Sotir Gelev

Penko Gelev

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The Arab Slippers

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The Arab Slippers

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The Arab Slippers © Text: Sotir Gelev, Penko Gelev © Illustrations: Penko Gelev Translation: Marianna Hill

The Arab Slippers
Text Sotir Gelev, Penko Gelev Illustrations Penko Gelev

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Sofia, 2011

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Mr. Bill Berry was very fond of his Arab slippers. They had some upward pointing toes and were light and very comfortable. He was so fond of them that sometimes he went to bed still wearing them. Miss Wild Straw-Berry hated those Arab slippers. “One day,“ she would often say to him, “ you will trip over a root and you’ll break your nose“. Miss Wild Straw-Berry was Mr. Bill Berry’s neighbor. She was irritated by everything he did. “Don’t feed the lantern fireflies with cookie crumbs, will you!“ she would tell him. “Their bellies will swell and they’ll stop glowing. You will be sitting in the dark all night!“.

“Big deal!“ replied Mr. Bill Berry. “I go to bed early anyway!“ “Don’t water the buttercups so often!“ Miss Wild Straw-Berry would shout over the fence. “Their roots will lose their taste!“ “It’s hot and they get thirsty!“ he would smile at her and then would add “I will put more spices on them.“ “There are some milking ants in your garden!“ Miss Wild Straw-Berry would holler, banging on his front door. “They will milk all your plant lice and there will be not a drop of milk left for you!“ “They will feed and then they’ll go away,“ Mr. Bill Berry would yawn “I was just about to have a cup of primrose tea. Would you like to come in and join me?“ She would never accept his invitation because of Hannah, Mr. Bill Berry’s pet. Hannah was a fat and furry tarantula and Miss Wild StrawBerry was arachnophobic.

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Early one spring morning, Miss Wild Straw-Berry was collecting morning dew in the garden when a familiar voice startled her. “I will bring you some fresh tadpoles for lunch!“ With his fishing rod over one shoulder and a fish basket over the other, Mr. Bill Berry waved at her and set off for the river, flipping and flopping with his Arab slippers. “You better watch that no frog gobbles you up!“ Miss Wild Straw-Berry mumbled as she was carrying her jug of dew home.

She thought of Mr. Bill Berry late in the afternoon when she was feeding mulberry leaves to the silkworms. “Tadpoles for lunch, my foot!“, Miss Wild Straw-Berry shook her head. She took her umbrella and set off for the river. Slowly, she headed for the bridge. The bridge was Mr. Bill Berry’s favorite fishing spot. She was sure to find him squatting there, not having caught anything. As she was walking along some wind came up and big gray clouds covered the sun. “Good job I took my brolly“, Miss Wild Straw-Berry thought and started to walk quicker.

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When she reached the middle of the bridge, Miss Wild Straw-Berry saw Mr. Bill Berry’s fish basket and his Arab slippers. There were some tadpoles and some little fishes in the basket. She bent over the edge and looked down. The water spirit Green Beard was sitting on a green stone and was trying to bite off the head of a water-gauge bug he had just caught. As he saw Miss Wild Straw-Berry he hinted casually:

“Mr. Bill Berry fell into the river. He caught something big with his rod and it pulled him over the edge.“ “Didn’t you try to help him?“ Miss Wild Straw-Berry called, agitatedly. “Can’t you see I’m busy hunting water-gauge bugs?“, and Green Beard started tearing off the legs of the beheaded bug. “And the current carried him away real fast.“ Miss Wild Straw-Berry grabbed the slippers and the basket and rushed back home. “He is far too light to drown!“, the water spirit shouted after her and gulped the water-gauge bug down in one go.

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It started raining and when Miss Wild Straw-Berry knocked on the door of Mayor Blackthorn she was dripping wet. She never thought of opening the umbrella she was squeezing under her armpit. “I will summon all the men in the village and we will start a search and rescue operation!“ the Mayor exclaimed in excitement. “And you better go home. You are so wet you will catch your death like this!“ Late at night, the doorbell rang. Miss Wild Straw-Berry opened the door and saw Mayor Blackthorn wearing a mackintosh and holding a lantern in his hand. “We could not find him!“ he uttered in despair, “We trawled the river as far as the water-chutes. Everybody is shattered and cold. We’ll continue tomorrow.“ The Mayor left. The rain lashed on his mackintosh. That night Miss Wild Straw-Berry could not go to sleep. She sat and watched Mr. Bill Berry’s Arab slippers left by the fire to dry. Two days later, far beyond the water-chutes, they found Mr. Bill Berry’s fishing rod entangled in the bushes.

Mr. Bill Berry opened his eyes and saw the ceiling made of strong twigs and leaves. He tried to turn to look around but he groaned because he felt a splitting headache. He slowly got up and sat back in his bed. The room was tiny. It was made of twigs entangled with cane stems. He could hear some ripples and could see water shining through the cracks in the floor. There was a huge stone plate in the middle, which appeared to be used as a fireplace. He could remember nothing. Neither who he was nor where he came from or how he had got here.

Mr. Bill Berry crawled outside through the opening that served as a door. He saw a banister, grabbed hold of it and stood up, painfully. His eyes focused on several huts that looked like huge baskets full of leaves. They were erected on thick pillars stuck in the middle of the swampy little lake covered with water lilies. There was no one around. He had never before seen such a thing, but had no strength to wonder.

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“So you are awake at last!“ a voice behind him startled him. Mr. Bill Berry turned around slowly. There was a tousle-headed Kid on the little plank bridge connecting two huts, staring at him. “You’ve been sleeping for three days like a frog in winter. We were already thinking of burying you in the mud,“ the Kid went on. Mr. Bill Berry swallowed with pain and did not find anything to say. The Kid was watching him without moving from the spot. “You seem to be dumb…“ “I am not!“ Mr. Bill Berry assured him. “I feel dizzy…“ “No wonder. You had a bump the size of a buttercup bulb on your head when we found you!“ “You found me? Where?“ “In the lake under the waterfall… You were drifting like a dead watergauge bug!“ Mr. Bill Berry felt his head and only now found out that it was all covered in bandages. “What is your name?“ the Kid asked. “My name?“ Mr. Bill Berry looked up in stupefaction. “ I don’t know!“ And that was the very truth! “And what’s yours?“ Mr. Bill Berry asked in turn. “I don’t have a name. I’m still too young.“ “So you’re a boy?“ “I guess so.“ the Kid smiled uncertainly… “Do you live on your own?“ “They all left early this morning to catch white fish down the river. They will be back soon. Aren’t you hungry?“

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“You bet!“ Mr. Bill Berry admitted. The Kid jumped up, ran over the plank-bridge and vanished into the hut. In a short while, he turned up carrying a wooden tray with some dried reddish fruit, a piece of marinated fish and some hazelnut flower mush. He stuck the tray in Mr. Bill Berry’s hands and returned to his spot. Mr. Bill Berry sat on the edge of the platform with his legs dangling down to the water and busied himself with destroying the contents of the tray. He had not finished his breakfast yet when some boats full of people and the fish they had caught started slipping between the huts. Things got loud and bustly. Everybody was shouting as they unloaded the boats. Some cleaned and salted the fish then hung it under some special shelters to dry. Others cut it

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into pieces and placed it in special barrels to marinate. Some of the women started mending the fishing nets and the kids ran around with their baskets and sacks. Nobody took any attention of Mr. Bill Berry. He was looking around in embarrassment when somebody pushed him slightly. “The elder wants to see you!“ the Kid was yanking at his uncombed hair. He led him to the biggest hut over the creaky bridges. Water Rooster was a wrinkled old man. He was sitting in the dusk of the hut, scratching his bare foot, carefully observing Mr. Bill Berry. “So, you don’t have a name, eh?“ said Silver Otter, the oldest lady in the village. She was kneeling next to the elder poking in her ear. “I can’t remember it,“ replied Mr. Bill Berry and thought that his hosts did not have the best of manners.

“We shall have to give you a name!“ Water Roster said abruptly. “I prefer to keep my own,“ announced Mr. Bill Berry, shaking his head. Water Rooster and Silver Otter did not take any notice of his words. They got up and disappeared behind the ragged curtain that was used as a door to the next room. They started discussing something but their voices were so soft that one could not understand what they were saying. Mr. Bill Berry’s head still felt dizzy and he nodded off as he was sitting. “We shall perform the rite tomorrow!“ the voice of Water Rooster startled him. The two old people were sitting opposite him and their faces were glowing with their chipped smiles. “Make sure you get some good sleep,“ Silver Otter added. The next morning Mr. Bill Berry was still asleep when some people rushed into his hut, grabbed him and carried him outside. They stuck a knife in his hand, slid him into a fish skin and stitched it together. Then they threw him into the lake. The people from the village had gone out in front of their homes and watched Mr. Bill Berry sink amongst the water lilies. The fish skin wrapped his body tightly. Stunned he did not understand what was going on until water started leaking through the stitches, pushing the air out and filling his nose and mouth. He felt the handle of the knife in his hand, squeezed it tightly and cut the skin open in one go.

