I heard about Ilie the Vulture from a work colleague from Buzau, proud to tell us about the personality that dominated his city’s landscape for 18 years, from 1924 to 1942.
The story did not make it into my coming soon memoir book, THIS LIFE, since it is not related to my family but is shocking.
Today, when the Internet is available for everybody to express their opinion and feelings, the people from Buzau wanted the whole world to know about their beloved friend; there are some articles about Ilie the Vulture, written by those who knew him. The key search words are “Vulturul Ilie” (Ilie the Vulture).
I added two pictures on my site (www.eliademoldovan.com/ilieTheVulture.html), with Ilie on the streets of Buzau taken few months before his death, and his sculpture in the Buzau train station.
1924, city of Buzau.
Adam, the bartender, was sad. It was Friday and his restaurant was empty almost all day. Fridays used to be a busy day. Not anymore. A few more weeks like this and he would be bankrupt. He prepared more food than he could sell for the day, but he wanted to be fair with his customers, and not keep the food from one day to another. The food would end up in his neighbour’s coop; at least his pigs would be happy.
Adam stepped in the little backyard of the restaurant. He was not tired, but still, he wanted to rest on the bench. When he opened the back door he froze. In the backyard was a huge vulture.
“Go away!” he shouted, and waved his hands menacingly at the bird.
“Ssssshhhasssss,” answered the bird, opening slightly his beak, then lowering his head.
The bird is deadly tired, and in no mood for a fight.
“What do you want?”
Nick, Adam’s ten-year-old son, joined his father in the door’s frame.
“Look at that, daddy.”
“It’s a vulture, and I think it is tired and hungry.”
“Give him food, daddy.”
That was a good idea. Who knows? Maybe this is providence.
“Bring the bag on the table, Nick.”
Adam opened the bag with the food prepared for his neighbor’s pigs and took a piece of meat. He threw it at the vulture’s feet.
The bird looked at it, and pondered for a while, then slowly lowered its head and took the meat, swallowing it in one shot.
With another piece of meat, Adam approached, keeping it hanging from his hand. The vulture did not move. When the man was two meters away, the vulture stretched his neck, but did not touch the meat, it waited for Adam’s move. The man let the meat fall at his feet. The bird approached and took it, swallowing greedily.
“Go back in the restaurant! It is dangerous!” shouted Adam.
“Ssssshhhasss,” answered the bird, stepping backward.
Nick clung to his father. “No, he is not dangerous. He is tired and hungry.”
Adam smiled. “How come he fell from the sky in our backyard?”
“Who is controlling the sky, daddy?”
Adam smiled again. “The Saint Ilie.”
“Let’s call him Ilie.” Nick tightened his grip on his father’s coat.
The bird approached the fence and stopped, almost propped upright by it, he was indeed deadly tired. After few seconds Ilie closed his eyes. Sleeping time.
Adam did not send Nick to the neighbor with the left overs. He had something else in mind.
Next morning, the bird was still in the restaurant’s backyard.
Adam approached, with the bag in his hand.
“Look, Ilie, let’s make a deal.”
“I give you food, and you help me bring in clients to my restaurant.”
Adam took out from the bag a piece of meat. Ilie did not move. Adam made two steps toward the gate exit to the street, then lost himself in the street, and came back after a few seconds. He repeated this movement several times. After a few minutes, Ilie understood and approached. Adam kept the gate open, waiting for the bird’s next move. This time Ilie understood more quickly and stepped into the street.
The restaurant had a post in front of it, with a horizontal bar at the top on which a panel hung that read: Adam’s Restaurant / Food and Beverage / Best in town
Adam put the food on the post.
Some passers-by, afraid of the big bird, crossed the street, watching the show from the other side.
It was a stalemate. Adam and Ilie both waited.
Now or never! thought Adam, as he approached Ilie, taking the bird into his arms.
The crowd on the other side vocalized their astonishment.
Adam put the bird on the horizontal bar. Ilie looked at the spectators with a definite sense of superiority before turning to the gift on the post, swallowing it.
Nick showed up. “Ilie is our friend now.”
“Yes,” confirmed his father. “Two or three more days without food and Ilie would have been dead.”
“Yes, Nick. We saved our friend.”
Adam lost no time and attached another panel under the existing one. Ilie the vulture is an honoured guest at Adam’s Restaurant, and he invites you to join him.
