day: going round between the motel and the huge parking lot in search of clients.
His observations lasts for days on end and, as a result, Furnata discovers that coffee, ice-cream and fruits are not the only goods on sale at the Cloverleaf. Love is on sale, too. Soon he is familiar with the exact procedure for offering, consuming, and paying in this ancient business. Amidst the diverse stream of passengers, he can infallibly make out the three girls, offering their bodies and their embraces. The set-up is impeccable. The girl gets into the truck cab of the parked tractor-trailer. At other times, both the client and the girl sit in one of the cafes for a quick drink, trying hard to strike up a conversation. The prelude to the thing the driver pays for starts somewhere during the uneasy chat and after that it is time for the motel.
Fights flare up quite often. Sometimes one of the girls - her eyes filling with tears - rushes out of the truck cab towards the tables in front of the café, where two stout young men always sit nodding in front of their drinks. As soon as the girl is out, one of them made his way to the tractor - trailer, while the other one got into a Volvo car and starts the engine.
Furnata does not know the reason for the fights, but he assumes the young men are punishing a client who refused to pay the sum of money they agreed on; or he might have asked the girl for an extra service that is not part of the deal. Business is business! A quick fight near the truck soon follows; sometimes it is just a verbal disagreement with arms being waved in different directions. But at other times the argument turns into a violent quarrel with a tractor- trailer chase along the highway if the truck driver is foolish enough to drive off. The guards settle the violated terms of the agreement with dignity and thus, the peace and calm of the girls is restored. And while the two sides are still arguing, the girls are already cheerfully chatting up the next client in the café or in the coolness of the motel rooms.
Furnata has been watching the cloverleaf for two weeks and that time is enough for him to become familiar with the minutest details of the business with the girls and who their boss is. It is Peter from the village of Moghilino. Furnata has known him since he was a child. A nice young man, Peter is said to be a student in Sofia. He hardly ever goes out of the motel and sits in the café with the three girls and the guards. He is always dressed up, in a smart suit, an impeccably clean shirt and a tie. The way he dresses, as well as the expression on his face, gives him the air of a businessman. And indeed, the business Peter is entangled in is serious and risky. It involves plenty of enemies, choosy clients, and even choosier and unpredictable employees. One has to be very quick at responding to a situation. The boss needed to be well - educated, considerate, and cultivated. Besides, the Cloverleaf is perhaps just one of the few places Peter is responsible for. Furnata thinks so because the young man traveles quite a lot in his Volvo. One of the guards opens the car’s rear door for him, and Peter gets in as if he is a member of the Government. Furnata follows him with his eyes and makes a decision to talk to him about a problem that has been nagging at him for months.
Angel’s senses, like those of all blind people, are extremely keen. He can hear the flock and his father’s shouts as soon as they walk into the village on their way home. He perceives the specific smell of the goats. He can recognize the steps of the neighbors, their voices. The darkness has to be penetrated, the puzzle - solved. Angel listens to the radio all day long and thus, he is able to keep up with the latest events. He knows things his classmates are not aware of. Seldom do his classmates come round and see him; all of those girls and boys he has played with in the schoolyard when his vision was not impaired. He remembers their faces. He knows the colors, the flowers, the animals, the houses, his father’s, and his neighbors’ faces. He can even remember his mother’s face, who has left him for good. He knows his female schoolmates’ hair and eyes. Now, he has to content himself only with the peculiarities of their voices. Each one of them is a girl of unique charm.
"Mr. Furnadzhiev, can I see Angel?" it was Sonia, the next-door girl, whose voice resounds clear and loud.
Angel could infallibly make it out. He knew it is Sonia coming as soon as he hears her crossing the street. He can recognize the squeak of the front door when Sonia opened it. The great variety of sounds formed a fantastic jigsaw puzzle. The various smells penetrate the gloom and created images of people and animals. The darkness came to life.
Only a person who has been deprived of his vision is able to develop such subtle perceptions of the world around him. Angel could sense the morning and the evening sounds, their specific fragrances. He could tell the difference between the sounds of the day and the sounds of the night. He knows the aroma of each season. The space around him, enveloped in a dark cloud, is full of life. He is part of a world specially designed to suit his individual perceptions.
Sonia’s voice was changing. There was a tinge of something different in her laughter now. Her presence gave fragrance and soft sounds to the atmosphere in Angel’s room; sounds, whose tenderness pierced through the darkness. When their hands meet, the sensation were different. Sonia’s hand was gradually getting warmer, smoother, and gentler. Whenever they shook hands, the gloom dispersed. Lightning flashed through the dark. Just one touch! A quiver of excitement would run through his body. Warmth flowed freely through his whole being. Sonia’s hand touched him gently and the sensation resembled the heat of a blazing fire. Angel had the feeling that he could almost see her face, the color of her eyes, her hair. Just a split second more and he would be able to see again! But when she would walk off, taking away with her the laughter and fragrance of her young body, the darkness became even more impenetrable. The puzzle was suddenly destroyed and its various shapes had to be fitted together again. His world was plunged into complete darkness that scared him stiff.