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Little fishes flickered under the rays of the early sun sneaking between the leaves of the lilies. Fat tadpoles were loafing about and a frog half dug into the mud was watching him suspiciously. Mr. Bill Berry swam to the surface, spat out a huge amount of water and took a breath loudly. Cheers welcomed him back, some strong arms lifted him up and pulled him out onto a big boat. The men on the boat patted him on his back in approval, and all he was capable of doing was blinking in shock.

Water Rooster was standing on one of the little bridges just opposite the boat. When he held his arms up, his people went silent. “You won the challenge!“ shouted Water Rooster. “We will call you Cork from now on.“ On the evening of that day a big party was thrown. By the light of hundreds of torches everybody was singing, dancing and stuffing themselves silly with fish. Away from the lights and the racket, Mr. Bill Berry was leaning against the banister in front of his hut and watching the full moon. The Kid was squatting next to him, splashing the water with a long stick. “Lucky you“, he said, “You already have a name.“ “I ought to go home“, replied Mr. Bill Berry, “Ought to find out who I am and get back my real name.“ “Where is that?“ “Don’t know. Somewhere up the river.“ “No way you can climb up the waterfall. No one has ever managed to do that“ said the Kid. “I will go around it!“ The Kid thought for a moment and decided to warn him: “If you take the right bank, you will get to the swamps. And they are oozing with giant mosquitoes and spitting frogs. “I’ll take the left bank!“ Mr. Bill Berry looked at his friend interrogatively. The Kid saw this look and shrugged his shoulders. “I can help you cross the river,“ he said. “Really?“ The Kid nodded, jumped up onto his feet and ran away into the darkness. Mr. Bill Berry listened to the song that the people from the village were singing. Something crunched along the pillars of the hut and it started shaking.

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“Come on, jump in!“ Mr. Bill Berry bent over the banister. The Kid was sitting in a small boat and waving at him. “Come on, jump in. What are you waiting for? I will take you to the other side!“ “What, right now?“ There was a hint of hesitation in Mr. Bill Berry’s voice. “Everyone is at the party! Nobody will notice I have nicked a boat! Come on then! What are you waiting for?“ “O.K. then, I’m on my way“, Mr. Bill Berry mumbled unwillingly and clumsily jumped into the boat. “Quiet!“ the Kid warned him. “I have no shoes!“ Mr. Bill Berry whispered. “There!“ The Kid handed him a pair of sandals made of bast. Then he pushed the boat with the oar and they quietly set off.

The moon was hiding behind a cloud and the darkness embraced them from all sides. The Kid was confidently rowing, as if he could see in the dark. “I did not say Good bye to anyone“, thought Mr. Bill Berry, “They will think I was ungrateful…“ Suddenly he heard a scrunch and the boat stopped. “We are here!“ the Kid announced. Mr. Bill Berry sighed, stepped overboard and waded in the water. “Will you take me with you?“, the Kid’s eyes twinkled inquisitively. “No way!“ Mr. Bill Berry replied firmly. “I knew it. Take this!“ The Kid handed a crammed leather bag over to him and said resignedly: “Some food for the way.“ Mr. Bill Berry slung the bag over his shoulder and climbed ashore. He heard a quiet splash and turned around, but the boat had gone. “Thank you!“ Mr. Bill Berry shouted. “You take care of yourself, Cork!“ the Kid’s voice reached his ears. Mr. Bill Berry was wondering which way to go, when the moon came out of the cloud and shone on a narrow path fading behind the hills.

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Miss Wild Straw-Berry did not like Summer. The heat made her sweat, and she hated walking around with wet round patches under her armpits. The heat was unbearable this year and she had twice as many things to do. Three months had passed since Mr. Bill Berry had disappeared in the river and Miss Wild Straw-Berry started taking care of his house and his small farm. “I can not let everything go wild.“

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She believed that one day her neighbor would come back. The water spirit Green Beard had said that Mr. Bill Berry was far too light to drown, and he was an expert on those things. She kept watering the buttercups, but not much, so that their bulbs became spicy and tasty. She kept chasing the ants away from the garden and milked the plant-lice regularly. She made cheese from the milk in some special strainers. She fed the mole cricket and dug the dandelion patches. She cleared the stables of the horn beetles and did not miss any opportunity to send them grazing with the village herd. She had the most difficult time getting used to Hannah, Mr. Bill Berry’s huge hairy tarantula. She hesitated for two days before she could gain the courage to enter the house and tidy it up. Hannah did not emerge at all from the dark corner of the house where she lived. Miss Wild Straw-Berry left her a plate with some wine-fly pate mixed in water.

She found the plate empty the next day. A week later the tarantula was waiting for Miss Straw-Berry at the doorstep and confidently brushed herself against her leg. That made her shiver a bit at first but then she got used to it and started liking it. The path had come to an end a long time ago but Mr. Bill Berry kept walking. Gradually the hills disappeared. Before he knew, he found himself crossing a rocky valley stretching further than the eyes could see in all directions. The sun hung directly above his head, scorching mercilessly. The water in his leather flask was about to finish and Mr. Bill Berry decided to go to back the river. But he had gone a long way away from it and he had to walk far. When he came back to the river, the sun was about to go down.

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The bank was rocky, steep and so high that the river looked like a thin silver line. There was no way he could get down to it, let alone climb back up again. In order to get some water he needed a long rope and a bucket. Mr. Bill Berry heard a silent cry and the noise of some rolling stones. He bent forward, looked down and saw a tiny flower growing from the rocks. A young lady, almost a girl, was holding onto it and was looking up to him with a begging look. The flower was just about to fall out. He quickly took his bag down, grabbed hold of its handle and dropped it down to the lady. She caught the bag.

Mr. Bill Berry started pulling and got all sweaty from the effort. “If I drop her I will never see my bag again“ he thought for a moment. He strained himself as much as he could and pulled as hard as he could. Dark circles started swimming before his eyes and he fell backwards. “I lost the damn thing!“ thought Mr. Bill Berry but it was not quite clear whether he meant the bag or the lady. And then he blacked out. Some drops of cold water brought him back to his senses. The young lady was dipping her hands in a bucket made from a hazelnut shell and was sprinkling his face. Mr. Bill Berry sat up. “How did you manage to get water“, he asked in surprise. The lady pointed at a curled rope, thrown next to the bag. Then she handed him the flask. Mr. Bill Berry took a large gulp. “So, why were you…“ he looked up… “Why was I hanging over the precipice, you mean?“ Her voice was soft and caressed his ears. “I tried to pick that flower and slipped. My name is Rocky Mouse, by the way…“ “And I am Cork, pleasure to meet you…“
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“ You need a rest. Let’s go to my place!“ Rocky Mouse helped Mr. Bill Berry up, slung the rope and the bag over her shoulder, took the bucket in the other hand and set off. Mr. Bill Berry followed her. Rocky Mouse lived in a spacious cave under a very big flat rock. There were no windows but the lady of the cave had hung lighting maggots. Everything was made of stone inside – the chairs, the tables, the beds, the crockery, the cutlery. There was even a well – a deep hole in the corner of the kitchen.

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“It is no good to drink“ Rocky Mouse explained. “That’s why I have to go to the river for water“. But it was good for washing and Mr. Bill Berry had a long blissful soak in the bath chiseled out of marble. There were some scrambled eggs for dinner. For breakfast too. “Very tasty“, Mr. Bill Berry tried to avoid speaking with his mouth full but could not help it.“ What are they from? What kind of birds would live in this rocky area?“ “They are snake eggs.“ Rocky Mouse smiled. Mr. Bill Berry choked and started coughing. “Isn’t it dangerous to gather snake eggs?“ “I will show you how it’s done. It is about time to stock up anyway.“ Rocky Mouse slung the ragged curtain in front of a recess in the wall and produced a big basket from there. The sun was scorching. Rocky Mouse was wearing a huge cone of a hat made from the sharp blades of the grass that was growing over the rocks everywhere around. Mr. Bill Berry wore a handkerchief with knots tied on all four corners on his head. “Over there!“ the lady said and pointed at an old ravine, almost invisible in the rocky plain.

The two egg collectors went down to the sandy bottom. Rocky Mouse stepped slowly and looked around carefully. She pulled at Mr. Bill Berry’s sleeve and pointed her finger at the bottom. He looked in that direction but saw nothing other than the sand around. Rocky Mouse stepped forward and started digging with her hands. Mr. Bill Berry wondered a bit and then started helping her. Soon, in amazement he noticed snake eggs appearing. They were oblong and leathery and there were so many of them. “There are at least sixty there“ Rocky Mouse said. “We’ve found a big nest“. Overwhelmed by hunting verve, Mr. Bill Berry started collecting them hastily and put them in the basket. “Hey, slow down, slow down a little!“ Rocky Mouse stopped him. “We will take ten at the most… and the littlest ones!“ “Why?!“ the novice snake egg collector could not understand. “We can fill up our basket with those!“ “If we collect all of them no snakes will hatch!“ “So, big deal!“ Mr. Bill Berry was not very fond of snakes. “Don’t you get it? If there are no snakes, there will be nobody to lay eggs! Besides, there will be too many rats and mice!“ “I never thought of that!“ confessed Mr. Bill Berry, feeling embarrassed. He put the eggs back in the nest immediately and left Rocky Mouse to choose as many as needed. Then he helped cover the nest with sand again and leveled it so that there was no trace left of the hunting action. “It is good so.“ Rocky Mouse recognized his effort. Now get the basket and let’s go looking for another nest.“ They filled the basket to the top by the end of the day and it got quite heavy. Mr. Bill Berry was trying not to show it, but he was shattered by the time they got back home. They had scrambled eggs for dinner. And some mushrooms.

