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Maria had always dreamed like her mother of going on a trip to Paris. However, her first journey was not to that city, it was to a town (its name- really like Paris- was beginning with “P”) which was more remote and at the same time nearer than the French capital . This was the town of Prishtina. “Pri-shti-na” not like a Parisian’s caprice or like a fairy tale about a journey around the world but rather like a fearsome Russian "command" 1. Maria had to obey the order. Not because someone forced her. She had merely neither means nor a job. And the others who invited her to go on the excursion with them were like her. They had only understood faster than her that one should travel to Prishtina , not to Paris. They had told her what she should take with her on the trip.
Maria started packing her luggage together with her mother, who had packed hers for Paris many times in her dreams when she had put in the bag new clothes and things that people need on the road: a sweater, a dress, trousers, a jacket, a scarf, socks, a hat, gloves, a watch, a camera, a dressing-bag, sunglasses, an umbrella. They put the same things in Maria’s bag, except that every single piece of clothing or item was old, and its number was multiplied by as many as pieces they were able to find in cupboards and drawers. Only the camera "Fet" was one single piece. It belonged to her father who had died about ten years ago, having not lived long enough to enjoy the freedom to travel abroad and take photographs with it. A father keepsake was also the clock "Seiko". It was also like the camera- one singe piece. The camera worked , but the Seiko –did not. However she took it. The instructions were such, "Fill the bags and backpacks till they are overflowing, put on the rest of the clothes till you look like Barbapapa pulled on you like on a hanger.” The hanger was almost invisible, and Barbapapa was as big as a container.
Heavy with luggage and worries, Maria started for the bus. There was not place enough for the trash load in the luggage compartment of the bus, so Maria was buried under it in the way the entire corridor and all passengers were . They all were women. There had been no men long since .
The women travelled westwards, westwards from Sofia, westwards from Slivnitsa, Dragoman, Tsaribrod, Pirot- places praised by the Poet and consecrated by the bones of school-boys and students, grown up to soldiers and captains in few days with their eagle impulse to defend their nests 2.
To their nests now, the women had to bring bread, but first - German marks. This was their impulse - to reach the 100 –Mark-banknote with the eagle with the outstretched wings driven also by an impusle . Nothing would stop them: neither hundreds of luggage checks when the women had to take off the bus with hundreds of bags, nor hundreds of words of derision spoken by foreign customs officers, nor hundreds of kilometers on the dark November roads until they reached the harbour- the market of Prishtina.
The women placed the things on the ground and began to sell them for "the red" – the red banknotes of the neighboring country were called so in everyday language. Here on the market, buyers did not mock at the women as
the customs officers did at the state border. Sellers and buyers were united by the common concern to provide food and clothes for themselves and their families and did not think of derision. In an unnamed community they had gathered to exchange one thing for another . They traded directly, a handmade knit wool sweater at the price of 8 red banknotes would become food for the next eight days. This must have been the trade at its birth - immediate and fair- before it became a thing called by Ralph Waldo Emerson "Something bordering on theft."
The thief was already stalking Mary. Eight red banknotes were a lot of money. From the "Fet" camera and the "Seiko" watch some more red banknotes came, so she was able to exchange the earned “red” against the bill with the eagle and the silver cross bar. Mary was very careful about the eagle, but because of the excitement and strenuosity she did not check the bar. She saw it was missing after he had disappeared with her “red”- s with silver bars and everything else on them- above all- a lot of red. From weeping she became red and got to resemble the red banknotes stolen from her.
On the bus, the other women’s faces were also red but from excitement to take home the banknotes with the eagles.
Maria stared at the fields and mountains which got darker and more
threatening when they approached the border. They entered homeland.
1. A play on words: “caprice” in Bulgarian is “prishtiavka”- a word which sounds like the name of the town of Prishtina; “fairy tale” in Bulgarian (“prikazka”) and “command” in Russian ( “prikaz”) are also similar to “Prishtina” in their sounding.
2. The Serbo-Bulgarian War (1885 ) is meant, known as the war of captains (Bulgarians) against generals (Serbians); Bulgarian school-boys and students volunteered in the army, and the captains defeated the generals. In this war Bulgarians had to defend the unity of Bulgaria. “ The Poet “ is the national poet of Bulgaria Ivan Vazov.