THE OLD MAN IN A STATION CAFÉ

Here’s a story by Konstantin Paustovskiy, one of my favorite Russian writers. This “very short” story introduces a longer one dealing with secrets of a writer’s creative work. The longer story has the title THE GOLDEN ROSE.

I couldn’t find THE OLD MAN IN A STATION CAFÉ in English, which is why I had to translate it and post it for the readers’ most critical judgment and (hopefully) approval. The Russian variant is supplied. I am also giving the YouTube address of a video I came across while browsing the Internet. The video is somewhat rough and not so romantic as the story. Anyway, it serves well to emphasize the beauty of the literary piece.

THE OLD MAN IN A STATION CAFÉ

by Konstantin Paustovskiy

Paustovskiy-1A thin old man with a prickly stubble on his face was sitting in the corner of a café at the train station of Mayori. Swishing winter squalls swept over the Bay of Riga. Thick ice gripped the coast, and from behind the raised clouds of snow one could hear the surf thundering against the ice flange.

The old man must have dropped in at this the cafe to warm himself. He didn’t order anything and only sat gloomily on a wooden bench, with his hands tucked into the sleeves of his unskillfully  patched fisherman’s coat.

A white hairy dog had come with the old man. It sat on the floor clinging to his foot and quivering from cold.

Next to his table a group of burly young men with reddened necks were noisily drinking beer. The snow melted on their hats. The melt water dripped into their beer mugs and onto the sandwiches Paustovskiy-2topped with slices of smoked sausage. But the young men argued about the recent football match and did not notice that.

When one of the men took a sandwich and bit into it, the dog gave up. It came to the man’s table, stood up on its hind legs and, in an ingratiating manner, started looking into the man’s mouth.

“Patty”, called the old man quietly. “Shame on you, Patty. ”Stop bothering people!”

But Patty remained standing. Her front legs shivered and she lowered them tiringly now and again. Each time her legs touched her wet belly, she braced herself up and raised them again.

However, the men did not notice the dog. They were engaged in the discussion and kept adding cold beer into their mugs over and over again.

The falling snow stuck to the window panes. A shiver ran down the spine to see the men drinking icy beer in such cold.

“Hey, Patty”, the old man called again. “Come here, Patty!”

The dog wagged her tail a few times as if intimating that she heard the old man’s words and apologized to him, but she could not help staying where she was. She did not look at the old man, she even averted her eyes. It seemed she was about to say, ‘Myself, I also know that it’s not good to beg, but you can’t afford a sandwich like that for me.’

“Patty”, whispered the old man deprecatingly. His voice shook. “Why are you putting your master to shame? Don’t I share my last piece of bread with you?”

Patty wagged her tail again and threw an imploring glance at the old man. It was as if she was asking him not to shout to her anymore and not to shame her, because she, too, felt awkward about all that, and she would never beg from strangers if she didn’t need it desperately.

At last, one of the men with high cheekbones and a green hat on his head noticed the dog.

“Begging, little bitch, aren’t you?” he asked. “Where’s your master?”

Patty wagged her tail happily, looked at the old man and gave a low yelp.

“It’s not right, mister,” the young man said. “You keep the dog, but you don’t provide for it. That’s what I call bad manners. Your dog begs! Begging is illegal in this country.”

The young men guffawed.

“You gave him the works, Valka,” said one of them and threw the dog a slice of sausage.

“No, Patty,” shouted the old man. His wind-battered face and his thin veiny neck turned red.

The dog squirmed and, lowering her tail, she went back to the old man without looking at the sausage.

“Don’t you take a single crumb from them!” the old man said.

He went rummaging in his pockets, got out a few silver and copper coins and started to count them on his palm, blowing off specks of dust that stuck to them. His fingers were trembling.

“So touchy!” the young man said. “See, how independent he is!”

“You just leave him. What do you have to do with him?” said another young man in a conciliatory tone pouring beer for everyone.

The old man did not say anything. He came up to the bar and put a handful of small change on the wet counter.

“A sandwich, please,” he said in a hoarse voice.

The dog was standing by him with her tail between her legs.

The saleswoman gave the old man two sandwiches on a plate.

“One, please,” the old man said.

“Take both,” the saleswoman said quietly. “You won’t bring me to ruin.”

Paldies,” said the old man in Latvian. “Thank you.”

He took the sandwiches and walked out to the platform. It was empty. A squall had just passed over, another was coming in, but it was still far away on the horizon. One could even see the sun shining weakly at the white forests behind the river Lielupa.

The old man sat down on the bench, gave one sandwich to Patty, wrapped the other in a grey handkerchief and put it in his pocket.

The dog ate spasmodically, and the old man talked to her.

“You, Patty. A silly little dog, that’s what you are! Now look what you’ve done, Patty.”

But the dog did not listen to him. She was eating. The old man looked at her rubbing his eyes with his sleeve. The wind made his eyes teary.

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One Response to “THE OLD MAN IN A STATION CAFÉ”

  1. rocca Says:

    What a beauty this story is! And the English translation of it! 🙂

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