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Mr. Bill Berry stayed with Rocky Mouse. They spent the day collecting eggs, fertilized the mushrooms that were growing in the part of the cave which Rocky Mouse was using as a cellar and went to the river to catch fish with a very long rod. As the days passed, Mr. Bill Berry started getting used to his new name.

One evening, he was sitting in front of the cave watching the sun setting. He felt a knot in his stomach and heaved a deep sigh. “What is the matter, Cork?“ Rocky Mouse had quietly come closer to him. “This is not my real name“ uttered Mr. Bill Berry. The swamp people gave it to me. I can’t remember what mine was.“ He pointed at the amber sun almost disappearing behind the horizon. “Everything that is important to me is somewhere over there“, he said. “I will be leaving tomorrow.“ He turned to look at Rocky Mouse but she had gone already.

That night Mr. Bill Berry could not get to sleep for a long time. He was turning in his bed and God knows why he was thinking of some slippers. Strange slippers with upward pointing toes. At one point he thought he could hear somebody weeping in Rocky Mouse’s bedroom. Next morning he had some scrambled eggs for breakfast. And he was ready to go. “Keep close to the river“, Rocky Mouse advised him, trying to hide her red eyes. “And take this.“ She gave him a long rope. Long, thin and strong. Mr. Bill Berry swung it over his shoulder, took his bag and went out of the cave, followed by Rocky Mouse. He was wondering what to say when she stepped closer to him and gave him a big kiss. “Go now!“ she pushed him away and quickly disappeared into her home. Mr. Bill Berry set off without looking back. The Autumn Fairies started gold plating the leaves in the forest. They used some yellow, orange and red gold without sparing it. The leaves got heavier, broke off and fell onto the ground. Miss Wild Straw-Berry worked from dawn till dusk. She dug the buttercup bulbs out, then put them in barrels and poured some marinate over them. She collected tender dandelion leaves and pickled them in jars. She stacked the cheese combs on the shelves in the cellar to ripen. Mr. Bill Berry’s house was sparkling clean because she regularly swept the floors and dusted. She even hired a workman to change some tiles on the roof. Sometimes she would sit on the doorstep to catch her breath. Tarantula Hannah would jump onto her lap and would settle down. Miss Wild StrawBerry would cuddle her soft fur and she would shut her eight eyes in a state of bliss.

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Other times she would take out Mr. Bill Berry’s Arab slippers, wax them with turpentine oil and leave them in the sun to soften up. Mr. Bill Berry walked long through the rocky wilderness, without meeting any living creature. His bast sandals wore out and were hanging lose around his feet. He could not fill his flask for several days because the riverbank was so high that the rope could not reach the water. The days were still hot, but the nights got cooler. Mr. Bill Berry was afraid of the cold and could not wait for the sun to come out in order to get warm. One evening he got to the foot of a mountain, which rose in front of his eyes like a huge, dark molehill. There were some feeble trees growing around and it was for the first time that he managed to collect some twigs. He had some flint and steel for kindling tinder in his bag and he made a fire. As he was warming his tired limbs, his eyes looked at the dark silhouette of the mountain and saw some twinkling lights there.

“There must be some people living up there“, he thought and felt calmer. He had a bite of the last boiled egg that was left, pulled the thin blanket over himself and nodded off. He had a dream about a huge tarantula. At the crack of dawn, Mr. Bill Berry quickly packed his things and set off for the mountain. The yellow leaves were already falling from the branches and made a nice soft carpet. It was a blessing for Mr. Bill Berry’s feet after having walked on rocks and pebbles for such a long time. The bushes and the trees were heavy with fruits and he had some tiny wild apples, hazelnuts and sloes for breakfast. He realized that he had started hating snake eggs a long time ago and he remembered Rocky Mouse for the first time in many days. This did not prevent him from filling his bag with fruit. In one gorge he found a clear spring and he had so much water to drink that his tummy started making bubbling noises at every step he made after that. He regained his strength and set off on a hardly noticeable path, winding around the body of the mountain. The birds were singing and the world seemed good and hospitable.

