8. The Vietnamka and the Proper Way for a Man to Light his Cigarette:
An enormous green army truck ambled up the drive way. Gray skies, drizzle, around 8:30 in the morning. I held a cup of nescafe in my hand and a cigarette in my lips, leaning against the doorway of my cabin, less than ten feet from the road. I thought to myself “What the fuck are we doing with this?”. Lecho, Yanko and Ivan were coming from the house in the opposite direction. The truck stopped at the gate close to the cabin.
A taller, long-nosed man in his 40’s climbed out of the vehicle. He was wearing a black leather cap and black wool jacket. Yanko and Lecho greeted him. Krassi was coming down the hill, beginning to bark his orders from 20 meters away. The man acknowledged me and held up my coffee mug back. Lecho and Yanko glanced over. The door was open and Naomi was lying in the bed naked in full view. I left the door open a few more seconds and then stood in it, blocking any view without making anything obvious. Part of me was proud to show the boys the pretty girl I put my cock into at night but the better part of me knew the tasteful action. Naomi was stirring. Yanko was motioning for me to come towards him. I grabbed my jacket from the chair and shut the door, throwing my cigarette into the wet stones below me.
Yanko spoke some English. I was trying to pick up on Bulgarian. With effort, we managed to communicate decently. There was an understanding of some kind. “What the hell is this?” I asked him. He grinned and in his thick accent informed me, “dis… Vietnamka. Russian Army use. Now we have for work.” Ignorant and confused, I asked “Vietnamka? Why not Afghanistanka?”. Yanko drank a bit more from his coffee, understanding, “za-shto Russiya in Vietnam as well,”. Right. Supplies were sent somehow. “Well, what are we using it for?”. The young Roma man from the east of Bulgaria smiled and responsed “to-day, we cut down many trrrees.” “Gde?” I asked, confusing Russian with Bulgarian. He turned around and pointed at the mountain in the distance, clouds hiding the top. “Tam. Tazi PLA-NEE-NA,”. He paused, then remembering his word, shouted “MOUN-TAIN!” Yes, real organic farming.
Naomi opened the door to the cabin, now dressed and waved at Yanko and us. All the men paused to stare at her. “Do-bray ootra” she called out happily to the group, the men repeating it back slowly as if under some trance. She walked up the hill towards the main house. I watched her, then glanced at Yanko, still watching her walk away. I jabbed him slightly in the in the arm. He smiled and looked down at the ground.
“Mnogo krasivi”. Very beautiful.
The truck turned around and we all loaded up. Yanko, Lecho and I sat in back. We stopped to pick up another man a kilometre down the road; a short, round, elf-like man, barely five feet tall with very thick hands and a bulbous, round nose. His face was red, his eyes tiny. He waved at us and loaded into the front with the driver and Ivan. Soon we veered off the gravel road, onto a steep muddy path that lead up through the trees. The truck didn’t really fit but the man driving was unphased. Occasionally branches or limbs would block our path, but with enough gas power the Vietnamka was able to rip the trees to pieces. The drizzle had turned to rain now. As we climbed on we would occasionally get stuck, or begin to slide to the side or in reverse. Control was maintained within a time that kept the truck from flipping into the forest, killing us all.
We passed through a long-clearing, again following the pattern of sliding to one side for several feet, reversing, stopping, sliding backwards, stopping and jolting forwards once again. We eventually found our site. I glanced behind me at the long road down. In the yellow open field it looked like someone had done donuts.
The driver’s name was Rumen. I liked his demeanor and his black leather cap. A straight, middle-aged family man could never pull that hat off back in America. Yanko told me he was from the village as well, “dobre chovek”, he reassured me, a good man. Rumen and Ivan went up the hill to begin cutting. They would slice the trees up and roll them down the hill to us. Rumen carefully gripped his chainsaw and climbed up the hill. Ivan followed behind, with a chainsaw in one hand and a two liter bottle of Zagorka beer in the other.
Their cutting began with our gathering soon to follow. I could see Rumen cutting carefully, aware of what was around him. Ivan managed to cut with one hand and drink his Zagorka with the other. Occasionally he would turn away from the tree while still cutting, yelling at Yanko down below. Chainsaws do occasionally bounce back at you. The hardened old man at least looked like he knew what he was doing.
The logs were wet and heavy. Me, Yanko and the hardworking, kind elf loaded one after another. They were piling up. Half hidden in the fog, Rumen stopped his cutting and yelled down at us four or five sentences in Bulgarian. I didn’t understand and didn’t pay much attention. He looked over at me and then Yanko. The cutting began again. Another log was stuck in front of me and I began to pull it out of the mud. I heard a tumble and glanced up. There was an enormous tree rolling alarmingly fast in my direction. I managed to jump up right in time, as the over-sized log rolled under my feet and down the mountain. Amused, I yelled “Za-shto, Roumen? ZA-SHTO???”. (Why Roumen? Why?).
He looked down and called out more sentences in Bulgarian that I didn’t understand, worried and confused at my inaction in the face of a clear warning. Yanko called up “Toy ne razbirii dobre Bulgarski!”. (He doesn’t understand Bulgarian very well). In Bulgarian, the conversation between the two parties continued. “What?” shouted Roumen. “Da, he’s American, not Bulgarian,” Yanko informed him. A short pause. “American???” shouted Rumen back down. His voice, incredulous, blew through the forest. “Then what the hell is he doing here?!?”. Yanko translated and we laughed at each other, which seemed to relax Rumen who eventually laughed himself. The cutting and gathering began again and wouldn’t stop until lunchtime.
The rain had stopped. The sun was peaking out of the white-purple clouds. We sat on logs in a semi-circle It was twenty past noon when Naomi showed up with pizza for everyone. We each ate our own pizza. Naomi giggled and pranced around. Yanko, Ivan, and the elf man enjoyed the show. Rumen tried not to, while the old Letcho just shook his head and grinned at me. Before leaving Naomi made sure to give Letcho a kiss on the cheek. Letcho turned even redder than normal. I kissed her good-bye and she waved to all as she frolicked down the hill. Rumen taking a sip of water studied my face. He tilted his head down the hill and in Bulgarian let out, “Oh. . .That’s why you’re here,”. The elf man finished his pizza, stuffing it into his fleshy face.
By four we’d filled the giant Vietnamka. That would be enough for today. Yanko, the elf-man, and I got to sit on top of the logs in back. The truck labored into the clearing. Although the rain had stopped and the sun was shining, the mud was still ample. As the truck shifted and slid to the left and then the right, I began to position myself half way onto the very back of the truck. If the truck was to flip over I could just fall backwards. I comforted myself with these thoughts as the truck tilted and groaned down the incline.
As we found more stable ground, I pulled out a cigarette and lit a match. It failed to light and I tried again. No success. Yanko moved over at me confused at my actions. He took the cigarettes and matches into his hands and opined “Look, in Bulgaria, man light cigarette like this,”. He took the match and with his wrist tight and palm facing downwards, struck a solid, straight bold line across the matchbook. “TA-KA”. He lit his cigarette. “Woman”, he continued, “light cigarette like this”. He held his wrist limply, flipping it forward, three fingers upwards as he completed his strike of the matchbook. “Ta-ka. Ti Razberash? Understand”. “Da, da”, I shook my head. “Now you, “ he said as he handed me back the book and smokes.
I took a match and cigarette and repeated as directed : wrist firm, solid striking motion downward. The fire moved from match to cigarette. “Perfect, da, da,” Yanko called out. “Like real Bulgarian man. Strong man.”. I enjoyed my cigarette and Yanko looked up the hill behind us. Then a branch came out of nowhere and smashed us in the face.