First Chapter

Kosta Pastricheff was counting the aeroplanes flying over South Kensington. It was a delicate spring morning only slightly overcast. The forsythia in the corner of the garden was covered in bright blooms. Kosta was sitting on the stairs, barefoot, in just jeans and a jumper. An empty bottle of Becks lay at his feet and between his fingers a forg
otten cigarette still burned. Planes were flying overhead about every two minutes. The drone of each lingered until it merged with the noise of the next flight. He had counted over twenty. The sound reminded him of the wash of the sea. The windows of the house were wide open and a strong breeze carried with it the fragrance of old fags, swirling the thin curtains around like the veils of a drunken actress. In the dining room on the ground floor, there remained the detritus of the previous night’s party. It was getting on for eleven but Kosta was in no hurry to tidy up. He had the whole afternoon at his disposal.
Meanwhile, another three planes flew over.
A persistent ringing brought him out of his blissful equanimity. At first, Kosta told himself that there was no power that could make him open the door. Then he softened, realizing that such moods are bad for one’s curriculum vitae. He pushed the fag-butt into a gap between the tiles and unwillingly dragged himself to his feet. As he trundled across the foyer, the enormous crystal mirror balefully reflected his figure as if hurrying to expel his scrawny reflection from its gold-plated frame. The ringing began anew – this time shorter and faster.
“Coming, coming…” muttered Kosta and thought to himself, Fuck you!
A tall gloomy gentleman, wearing a greenish raincoat, suitcase in hand, jutted from the doorstep. Behind him, a black-cab was executing complicated manoeuvres to get out of the narrow little street. For a few seconds they inspected each other suspiciously.
“Who you are looking for?” asked Kosta in Bulgarian.
A bitter smile lit up he gentleman’s worn face.
“I am the new Ambassador,” he said, gazing at the bare feet. “And who are you?”
“Umm, me, well…”stuttered Kosta “I’m the cook”. (The ex-cook – the painful premonition transfixed him.)
“Very well” nodded the Ambassador. “Might I come in?”
Kosta mechanically moved out of the way; he felt an inexplicable chill as the man passed him. His faint hope that this was a practical joke arranged by the Bulgarian immigrants he had been hanging out with recently, slowly started to evaporate. The man put his suitcase on the floor, looked around and raised his eyebrows in disgust. The cook felt he had better say something first.
“We weren’t expecting you for another two days.” There was just a hint of reproach in his voice.
“It shows.” The Ambassador’s response was cutting and followed a glance into the dining room.
“If we’d known you were coming today…”
“I changed my plans.”
Then blame yourself thought Kosta.
From all those many years spent around the dining-tables of his so-called superiors, the cook had developed a special psychological intuition. Instinctively he knew that his new boss belonged to that extensive and many-branched cretinous family of jobsworths. Yet, there was something else, something behind this man’s idiotic glassy look, which made him unpredictable and dangerous. Suddenly, Kosta realized that this guy intended to settle here. Even more, this was his home now and he – Kosta – was about to become his servant. And that seemed infinitely unjust to him.
At that moment Kosta’s little son crawled up the stairs from the basement, which was occupied by the cook’s family. The child had escaped his mother’s attention and he was jubilant. Mumbling his baby talk, the child stood up and waddled adroitly towards the little table beneath the vast mirror. A frail object on the table had been annoying his primitive instincts for a long time. Kosta had unfortunately lost his former agility, gained through the practice of various sports in his youth. The little one grasped the table’s corner and quickly tilted it, whereupon the little porcelain basket, inventory number 73, crashed to the floor with an apocalyptic tinkle.
“Ding-ding” mumbled the little one happily.
“I’ll give you a ding-ding!” Kosta growled, suppressing his instinctive urge to bash him on the head.
The Ambassador looked on with a poisoned face.
“Child’s play,” muttered the cook unconvincingly. He grabbed the child with one arm and leaned over the balustrade. “Nora!” he shouted. There was no answer. “Norraaaa!” he repeated. “Come here at once!”
“Get stuffed up your shitty ass!” a harsh voice replied.