TE21 Serbian Moments
The Pear Field
They were even given flats to live in. But that was then and this is now, and nowadays everyone needs a flat: refugees from Abkhazia are at the top of the list, villagers who’ve come to the city for a better life, large families crammed into one or two rooms; even the rich want flats, for themselves, their children, their businesses. . . It’s been three years since Lela finished school but she doesn’t know where else to go. The staff at the school, to their credit, aren’t pressuring her to leave; no one is ever forced out. There’s no hope of her getting a job. After all, as Tiniko points out, if normal people can’t find work, what chance is there for a girl fresh out of a school for the intellectually disabled? Lela’s the only one who’s chosen to stay. Her peers have all left to make their own way in the world. Some didn’t even wait to finish school. Some moved into town and started begging. One or two have found work, maybe hauling goods at the flea market or transporting produce at the market. A few have got married. Some just vanished. Tiniko offers Lela a jobwatching the neighbours’ cars, working out of the gatehouse. A few of the neighbours leave their cars overnight on the large forecourt in front of the school. Tiniko charges a modest monthly fee; for some, the expense is worth it if it means not coming back tomissing mirrors and tyres, to a stolen radioor, worse, nocar at all. Tiniko trusts Lela and thinks she will do a better job than Tariel. She’ll be paid a portion of the money she collects from the neighbours and the rest will 200
go to Tiniko for board and lodging.
Lela accepts. Tariel limps sourly out of the gatehouse, taking his few belongings with him so she can move in. With Irakli’s help she brings a divan bed over from her dormitory, along with a glass from the kitchen, two sets of clothes and a handful of other items which she arranges on the small table. There’s a mirror on the wall. Lela takes the cross Father Yakob gave her and attaches it to the frame. Tariel doesn’twant togiveuphis job. He’sspenta fair fewwinters in the gatehouse. His wife, Narcissa, squeezed her ample hips sideways through the narrow doorway to bring him his meals every day. Once in a while Tariel’s son, Gubaz, filled in for him. Thirty years old and still single, a beloved only child, Gubaz went off to do military service and promptly lost his mind. His parents sent him to hospital; the psychiatrists ‘cured’ him and sent him back home. Now he just wanders around in a long black coat with his hair all over the place, muttering to himself. Sometimes he makes sense, if you listen hard enough. Up and down, arguing into the wind, which carries his words away but brings no answers. The whole thing has taken its toll on Tariel and Narcissa. Their only child – who never stole, always did what he was told, excelled at maths and knew how to talk to a girl – leaves to join the army and comes back via the madhouse, transformed, tormented. Unable to bear his own reflection, he avoids mirrors. His mother took down the one on the bathroom wall so now, when Tariel wants to shave, he reaches for the shard of mirrored glass hidden under the bath, 201
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