All well and good, I lived between childhood’s charms and temptations until I was raised up as a girl of about thirteen. Then some people began to build the dam in our village. From it came all trouble in my life, I used to think with bitterness. Life has not been the same since then, and death moved from the city to mow at its own will among the elder or younger people in the village.
Before the dam was there, the river was impetuous and foamy like a horse ambling fast, getting loose from its balk. Almost every year floods covered up the entire lawn and even a small tributary creek puffed, bursting out of its otherwise gentle nature. When I had to go to the station, my grandfather piggybacked me, almost always joking that I held his neck too tight, for fear of slipping, and passed me over the waters. Village elders said that fifty years ago the river froze more than a meter wide and in summer they washed hemp crops into the river and caught big and sweet fish there. Those were story-like times before chemical plants blackened river, when waters were clear. Many years until the dam has been completed, villagers and others passed over the narrow bridge swung between two poles, sometimes making one shiver of fear. In time planks rotted, a few could be missing, and the iced ones in winter were a real danger to step upon. From time to time rumors came that someone had drowned there. The river also took its toll in lives of horses lost on an islet when their master could not find them. Wagons and cars went on a cable ferry gliding on a thick rope of steel. One Gypsy man was hired to spin the crank, guiding the “ship” from one bank to another. He slept in a mud hut on the village’s shore. The last one, Nicholas, was lost in the world from that village after the dam was raised. An additional victim.
Two engineers belonged to my family. One working in the hydropower area visited the village when I was still small. The second was my father. My father was a road engineer. One evening, sitting with us around the table, he revealed what he learned as a secret government plan, the fact that a dam was supposed to be built on the river and that the village there was to be demolished. My grandparents did not believe, but all of us were a little scared. The years passed and I found that somehow my father was right, nothing was there like before; the hidden paradise of my childhood is gone and gone are the locals and their orchards stretching towards the riverbed.
In the summer of 1984 there was the traditional “village sons meeting” and small, young and old, villagers and guests or children of the village gathered together, people willing to talk, listen to music and dance. We walked on a sunny day on the river’s meadow; I was among the youngsters. Dam works were already underway; I remember piles of gravel and rare green grass. But we, the children, had no worries. It was the first time I tasted beer, only a little, because they did not sell juices. The next meeting of this type came just after 27 years, when people, much less in number, came to the village on the road built over the dam. There was neither the boat, nor the footbridge where the boys used to annoy the girls by swinging it, from where some of them jumped into the river to swim. Our house located in the village’s end, was among the last ones to be reached by the old way; today is one of the firsts after climbing down the road from the dam. Once the cars did not reach until there, only traces of old wagon tracks got dry, together with cattle dung; children often walked barefoot there or made “cakes” while playing from road dust and water. After the dam was built, the wooden wheeled chariots were replaced by cars bringing relatives in the village, passing in front of our windows.
I saw her often when I was little. She was our deaf neighbor. She took water from the street well because she did not have one in her yard. With her largely open smile, stretching to the corner of her headkerchief and talking loudly. She wore the traditional folklore blouse. Sometimes I felt repulsion; I did not like her to kiss me on the cheeks. She was warm and generous, coming unexpectedly to our gate with her apron full of luscious and sweet golden pears, so wonderful. Our neighbors were few in number. Among these was the German cobbler, in whose house I tasted maybe too many sweets prepared by his wife. When I grew up, some village children, with whom I played in the evenings, proposed once an “adventure”: to go “stealing” pears from another neighbor. As a kind of joke, not in order to damage. I did not agree, but I could not spoil the mood of the others or renounce to their company. I watched them skipping the stone fence and running back scared of some dog and disappointed that the pears were too raw.
Then I heard the shocking news. One of that neighbor’s sons, a foundry worker, died boiled alive in the factory’s boiler. I remembered that death my whole life, it was an accident which can impress the mind of a child. I thought to myself the poor man must have suffered a lot.
The dam was completed after many years, in the nineties. My mother’s generation had left in great majority for living in the city. Only a few new folks have come from other places to settle in the village. One after another, old houses with crosses marks on the wall concealed the nests remained empty, with the windows shutters closed. For unknown reasons, the Gypsies robbed and killed the village priest. Another gang of thieves walked through deserted houses and looted the church. Then it was renovated and restored. One day I heard something that overshadowed me again: the river demanded its rights back. The old woman, our neighbor, who brought me luscious pears when I was a child, drowned in mud near the dam. God knows what she gathered there, maybe brushwood for fire or maybe she was lost thinking about the old world, where that place was filled with dry gravel and a wonderful backwater. I remembered the other neighbor drowned in the boiler of the factory where he worked. Both were folks from the village of the yesteryear, like us. And both drowned in something else, not in water.
Flooding did not stop after the dam was built, but now more trouble hit the Gypsies of the village, with their small huts and houses around another tributary of the river. Waters also destroyed completely the house of the former cobbler, where now dwelt someone else.
What have I left for myself? From what was there before, nothing. My grandparents are resting in the small cemetery. The area around the dam became a protected fauna and flora reserve. The riverbed is enclosed with barbed wire. On the shores of the lake came fishermen and they continue coming from different places. Unknown people bought land and raised new homes outside the village, near the lake.
Our house is one of the few houses built in between three wells. Now the cellars are dry, waters don’t get there anymore. I tend to believe that one day everything will dry up, except the river tamed now. The world is there quiet again, free from car engines or other sources of noise and dust. More clean air, the blue mountains in the distance growing bluer.