Lovely cacophony of stories in which rats, aunts, goldfish, bourgeois bohemians and porters coexist absurdly but peacefully, Sozopol, Paris May 1968, love, revenge and what not. A delicate, yet fun and casual game of ambiguity. According to the writer Alek Popov, the book contains chronicles of the city girl, who talks with equal ease about Paris, London, Los Angeles, and her beloved Sofia: "One of the few cheerful readings, conceived in the troubled times of the Bulgarian transition, “ Brazilian Bush” charms with its apparent innocence and fresh sense of humor.”
Velina Minkova graduated in English language and literature with a major in creative writing at the University of California (UCLA). He is the author of the short story collection in English, Red Shorts. Her debut novel, The Green Amoeba's Report on the Ballpoint Pen, took us to an international pioneer camp in North Korea back in 1989, and then recalled the excitement of the first months after November 10. In 2016, the book was awarded in the Bulgarian novel translation competition of the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation and the Open Letter Books publishing house in the USA. Recently, the novel was published in French (under the imprint of the authoritative publishing house Actes Sud) under the title "The Grand Leader must come to see us" (Le Grand Leader doit venir nous voir).
Flora was the granddaughter of the downstairs neighbors. He was visiting them for Christmas vacation and we spent almost all the time together, sometimes at our place, sometimes at theirs. Her hair was cut short, but she assured me it would grow even longer than mine in no time. I showed her all my toys, books and collections. We were watching TV. Flora didn't know English and I was explaining to her who John Lennon was. They had killed him in America and the BBC kept showing films and shows about him. He was very handsome in the movie "Help!". They only played Beatles songs on the radio and I made Flora dance the twist and rock like I'd seen mom and dad do.
She wanted a Barbie doll that I had written a letter to Santa about back in the fall - the disco superstar in the shiny strappy cyclamen dress and diamond necklace. I had cut her picture out of a toy catalog. I couldn't wait for the day to come when I would see her under the tree. One day, however, Flora's grandmother took us shopping with her and bought it for her. Flora's grandfather was the ambassador of the People's Republic of Bulgaria in London.
At the end of the vacation, mom told me that Flora will stay in London and be in my class. - You will have a Bulgarian friend to go to school with - she informed me excitedly. – You will introduce her to the other children and help her with her English and lessons because she is new.
My school was rectangular and beautiful, with a roof garden where each class had a corner where they planted flowers in old pots. It was near us on Kensington Park Road and mum or dad would drop me off in the morning and pick me up in the afternoon. Then we'd pass through the newsagent's, where they'd buy me candy or chocolate, and go for a walk in Hyde Park to see the ducks in the pond. Mom and Dad would sit down for coffee in the trendy Serpentine restaurant, whose glass domes looked like half-open umbrellas on the outside, and inside it felt like you were in a spaceship from Blake's Seven. We were never in a hurry to get home. However, when Flora started coming to school with me, her grandfather's driver drove us in the black Mercedes in the morning and waited for us again in the black Mercedes after the lessons. I introduced Flora to my three best friends, the most beautiful girls I had ever seen: the Sudanese Ishraga, who seemed to be made entirely of chocolate, the Pakistani Shaista, with waist-length wavy black hair, always wearing silk dresses with gold threads, and the Indian Charu with skin the same color as the coffee with milk Mom drank in the morning. But Flora couldn't talk to them, so they didn't become friends.
At school, my friends asked me if Flora wasn't my sister, because we spoke in Bulgarian and because her grandmother had bought her elastic jeans and patterned socks like mine. I explained that she had recently been in London and that she was my downstairs neighbor. And that her grandfather and my father work together in the Bulgarian embassy. Then everyone was surprised - they didn't know that I was Bulgarian. If I had told them, they wouldn't have believed me. Like they didn't believe I was a princess. In England, cooperatives had names - ours was called Prince's House. I was sure that if I lived there, then I was a princess.
The prince just had to show up. However, the sons of the Queen of England - Charles, Andrew and Edward - did not look much like princes to me. How wonderful it would be if the prince was actually Bobby Farrell from Bonnie Em, dressed in a shiny silver suit, with a diamond crown on his head… To sing to me in a soft, deep voice and dance together in the dark among multi-colored disco lights, like Bonnie did Em" on TV.
We were all so excited at school – Prince Charles was engaged and we were soon going to have a real princess. In the summer he was to marry the lovely Lady Diana Spencer, he had given her an engagement ring with a huge blue sapphire surrounded by small diamonds. All of London was frantically preparing for the wedding. And Lady Diana was so beautiful that newspapers and magazines overflowed with her pictures. With Ishraga, Shaista and Charu, we kept collecting them and pasting them into special scrapbooks with the prince and future princess on the cover. However, Flora's grandmother did not buy her such an album.
