When two worlds cofront one another
This article is a short story by Vladimir Mitev, which was written a few years after Bulgaria’s entrance in the EU and represents realities from the times of the first decade of the 21th century in Sofia.
Everyone loved Bachy Kiko. Amateur porn with him in action had gained nationwide popularity. Slavi and Godgy1 turned our protagonist’s name into a byword for a sex athlete. Student City2 got very eager to have a drink with the Pleven native. And to take off his clothes. Fame caught up early with Bachy Kiko.
He was only 24. He’d been driving a taxi in Sofia for two years and until recently he hadn’t thought too much about the future. However, notoriety brought about changes. “What is it that I really want in my life, ” Bachy Kiko asked himself quite often. “What more than “beans, bread and bangers”?
The porn actor wasn’t in any rush. His nights were changing to days as he kept steering the wheel. “I’ve always wanted to be behind the wheel, but what I’m really into is the wheel hole,”3 Bachy Kiko often confided in conversations with colleagues on the taxi rink. Meanwhile, he kept scoring, occasionally, down the student dorms.
One Saturday, just after he’d finished a tripe soup in the “Grosh”4 next to the Winter Palace5, another Sofia toff got in his car. “Block eleven-hundred, Lyulin,”6 the man said, with a pronounced commanding tone. He had his long hair tied in a braid, and a beard that seemed eternal. Down below was a mantle and a pair of jeans. It was winter.
The customer instantly lit up a cigarette in the car, and Bachy Kiko gave him a warning – no smoking at the workplace. He also pointed to the sign on the dashboard.
The bearded Renaissance type continued smoking imperiously. Did anyone really say anything? Or did the Creon air freshener just drop another dose of compressed, flavoured air?
Bachi Kiko was no mug and was not ashamed to repeat his request. He had the Dacia Logan on a so-called lease – paying 30 lev a day for it, filling it up with gasoline for another 15-20 lev, maintenance and insurance were separate. For most of his working days he could hardly break even. Life was fucked if the token of success was money. That’s why Bachy Kiko held other things dearer to his heart. For instance, decent relationships between human beings. It was a damn shame on the part of some stuck-up Sofia citizens to think that he was forever in their debt.
“I said, no smoking in here. Please, put out your cigarette! ” Bachy Kiko said in a nice and respectful manner.
The smoker exhaled smoke straight ahead. For a few seconds the cloud wrapped the front seat and Bachy Kiko’s head. He choked. It wasn’t just the smoke. The situation was turning into a conflict. Or it could, potentially.
“Was that a bit hard headed or what”, he thought. This is some kind of an old-timer cunt; I’d better put up with it and get out of here. Yet, deep down Bachy Kiko felt something else – the pride of a man AND a citizen. A European. He decided on a more sophisticated approach, good humoured, supportive, and well, firm. During his time in Sofia he’d learned a few lessons:
“This cab conforms to European standards,” he said playfully. “We are from Eurodrift and our cars are smoke-free”.
Bachy Kiko masked his irritation with a wide smile. He brushed his teeth regularly with Aquafresh, but some of his canine teeth still had a yellowish hue.
“You smell of garlic, makes me wanna puke,” said the customer, looking away.
They passed the walls of the Theological Seminary. The civic conscience of the nation had “Volen, you son of a bitch, slayer of Bulgarians”7 written on it.
The self-assured smoker smiled gloatingly. Bachy Kiko saw that smile, but he thought his customer was sneering at him. True, he HAD eaten a tripe soup and loved it with garlic (and very hot as well). For a moment he felt embarrassed. He was wearing the company vest and a white shirt. Shoes were polished. But he had not been able to erase the bad breath with “Orbit for kids”.
It was quiet inside the taxi. Bachy Kiko remembered how they used to drink during long breaks in high school, and then mask their breaths with chewing gum. Nobody ever made a fuss about it. Now someone did. Bachy Kiko loved Sofia’s lessons and he was indeed grateful. The Beard had finished with his cigarette and was now reading from some sheets. He had taken them out of his black bag. This man was dressed all in black.
A fine cloud of cigarette smoke inhabited the inside of the car. Bachy Kiko opened the window slightly so that the smoke could come out, yet keeping the heat inside. His irritation passed.
