They all knew him although no one in Bałtów spoke to him and he spoke to no one. Maryan Skiba had served a prison term of eight years for killing his girlfriend, Zocha, because he caught her in bed with a city hall official. Maryan was a fisherman. After his release from the Lublin prison he returned to his former trade. There was a lake around Bałtów that had carp, pike, and tench. It belonged to a nobleman who permitted the fishermen to fish there for a fee. All day Thursday, and Friday until noon, Maryan would stand in the marketplace beside his tub of live fish. It was impossible to haggle with him, as he had almost ceased speaking. He muttered the cost and no one could get another word out of him. His price was slightly lower than the other fishmongers’ and he generally sold his catch. Sometimes when there were more fish than customers, the others lowered their prices, but not Maryan. It was said that he threw the unsold fish back into the water.
He inherited a hut not far from the Catholic cemetery and there he lived alone. Around his property he had built a fence so that the apprentice tailors and shoemakers who passed by on Saturdays with the maids and seamstresses on their way to the forest could not look into his windows. He kept a dog, a cat, a parrot, and a goldfish in a glass bowl. On the wall above his head hung a hunter’s gun, a sword, and the stuffed head of a boar.
Maryan Skiba, short and squat, had a square head that rested on his shoulders almost without a neck. His flaxen hair reached to the middle of his forehead and stood up like a hog’s bristles. He had a red face, a snub nose with flared nostrils, and round yellow eyes without brows. When Maryan came back to Bałtów the priest sent for him and tried to make him join the church, quoting from the Bible that the merciful God has pity on his erring flock. But Maryan replied: “There is no God.” And he refused further discussions.
The matchmaker Tekla Kalupek, a widow, tried to match Maryan with a girl from a nearby province, an orphan. Maryan listened to the matchmaker without blinking an eye. Then he said: “I don’t want to marry.”
“A man needs a wife.“
“I’m not a man.”
“What are you?”
Since then he’d been avoided by everyone. He, too, avoided everyone, even refusing to have any business with the other fishermen. If they spread their nets on one part of the shore, he went to another. There was talk that he copulated with a she-demon. Once some boys climbed over his fence and peeped through his window. They saw him sitting on a tree stump, mending a net. He seemed to eat only fish because he never came to any store to buy food, though he grew some vegetables in his garden.