"Dad, tell Sonia not to come!"
She had not come round for a long time and the father was surprised at Angel’s words.
"But she hasn’t shown up recently, anyway."
"If Sonia comes, tell her not to walk in!"
"All right, all right, I’ll tell her!"
Angel has grown up. He has become a man despite the darkness he was living in. Despite the gloom! The warmth of the girl’s hand is still nagging at him. It is not enough. It is disturbing him. The touch is like a spark that can kindle a fire within his young body. The disease has deprived him of the light in front of his eyes, but it cannot not put a stop to his desires. It cannot extinguish the fire he needs. And as it is the father’s responsibility to look after his son, to provide him with food and clothes, now, in the same way, it is Kosta Furnadzhiev's responsibility to provide the fire. The fire of love! But how? What is he supposed to do?! Furnata spends his sleepless nights struggling for an answer. He has to help the boy. He watches Angel’s face changing, the tension in his body, the twitch of each muscle when he hears Sonia walking down the street; or when the neighborhood echoes with the laughter of the next-door girls.
Angel should not have to dwell in a world of complete darkness, confined to it with the chains of his diseased eyes. He has to be given the gifts of nature. But what on Earth, what could Furnata do to help him? Is a girl at the cloverleaf the only solution to the problem? He does not want it! But is he left any other choices?! If his wife were alive, she might have found a different solution. Mothers are capable of doing anything so that their children are provided with everything they need.
Kosta Furnadzhiev makes up his mind. One day he goes to the cloverleaf without the goats and meets Peter. The two men sit in front of the café and for a couple of minutes Furnata remains silent, lingering over his rakija**. The noisy, diverse stream of people and cars around them is moving at different directions as usual. The three girls are nowhere to be seen, probably at work with clients. The two guards, silent and inaccessible, are drinking Coke at the next table. They are relaxed, but alert to possible dangers. Their eyes, hidden behind dark glasses, are watching vigilantly the tractor - trailers in the parking - lot, as well as the entrance to the motel.
"A penny for your thoughts. What’s eating you, Kosta?" askes Peter.
Furnata slowly sips his drink and with his voice quivering with emotions, he starts telling Peter about the darkness Angel is living in and the warmth that can help him out.
"I’ll pay as much as I have to. I’ll pay for the girl!" the father concludes. His face is blushed crimson with embarrassment. He is confused, but it is certainly a weight off his mind: he has shared a problem that had been nagging at him for months on end. There is no way back. Kosta told Peter that he knows about the girls and what they are doing at the cloverleaf.
"I want the fair-haired girl. I’ll pay!"
Peter is sitting at the table with a serious frown on his face. He is slow to give his answer. He is watching Kosta Furnadzhiev’s face marked by lines of sorrow and embarrassment. He is carefully eyeing his body, huddled up on the chair, his hands trembling uncontrollably.
At last Peter said, "Have another glass of rakija!"
When the glass is served, Peter keeps looking at him. Silence reigns. Kosta feels as if hours are elapsing. He thinks he must have made a mistake! He should not tell Peter all these things. He has made a fool of himself in front of the young man! The father offers love to his own son! He buys him love! He buys a girl, as if he buys a bar of chocolate or a bike. No, not a bike. Why will Angel need a bike? He is blind and he cannot ride it! But he needs a girl! Why is Peter watching him? Why is he pressing him with a blank expression on his face? Is he going to tell Kosta off? Is he going to order those two guys at the next table to kick him out of here? If Peter ordered them, they can easily beat him up! How has this crazy idea popped up in his head? He will tell the young man that he does not mean it; he is just chatting, trying to kill time. He will excuse himself and leave as soon as possible. He will sneak out and will never again set foot at the cloverleaf. Nor will the goats. Furnata will put them to pasture somewhere else.
Peter’s face flickers and is gradually covered with a broad, sympathetic smile. A soothing light animates his eyes and he beams at Furnata as if he is a dearest friend who had just shared an inmost secret. Until now, the girls had only been wanted for momentary pleasure, to satisfy carnal desires, and to give delight. It is the first time a girl had been wanted because a boy was in desperate need of love.
Angel needs her for something more important than just sheer pleasure. This time she is needed for real work! The kindness flowing from Peter’s eyes makes Kosta feel at home. He relaxes his body onto the chair; his hands stop trembling. He raises the glass and poured out the rakija into his throat.
