I saw him at the statue of the Priest – he was the same old hippie from back in the day, wearing scruffy jeans and and a shabby jacket. He was now handing out leaflets to the passers-by. Without sparing a glance at me or even facing me, he shoved a sheet of paper into my hand, with a single word on it: “BeleNO”. I got it straight away – he was agitating against the nuclear power plant that was to be built in Belene.
“I’m a ‘no’ as well, sir!” I said. “No agitation needed here!”
He turned around and recognized me immediately, despite the thirty-five years that had gone by. Those very years that had changed me from the bushy-haired boy I had been into a bald bloke. I got jealous – time had been more merciful on him: albeit grey and thin, his hair was still in place. And he wore it long, just like he used to, but now it was tied back in a ponytail. He was as skinny as before, for Christ’s sake, while I had put on at least a few extra pounds.
“Hey, man!” he exclaimed, as if we had parted yesterday. “Where have you been!”
“Here,” I mumbled, wondering how to explain where I had been for that century since we had last seen each other. “I’ve been hereabouts and you?”
He moved to our class half-way through the second year of high school. They had kicked him out of some other school for ideological subversion: for playing a song by the Rolling Stones instead of a Soviet song at the very time when the headmaster was telling the students lined up in the schoolyard about the importance of the October Revolution of 1917.
“Why didn’t you say it was a mistake?” we asked.
“They wouldn’t have believed me…” he said. “No way!”
He had gotten his “last warning before expulsion” before he came to our class, but he didn’t give a damn. He stuck to his hippie style only to annoy the teachers – every so often they would send him to the barber’s to get his hair cut or order him out of the classroom because he was wearing jeans. He played tricks on them – he would slick his hair back with sugar pomade and wear his school uniform only for the checks at the front door which the headmistress herself carried out every morning . Then in the break, he would put his pair of Levi’s back on – in his words these were not just “blue jeans”, they were a symbol of freedom.
“We gotta be free, people!” he used to say in front of the whole class and then demonstratively take off the red tie that was part of our uniforms, as if freeing his neck. “They’re all about crew cuts, uniforms and obedience, but that’s not gonna happen!”
His name was Dilyan, but when called that, he would correct people at the spot: “Call me Dylan!”
He declared that also to our homeroom teacher, who taught math.
“Are you pretending to be American then?”
“Yes!” he replied in a calm voice. “Like Bob Dylan…who’s against the war in Vietnam and sings for peace! I can sing some of his stuff for you if you want…”
Now he got her to shut up – as if she, the old maths teacher, had heard of Bob Dylan! But how could she speak against him, he opposed war and praised peace after all…
“Go to the barber’s, why don’t you?” she insisted, so as not to give in. “And off with that hair, covering your ears!”
“Bob Dylan wears it even longer,” he replied and unrolled a poster of the bushy-haired singer. “He is coming to the Crimson Poppy festival – here, in Bulgaria or so I’ve heard… What then, are you gonna send him to the barber’s, too?”
At this point the teacher got totally flustered and turned back to the blackboard and to her theorems. Later, my classmates and I kept cracking jokes about that line about Bob Dylan and Crimson Poppy (“Man, how did that even pop into your mind?”), while we were lighting up at the smoking spot behind the school.
Rock music made us closer – we liked the same bands. I started going to his place after school and we listened to his records – he had a cool collection and a great Philips record-player with an amplifier and loud speakers that were very high-tech for the time. His parents worked as doctors in Algeria. They were the ones who sent him all those pairs of jeans and records. He lived just with his grandma – a quiet old lady. His room was all covered in posters of his favourite bands – the moment I went in there, it felt like being in a temple with all my heroes around me – Mick Jagger, Robert Plant and Ian Gillan. Not only did Dylan follow the news from the rock world, he played the guitar and translated lyrics – his English was good, he had taken English classes since he was a child. He would recite his translation of “Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” by his favourite Bob Dylan, while accompanying himself on the guitar: Hard rain’s gonna fall… He never liked his translation and kept telling me that Bob Dylan’s poetry sounded very powerful in English, but it was very difficult to find the right words in Bulgarian.
“But I keep looking for them, so they’ll come eventually… They’ll come with the wind, because the answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind,” he would begin with another of Bob Dylan’s songs, trying to imitate the characteristic rasp in his voice.
Once we went to “Monteto” – a place not far from Baba Nedelya Square, where nowadays the National Palace of Culture is. There was a desolate open-air stage with some green benches – a spot for hippie music freaks to hang out and small-time crooks to deal in records and tapes. We wanted to move some of Dylan’s records or exchange them for new ones. Tough luck, though! Suddenly, we were rounded up by the cops and then taken down to the police station. They released us, of course, but first shaved our heads and sent a letter to the school. I got away with it (I had nothing on my record), but Dylan took the rap – he was expelled from our school.