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It was then that he met the scoundrels. He worked it out as soon as the taller one said: “Halt! We are scoundrels!“ There were two of them dressed in ragged cloths and armed with spears made from acacia thorns. “Do you have anything to eat?“ demanded the shorter one, snatching Mr. Bill Berry’s bag, opening it and tipping its contents out onto the ground. “Apples and sloes? Is that all you got?“ “They taste very nice“ explained Mr. Bill Berry. His answer made the shorter scoundrel really furious. “I’ve been eating apples and sloes for a whole month.“ Then it seemed that his legs gave in. He sat down on the ground and covered his eyes with his hands. “I can not do this any longer!“ The taller one nudged him with the end of his spear. “Up you get! What do you think you are doing? Can’t behave like that in front of a victim!“ The shorter one looked up at him. “Who? Is he a victim? I am a victim! Me!“ “This is not true! You are Tempest, the most scary scoundrel of this mountain!“ the taller one pronounced, excitedly. “Listen to me, Thunder! Let us give it all up and go back home, uh?“ moaned Tempest, begging. “We are no good at this. We can not even scare an ant!“ “Sorry for interrupting“ said Mr. Bill Berry, “but I got really scared.“

Tempest jumped up back on his feet. “Do you really mean it?!“ “I started shivering all over!“ confirmed Mr. Bill Berry. The two scoundrels looked at each other triumphantly. Then Thunder coughed. “Mister….“ “Cork.“ Mr. Bill Berry said “Mr. Cork, we shall have to rob you!“ Thunder went on. “Give us all your money and items of value!“ Tempest ordered and it was obvious that he felt uncomfortable. “…If you value your life!“

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“This is all I’ve got,“ answered Mr. Bill Berry, pointing at his bag. “But there is nothing valuable in it“, said Tempest in disappointment. “I’ve just checked!“ “Sorry…“ Mr. Bill Berry apologized, shaking his head. Tempest yanked Thunder’s sleeve and pulled him away. The two started talking excitedly, flapped about with their hands and held their heads. They drew something on the sand with their feet and pointed at the top of the mountain. Mr. Bill Berry waited patiently. He picked the end of a blade of grass, put it in his mouth and started chewing on it. Tempest and Thunder came closer. “We have decided to cross the mountain,“ started Thunder. “There are more people living on the other side…“ “There will be more people to rob!“ added Tempest. “And we propose that you, Cork, join us!“ “And become a member of our gaggle of scoundrels!“ “Your invitation is an honor for me,“ Mr. Bill Berry said with a bow, “but I am no good for a scoundrel! I am a big softie.“ The faces of the two scoundrels saddened. “But I will come with you,“ Mr. Bill Berry went on, “I am heading in the same direction“. There were so many things to do in the two houses that the autumn passed like a day and there were no leaves left on the branches. She only had to stack the logs for the fireplace. The forest spirits brought them with carts and unloaded them in huge heaps in front of the garden gate of Miss Wild Straw-Berry and in front of the gate of Mr. Bill Berry. Before dark the logs were taken into the shed. Miss Wild Straw-Berry felt exhausted and she hardly managed to reach her bed, where she immediately fell asleep.

The next morning she woke up to a strange light which was flooding through the window. Miss Wild Straw-Berry jumped out of her bed and stuck her nose against the glass. Thick snow had covered the valley. In a short while the fire was crackling happily in the fireplace and Miss Wild Straw-Berry put her thick boots on and wrapped a thick woolen shawl around her neck. She went out, took the snow shovel and started making a path in front of the door. After she had finished, she stopped a while to rest. She remembered how Mr. Bill Berry always made a snowman with a carrot for a nose and little lumps of coal for eyes. Now it did not seem all that childish and silly. She went back into the house, made herself a cup of linden tea and sat in the rocking chair by the fireplace in order to warm up. Miss Wild Straw-Berry loved winter.

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Mr. Bill Berry, Tempest and Thunder reached a clear mountain stream. Mr. Bill Berry took out some fishing line and a hook and quickly caught some large trout. Then he roasted them on a hot stone. The two scoundrels ate so much roasted fish that they could not take any more food and were so grateful to Mr. Bill Berry that they asked him to become their chieftain. He rejected politely and they all went on together. The higher up they climbed, the cooler was the air. The gray sky touched the tops of the trees, of which there were less and less. The nights were ice cold and they had to take turns sleeping so that they could keep the fire going. One day it started snowing. Tempest made three pairs of snowshoes from some tough twigs and Mr. Bill Berry took out his rope. They tied themselves to each other so that they did not get lost in the shroud of the blizzard. Their feet did not fall though any more and they kept walking up in determination.

