Georgi Tenev

Georgi Tenev




Children of indeterminate ethnicity are playing at the end of the train car. One is holding a genetically mutated rabbit in his hands. The parents have brought the rabbit for food, but it also serves as a toy. Children are the hardest thing when traveling. Rado watches them with tired eyes that are red and dry from the dust and the oncoming wind. Up until a little while ago he had been at the end of the train car, with his head squeezed through the opening between the clattering rubber seals of the doors separating the train cars. Inside the train and outside of it, the air was equally unpleasant. With children, Rado thinks to himself, immigration is a nightmare. He recalls a quote from the Book: “Woe to those who are pregnant in that time.” He has neither child nor wife, he’s not leading a pregnant wife with him. He doesn’t expect anything and he doesn’t hope. For Rado, immigration is just a means of survival.

To write – he tells himself – this is what I have to do, that’s why I’m in this world, to record. Then he pulls himself up out of a painfully hunched up position, removes his notebook from his lap, sets down his pen, and stands up. His legs are stiff, they’ve gone numb. He’ll find himself some kind of pressing task for a change of position – look out the window, maybe, or straddle the urinal.

Something is hopping about in the corridor. The mutant rabbit has escaped from some RZE farm. After the merger of BMG and KFC with Volvo, only local resellers were left in the food industry, and one main chain that supplied them—RZE, the rabbit breeders. He himself hasn’t brought any live food. And his tinned food isn’t planned out well; there hadn’t been time for that. He had been a journalist for a long time, working for newspapers, most often as an reporter on-call. He got used to leaving suddenly and making unexpected trips for work. And now he had left that way again, without particular preparations, not as if for a final, transoceanic journey.

Barely a few days ago, when he reached the coast, Rado set out to buy a suitcase and to throw in his gear. On the coast he found chaos, speculation, and little choice in way of provisions. At the train station in Piraeus, a person selling vouchers was explaining that this might be the last express of the season. These were probably rumors – the black marketeers were trying to sell more tickets for the sleeping berths. In the commotion they would palm off counterfeit coupons with duplicate couchette numbers. Rado had heard of these things. He himself was indifferent to it; he could also sleep on the bundles of luggage. The hard thing was for families with children. Many of the travelers had parted with their last means, paying in gold jewelry and valuable antiques.

Rado patiently waited out the jostle at boarding and ended up in the cold third-class car. Instructions thundered over the loudspeaker, and from outside, a chemical odor could be detected, along with the puffing of engines. Shouts could be heard from the crowd on the platform, and from time to time, crying and shrieking, unpleasant and unclear noises. The resellers were offering everything at triple the price; there was no escaping it. Most of these swindlers were bankrupted farmers and impoverished entrepreneurs who had chosen this means to survive. A rough despair could be read on their faces, and a normal person wouldn’t try to bargain with people like this. All kinds of characters flowed into these coastal cities to earn their living from the black market. Europe was closed off to Asia, and the prices of fuel and transportation were rising. There wasn’t any market besides speculation anymore.


Now the train was already in motion, and it was better like this. Rado thought of the chancellor’s speech, remembered the last year before Nationalization. I have to write this down, he tells himself, to not forget the things I saw. “Europe should be abandoned. An express train is going to set out across the ocean, this is what’s left for us. But to finish building the line,” the chancellor says, “we need nationalization. First of all, a state monopoly on the railway enterprise…”

All kinds of different people were traveling in the train now. A lot of Italians had sold their collections of African bones in order to be able to get onto this train. This was still a stable unit of exchange; its demand had not decreased. The skeletons of Libyan emigrants, tossed by the currents onto the beaches of Sicily, were astonishingly white, like something synthetic, like plastic. For years on end, collecting and selling them had been a business on the island. Today it was mostly black marketeers buying them, who accumulated warehouses full of antiques and precious metals. These speculators were turning money into gold or other reliable resources. They were hoping that when the traffic started flowing again and the big wave came from the East, the Chinese would want bones like this. They’d need them for their rituals to tame the Mediterranean. They’d need the bones of local people be able to cultivate the spirit of the place with them. The Algerian and Libyan skeletons were pleasing to the touch, they had no residual odor, and they’d weathered well, polished by the waves. They didn’t weigh much, which would increase their price. “Just let the Chinese come”—this was the dream of those who were buying them and storing them. Those who are still looking for the means to leave said, “Let them wait just one more year.”

“Es tut mir weh!” cries a Swiss child. Someone has stepped on him, or he’s lost his mother in the corridor. The travelers in the train don’t pay any special attention to the child’s crying and shouting. Children adapt quickly, and their shrieks have become more of a defense mechanism against unfamiliar dangers. The children cry and stamp their feet before the surprises have even come.


backread “Bulgarian Roses” by Georgi Tenev


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