That’s when we parted ways – he enrolled at the evening high school, while I had to give up my rock music interests (as a result of parental pressure) and take private math lessons to get a better overall grade. And then: entry exams, two years of military service, university… Life’s carousel was spinning fast – it was a real carnival. Dylan and I lost track of each other in the chaos, split between commitments and new friends. True, we met by accident a few times – he was always in the company of the same girl, whom he introduced to me as Jo – just like him, a skinny, long-haired hippie, wearing jeans. Even from afar you could tell they were crazy about each other – those two were joined at the hip and would kiss right in the middle of the street in defiance of the passers-by.
I can remember vividly the last time we met – it was springtime and the trees were in full bloom. Once again, I saw them together at the statue of the Priest. With the yellow dandelions braided into her long hair, Jo was floating like a hippie fairy through the grey crowd.
“We got married!” explained Dylan enthusiastically and drew his fairy even closer to himself. “We’ve just been to the city hall, so now we’re off to Sozopol for our honeymoon week.”
Those flower children – they looked so happy! I wished them even more happiness – and so we parted…
…only to meet him again, in the next century, at that very same place – in front of the statue of the Patriarch. He was now handing out leaflets with an anti-nuke slogan.
“Ditch the leaflets, Dylan,” I suggested. “Let’s go get a beer.”
He agreed at once, dropped the agitation for a while and we went to a pub called Under the Pinetree – a place that was well-hidden in one inner yard and offered draught beer.
“I remember running into you on your wedding day,” I started from where we had left off. “How’s family life going?”
Maybe that wasn’t the right question – he glanced at me and said curtly: “I’m alone.”
“I’m divorced, too,” I replied, hoping to cover it up. “Such things happen in life.”
“Jo passed away.”
“I’m sorry. My con..”
“It happened a long time ago,” Dylan interrupted.
He took a sip of his beer and began to tell his story – I didn’t even have to ask.
“Once we got married, we left for Sozopol. It’s the end of April, there no crowds, the town is quiet and empty. We are all alone by the sea, the trees are blossoming, the air – intoxicating. We are high on this bliss of love, sea and pink locust trees. We wander down the coast – mainly along the scenic road down to Kavatsi – we lie on the sand at Paradise Bay, drink champagne, go down to the pound nets and splash in the water, sunbathe at Kolokita Cape, where, I tell you, man, the rocks are so high that you’re on top of the world… Such blissful days, the best time of my life!… So, how could I know that these days would be the most fatal, too.”
“Because of the rain. The warm spring rain caught us on the beach. Instead of finding shelter, we flung off our clothes and made love on the surf – in the splashing waves, under the falling rain.”
Dylan fell silent. At the table nearby, two rugged men with tattooed arms and necks were discussing Eurofootball in a loud voice – they were trying to predict the outcome of the game between Arsenal and Chelsea. The one was for a home win, the other one – for a draw. Double trouble – those two were both into tattoos and lotto.
He cast a quick glance at them – they were just an insignificant detail in the whole picture. Then he went on, his voice tinged with pain.
“Later we found out about Chernobyl. We were out there in the rain in eighty-six, on the first of May… That was heavy rain.”
“Hard rain’s gonna fall,” I said automatically, as Bob Dylan’s song immediately came to mind.
“Radioactive rain,” Dylan nodded. “And no one warned us.”
He stared at his glass – the beer head was quickly melting away and was soon over. Wasn’t also our life over too soon?
“I had forgotten about that hard rain before Jo got ill. Cancer.”
A short word, but it left him breathless. He poured some beer out of his glass – a sign of respect for the dead – and so did I. The tattooed freaks were now discussing another derby – Manchester United were going down, while Manchester City were on the rise.
“Once I heard the diagnosis, I remembered that rain of eighty-six. That rain took Jo away from me… But why her, it should have taken me!”
“Listen, Dylan. There might be a different explanation.”
“Yes,” he nodded. “No one knows. The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.”
 A famous landmark in Sofia, the statue of St Euthymius of Tarnovo (called also simply “the Priest” or “the Patriarch”) is one of the most popular meeting spots in the city centre. St Euthymius was Patriarch of Bulgaria between 1375 and 1393 and led the defense of the last Bulgarian capital, before it was captured by the Ottomans in 1393.
 An annual music festival held under the aegis of Bulgarian communist party leaders.
 A seaside town on the southern Bulgarian Black Sea Coast that was popular among bohemians and people opposing the communist regime at the time.