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  • Decent People
  • Garth Greenwell (bio)

But it isn't serious, he said, waving his hand at the snarl of traffic on the boulevard leading into the center, of course not, if it were serious we would be part of it, nie shofyorite, taxi drivers he meant, we would blockade the streets like we did during the Changes, everyone would be on strike. You could be proud in those days, he said, meaning 1989, when Communism fell, we were proud, we were organized. I was young then, it was a wonderful time. I could have left, he said, I could have gone anywhere, Europe, America, but I didn't want to go anywhere, I wanted to stay here. We thought it was the most exciting place to be, we thought we would make something out of our country, we had so much hope, do you understand, we felt so much hope because finally we were free. Free, he said, then sucked hard on his cigarette, turning to the window to blow the smoke away from me, we thought we would make something new but we didn't. It was the same assholes, he said—the word he used was neshtastnitsi, the literal meaning is something like unhappy or unlucky, the unfortunate ones—it was the same assholes who took over. It was still hot [End Page 654] though it was the end of the afternoon, people were heading home from work, heading home or to the center, as we were, where already protesters were gathering as they had all week, in the hundreds and thousands. I had been watching them on the news but wanted to be among them in person, it felt like something remarkable was happening or about to happen in this country where so little happens, really, which is usually so quiescent. I wanted to see it for myself though it had nothing to do with me, of course, it wasn't my country, would never be my country, I was leaving at the end of the term. But it had been my home, as close to home as anywhere else, and I wanted the demonstrations to be more than a momentary spasm, I felt the hope that some of my students felt, my colleagues, I wanted it to be real. What does it matter which party takes over, he went on, vse edno, they're all the same, they're all thieves, look what they've done to my country. The traffic moved a little finally, he gripped the steering wheel again, the cigarette burned almost to the filter between the first and second fingers of his left hand. I could have gone away but I didn't, he said, prostak, idiot, I've fucked my life. He was still a young man, I thought, or at least he wasn't old, maybe a few years older than I was, too young to talk the way he was talking. Too young by American time, I mean, different times pertain in different places. He was dressed like a young man, too, in jeans and a worn T-shirt, his face rough with two or three days' stubble and glistening just slightly with sweat, as mine was, even with the windows open it was hot in the car. He glanced at me every now and again, his eyes not holding mine. Vizh, he said then, look, I understand them, it's impossible to live a normal life in Bulgaria, I mean if you want to follow the laws, pay your taxes, you can't survive here and be honest, only criminals survive. I don't mean you don't go to expensive restaurants or bars, you don't have a good time, I mean you can't put food on the table, you can't have [End Page 655] a normal life. I want to live like that, do you understand, I want to live in a normal country. We had gotten past the Pliska Hotel finally, where all the buses stop, the traffic was heavy still but moving. So I understand the protesters, there need to be protests, this government needs to disappear—but there's nowhere to...


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