NO MAN'S LAND
no-mans land, past barbed wire and watchtowers, plagued by an over-resourced
backpack and a defunct travel guide, I thought that this is perhaps the
most audacious act undertaken in my unadorned suburban life.
since my infant toes were strong enough to sustain an optimistic
lunge towards the unconquered third bookshelf, maps have fascinated
me. Our household atlas sports telling scars from sudden sojourns
to the shag. For a three-year-old it was just heaps of colours and
stuff. The real bewitchment lay with the lines. Finger-tracing,
you unwittingly traversed mountains and deserts, continents and
seas. Meandering lines doglegged like bad golf shots. Parabolas
arced across the top, dotted ones in between. Bold black lines segregated
colours like some exhaustive painting-by-numbers masterpiece.
the time I was eight, I had a pet chook and country. I knew all the geographical
stats of Somalia and would startle my Scrabbling brothers with Mogadishu
on a triple word score. Duly, I trivialized to unsuspecting people about
world capitals and subsequently remain single and avoided.
The aching demands of teenhood came as a welcome panacea. Acne, cricket
and fart jokes absorbed great slivers of my time. The twenties passed
with only occasional travel-shop double-takes and with my first 501s and
a monstrous tub of hairgel, opposition sex were, if not finding me irresistible,
at least occasionally interesting. I managed to wangle ones attention
for the good part of four years, with only intermittent references to
global townships. So it was that, some time after we took a drive
and had the talk, I found myself nervously addressing the
bold black line divorcing Turkey from Bulgaria.
I had never crossed a border on foot before.
Indeed, my worldly detritus was four spanking new passport stamps and
membership of the Air New Zealand Junior Jet Set Club.
I surveyed my frontier. Manning it were two decidedly dodgy looking officials
armed with large machine guns and really big moustaches. Midnight
Express and cavity search dogged me in Vegas neon as
I approached with the one forward, two back waltz of the shit-scared.
Meer Harber, my most proficient phrasebook greeting with clasped
Merhaba, grinned Mustapha One stamping my passport so vigorously
it sprung staples and scattered scrawny crows skywards.
Alihas muladik. He waved me westwards with a bristly smile.
I gushed, Gooly gooly, and scarpered into the void.
Smiling I went and smiling I would come again. Albeit with a distinctly
Courage is not listed amongst my assets. It has never manifested itself
unannounced in a crisis and fails to get a guernsey on my CV. Consequently,
strolling no-mans land, past barbed wire and watchtowers, plagued
by an over-resourced backpack and a defunct travel guide, I thought that
this is perhaps the most audacious act undertaken in my unadorned suburban
life. Behind lay the roaring raki hangovers of Turkey. To my left, Greece.
Home of the nude discus and forever a synonym for dubious sex and a nice
summer side-salad. Ahead on this anonymous road contained within the bold
black line of my childhood atlas crouched Bulgaria, land of
as I tragically informed Betty Garagounnis during a critical courtship
moment, the capital of Sofia.
I expected all manner of Communist paraphernalia. Tanks, red bunting,
big hats. Alternatively, disappointingly, a fat man reclined in a pokey
"I bored. Ees boring job. Fiftee levva a weeek to park my substanshal
arrss on thees splinta-ridden chair. Mee an amachyure dramateest and undeescovered
rock-god manning thees bluddee boring border
EVVA SINCA MY BABEE
BOOM BOOM...I FINDA NEW
.ahhhh, what ees thees?"
I approached with the swagger of a man who has negotiated minefields.
Having toyed with the Mustapha twins, surely Boris was a doddle.
Gday. My winningest smile. I knew bugger-all Bulgar.
He looked at me still reclined. A cold fag slung, maybe forgotten, maybe
tomorrows, from the side of his mouth. Boris did not smile.
I handed over my passport which he examined like a boy unleashed on his
first girly mag. An agonizing display of scrutiny and bewilderment highlighted
by a wonderful Marlon Brando cigarette-lighting cameo.
Puff. Pause. Flick, flick. Exhale.
Why do yoo cumming to Bullgaiiireea?
Diplomacy is on my CV. Wedged firmly between "hard working"
and "punctual," it has enabled me to stay free of public bar
I have heard so much about your wonderful country, I thought Id
take a look. Rila Monastery, Black Sea, the Danube.
The names rattled off my tongue like fond schoolmates.
Puff. Pause. Exhale.
Where do yoo going now?
These questions were un-nerving. Had I been suddenly flung into a Monty
Python scene? I mentally prepared a favourite colour.
Because its the capital and I thought maybe a good place to
I will vouch my Thomas Cooks on the former. The latter was the pure conjecture
of early panic. Pausing again, Boris angled his outstandingly big hat
back with a stubby finger before announcing dramatically, There
are verree bad man in Sofeea. Yoo know
. ..Mafeea. They rob yoo,
mug yoo, maybee eeven keel yoo!
Panic set in concrete. Dread is a word deserving of more syllables.
Puff. Pause. Scratch, scratch.
I was concluding border duties to be weekend rehab for Bulgarias
unbalanced when Boris abruptly hurtled forward and endorsed my lonely
passport with the bureaucratic flourish of misplaced officialdom.
But yoo going Ostrayleeana. Yoo going and see our beyewdeefull cuntree.
Maybee one days, weeth luck, yoo getting to tell grandkeeds about our
He handed me my book beaming. His mouth revealed missing teeth, the cigarette
resuming benign status in its corner, a theatrical prop.
Thankyou, I blurted pathetically.
My pack suddenly felt way light. The marble chessboard, a regrettable
bazaar bargain, no longer backhoed my skeletal shoulders. I felt a man
pardoned from menial duties like a clerk chucking a sickie on a beachworthy
day. Striding away, I turned and shouted, Purple!
Boris gave me his best quizzical James Dean.
My favourite colour is purple!
Tramping the road toward Sofia the sun embracing my head, I thought I
heard birdsong carried past upon the wind.
"...ITS DOWNA THE ENDOVA LONNALEE STREEET CALLED
© RICHARD NOBLE
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