That evening the snow stopped and the stars started glaring from the sky. Among them, the round face of the moon looked like a moldy pancake. Around the small fire the three travelers were finishing their dinner and warming their bellies with some sloe potion. “Sometimes I look at the moon and wonder“ Thunder said “what is holding it up there…“ “It’s gravity“ Mr. Bill Berry replied. “Gravi… what?“ Thunder asked. “Gravity. It means attraction. Earth is a big ball and it attracts the moon. It is also big, but much smaller than Earth. That is why it rotates around it. “And why does it look the size of a pancake?“ Tempest asked in disbelief.

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“Because it is too far away. If we had to walk there we would need to walk one hundred thousand days…“ Thunder and Tempest started calculating it in their heads. “But no one of us …“ Thunder started saying. “… will live that long“ Tempest continued in excitement. “That’s true.“ Said Mr. Bill Berry in agreement. “And what about the sun?’, asked Thunder. “Is it also rotating around the Earth because of that… what did you call it... gra-, gra-...“ “Stop it! You sound like a crow!“ said Tempest and poked him. “The sun does not rotate around the earth but exactly the opposite.“ Mr. Bill Berry answered with a smile. “The earth and the moon are rotating around the sun because it is much larger and attracts them. The sun is rotating around the center of the galaxy. It is made up of millions of suns which we call stars. They are so far away that they look like glowing dots. “ Thunder and Tempest looked up to the sky in amazement. “Dear me!“ uttered Tempest “It turns out that the world is quite a big place!“ said Thunder quietly. “You may say it is endless. At least that is what some books say.“ explained Mr. Bill Berry. “Don’t despair!“ Tempest said to comfort him. “If you say that earth is round, sooner or later you will go back to where you set off from.“ Tempest was quite a smart guy and Mr. Bill Berry looked at him with admiration.

The doorbell rang. Miss Wild Straw-Berry’s heart jumped and she rushed to answer the door. There she saw the Mayor Blackthorn and a strange lady with a strict look. Surprised, Miss Wild Straw-Berry asked them in and offered them some tea. “Mrs. Rosehip is a lawyer.“ The Mayor said, stretching his legs closer to the fire. “The Town Council has decided to sell Mr. Bill Berry’s house. He has no heirs and with the proceeds from the sale we will renovate the school. In the spring.“ “But, where is he going to live?“ asked Miss Wild Straw-Berry and spilled her tea on her lap in surprise. “Nobody believes that Mr. Bill Berry will come back any more. According to the law, his property ought to become responsibility of the City Council,“ said the Mayor with a gloomy voice. “You are his next of kin and you ought to sign the papers.“ “How come? I am just a neighbor!“ Miss Wild Straw-Berry said and panicked. “Can’t it wait until the end of the winter?“

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The visitors left. They agreed to put the sale off and Mrs. Rosehip announced that this would be regarded a period of grace. The Mayor sadly shook his head and then he shook the hand of Miss Wild Straw-Berry. Mr. Bill Berry, Tempest and Thunder were standing at the top of the mountain. It looked like an isle amongst the sea of clouds that stretched under their feet. The winter sun warmed their frozen noses. “Let us leave some mark“. Mr. Bill Berry suggested, “so that everyone can see that we have been here.“ “Who would want to climb up here?“ said Thunder in surprise. “We did“, said Tempest and nudged him. “We had to“, said Tempest. Mr. Bill Berry stuck his walking stick into the snow and tied his handkerchief on the top. “I won’t need it on the way back“, he explained. They had a bit of rest and started descending down the steep hill.

Confused, Miss Wild Straw-Berry was sitting in a rocking chair, and all kinds of thoughts raced through her mind. She imagined Mr. Bill Berry wandering around strange roads and exposed to all kinds of dangers, shivering in his thin clothes and with no one around to make him any tea. She went outside in the garden, passed through the little porch and entered the house of Mr. Bill Berry. Nobody was there to say hello because Tarantula Hannah was hibernating, curled up in her dark corner. Miss Wild Straw-Berry made a fire in the fireplace so that the walls didn’t get cold and damp. “He is bound to be back!“ she said to herself confidently as she was dusting with a bunch of feathers. She took Mr. Bill Berry’s Arab slippers from the shelf, sat in a chair next to the window and burst into tears. They rolled down onto the soft leather of the slippers and left some dark stains. Going down was worse than going up. Mr. Bill Berry regretted that he had left his walking stick because he kept slipping and falling dawn. This could have been very dangerous if it hadn’t been for the rope with which the three of them were tied to each other. The peak was a long way behind them when they noticed a blue tent. “This is the man we are going to rob!“ exclaimed the two scoundrels in excitement and dashed off to the tent, dragging Mr. Bill Berry behind them. The flap opened and a short man came out wearing a wooly hat. The minute he noticed the three companions he ran towards them and before they could say a thing he started shaking their hands. “It is an honor for me!“ he shouted. “I saw you get down from the peak.

