1989: NOT YOUR COMRADE ANYMORE, An excerpt from an essay shape
A text by the 2017 creative non-fiction Sozopol Seminars fellow and CapitaLiterature participant Ana Blagova
I remember kindergarten as a gloomy and depressing place – now that I think about it, as the place where the groundwork was laid for out future participation in society. Yes, it was where those wondrous bridges of spaghetti appeared, glued together with water, flour, and salt, and the bright-colored fruits of our labor – apples, pears, and carrots, made from the same mixture, which we painted in industrial quantities and laid out across mini-stalls built from crates, pretending to play "marketplace." But even when it came to that subtle exercise in planned economy, there was something forced about it. In the afternoons, the teachers would make the rounds, inspecting the neat rows of beds for any offenders – I can see you're watching me with one eye open – during the mandatory shut-eye time between 2 and 4 in the afternoon. Once, during roll call, I accidentally got into trouble with the comrade teacher. "Why don't you reply when I call your name, huh?" she turned to the beginning of the row, after repeatedly having asked whether Anna Blagoeva was there. "But I'm not Anna, I'm Ana. And my last name is not Blagoeva," I answered quietly, but with a certain firmness – I'd recently learned my full name. In my child's mind, it seemed quite possible that Anna Blagoeva was another person altogether who hadn't shown up to kindergarten that day. But the comrade teacher yelled at me to stop trying to get attention. That's how I figured out that besides my real name, I also had to keep in mind what she called me.
Of course, the teachers were not personally singling me out. They hated all the children equally, for no particular reason. But in order for the terror they caused to be real, their actions had to also be somewhat arbitrary. Which is why, out of all the children in the kindergarten, they only liked my brother, a plump-cheeked and whiny three-year-old. One day, he fell down and split his chin open, causing a state of emergency. The ambulance sirens were followed by mom and dad's arrival, and he was taken to get stitches before nap time. It was more than obvious that in that crucial moment, I had to be in the hospital with them and couldn't be expected to take an afternoon nap while my brother was bleeding out! But the teachers were completely coldhearted.
All that is why that other day, which must've been in November, was strange. As we crowded together in the obligatory lines to wash our hands in the bathroom, a certain excitement was felt, an excitement higher than the usual frequencies. The boys were practicing their habitual peeking through the bathroom stall windows, but it seemed as though their mind was elsewhere. We all must have been distracted by the way the adults were behaving. They didn't seem to care that the rows of children leading to the sinks were disordered and noisy. It was all so unusual that I decided to step out of the line and approach one of the teachers.
"Comrade, what is happening?"
To which she haughtily replied, "I'm not your comrade anymore. From now on, you'll have to call me miss!"
It seems to me that the color pink appeared with the fall of the Berlin Wall. In any case, I don't remember hearing of anything described as "pink" before that, let alone of anything actually being pink. It was one of those words, together with "super" and "market," which suddenly appeared all over the place, but surprisingly enough nobody questioned, as if they'd always existed. In my mind, this bright and unfamiliar hue will always be connected to a certain event: on the occasion of my first day of school, and as a way of commemorating this new period of my life, mom handed me a special gift. This object, which I without a doubt considered to be very valuable, was in fact a pencil sharpener with a white tin cylinder-shaped receptacle for the pencil shavings, on which tiny pink pencils curled like pretzels were depicted. It was an exquisite thing, and I inferred from my mom's words that my success in life would be directly correlated to keeping the sharpener in proper shape. I stayed true to tradition and, of course, never used it – I didn't want to wear it out, and I never brought it to school, since my pencil case wasn't big enough and the sharpener would've gotten scratched. Just like the new vegetable peeler at home that would never be used, or at least not until the old one with the broken handle was completely wrecked, so that the new one might remain for the progeny to inherit. The only difference was that the pencil sharpener would be mine and mine alone.
ANA BLAGOVA was born in 1984 in Sofia. She graduated from the American College in Sofia, obtained a degree in psychology from Sofia University, and then continued with cultural studies in Berlin, Istanbul and back in Sofia. She has worked as a journalist at Dnevnik since 2014.
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