The bearded stranger had a grandfather (well, two in fact but we’ll focus on the one who travelled more). The grandfather travelled very widely, and wrote lots of books on his travels between the 1930s and 60s. There are many jewels in the books, and a few stories which fit the criteria for the bearded stranger’s stories. Here’s the first – and thankfully he didn’t also have a beard so he is just ‘the stranger’.
The stranger looked a little chastened as he left the bar: perhaps the guilt of having had a man fired from his job?
The evening had started as usual: I chose a man and sat at his table. Ivan was on the stage playing guitar, supporting the balalaika and the singer. I liked being in the bar in the evenings. Kranj, in those days, was hard-working and hard-living. The employees of the wood, leather and rubber factories needed to relax in the evenings.
I was happily married to Ivan so I didn’t want to sit at the bar, drink and be taken for a loose woman. No, I always chose to sit at a table with someone - and this evening it was a stranger, on his own, speaking English. He was passing through, riding a bike to Albania! We spoke, in French and some broken German, about gypsy music and other things. He said he certainly hadn’t been expecting a Russian culture here in remote Slovenia and I explained that many Russian soldiers were trapped in Yugoslavia after fighting for the Serbians during the War and had been granted pensions by the new government to stay. Then suddenly Ivan was there. The band hadn’t stopped but he was at my table: he grabbed the stranger round the throat, shouted in Russian – and hit him with a chair.
In an instant Ivan was on the floor in the sawdust, shaking his head after a mighty punch from the stranger. The bar’s owner came up, heard from Ivan that the stranger had been flirting with me (hah! Rubbish!). The owner apologised to the stranger and publicly sacked Ivan: ‘I’ve warned you often enough. You go tomorrow! Understand?’
What the stranger didn’t realise as he left the bar was that this happened very regularly. The next evening while the stranger was no doubt parking his bike in some other inn, Ivan was back on stage and trying not to be jealous if he saw me talking to another man.