Right after Adam attached the second panel, Ilie agreed.
Adam’s business flourished. And Ilie became the mascot. Walking among the tables, he received more food than he needed. He became stronger and stronger, but was always friendly.
His life was not always easy, though. A newspaper accused Adam of taking advantage of his friend to promote his business.
The story went like this.
One day a lady came with her dog to the restaurant, early in the morning. Adam did not feed Ilie, since customers would do it for their amusement. The lady asked for a second plate for her dog, put the plate on the floor, and shared half her meal with her pet.
Ilie recognized the food on the plate on the floor was for him and approached. The little dog jumped backward, scared, and barked furiously. Ilie was not bothered and swallowed the dog’s portion.
The lady complained, hysterically pointing her finger at Ilie.
Adam came, and when he understood what happened, took Ilie in his arms and threw him in the street, shouting for everybody in the restaurant and the street to hear:
“There is no room in my restaurant for bad customers.”
The lady got for free as much food as she wanted for herself and her dog.
And the story made the news in the city.
Ilie was furious. That kind of treatment was unacceptable. With his feelings hurt, he walked the street up and down in front of the restaurant, vocalizing at each turn, “Ssssshhhhhasss.”
Then he decided that Adam needed a lesson. The market was only one hundred meters away. Ilie was more used to walking than flying, so he walked to the market, balancing like a duck, his feathers fluttering in the wind, voicing his displeasure. He was a celebrity in the city and well-recognized; some people made room for his angry marching while others laughed or whistled in disbelief.
And Ilie was greeted with cheers at the market. He had his fill for the day.
After a few days, Adam was worried that his clientele would thin, and he had to make peace with Ilie.
He went one evening to the restaurant’s backyard.
“Now look, Ilie. You sleep on my property, but you are all day long in the market.”
“Came back to the restaurant.”
“I apologize for the treatment the other day,” said Adam, tears in his eyes.
Ilie did not respond.
“Come back to my restaurant, Ilie.”
Ilie split his time between the restaurant and the market. Surprisingly, that was even better for Adam’s business. And for the market too! He was the city’s undisputed celebrity.
A merchant heard about Ilie and travelled all the way from Braila to Buzau to see him with his own eyes.
In Adam’s restaurant, the merchant saw Ilie patrolling between the tables, but avoiding to approach the new visitor. Ilie did not like the big cage near the stranger.
“How much for the bird?” asked the merchant when Adam came by to take his order.
“It is not for sale.”
But Adam’s heart sunk. He wanted to expand and needed money.
“Just name the price,” insisted the stranger.
And Adam named a ridiculous price.
“You got it!” said the man.
The people in the city were enraged when they found the reason Ilie disappeared. Adam had threats and the clientele in his restaurant thinned by the day.
But one evening, the whole city looked up to see Ilie flying high in the sky, returning to his friends. He landed in the backyard of Adam’s restaurant to the deafening cheers of the crowd who witnessed his touchdown.
One day, from high up in the sky, Ilie say kids playing soccer. He descended, aiming for the ball.
“Look up,” shouted one kid.
They all raised their heads and saw Ilie landing like a plane on the soccer field. Ilie took the ball that was left unguarded by the astonished crowd.
Aloft in the air once more, Ilie did not know what to do with the ball and dropped it back to the field. The kids cheered. Ilie landed on the horizontal frame of one of the nets.
When the kids resumed playing, Ilie watched the game with great interest. He decided he should be part of it, and the children whooped with pleasure when he joined. The bird swooped after the ball each time it flew in the air and most of the time he caught it, dropping it back on the field.
Ilie’s participation changed the long-held rules of the game. The children no longer cared who scored in net; rather, a point was awarded to the team who’s soaring ball was caught by the giant bird mid-air.
Ilie showed up from time to time to the soccer field. Sometimes the kids wanted to play the real game, and Ilie felt it, he did not interfere, but instead rested on that tall oak tree near the playground. When the kids were bored with the game, mostly when one team was stronger than the other, Ilie sensed that moment, too, and it was his time, all the kids against Ilie. They began kicking the ball higher and further, wondering where Ilie’s boundaries lay. Was there a threshold he could not surpass? But Ilie’s skills grew, meeting each challenge the kids kicked for him.
One day, the city of Buzau hosted a soccer competition for the boys in the 10–13-year age group.
== Tomorrow my blog will finish the story ==