Dust for Plums
A Bulgarian Folk-Tale in Translation
There was once a man of some means, living in a small town together with his only son. It was hard work, raising a child on his own, but the man loved his son and thus did the best he could for him. The boy soon grew into a handsome young man, kind and capable of taking care of the old man’s livestock and household.
Recognizing that it had come time for his son to find a companion of his own – a woman to take care of him and their home – the old man decided to marry him. Afraid less his son makes a mistake and marries an unsuitable, spoiled girl, the old man decided to take the task of choosing the bride himself.
As soon as the next Friday – a market day – came about, the man amassed all the plums his orchard had born him that season in a cart and spurred his two horses towards a nearby city. There, he was sure, he would find a kind, beautiful woman for his son.
Half the day the man traveled, entering the city just around midday. He clambered down the heavy cart, tying the horses securely before opening the sacks of plums, displaying the luscious fruits. It being the busiest time of the day, he did not have to wait long before he was surrounded by people, all poking around his goods and inquiring the plums’ price.
“How much would you like for the fruit, old man?” someone called and the man smiled, standing up from where he had sat beside the road to rest.
“The price?” the man mused, “Why, dust, of course.”
Stares met the old man’s words, then mocking murmurs. ‘Why, the old geezer has lost his mind!’
Even so, the women quickly returned to their homes, sweeping up whatever dirt they could and hurrying back to the man with baskets and bushels full of grainy nothingness. Who, after all, was to refuse an offer like that?
The old man did not disappoint – carefully measuring how much dust each woman brought him and giving her the same weight in plums. Many pretty girls passed by his cart, yet he did not bother to remember their names or ask them their address. None of them seemed suitable for his son.
By the time dusk smoked the skies, the man’s cart was considerably lighter – the opposite of his heart. Deeming the day a failure, he began packing his belongings and reading for the journey home.
“Excuse me, but are you still selling plums?”
The man turned towards the voice, smiling at a young girl as she emerged from the night, a handkerchief tied in a knot dangling from one of her hands.
“Yes, my dear – but I am afraid you won’t be able to get much with what you have brought. Not that there is a lot left – if you had come earlier, I may have given you more for your trouble.”
The girl smiled and extended her hands, offering him the small pile of dust, “Oh, I know, mister. I could not come earlier, since there was too much to do around the garden and mama and papa are too old for such chores. Also, that is all I could find in our house, after searching for hours – there is simply not much dust at home.”
Smiling in return, the old man spoke, “I have to go back home now – it is getting dark, and my son is bound to worry. But I will return tomorrow – won’t you point me your home?”
The girl did so, and the old man loaded her arms with all he had left in his cart, departing with one last wave at the surprised girl.
He was finally content.
Notes: rough translation