Everywhere, people are subject to the same forces in life, regardless of their faith, culture and social status. Terms like “love,” “duty,” “conscience” and “guilt,” even though colored in different shades, remain universal. They have a strong relation to life. They demand decisions, sacrifices and compromises and come close to the idea of spirituality itself. From antiquity, these values have been in unbreakable connection with this thing, we call God.
The principle behind the most common religious systems is similar. Things are always come down to the difference between good and evil. The two opposite principles, like dark and light, right and wrong. A man’s soul – feeds on contradictions. Today, when religions are in decline, the Western is focused more than ever on rationality, seeking answers to the most complicated matters.
On the other hand, the fundamental contradiction remains. God is most likely some kind of a substance – an energy in all of us. It appears in one’s attitude towards other and the world. Removing the creative, let’s say – “godlike” functions, one makes important steps in one’s life, only to say one day: Yes, I lived with that, which I consider good and I see the light – Heaven,” or to cover himself in sackcloth and ashes and walk downstream to his personal Hell…
Trifon walked into the café at the Medical Academy and looked around. He had called me earlier and said that he wanted to see me. I had a break between my classes, so I was there, waiting for him while drinking coffee with a colleague. When he came over us, tucked into his black coat, my colleague took her bag, went off to some lecture, leaving the couch across from me free. Trifon dropped heavily onto it and waved the waitress to bring him a beer.
After that he looked at me and sighed deep. His eyes looked dull. They emitted sorrow, which seemed to increase when he lighted his cigarette and exhaled a puff of smoke. He didn’t say a word yet, just stared at me, I realized that something had happened. That assumption was confirmed just as the waitress left the beer on the table and moved away.
“Branko is dead,” he said in an even voice, pouring a sip of beer on the ground, “God rest his soul!”
I must mention that Trifon isn’t religious. As a medical student he always had a sober view on things, based on the laws of nature and pure logic. He had opened enough chests to form his own picture of life and death, pointedly cynical, just as expected from a future surgeon. In that moment, the mention of God brought additional sorrow. Trifon was shocked to his foundations and he was wondering how to find some peace. I, on the other hand, was not so close to Branko.
Despite this, I felt unpleasant surprise and all around us hung that oppressive atmosphere which fills the world at the news of the death of a young man. After I expressed my condolences, Trifon told me everything. His story was peppered with questions. Knowing about his friend’s troubles long ago he was now trying to comprehend what had happened. He was asking himself whilst mulling the circumstances in his head, if he could have prevented the fatal ending. Of course, he could not have. Some smoke-swathed wise-ass was sitting at another table and a big bunch of people were sitting around him, listening to his idiotic jabbering. The students giggled and cracked jokes. They were crammed together, packed in with bags and the like so as to squeeze together on the shiny couch, Trifon looked them with disgust and I thought that he would shout at them to shut up, but he didn’t do anything like that. He just lit another cigarette and bent towards me again.
A family of physicians – Tsonka and Lazar Zhechev – had been living a happy life. Right from the start Dr. Zhechev’s career skyrocketed. In the 1980s, he and his team perfected work methods in Bulgaria and thus made organ transplantation into a routine procedure. His wife, on her part, developed her career as a promising pediatrician. Successful physicians and honorable people, they were living their dream.
Their only problem was that, a few years after they married, they still hadn’t managed to have a baby. Neither of their examinations showed any anomalies of the reproductive organs and they both reassured themselves with the fact that they were still young and had all the time in the world. They were right. In the mid 1980s, in the middle of a severe winter, Branimir Zhechev saw the light of day. A perfectly healthy baby, born in the 37th week, with a 6, 10 pounds weight. The family’s joy was complete. The boy grew up normally, enjoying every possible comfort. However, shortly before his second birthday, disturbing symptoms appeared.
The child’s temperature shot up for no visible reason, he often cried and was colicky – he writhed with pain and wasn’t as active as should be. The thorough examinations he was subjected to indicated a-showed innate defect to the left kidney. The two parents already knew what would follow. This kind of operation had very high success rate, so there was no reason to worry.
Dr. Zhechev acted decisively. At that moment, in the family’s life, that deep, unconditional hope that thin border line – dividing it from terrifying desperation, hadn’t yet appeared. After the operation, Branimir stayed in the ISU for a long time. After that, he was stabilized and they discharged him from the hospital. However, after a month later, the symptoms of the infection reappeared. This time, the fact that the organ had to be removed, was undeniable. Millions of people live perfectly normal lives with only one kidney, and measures had to be taken immediately, for the child to be able to have a happy and healthy life.
He lived such a life for a little more than four months, after which the horror of both parents, similar symptoms arose again. Since the defective kidney had been removed, that could only mean that the infection had appeared in the right kidney as well. Without any illusions, Dr. Zhechev placed his son on the donor waiting list and shortly thereafter, they started dialysis.
While the clock ticked for Branimir, the weeks passed and transformed into months. Exactly then, a large, invigorating hope appeared for the doctor, a hope that every man has which he goes to sleep and gets up with in the morning and which cause him to start praying. To seek God, unintentionally – every God, any God. Or the devil? This feeling isn’t a good advisor; it makes people hurry, when they need to stop, as well as the opposite – to lose time when it’s most valuable.
After a few months, Branimir was still pining. His parents were devastated. Especially Dr. Zhechev who soon would have become associate professor thanks to his surgical practice, but unfortunately because of one great absurd, he wasn’t able to help his son. The wait list for transplantation was endless and there were only a few suitable organs for a whole year. Realizing that he will lose his own child, he ran away from the facts and did it.