"O’K, my friend, you’ve made the right decision. Everything’s going to be all right! So, you want The Blonde, right!"
Peter turns his eyes to one of the boys at the next table. "Go and get Venera!"
"And you, Kosta, bring the boy tomorrow. Calm down, don’t worry! The decision you’ve made is right! Now, go home! I’ll take care of everything."
Furnata crosses the roadway. Staying at a distance, at the fork of the cloverleaf heading towards the village of Moghilino, he can see Peter and The Blonde, sitting opposite him.
He keeps walking and repeating: Venera, Venera... He has taken a closer view of the girl before. Her face is cheerful and full of life; her eyes are light-green, amiable and mischievous but in an innocent way, as if she is a little child. While talking, she throws her head back and her fair hair fell loose over her shoulders. She is wearing a sheer little dress, reaching down to high above her knees, that reveal slender, but still plump girlish legs. She is a girl, thinks Furnata. She must have just turned fifteen, or so. The Blonde does not look at the world as gloomily and slyly as the other two girls, and this childlike naiveté appeals to Furnata. It seems to him as though they might make good friends.
The next day Kosta helps his son to prepare himself and says,
"I’m going to take you to the cloverleaf. Come on, let’s go!"
When they arrived, he leaves the boy at a table under the parasol and goes off to search for Peter. The Blonde and the other two girls are nowhere to be seen. Everything is peaceful out there in the parking - lot and near the motel.
Then Peter arrives and sits next to the boy. Furnata goes back to his flock, running. He is brandishing the cudgel high up in the air and angrily hit some goats attempting the highway. He keeps chasing the animals and glancing furtively at the tables in front of the café. Some minutes later, The Blonde arrives, exchanges a few words with Peter and leads Angel towards the motel. She is holding his arm, and even from a distance Furnata can see the way Venera shakes her head back.
He enjoys watching her strikingly beautiful hair fall loose over her shoulders. Angel is walking, his steps faltering, his body bent forward, stiff.
Cars and trucks are speeding along the highway. Furnata leans upon his cudgel and as if lost in a sweet dream his eyes are absorbing the movement. He wants the dream to last forever! The goats disperse far and wide, but he does not feel like moving a muscle. A long time elapses before he can see Angel and The Blonde coming out of the motel. Venera is walking a few steps ahead and with her head and body half-turned, is talking animatedly to the boy. Both of them are squeezing their way past the cars, people and tables. They cross the highway among the speeding cars, and they go back to the café. Venera keeps walking with her body and head still half-turned to Angel. One step left, one step right; then she runs a few steps ahead and stops to wait for him. Then again, she turns left and right. Angel is infallibly following The Blonde’s movements. Now his steps are firm, his walk - straight. A couple of times he even breaks into a run to catch up with the girl. Venera is laughing, moving her arms in the air, jumping up and down, and changing the directions as if she were walking ahead of a toddler. Is it a miracle at the cloverleaf!
Furnata is watching from a distance and asking himself, "What’s going on, what’s going on?!"
The miracle is done! The warmth of The Blonde, the sweet taste of her lips, the gentle touch of her soft loose hair, the sounds of the two bodies joining together into a single unity - all these amazing things are turned into light. The warmth, the taste, the fragrance and the sounds make it possible for Angel to see again. He can see Venera. Venera is a light, a ray of sunshine, a flood light, a flash of lightning. Like a ray of the sun, she helps him penetrate the darkness. He is walking after her, his mouth repeating, "Venera, I can see you! I can see you! You’re light! My light!"
He can only see The Blonde. Everything else is enveloped in darkness. If he wanders away from the girl, Angel is lost in gloom. He can hear the cars whizzing, the passengers talking, and the kids laughing. He can hear the loud cries coming from the fruit and vegetable stalls; but his eyes can only see Venera. He knows that his father is somewhere beside his flock. He gives a loud cry so that the noise of his voice would drown out the roar of the traffic.
"Dad, I can see! I can see!"
Venera keeps jumping up and down, once to the left, once to the right; she is laughing and inviting Angel,
"Come, come! Here I am! Do you want us to go back to the motel? Can you see me?"
The boy and the girl are roving the cloverleaf as if they are kids playing hide - and - seek. On the other side of the highway Kosta Furnadzhiev, leaning upon his cudgel, is looking at them and tears are rolling down his cheeks.
* Furnata - the Furnace - this is a sort of nickname that is derived from the main character’s surname which is Furnadzhiev. [back]
** Rakija - a strong alcoholic drink made of fruits; typical of Bulgaria. [back]
© Dimitar Niagolov