The car cruised along Bulgaria Boulevard. Then sought a deviation to the right for the Lyulin district. The road was in the usual state with quite a few bumps and holes. Bachy Kiko maneuvered through them in the style of a veteran driver. He’d seen it all. He once slept with 120 kilogram Macedonian girl from Prilep. Now nothing could scare him anymore. He had survived in mass brawls that involved tables and chairs in the Pleven pubs. He had hacked with knives in front of night clubs all over Northern Bulgaria. He’d been attacked by junkies in Sofia. How could this pompous ass bother him?
Bachy Kiko remembered some of his exploits and his courage came back. But at the same time he felt sick again.
Just another Sofia stuck-up prick he was giving a ride to. Back in his seat he was saying something in English on his phone. It sounded like a conversation between serious people. Bachy Kiko, however, saw that the nearly 50-year-old man behind him was just soft shit. If he’d ever got in the company of Kiko’s mates, the Sofia inflatable would have ended up bursting like a real estate bubble.
On the inside Bachy Kiko smiled at the thought. A girlfriend of his, a real estate agent, had told him about those bubbles last night. In turn, Bacho inflated her bubble regularly. She screamed wildly as it burst.8
“Let me ask you something. Do you vote? “The peacock asked him with a kind of warmth in his voice.
Bachy Kiko was a bit stunned. He wasn’t expecting any more talk. He glanced at him in the rear-view mirror. Was he just taking the piss? Bacho paused a little. Then he said,
“I voted when I was 18, cos I was interested in what it was like to cast your vote. Haven’t done that ever since”.
“Don’t you have any preferences?” continued the warm voice.
“They’re all the same to me. Whoever they are, things are just getting worse.” Bachy Kiko said, sounding like an intelligent conversationalist now.
“Do you drink wine?”
“I drink wine, vodka and beer, whiskey and tequila,” Bachy Kiko said. He now felt in his element.
“Can you distinguish Bulgarian wine from French or Spanish wine?”
Bachy Kiko laughed. The guy was poking at the issue of simplicity again. Kiko didn’t care though. He wanted to keep things simple and to actually BE a simpleton. He had realized that a long time ago and had embraced it as his own creed.
“I can’t even see the difference between Northern Bulgarian and Southern Bulgarian wine, let alone that!?”, Bachy Kiko replied, getting down to the level of his interlocutor’s familiarity.
The customer paused. After a while they arrived. The bill was 12.95. The man handed 13 lev and left. He didn’t say “Bye,” or “Drive safely”, or anything. Not that Bachy Kiko expected it. Just wished him a nice day and looked behind him.
He felt that he’d missed something, as it normally happened when he talked to intellectuals. Something happened, but he didn’t know what. This man was weirder. Pompous ass, but something more perhaps. Or less?
A week later, Bachy Kiko was at a friend’s house. She was a good and quiet girl who loved the company of funny man Bacho. Her mother was a dentist, and their home was full of new magazines, which then found their way into the dentist’s office downstairs.
Bacho was leafing through “Power”9 magazine. He liked its covers. This time there was a stylized dick on the front. The text below read “The Balkans keep their secrets.” Bacho turned the editorial page of the issue.
“Each country and region has their god, their demonic power that makes things happen. In the US, these are debts and consumption. In Germany this god is organization and order. Russia is driven by faith, idealism and natural gas. In the Balkans, the demonic power is that of the dick. Here all the culture and democratorship are spinning around the knob. “
Bachy Kiko liked that. He’d thought of the same thing. But it was all too far-fetched, so he turned the page. Nice big photos, deep highbrow texts. Jesus…!
The face of the Sofia toff was looking at him from page 32.
“Zheni Danev: Civilization is the ability to see the difference,” the title of the interview with the unruly smoker said.
Bachi Kiko read: “This is not a nation, but a flock …”, said “the famous political scientist, “… dead meat, with mouths reeking of garlic and tripe soup.” Further down, it became clear that Danev was knowledgeable about many different cuisines and wines that he had lived and studied in the West, in Oxford, back in the 1970s, and he’d always had problems understanding the peasants at home …
Bachy Kiko had heard and seen people like him before. There was a lot of stuff that became clear to him about the conversation in the taxi. Bachy Kiko had no words or thoughts, but he understood everything perfectly. He carried on reading.