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“What do you mean you saw us?“ Mr. Bill Berry said surprised. The man pointed at the powerful binoculars hanging around his neck. “I want to hire you! I will pay you 10 gold coins each if you help me climb that beauty!“ The scoundrels looked at each other in dismay. “Ten golden coins each?“ They could not believe their ears. “Why would you do that?“ “I am an amateur mountain climber“ explained the short man. If everything goes all right I will tell other colleagues of mine. They will also pay you to get to the summit.“ “But we…“ uttered Tempest. “We were just thinking….“ added Thunder.

The man slapped his forehead. “My, I am so impolite! You must be freezing! Do come inside and have a cup of tea with rum. There is some ham, sausages and tinned meat in case you are hungry! I will get it all ready for you!“ And he slipped back into the tent.

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“Ham and sausages“, wheezed Tempest “Ten gold coins each“ whispered Thunder and immediately felt dizzy. “Today is your lucky day“, said Mr. Bill Berry. Now is the time to give up your scoundrels’ lives. You won’t miss it, will you?“ “Do you think we are mad?“ Thunder exclaimed. “This job is a gold mine! Ten coins a climb!“ “Fifteen! You will share my pay too.“ The two already ex-scoundrels grabbed each other’s hands and started dancing around. Then all of a sudden they stopped and turned to Mr. Bill Berry. “Why are you saying this. Aren’t you coming with us?“ “I have to go“, answered Mr. Bill Berry and shook his head. “But I won’t say no to a cup of tea and a ham sandwich. Let us get into the tent.“ Mr. Bill Berry took a step but slipped, fell backwards and hit his head on a stone that was sticking out of the snow. He felt a splitting ache but, at the same time, memories gushed into his head. As if a black curtain was torn and he could see his whole life unfold before his eyes like a huge picture.

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“Hey, Cork! Are you all right?“ Tempest and Thunder shouted, concerned and bent over him. “Bill Berry!“, said Mr. Bill Berry with a blissful smile. “He must have lost his mind!“ said Tempest in deep concern. “My name is Bill Berry! I just remembered!“ The days went by slowly. Miss Wild Straw-Berry gave up tearing the sheets off the calendar, she stayed in bed till late and sometimes didn’t even sweep the floor. “No one comes in here for any reason at all.“ She said to herself. “I will sweep tomorrow.“ All day she listened to old records. The spring of her old gramophone was rusty and it made some screeching noises but she did not mind. The snow was falling and covering the paths. One evening when she was pulling the curtains she looked across to Mr. Bill Berry’s house. Something was wrong. There was light in all the windows. “Some homeless stranger must have moved in“ she thought and a minute later she knocked at the door. She could hear some slow dragging steps approaching. “Oh, it’s you! I am glad to see you!“ Mr. Bill Berry said with a big smile, with his Arab slippers on his feet. “I have just made some… primrose tea. Would you like to come in and have a cup of tea?“ Mr. Bill Berry looked slimmer and exhausted but otherwise he was still the same. Miss Wild Straw-Berry stepped hesitantly into the room. “Don’t worry, come on in! Hannah is asleep.“

Mr. Bill Berry put the kettle on the table and arranged the cups. “Do have a seat!“ he said and poured out the tea. “Isn’t that strange? It feels like I’ve never been away at all. Everything is clean and tidy, even the pillows are full with fresh dandelion fluff.“ “You ought to come to my place and tell me where you’ve been all this time!“ said Miss Wild Straw-Berry and gave him a piercing look in the eyes. “Who, me go to your place?“ He looked at her in amazement. “When?“ “Tomorrow.“ “I am busy tomorrow. I have to make a snowman!“ Mr. Bill Berry replied cunningly. “I will help you. I have some wonderful carrots!“ Mr. Bill Berry did not say anything. He smiled and took a long sip of tea. Miss Wild Straw-Berry did the same. She had never tasted any better primrose tea before in her life.

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Sotir Gelev Penko Gelev The Arab Slippers Bulgaria 1000 Sofia, 15, Dunav Street E-mail: gekkon@datacom.bg

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