With all his savings, Zhechev collected the money and took a loan for the rest. Before his leaving he went to the church nearby to light a candle, to pray without addressing his prayers to a certain power. He did this symbolic act of getting in peace with his conscience, with the clear idea that the thing he was about to do isn’t exactly pious.
After all, he felt a strong energy, rising from the bottom of his being and it pushed him forward. Determination! Whatever he was doing, he was doing it for the future – his child’s future. When it comes to that, a man forgets himself and after that … Nothing!
As the years go by, Branimir grew up to be strong and healthy. After that the democracy came, the world began to be more colorful and interesting, Branko went to school and was very bright and vivacious kid. He had nice clothes and a lot of friends with whom he would go in the rich house of Zhechev to listen pop music from cassettes. Dr. Zhechev became an associate professor and travelled all along Europe, where he visited seminars and read lectures. After every time he left, he returned with many presents, and amongst the packages – old age and alienation. It didn’t take long for the drinking problems to come.
Regular consumer, a complete drunk without rest, he got himself caught in such situations in which he will stagger, fall down and his colleagues would carry him to his home. His wife couldn’t help but wonder how it’s possible for him to be like that. She sat in front of him on the table and interrogated him till midnight. What is it that he misses? What in his life could possibly be wrong? The professor reacted on these interrogations in different ways. He was angry and explosive, yelling incoherently and after that he hung down his head with shame and went in catatonic like state, which seemed to continue with hours. In one moment was all clear that he couldn’t be able to practice, he teach for a while as if someone is forcing him and after that he retired.
“You see, I am like part of the family?” Trifon cut off his story.
“What do you mean? You met at the university; I didn’t assume that you’re so close to Branko. “
“I knew man, I knew! Only me and his family. I wonder why he chose me. I would prefer it wasn’t happened like that.”
One night the professor didn’t come home and didn’t answer his phone. Branko and his mother were awfully worried and waited him in the kitchen without talking. In the little hours they heard his screams from the entrance. Branimir went to open and saw his father leant onto the stair’s walls. He was shaking like a twig and was yelling with horrifying grimaces: “They rip them like dogs, slaughter them like animals … the butchers cut them, they cut them like dooogs … Every night they disappear, every day and every night … And I took an oath, an oath!”
His clothes were covered with mud and his face with congealed blood. They took him home and gave him a bath but these attacks became more often. Despite the control from family and friends, Zhechev founded his ways to get drunk and after he came home he yelled all the same strange, vague and disgusting things. He became an unstable old man; the doctor in him was gone. There only left the idle chatters about brutalism, bowels, blood. “We have to help, to be like angels. We became angels … angels of death.”
For no obvious reason, one morning Lazar Zhechev got up before sunrise. When Branimir and his mother found him, he was wearing clean clothes. There were drops of water onto his freshly shaved face. He seemed extremely sober and serious. With trembling voice he asked them to listen and shared the secret with his family.
He took them 20 years back in time and told them everything about the surrealistic journey to the east with Branimir. The mother knew about the 2 weeks in Iran, but the son didn’t remember anything. The goal naturally, was kidney transplantation but when they arrived, there were still many preparations to be made. They had to wait a few more days and after that, Dr. Zhechev alongside with some other doctors, performed a kidney removal on some Arab kid. Everything was absolutely illegal. While he was taking care of the organ that was saving his son’s life, the other doctors patched the boy up roughly. The father had no idea what happened next, but he was sure that nobody cared if the child will survive.
There were thousands like him in that part of the world and every night they disappeared, so the kids of the wealthy man in the west may live. They took the kidney and that was it. Later, when they get in a real hospital, the father himself transplanted the kidney to his son. When Branimir was stable enough, they returned to Bulgaria. This period was like a dream to Lazar Zhechev – with a sinking heart, he was grateful to the providence for that his son will be ok and went on, carrying the weight of the unforgivable. The weight of his big secret.
After he told his family the gruesome tale, Dr. Zhechev lived some days with a clear mind and a humble smile. Then, one morning he woke up early again, got ready, went in the park for a walk and when he reached the boulevard, jumped on the rails under the oncoming train. Tsonka Zhecheva was out of town running errands and Branimir had to recognize his father’s disfigured corpse in the morgue.
That for Branimir was his third year in the Medical Academy. After the incident he had a nervous breakdown and started seeing psychiatrists. He could no longer bear the pressure of studying and so he neglected it. He became a loner and he was spending more and more time in the nature, roaming for hours in the forests of Vitosha. That’s how he became a tourist. That seemed to relieve him.
“And he was famous with that. Branko was walking everywhere, always organizing hikes,” Trifon smiled, “Yes, I went once to Rila with him and some other people. We arrived late, freezing in some forest, slept only in sleeping bags on wet pine needles. But it was fun.”
“I’m sure. So…”
Besides me, only he and his mother knew the secret. A long time after Dr. Zhechev decease, Branimir couldn’t talk to anyone about what happened. Suddenly, during a hike in Pirin last week, he slipped, as the others from the group say. It was already dark.
They were passing high up, on the edge of a rocky rib on their way to the gate, behind which was their cabin. Branko’s front-ranker threw its light upon the grey stones of Pirin – sharp like knifes. At some point without them even noticing, the others saw his light flying down the cliff, slowly, as if carried by the wind. They found him 600 meters down, broken, arms and legs in a knot, blood. Horrifying…
There are things with which a righteous man can’t live with. Common sense is unable to comprehend the insane memories. Maybe conscience is stronger than selfishness, waked up from the hope for salvation. Was Dr. Zhechev a bad man? He was just a father with an unconditional love to his child. Young parent clung to the future. Which young man isn’t selfish?
Alas, Lazar Zhechev couldn’t bear the burden of the trade he had made.