A text by the 2013 Sozopol Fiction Seminars fellow Momchil Nikolov
People still believe in the Devil and hope to see him in the whites of the convulsing epileptic's eyes. This time, though, something is not right. I don't know what, I just feel it. I get up. A plump man wearing glasses and a plaid jacket is helping me.
"Thanks," I say, "I'll be fine… It's just a regular seizure."
"No comprende," the man smiles.
A punk kid stands up and silently points at the plastic seat. His baby face is unusually kind.
I nod at him and slump into the free seat. All my muscles ache, the usual weakness and feeling of emptiness. An elegant lady is sitting on my right, dressed in a light brown suit.
"La bolsa, hombre," the man in the plaid suit says to me. He points at a large blue bag.
I shrug, unable to understand.
"La bolsa," the man repeats and picks up the bag.
Most of the passengers are looking at him. The rest are looking at me. The man comes over and sets the bag down in front of me.
"It's not mine," I reply, sliding it towards him with my foot.
"No, no," he protests, sliding it towards me with his foot. "Your bag."
A speech in Spanish follows, of which I understand nothing. One thing is clear, however – the man is absolutely convinced that the bag is mine. And I am absolutely convinced that it is not.
"The bag is yours, I am sure. You have drop it down," adds the woman in the light brown suit sitting next to me.
"I don't understand…I do not remember…nothing."
I have a terrible headache. I'm confused. I can't figure out why these people aren't speaking Bulgarian. What's going on?
"Proxima parrada Tarragona," a pleasant female voice comes over the loudspeakers of the car.
We pull into a station. People waiting, tiled walls, lots of billboards, graffiti. Everything is in Spanish. I feel my throat tighten. Where am I?
I briefly nurse the hope that I am dreaming, but everything looks too real to be a dream. The car soaked with the smell of a big exhausted city, the tunnel we're passing through, the people staring at me and the dark blue bag, hanging with its all-too-real weight in my right hand. The train stops at the next station, the third one after I have discovered that things are somehow happening in Spanish. I take a deep breath and get off. The punk kid with the baby face is in front of me. Across his broad back, an enormous x-ray picture of a hand is stamped on his grayish-black T-shirt. I follow the hand; a long stuffy corridor, the smell of trains, brakes and sweat, "No smoking" signs on the walls, cigarette butts on the floor, graffiti, the train pulling away, the people's faces in the cars, their last glances at me before they disappear into the tunnel: a young girl with big headphones and big eyes looks at me emptily, the gentleman in the plaid suit, the pretty lady in the brown suit. The train goes deeper into the tunnel, I keep on following the X-rayed hand. An escalator, smooth movement, the light is getting brighter, I feel warm air coming from above and several seconds later, I find myself in a large, crowded foyer. There are only a few steps left to the surface.
Upstairs the sun is shining. The air is warm and damp, though it is still early morning. I find myself in a smallish square. In its centre there is a colorful mosaic – a black circle full of spherical white, blue and yellow spots. It looks like a big, strange face, an alien artwork. I look around – six and seven-storey old buildings with well-kept façades and small iron balconies. On one of them, an old woman is smoking and reading her morning paper. Her cigarette holder is long, her newspaper is as big as a bed sheet. A few feet away from her – a metal Chinese dragon on the wall, holding a large lantern.
Nothing looks familiar. I have no idea where I am. I have no idea how I got here.
Every inch is filled with new information but I can't put any of it in order. I simply don't know where this place is, everything is piling up, snapshots of an unknown city. I pass by something that must be a bird market – dozens of different-sized birdcages – canaries, parrots, white doves, black doves, small colorful roosters, bird food, sharp screams, and a seller with a floor-length, brightly colored dress. In the middle of all that, Lord knows why, there stands an enormous mirror. I look in the mirror. To my horror, I don't recognise what I see.
The man I see has platinum blonde hair, a pierced nose and two silver earrings. On his shoulder there is a tattoo of a large Chinese dragon. It looks like Chinese dragons are a hot trend in this city because there is another giant dragon, this time orange, on the sleeveless light-blue shirt I'm wearing.
Someone taps me on the shoulder. I turn around – a guy who looks to be around twenty, dressed in a bright green T-shirt. He slips a small piece of green paper into my hands.
"Come down to our place," he starts in English, "Clean rooms, air-conditioned, with a bathroom and TV, free wi-fi, and the staff speaks English. And also, if you stay longer, we'll give you a discount."
