‘Listen,’ Toshev said. He looked at the camcorder, taping, then at Essil and her daughter. They were both smiling and so was the boy, who’d gone back to the kettle and was refilling the mortar. Toshev looked at the girl’s stomach. ‘Listen,’ he repeated, but did not know what exactly it was he wanted to say. All he could think of was the baby, and for the first time, or so it seemed, he realized that there were no Greek buyers, no Greek money, that he had made everything up in hopes of a good story. He wondered what the girl would do with the baby once it was born. But these thoughts rushed through his head quickly, without time for him to consider them in so many words. All they left was a metallic taste on his palate, a heaviness in his stomach, which he took not for anger at himself because of what he was doing, but at the women because of what they were about to do. A powerful gust slapped the walls of the shed, and the walls shivered and closed down on him. Panting, Toshev sprang up to his feet, ready to pack.
‘Thank you,’ he muttered. They had been very helpful, but he had a train to catch.
‘Come on, mister lawyer,’ Essil said. ‘Stay for lunch.’
At the door he promised to call again once the due date was closer and he reminded them to keep the phone on. Then wondered if they even had electricity to charge its battery. But he didn’t want to spend more time asking or explaining things. Outside, the goose was boiling in a deep, blackened cauldron, but everything smelled not of food, but of chimneys. The village shacks were lined up in such a way that they formed tunnels through which, sped-up, the wind dragged smoke in thick ropes. The gusts shaved off frost from the crusty ground and turned it up in the air in fistfuls, which in turn caught and tossed about pieces of cardboard, of nylon bags, of other garbage. There were no more children playing outside, no more dogs, and as he bid the gypsies goodbye, as he refused the boy’s offer to guide him out of the village, Toshev wondered, briefly, whether he should not just stay inside and wait the storm out.
And so, once out of the village, his desire to see the Danube was even stranger to him. But he needed to see it, to climb up on the levee where the air was cleaner, where all the soot, and dirt, and smell would no longer crush him.