And now our Rorschach blur spills into the building of the world’s worst-named airport, Vrajdebna. It means ‘hostile’.
At around that point, I began to suspect that something was wrong with us, or with where we lived. It was the mud. I watched my mother wash the pram from top to bottom every time we returned from an outing, because the mud managed to get even onto the pram’s roof. […]
I summed thing up with a cruel question one day, surveying from our balcony the concrete mudscape: ‘ Mum, why is everything so ugly?’
To which my mother couldn’t find an honest answer, except to hide her tears.
During the Olympics or other international sports events, we watched breathlessly as our gymnasts, athletes and weightlifters battled with the West for medals. It was a serious matter, and whenever gold or silver was won for Bulgaria and the national anthem was played, the whole nation shed a tear together with the long-suffering, steroid-fed medalist on the podium. It was a collective therapy: in those few minutes, before we were plunged behind the Iron Curtain again, back in the drab anonymity of the Soc Bloc, the world knew that we existed, and that we were good at something, and that was balm for a nameless wound.
The tiny apartments in the residential complexes tried to make ‘citizens’ out of the peasants and the Gypsies. Citizen, how proud this sounds, to paraphrase Gorky. But what they actually made was dispossessed peasant and displaced Gypsies. And in a double whammy, the native citizens, like my mother who was born and raised in central Sofia, were turned into ‘workers’ with no access to the pleasures of the city life. Youth was not a city. It was citizen storage.
The typical day of the young citizen began at 6.30 in the morning, a bleak and inhuman hour that seemed manufactured by the State in order to crush all intelligent thought.
‘Seeing you makes me feel seventeen again,’ Rado says. ‘Lately I’ve aged, emotionally and in every way. I mean, I’m thirty-two, and it’s happened so suddenly, don’t you find? Jesus, my friends are disappearing into nappies and mortgages, never to emerge again. I feel as if I bungee-jumped into a world of grown-ups where I don’t belong. No time of grace in the middle, no golden age.’
‘Maybe our golden age is yet to come,’ I offer.
He laughs cynically. ‘I love your optimism. But I don’t share it. No, I think our golden age was then. Of course we didn’t know it, we never do. But think about it, it was simple. We knew what we didn’t have, we knew what we wanted, and we went to get it. We wanted the world. We wanted to go and speak languages. We wanted carnal knowledge. And now we’ve done all this and complicated our lives beyond repair…Now we’ve lost our innocence. Oh, I don’t know…’ He prods furiously at the rice-stuffed lamb.
‘And now we don’t know what we want,’ I offer.
‘I don’t know what I really want. Do you?’
Am I sitting here with Mrs Middle Bulgaria: damaged, self-obsessed, provincial, hardened, handsome of face, blinkered of thought, selective of memory?
No, this is not my country. I won’t allow it. Someone please hand me a gun. I’ll shoot myself. But first I’ll shoot the Woman of the Camps.
Maybe I just need cup of tea and a lie down. This has been a long journey.