Manolis’ Mopeds

A selection from the novella

From all of us at Asymptote, we’d like to wish you a happy holiday season, and to thank you for reading us this year. We look forward to 2014 where we will continue to publish new literature from around the world. Today, as promised, please enjoy a short excerpt from Jan Henrik Swahn’s novella Manolis’ Mopeds, translated from the original Swedish by the author himself.

Manolis remembers his first moped, all red except for the saddle. One day it will come to life again.

He bought it after his years in the military. He had never saved up for anything in his life before; never had any money. Brought up during the famine, had seen the earnings for a week’s work change owners for a beer and a packet of cigarettes.

To be honest, his first thought had been to buy himself a donkey. Donkey or moped: quite a decision. A donkey lives longer, it gives dung, it keeps you company. A moped can go out of order anytime, it needs petrol and it’s hard to lean your head against it. Why then did he actually go for the moped? Was it because of the beautiful red color?

All his grown life he has worn blue clothes. That’s his color, no discussion to be had. And arriving at a bouzouki club, you just can’t come up riding a donkey.

But somewhere there is another Manolis: he who didn’t bother about the moped and chose the donkey instead. He had saved a little money; the parents contributed with a farthing or two just before passing away; and then he could ride his donkey when heading for the most remote houses, trowel in hand.

He gives that other Manolis a thought now and then. Imagines seeing him from a great distance, high up in the mountains. He has reached his third donkey by now; one of the very few that still can be seen on the island. It’s roped to a tree offering some shadow, because it’s better to tie up your donkey than to have to walk around and look for it.

On the other side of the tree there is a little house, also under restraint, because it hasn’t expanded, grown bigger. Some cats, some tomato plants, some olive trees.

The old donkeys, one day they will come to life again.

* * *

Manolis has reached his fifth moped. He is glad that he chose to have a moped. It has got a saddle all right: you don’t have to put the saddle on or take care of it, and that’s one thing less to bother with. If you forget about it, it won’t starve to death. And when you feed it, it always accepts the same fodder. Small black puffs of smoke are all that it puts out, when he forces it up against the wind. The helmet is slipping, it’s too small; the vibrations from the saddle and the handle-bars keep the body in shape.

Five mopeds in all. If he had gone for donkeys, he should have reached his third one by now. Donkeys are troublesome animals, too clever for human beings.  Some say they are mean, others that they are stupid. It takes time to break them into wearing a saddle on their back; they roll on the ground to get rid of it. If they don’t want something, there’s nothing you can do about it.

Mopeds can be wilful too. When they get sulky like donkeys, neither blows nor kicks help, they won’t budge, forelegs and hindlegs closely together – as if the donkeys had been put down with a crane – head lowered towards forelegs, like a statue standing there, as if moulded to the earth (earth and animal moulded in one piece). The choke, the choke – won’t help. So, you don’t want Manolis to work today, do you?

A man who speaks to his moped. But you can’t appeal: it’s no use threatening, to try for discussion is senseless. He stands gesticulating, throws the spanner to the ground, curses. The moped doesn’t move a muscle. A moped is a moped, and Manolis is Manolis. The best is when, by some strange coincidence, they want the same thing. The moped wants to drive, and Manolis wants a ride. But sometimes they want different things, and then nothing on earth can make them want the same thing again; in other words getting the moped to want the same thing as Manolis, in other words to give him a lift, because what’s the point, with Manolis starting to behave like a donkey, refusing to budge? Nevertheless, that happens, too. Manolis drops the cloth and refuses to go on trying to start the moped. And then it suits the moped just fine to go on refusing to start. The day turns into another day. The sun is setting, and just as the evening wind passes by, the spares in the trees begin their shadow play on the white-chalked oven wall.


Top image cc / Nicole Hill‘s Flickr