Four of us

Posted: February 17, 2014 in Four of us, Short stories, starts & writing
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Chibrituri Bucaresti

Part II

The story of the matches.
How we didn’t get caught I’ll never know. The focus of our hare-brained shoplifting sortie being food and liquor supplies, Chagas stood talking to the shopkeeper in the ex-State run grocery store.
“Aş… Ah… Dori nişte… Er… Tigara? Cigaretta? …Marlboro? Kent?”
Speaking the little Romanian he knew even more poorly than normal.
“Accepta… Ah… Dolari Americani?”
Buying cigarettes while we discreetly stuffed our pockets. And then a “diversionary tactic”. Or so we found out later. Meticulously planned and masterfully executed apparently.
~
Cash and goods changed hands. He massacred his way through thanks and a farewell, a carton of cigarettes under each arm.
“Mulţ… Er… Mult… umesc… În… ah… cântat.”
We prepared to make our exit. Then the crazy bastard turned and picked up a box marked “Chibrituri Bucuresti” from a neatly stacked pile in front of the counter and ran out the door. Through the slightly fogged window, the shopkeeper watched him run off towards the road. He looked at us a moment, seemingly unsure what to do next. A couple of stunned middle-aged women waiting at the bread counter stared at us from inside their drab grey headscarves and we were three bunnies frozen in the headlights.
“Stai! Opriţi hoţul!” the shopkeeper yelled, “Stop! Thief!”
And then he took off after Cha’, leaving us to our own devices.
Nursing the canned goods and bottles of hospital-grade vodka we’d expertly concealed in jackets and in pants pockets, staring in bewilderment at each other as Chagas and then the shopkeeper clattered out of the store. A moment later, as the sound of running footsteps began to fade into the distance, like a flock of birds all simultaneously taking flight on some unspoken signal Toy, Nik and I suddenly sprang to life and rushed out as well.
Fast-walking back to the car, flicking glances left, right, behind. Cha’ and the shopkeeper were nowhere to be seen. The rattling shop door banged shut behind us and a can of soup fell out of the bottom of my jacket and I accidentally kicked it under the car as I walked.
“Leave it. Get in the fucking car!” said Nik through gritted teeth while Toy fumbled with the keys.
Two men in gumboots and heavy, mud-splattered pants and jackets stood at a neighbouring store squinting behind cigarettes. As the can I’d kicked clunked over the gravel they turned to look our way.
Another two men, neatly dressed in dark brown suits, were walking our way and here and there along the opposite side of the road a curtain moved in a window.
The Lada moaned and complained as usual before spluttering to life, mistiming every few seconds. Toy got it to the point where it sounded like forward mobility might be a vague possibility.
“What just happened?”
“Where is that stupid bastard?”
“Just fucking drive!”
“Ah, these fumes!”
At a standstill, we each wound down a window for fear of suffocation. The gathering cloud of exhaust fumes combining with the growing fear that the shopkeeper would return or the farmers or suited men would at any minute storm over and drag us out of the car only added to our collective confusion over Cha’s actions.
“What about Cha’?”
“Worry about Chagas once we get moving!”
“Come. On. Bas-tard” chanted Toy.
The car threatened to stall. Big whine from the engine and then a lurching, bouncing escape on dodgy, creaking springs. No Hollywood spray of gravel or screeching tyres. The Lada probably never managed that kind of acceleration even when brand new. A couple of muddy splashes as we got back on the road was all.
A couple of miles down the road we turned left, bottomed out a couple of times on some rutted old goat track before pulling over. Deciding to go back, Toy crunched gears. About to perform a three-point turn.

Gravel road

Then someone knocked on the rear windscreen and Nik yelled.
I had visions of police in beige uniforms, nightsticks at the ready, painful beatings, lengthy interrogations and rotting in some Eastern Bloc prison for years.
A rear passenger door opened and a rattling box full of matches landed on the back seat next to Nik.
“You bastards wanna smoke?” said Chagas, bouncing on his arse into the car.
“How you like my diversion?” he laughed. “Fucking amazing, huh?”
“You stupid prick!” said Toy.
Cha’ laughed again. “We should drive now, yes?”
“Fucking unbelievable,” muttered Toy as he started to reverse, to turn the car around.
“Ah, maybe no that way”, cut in Chagas. “Maybe we go straight.”
“What’d you do?” asked Nik.
“Where’s this road bleeding well go anyway?” asked Toy.
“Away from this trouble” replied Chagas. “Now, who needs a light?”

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