I look at the green piece of paper. It says Hostel Marenostrum, followed by the address – Sant Pau, 208001 Barcelona.
"It's not expensive," the guy continues. "It's 25 euros a night, less than 200 feet away, right next to the metro station, across from the National Theatre, the room overlooks the Plaza de la Boqueria and it has a terrace as well, which is really nice at night, when the street artists…"
I'm not listening to him. I drop the bag to the ground and slump down next to it. I grab my head with my hands and squeeze it as hard as I can… "Are you feeling sick?" I hear the guy's voice… "Are you feeling sick…?"
I may have screamed, I don't know.
When I come to, the guy is already gone. I keep sitting by the bag and staring at the entrance to the covered market, which is straight in front of me. The passers-by, obviously used to such sights, walk by me in silence. About ten minutes later, two Scandinavian-looking chicks come up to me and stop. They're carrying a cardboard box filled with cans of Red Bull. One of them waves her hand in front of my face.
"Bad trip, huh?" the girl smiles at me.
"Very bad," I assure her. "The worst I've ever had."
"It'll pass," she tries to sound reassuring. Then she takes a can of Red Bull out of the box. "Here, drink this and you'll feel better."
I take it.
"Thanks," I say. "You're an angel."
The girls laugh out loud.
"There's a little party at Los Alamos tonight. Wanna come?" the taller chick asks with a blinding smile.
"It'll be nice," the girl insists.
I open the can of Red Bull and almost down it in a single gulp.
"Where's Los Alamos?"
Several seconds of tense silence follow.
"Are you kidding me?"
"No, I've never been there…"
The girls look at each other. They exchange some words in Swedish, Norwegian, or whatever language it is they speak in their icy country. Then, they look back at me. The taller one starts talking again, her words coming out slowly, I guess she's trying to avoid any misunderstanding.
"I think I've seen you at Los Alamos before. The bartender introduced us, remember?"
The two girls look at me expectantly.
"Linda and Marta," the blonde continues patiently. "The sisters from Malmö."
"Aha," I say, barely able to cover up my complete ignorance on the topic. "From Malmö… I think I remember now… Malmö… and how's life in Malmö?"
The shorter of the two girls pulls her sister's arm – nothing's going to come out of this, this guy here is either pretending to be nuts or his brain is so badly fried that he really has gone nuts. The tall blonde, though, doesn't give up. She takes her small backpack off and opens it. She takes out a camera and after flipping through the display, she hands it to me.
"Look at this."
It's just a regular picture, nothing special about it – Linda, Marta, some unfamiliar girl with beautiful Slavic features, and me. The stranger has her arms wrapped around me and her lips pressed against my cheek, while for some reason I'm grabbing Linda's breasts. We're sitting on high bar stools at a dark wooden bar, while the strange girl is standing behind it. I notice the blurry rows of brightly colored bottles and the neon sign that reads "Los Alamos." We all look pretty happy in the picture.
Linda is staring at me quizzically. I'm doing the same.
"Okay," I say, finally. "I'll come… Though I really don't remember much…"
The two of them nod sympathetically. Then Marta hands me another Red Bull.
"You'll be fine."
Linda sticks her hand into her backpack again and gives me some kind of flyer.
"Here, in case you really don't remember where Los Alamos is…"
I take a look at the flyer. It's decorated with a clumsy crayon drawing of a woman, vaguely reminiscent of Da Vinci's Mona Lisa. The difference is that the woman on the flyer has fiery orange hair, her eyes have been poked out and she has a beard. At the bottom right of the drawing, it says "Los Alamos," to the left – "Every night" and above it – "Escudelleres, 12 Barcelona 08002."
"There'll be some of Pancho's absinthe again." Marta gives me a wink.
"Thanks," I say. "I'll be there."
The girls leave and I'm on my own again. I look down at the drawing on the flyer. It looks familiar. I slip it into my pocket and get up.
Momchil Nikolov was born on 16 September 1970. He graduated in medicine, but for the past 15 years has primarily devoted himself to writing. He has published eight books: Travelers, Short Stories, Fragments of a Room, Mad Doris, Hash Oil, The Top Floor, The Spherical Fish and Machinery for Love. All of Momchil Nikolov's books have gone through multiple reprints and enjoy wide popularity among readers and critics. He has won numerous literary awards, including the most prestigious prize in Bulgaria, the Helicon Prize, for The Spherical Fish. In addition to literature, he also writes screenplays.
Enjoy our fiction pages.