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"Babylonia... hmm, Babylonia was located in the southern part of Mesopotamia, just between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It was one poor country. Its people subsisted on agriculture... This Babylonia... there was nothing but palm trees there. People made flour, wine, and vinegar from the palms’ fruits, and they fed their cattle with the pits. The Babylonian nation was made up of two tribes - the Sumerians and the Akkadians. They were of Turanian origin and really liked stargazing. The Babylonians could make fine bricks too..."

One might think that the history teacher Velyo Tankovratov was paying at least some attention to his student while broodily walking around the room and nervously pulling at his sparse beard. Nothing of this sort! How could someone possibly think about the Babylonians, when today was market day and this afternoon was the deadline by which the bill of exchange had to be paid?

Early in the morning, his wife had written a list of things he had to buy on a piece of paper: some butter, onions, beans, soap, coal, and soup bones. She had also tucked two pairs of shoes in need of mending under his arm and had then accompanied him to the door.

"These Babylonians couldn’t live in peace with one another, so they were constantly fighting." Continued the student, "Therefore the Semites attacked and conquered them. Later, their king, Hammurabi, succeeded in uniting them and consolidating the kingdom. He put the riverbeds in order, repaired the canals, brought the scattered peoples back home, and offered them a source of livelihood..."

So that’s 1000 leva for the bill of exchange, calculated the teacher. I haven’t paid rent in the past three months, I owe 930 leva to the grocer, 340 leva to the baker... I have to pay the insurance, some minor loans, and the cashier too...

"The greatest king of the Babylonians was called Nebuchadnezzar. He was quite rich and had a large golden palace. There were some gardens there which were called the Hanging Gardens... Also, winged bulls were painted on the gates."

I owe money for the suit and the stove, and I have to pay what is due to the old midwife... All in all, total debt of 12,000 leva. Yes, total debt! Cost and revenue. And what revenue is that! Three months of unpaid salaries, and who knows how many more I’ll never see. Who will pay me, and will they ever do? Will I ever get paid?

The student, long ago finished with retelling the lesson, was desperately squeezing the chalkboard eraser with his hands, and occasionally coughed subtly to attract the teacher’s attention. On the third desk, a boy was throwing paper balls at his classmate’s back, another one was meowing quietly mimicking a kitten, and several other students in the back were copying each other's algebra homework.

Yet, Velyo Tankovratov did not hear nor see anything, and so he started walking even more and more nervously around the room, with one hand still picking his sparse beard and the other in his pocket, clutching the only fifty-lev note he had left. The student who was supposed to be tested today kept on coughing and sneezing, in wait to be told to sit down, and after achieving no success in that, he went on with the lesson once more.

However, the teacher’s unusual behavior finally caught the attention of the students, and they slowly quieted down. Everyone was silent and began staring intensely at him. The student standing in front of the blackboard stopped talking too.

Buy this, buy that, and God knows how I’m supposed to do so with just 50 leva, the teacher thought to himself. We need one liter of oil. But let’s make it half that. More so, let’s leave the butter and get some lard instead... Half a kilogram of pig fat is 14 leva, another 10 for soap - that makes 24 leva. Onion and potatoes - another 10. So that’s 34 leva. Half a kilogram of cheese is 14, which adds up to 48 leva. Well, soup bones, eggs, beans... We could have at least a kilogram of beans. Just one kilogram. But how do I afford this with only two leva left when these thieves are selling it for eight? Yikes! It can’t get more expensive! Such a shame!

The teacher Velyo Tankovratov couldn’t contain himself anymore, so he started walking even faster and pulling at his beard even more nervously. Then, in a desperate gesture, he raised his fist in the air, and without asking, his hoarse voice thundered in the midst of the silence. "Eight leva for a kilogram of beans! Scandalous!"

The student who was being tested stepped back startled nearer to the wall. The others looked at the teacher with their eyes wide open in dismay. He flinched, raised his head in embarrassment, and tried to smile but couldn’t. Then he grabbed the classbook from the desk, slammed the door shut, and left as fast as he could.



© Chudomir
© Blagovesta Todorova, translated
© E-magazine LiterNet, 23.05.2020, № 5 (246)