We had just returned from opening a bank account. A cat lay on the road, kicking the air as if in an attempt to escape the ground. Its back was broken and, mercifully, it died moments later.
When you decide to make a change for the better, angels appear to you out of the blue. We had to buy a bed and had just received delivery at the door of the warehouse, from where we wheeled our new acquisition in the direction of the car and wondered if we could get away with the boot being open on the ride home. We’d already spotted some traffic police, who had pulled over a Range Rover with British number-plates and a stocky Bulgarian in the driver’s seat trying to reason with them. Traffic police in Bulgaria are like briars, they’re everywhere, especially when the boot of your car is open. My wife was in favour of paying twenty euros for the official transport to take the bed home, but I figured a two-metre bed, like a human, should be able to fit inside the car and wheeled away. Once at the car, we shunted the bed in until it touched the rear of the front seats and set about trying to tie the boot down with a piece of string our son had magically turned into a tangle. Twice the boot pistoned open and, prior to the third attempt, my wife consulted a man in a neighbouring Lada (Bulgarians are very prone to exchanging opinions, unlike the English, who will do their best to complete the task in hand without being noticed), who said not to worry, it wasn’t illegal and the police wouldn’t stop us. He jerked his head skywards, which in Balkan sign language means ‘no way’, and resumed his silent conversation with the girl in the back, his daughter or granddaughter no doubt. But when he saw we were making a hash of things and he could be of help, he got out, opened the boot of his Lada and produced a bungee cord, which he proceeded to fit with greater mastery than our own. I read the tattoos in the kindness of his eyes and thanked him.
We rode away, making sure to avoid the corner with the traffic police, but of course there were more round the next corner and the car in front slowed down to turn left, causing us to slow almost to a halt right next to the second set of policemen, who fortunately were previously engaged and so fooled by my blank look, which said there’s nothing wrong with us and no, that’s not a bed sticking out of the boot. The rest of the journey was uneventful, despite speeding down the middle lane of the main thoroughfare into Sofia centre, cars overtaking right and left, buses blurring the dividing line between their lane and ours.
He was not the only angel to come to our aid in the face of oncoming change. Suffering causes two reactions in people: they will either do all they can to avoid you suffering the same or inflict their own suffering on you. As the poet Ivan Teofilov commented to us over blackcurrant juice and cakes the other day while swirling a glass of whisky and reminiscing about taking part in the Edinburgh festival back in 1969, when my wife and I were one and still couldn’t walk on to the stage, life is lost so easily.
Philip Kerr (1956-2018) - Sad to hear that Philip Kerr, best known for his many Bernie Gunther novels, has passed away; see, for example, Hannah Summers' report in *The Guard...
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