“It’s time for Bulgaria to leave The Orient and the Asian way and to live in Europe,” the great thinker revealed another insight. “I did that 30 years ago, it is now the time for the Bulgarian people to do the same,” the article continued.
Bachy Kiko agreed that Bulgaria is an eastern country. Sometimes he spat and got annoyed at certain inadequacies, stupid people, and so on. Still, what was so bad about our way of life? ”We live quite well, we are just poor,” Bachy Kiko thought. He remembered a favourite character from the Slavi Show – Gatso Batsov.10
The Mezdra footballer had this to say, “I’ve done my job. The cabbage is in the drum, the cheese in the barrel, the missus – pregnant. I’ve done my work. All that’s left is to concentrate on the booze. “
It was the quintessence of life not only for Gatso Batsov but also for Bachy Kiko. He’d seen some of his scholarly friends struggling and denying themselves in the name of their careers, the money. As if money was gonna buy you happiness. If Bachy Kiko had an extra 100, he went to have a drink with friends. He once spent three grand on a night out with the gang and the whole of the “Plaza” club in Student City. Yet he was only the moderate type of libertine…
And what had his educated pals done? Some of them reached their dreams, got stitched up to a smart and pretty woman. Their lives turned into an endless long-distance run under the watchful eye of the girlfriend and wife. Bachy Kiko did not understand these guys. They sacrificed everything and got nothing. Made no sense to him at all.
Bachy Kiko was thinking hard. He felt uneasy, his head started spinning. He didn’t do that often. No point in doing it and he knew it. Suddenly he winced.
He’d got the hump with this Danev guy and his loser antics. In the taxi and in the media.
… Bachy Kiko’s girl was still having a shower. Later he would take her to the pub and drink with friends. Inside that establishment chalga music would be pumping.
But Bachi Kiko wasn’t happy. He looked at Danev’s ugly face from the photo in “Power”. He understood everything and nothing at the same time. Danev can never score with one of my girls, my lovely chicks, Bachy Kiko said to himself.
He stood and looked out the window. What’s worth doing with my life, he brooded. What’s worth doing at all?
The taxi was waiting downstairs, covered in mud. He had to wash it.
Bachy Kiko himself felt unclean. He realized life was very, very nasty. All mud and dirt. With run down roads, horrible cunts smoking in your car and talking about civilization and Europe. Grimy.
“I’ve got to take a shower”, Bachy Kiko thought. “Today you give them a fast ride, tomorrow they give you a slow ride, in a black car,” he remembered the wisdom of a fellow driver from the Slavi Show.11 He smiled. He was both cheerful and sad. But when the girl stepped out of the bathroom, he gave her the widest possible smile. She was thrilled – at least one man around her seemed care free. That’s why she loved him. And forgave him all the other things.
Bachy Kiko slipped naked in the shower.
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Read in Bulgarian language!
1“The show of Slavi” is a TV talk show, which is being aired on the private national bTV. It often takes the stupid and ridiculous to the state of grotesque. The host of the show is Slavi Trifonov, Godgy is the bass guitar player from the orchestra, who plays the role of the best friend of Slavi within the show and the two of them often exchange words in front of the cameras.
2The Student City is the quarter of Sofia, where student dormitories are placed. It is considered as “quarter of the sin” by other citizens of Sofia, because a lot of discos, bars, casinos, etc. function within the quarter.
3Such phrases were circulating in the Student City
4”Grosh” was a restaurant with cheap prices for the people. It no longer exists.
5It is the Winter Palace of Sports, where people could skate on ice and various national and international sport events are held.
6The way he says the numbers makes a reference to the way numbers are pronounced in the American military.
7Volen Siderov is a Bulgarian politician, leader of the ”nationalist” party ”Attack” who is often associated with pro-Russian attitudes
8An obvious reference to Bachy Kiko`s sexual might
9In Russia existed a magazine with the title “Power” (Vlast, Власть) in the moment of writing of the short story
10Gatso Batsov is ”a man of the folk”, who is known to have one passion in life – to be a football player for a third-division non-professional football team in his town of birth Mezdra – close to Vratsa.
11This ”fellow driver” is Shisho Bakshisho, who is notorious for his depressive mood and dark humour