Every morning the whole school gathered in the gym for a chant. Flora sat silently next to me while I sang in unison with everyone. Our teacher, Miss Simpson, called me aside one day.
– Sofia, why doesn't your friend sing with the others?
– He doesn't know the songs yet – I explained.
– Then maybe it would be good to take a book home and sing them together after school. Flora has made a lot of progress with her English thanks to you, so please help her learn the songs because the Easter concert is coming up.
Miss Simpson smiled at me and handed me the prayer book.
In the evening, after we did our homework, I made Flora sing with me.
Oh Mario Mario what
you will do with yours so thick
and priceless myrrh?
I will wash God's feet with him
and I will absorb it with my hair - said Maria.
– I will soak it up with my hair.
On one of these evenings, her grandfather's head popped through the crack in the door we had left open.
– What do you two sing? – he asked us without a smile.
– We are getting ready for the Easter concert at school, Grandpa – Flora explained. – Sofia helps me learn the songs.
– Wonderful – said the ambassador in an even voice. - Sofia, come on, it's getting late, your folks are probably waiting for you.
After the Easter concert, my dad told me that I would be moving to a new school. The old one was very little, and I would no longer have a Bulgarian friend, since Flora was going home to Bulgaria at the end of the school year. In the fall, I was going to start at a bigger and nicer school in Chelsea, where all the Bulgarian children from the embassy went. A van would pick me up from home and bring me back in the afternoon. Dad had already seen the school and assured me that I would really like it.
– Dad, I have some English friends here, plus I have to play the xylophone at the next Christmas concert!
– You will be better at the new school, you will see. It will be easier for mom and me too, we won't be taking you and picking you up every day.
I cried to mom.
– It was so nice when you and dad would pick me up after school and walk home. Why can't it be like that again when Flora leaves? I begged. – I don't like riding in the black Mercedes anyway, its seats are like made of human skin!
– Mom, enough is enough! – My mother laughed, but it seemed a little forced. - You are already eight years old! You can't cry about things like that, you're not little!
No matter how much I begged them, ours didn't want to hear any more about my old school. May came, I went down the main staircase and ran my fingers over the cool lacquered bricks of the wall for the last time.
Daddy was right. I really liked the new school. It looked like a castle from the time of fairies and knights. The entrance was of gray stone, above it, in a globular ornament, was written: "Established in 1897." It was also only a street away from the apartment where Lady Diana lived before her magical wedding and before she moved into Kensington Palace, near my old school. Now like a real princess.
The courtyard was huge, divided into two by two ancient portals that read "Boys" and "Girls" respectively. In one section, the boys bled their knees in match play, and in the other, squares with numbers in the middle were painted on the tarmac and the girls played checkers during the breaks.
On the first day of school, Miss Freeman, our teacher, smiled at me. In the classroom there was a huge aquarium with a piece of clear jelly in it. Dots that looked like black lentil beans were evenly spaced across the jelly.
“They will soon turn into tadpoles,” Miss Freeman explained to me. – Tails will grow from the dots, then legs. Then we'll go release them in Hyde Park's lake.
We went to the gym for chanting. I sat like Turkish on the floor with my new classmates. In the middle of the first song, a teacher tapped me on the shoulder and called me aside. He took me to a classroom where all the Bulgarians we traveled with in the van were sitting and reading, playing games or talking to each other.
– You know most of the kids here, right, Sofia? the teacher asked me. - And that little girl over there is Anna with her brother Sergey. They are from the Soviet Union. And this is Jaroslav, from Czechoslovakia. I'm Miss Skelton. Call me if you need anything.
I looked around the room with narrowed eyes. Alexander, a tall and thin ten-year-old Bulgarian boy, came to me.
– We were just wondering where she was – he told me with a frown. - Everyone started looking for you, do you think you're a princess? But you're new, we should have guessed that you'd be good at singing.
– Why aren't we in the lounge with everyone else? – I asked in amazement.
– You are very dumb. We are on the socialist side. We don't believe in God and we can't sing religious songs.
I could hear the students singing in the distance. They were rehearsing for the Christmas concert. I sat alone on the sidelines and wondered if the new school had a xylophone.
We are three kings
from the Orient, we come with gifts
through rivers, fields and mountains, following the star that shines in the sky…
Miss Skelton took us around the classrooms after the chant.
We were served lunch in the canteen. There was a shortbread with strawberry jam for dessert. Sadie from my new class, a smiling girl with slicked back short blonde hair and golden freckles, giggled at me:
– You have jam on your nose! It's all red!
And handed me a napkin.
After classes I stood by the fence of my new school on Sloan Avenue and waited for the van from the embassy together with the other Bulgarians. My home for Ishraga, Shaista and Charu. Alexander ripped me off and I told him he was a dumb bastard, but otherwise I didn't talk to anyone. I watched the double-decker buses pass each other down the street, huge flying blobs of bright red.