SHORT STORY: Conkers by Ilona Ferková

Conkers by Ilona Ferková
Translated from Romany by Karolina Ryvolva

There are many pubs and little taverns but none like the one in our town. It must have been given a makeover ten times or more. It turned out different every time. There were times when only rich people went there. Later all kinds of people went there. And today? There are more Roma than gadje.

And now they have finished the job by installing plenty of metal devils – fruit machines, which they have stood all over the place like soldiers. Their jaws glow ominously. Whoever comes here walks straight to one of the devils, sets himself up in front of it and starts filling up its belly. Some are lucky, but most are plagued by hard luck.

Even Conkers comes here every day for a pint. That is what the Roma have been calling him perhaps since the day he was born. He hates to see money disappear into the metal stomachs, so he shouts at the Roma in there, 'You’d better sit on your asses and wash the money down your throats with a drink! You’d go home drunk but at least happy!' says he, and drinks down half his pint in one. 'Oh, nice beer!' he says and wipes his lips with the palm of his hand.

'No worries, Uncle, they’ll go home staggering and they won’t even have to drink anything,' offers a guy called The Jew out of his corner. He is another crafty little feller. 'Listen, I’ll buy you a beer if you tell me about Bullet. I don’t remember him but I’ve already heard about him,' says The Jew and pulls his chair right up to Conkers’. Everybody knows what makes Conkers’ world go round. 'Listen, Jew, one beer won’t do the trick,' Conkers lifts his pint to his lips and downs in one what there is left in the glass.

Before he’s finished his last beer, though, the gadji has already set a new drink in front of him. 'Well, I like this!' he says, and wipes the dewy glass with his hand.

'... You have no idea what a good man he was, this Bullet! He and his wife Mouthy had eight kids together. He liked a drink and when he’d had a few, he was a great joker. Once in the winter Mouthy sent him to the forest to get some firewood. Rather than going to the forest, though, Bullet immediately made for the pub. He sat in the pub with the Roma all day and he clean forgot about the firewood.

"Ah, Bullet, now your wife is going to hang you, when you come home without the firewood!" the men were laughing.

"Don’t you worry, I’ll think of a way to fool her!"

Bullet came home and straight from the doorway he started calling: "Oh, Mouthy, you’ll never believe what’s happened to me today! Let me tell you – I’ve talked to God himself!"

– "You don’t say! How is that possible? What happened?" Mouthy was looking at him with eyes wide with horror.

"Listen, Mouthy! Here I was walking through the forest, looking for a tree to fell. Then I saw this dry tree, so I thought to myself: This one I’ll cut down! While I was sawing away, I saw this old gadjo. Says he: Man, listen to me, don’t cut down this tree, it’s still young, why don’t you collect some dry twigs off the ground! – Well, I’ll be damned if I collect dry twigs off the ground, I told the old gadjo, I’ll sooner cut down this tree, but he tells me: Go home and take good care of yourself. If you cough three times, you’ll die.
– I’m telling you, it was God and he came to warn me. From now on, Mouthy, you’ll have to watch over me, make sure I don’t catch a cold. Do you hear?"

"No fear," said Mouthy and quickly fixed him a cup of tea. "Hurry up, drink this." She handed him the steaming cup.

Bullet took a sip, burned his tongue and coughed. "I told you, didn’t I; may the punishment be yours!" he swore at her. "So you give me boiling hot tea? You’ve done it on purpose, haven’t you, you wanted me to cough! Only two more times will I cough and I’m dead!" he yelled at his wife.

Mouthy went to bed in great fear and she forgot to ask where the firewood was.'

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