Fine Evenings

Piotr Kofta
  • Bonobo
    Warszawa 2004
    120x190
    239 pages
    ISBN 89-9203-887-8

Fine Evenings is a set of contemporary stories, full of warm, ironical humour, about love, loneliness and lack of fulfilment. Cigarettes smoked while waiting for better times to come along, chance conversations that can no longer change anything, running away from yourself, thinking back on lost opportunities and the coils of inevitable necessity none of it has to sound tragic or exalted, because it happens to everyone, not just the chosen few. Every one of us wanders to his own end of the world and seeks a moment of respite at the close of day. In the evenings reality loses its sharp edges. Things that seem important lose some of their gravity. Things we give pace and purpose recede into the background. Sorrow becomes comical, yearning seems futile and passion merely temporary. In exchange there’s room for melancholy and a touch of satire. In the evenings it’s easier to come to terms with the world, though painfully enough, the world doesn’t gain any value because of this it just goes on being the same.
The main population of Fine Evenings, people who evoke the author’s greatest sympathy, are those who can’t find a place for themselves in today’s reality convinced it’s not them, but the world that’s gone mad the depressives, the lonely, people who epitomise impracticality, or are over-sensitive.The longer story, “Night shift”, should immediately be made into a film. It is the literary diary of an insomniac intellectual who delivers pizzas to flats at night and sees a whole human menagerie: unhappy lovers, neglected women, petty crooks and common yobs. There’s a beautiful romantic story about a Slovak pub where each of the regulars identifies with one of the stars of Real Madrid, and the unlucky exhibitionist who appears in two stories is a masterpiece. Not a single one of these sixteen stories is weak. I can truly say that Kofta has passed all the tests with flying colours and deserves to be called a writer.

- Marek Mikos

Piotr Kofta (b. 1973) sociologist by training, teaches at a college and does independent social research. His work has been published on the Internet under the pseudonym “Mr Szpicer”. Fine Evenings is his first book.

Excerpt

I left the small town of W. on an afternoon in May. The bus climbed a narrow road deep into the valley. There was a fresh packet of cigarettes in my pocket and all I could think about was what would happen when I finally got out I’d breathe in mountain air and tear the wrapping off the cigarettes. The bus went through a village where apparently a very famous priest was born, but I was too caught up in my craving for nicotine to take much notice of this piece of information. Finally the bus rattled along to the very end of the village, drove round a small asphalt square and stopped. I threw off my backpack and walked slowly down a muddy road along a stream, blowing out clouds of acrid smoke. After a while I turned down a skinny little path that crept up hill towards a beech wood. As I hopped across the stones I lit the next cigarette off the first there’s nothing in the world like a nice climb fortified by a little tobacco. Humming a tune I reached the wood. The sun was battling its way through the branches and young leaves, so a luminous twilight prevailed, a peaceful blend of brightness and gloom, typical of some churches and old beech woods. A cool wind was blowing from the valley as I walked along, marking the path with the tracks of my old shoes.
After an hour, maybe an hour and a half at a lazy pace I sat down on a fallen tree trunk. I was wondering what other means I could still harness to help calm my soul. I’d already had a long journey, a climb, the cigarettes, the beech wood, and my monotonous pace. In principle the only things still left were vodka and reading. I didn’t feel like reading, because I’d befuddled my brain since early that morning reading cheap colour magazines on the train. So that left vodka. The odour of fermented pine needles wafted around me, and I knew it would be a good complement. I took a bottle of Slovak slivovitz out of my backpack and a plastic mug. Propped against the rotting tree trunk I drank the vodka in small sips and closed my eyes as it slithered down to my stomach.
Then I poured some more vodka into the mug and drank it up again, apportioning myself large helpings of the modest bottle.
At this time of year the wood was all Chartreuse green in colour, and the leaves were so tender that they wilted after only a few seconds between my fingers. Bits of pine cones massacred by squirrels crunched beneath my feet, ants were holding their totalitarian games on the path, small beetles were rolling along balls of dung, and crickets were hard at it in the grass. Everything was in its place.
There were still about five kilometres to go before the pass, but I bumbled along slowly, like a Galapagos tortoise clutching at the fleeting seconds of life. I was enjoying them, tasting them, tossing them up and spinning them out. Seconds are rarely flexible, but if you really try hard, you can force them to be. The spring sun was beating time for me, still making the utmost effort to hold itself above the tops of the surrounding hills, though at any moment it might come crashing down. Here, at a slightly greater height, May had only just brushed against the wood; the wild fruit trees were only just sending out the germs of their flowers, and their leaves were small and shrivelled like newly born creatures. It was getting cooler and cooler too; the vodka had stopped circulating in my veins and I felt pleasant goose bumps that went running over my entire body, making themselves apparent in various unexpected places.
At last, in a broad clearing just below the top of the hill I caught sight of a shelter  a small building painted green, not exactly wood and not exactly stone. Grey and white smoke was rising from the chimney. Outside the house stood a Russian sport utility vehicle and a sad, frustrated dog of indeterminate shepherding breed was loitering on a chain. I went inside. At a small window marked “Meal Dispensary” I ordered a bed for the night, some bigos and beer. I also bought a packet of Caro cigarettes. As I was eating the sour, fatty bigos dusk fell. I lugged my backpack to the overnight dorm, took my mobile phone out of the top pocket and shoved the backpack into a corner. I took the beer and went outside the shelter. There wasn’t a trace of the day left, night reigned everywhere. There was a scent of evening herbs, burnt firewood and petrol on the air. I opened the packet of Caros, sat down on a bench and took a swig of beer. On the next bench two young guys were struggling with a bottle of vodka. The bottle had a feeder attached to it, which made it hard to drink straight from it, so they were spitting and snorting. They introduced themselves as “the lads from Lublin”, which was good enough for me. We had a polite conversation about ways of forcing feeders. After a while I wanted to be on my own so I went off along the familiar path down the slope through a young copse. Groping my way in the dark, I reached a clearing where there was a triangular cairn made of piled stones.
I crouched in the grass and lit up. The sky was cloudless and I recognised the familiar constellations. Some sort of flies were buzzing in agony in the bushes, otherwise total silence reigned  the kind of silence that only exists in the imagination.
I felt an ant crawling under my trouser leg and wandering up my calf. When it reached my knee it hesitated. Or maybe it wasn’t the ant I could feel, just a particular touch of air caused by the ant gently bumping into the hairs on my leg. I was already tending to think of the ant as a hallucination, when quite out of the blue it bit me. I automatically jerked my leg, the ant vanished without trace, and soon after so did the bite too. The air was soft and dark. At the expected time the mobile started bleeping.
I raised it to eye level. There was a flashing envelope symbol on the shining green screen.
I pressed the key and a message appeared. I pressed the key again and read:
“NO”
I switched off the mobile and lay on my back in the grass. I love fine evenings.

Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones