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Sorry we missed your funeral, Viktor

Of all the people I worked with in Sofia, Bulgaria, I most fondly remember Viktor Viktorevich Zelenko.

Working for a special fund of the U.N., I met and mostly liked so many Bulgarian colleagues: Gleshkov, Petrov, Annie, Colia. So many others. But Viktor had the sunniest personality, the most friendly and the least dogmatic — which could be a problem, especially among the Communist faithful.

I can vividly remember being present when Viktor got into a furious argument with my counterpart in information systems, Marinev. One of the aforementioned Communist diehards, he was supposedly working with Viktor. When the argument reached a shouting stage, I stood aside. I fully expected fisticuffs to ensue when Marinev called Viktor the son of a White Russian dog. Viktor, to his credit, merely smiled, winked at me and we both quietly retired without bloodshed.

Mr. Zelenko and I had many insightful talks before, sadly, he suddenly died.

My wife and I along with a few colleagues were invited to his funeral — an event impossible to forget. It was January when we went to the service, dreadfully cold.

At the cemetery we were ushered into a bleak, gray concrete building. To our surprise there were several dozen people standing along the walls. In the center of the floor was an open casket. It seemed even colder in there than outside. Shifting from foot to foot in an effort to keep warm, we listened to some keening of the women present. After what seemed like an hour, a procession began around the coffin. The first woman to reach the coffin, wailing, leaned over to kiss the corpse. We followed around and I forced myself to glance in the coffin. That was not Viktor in there — a lugubrious jest indeed.

Astonished, we went outside and I found out we had to go through another long rectangular structure. Following instructions we began to walk down the center aisle of the building. Disconcerting to say the least, there were two long rows of open coffins propped up on either side of two walls. It was not pleasant. We hurried through, I never saw Viktor. As we left the building, there, pulling away, was a black hearse with glass-pane sides led by two black horses, with black plumes attached, to the gravesite, the widow holding onto the back of the hearse, sobbing. Requiescat in pace Viktor. Sorry I missed your funeral, you were a true gentleman.

Harvey Rupp lives in Ashland.

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