A tale by Johny Noer


Chapter 20


… to where were they leading us?

The young Nicolai, who should be taking care of the families in the detained Pilgrim convoy, wore a leather jacket and lived by the latest Party directive. He would never have achieved the comfort and luxury of his present life, if he had not been somewhat careless towards other peoples’ need; he never listened to Gisèle’s demand for milk for the children, but showed a studied contempt for her pleadings. Demands like that sabotaged his daily routine. "No shopping expeditions", he answered pointing to the baton-belted guards; "no permission to leave the camp!"

Gisèle wrinkled her beautiful forehead. "Things are not easy with you!" she said. "But you’ll come to see. My children will have their milk…"

Nicolai looked at her with surprise.

Gisèle – brown-eyed, swift and resolute – never finished her sentence… and he didn’t know what she was up to; I could have told him!

She evidently wanted to strike while the iron was hot. "Please, give me the keys", she turned to me; something unavoidable in her voice.

"The keys?"

"Yes, the keys for the Citroën." She raised a challenging finger towards Nicolai: "He won’t give me milk for the children!"

With a level smile Nicolai turned his back.

"Oho!" I thought. "She’s rather daring…"

"Don’t you see?" Gisèle said with a dreamy look as she sat down in the black Citroën, "there is no other way!"

"Well", I argued. "Perhaps I should do it – I mean: Break the armed ring around the camp. That’s what you are up to, right?"

Her soft eyes narrowed, as she gazed into the distance. "They’ll arrest you – not me!" she said. Her words sounded so simple and convincing that I had to admit she was right.

"All right?" she asked.

I was silent for a moment.

Gisèle looked at me expectantly, waiting for a reply.

"What?" I asked.

"All right?" she asked again with her foot on the gas.

"All right", I said.

Gisèle blew me a kiss from her hand, and the black car rushed forward driving powerfully up the deserted road and suddenly turning sharply – roaring against the black guards like a fighter jet off a runway. They jumped in all directions.

As Gisèle accelerated up the main road the men rushed to their police cars and seconds later the Citroën was followed by a number of white Ladas. I knew that Gisèle would hear my voice over a loudspeaker and could answer without taking her hands off the steering wheel.

I whipped out of my cell phone. "Don’t be too fast", I warned.

"Don’t worry", she answered. "They are slow! I go one mile north. I’ll let them take me in four minutes." She snapped her phone out.

When they brought her back her eyes were blazing. The guards didn’t know enough French to understand what she said. But she said a lot.

Nicolai hurried to the scene. He stared at Gisèle, apparently perplexed.

We all stood a moment in silence.

"So?", Gisèle said calmly. "What about my milk for the children?"

"You’ll have it!" Nicolai said. He signalled for the guards to pull back. "We go shopping tomorrow!"


Todor Shivkov’s most creative hours were in the early mornings. Then his mind was fresh – the best ideas came to him, when the sun was rising. At five o’clock in the morning he knew how to deport national minorities to Siberia and to clamp down on movements that had to be stopped. When morning light fell on his desk, he saw more clearly the ebb and flow of the Bulgarian people. He suddenly knew how to frame new laws on forced labour and the death penalty – and this April morning in 1989, he was occupied with a certain problem: Lately he had sensed a weak spot in the establishment, and an important new decree was maturing in his mind.

Added to this, a scroll from Varna now lay on his desk. With 5000 signatures of people who wanted ‘freedom of religion’. An anti-Marxist heresy, of course. And then this Danish preacher! An agent of American imperialism, no doubt! Preaching from a rooftop in Varna just as his Danish Prime Minister arrived: A counter-revolutionary plot…

With his sixth sense Todor Shivkov realised that something urgent had to be done. The slightest thing could make him suspicious – and that scroll with 5000 (five thousand) names from Varna, which looked like a vow to God, set him on his guard.

Shivkov looked at it with a sinister owl-like stare. Behind him were the long bookshelves, the whole of human thought on parade, bound in bright covers. Who did these people think they were? Religious fanatics! This scroll was a menacing signal: Spies and traitors! A hostile group: peasants from the market places along the Black Sea – being seduced into political blindness by that English-speaking preacher.

Shivkov pressed a button on his desk. The wall lamps were switched on. He made a few notes: "More attention must be paid to new Christian movements. Be particularly strict with young people who go wrong. Keep a sharp eye on the groups in Varna. Expel the Danish preacher. Send him to Nicolae Ceausescu; he’ll show him his infinite love…"


Four unmarked Lada-cars turned into the camp. The vehicles carried twelve plain clothed men. Some armed with semi-automatics. Sitting in the passenger seat of the lead car was the red boss. His eyes were filled with rage.

"You are all being removed", he said. "By this evening you will be far from here!"

I resisted the urge to ask where we were going.

"One hour to pack the vehicles!"

I looked startled.

The officer behind the wheel nodded. "The commander is right: one hour!

"Drive", the police chief snapped. "We’ll be back in one hour!"

A bittersweet moment: Nice to know that we were leaving. Not nice not to know, where we were going!

"Only your family!" The red boss checked his watch.

"A cruel trick!" I thought "He’ll divide us!"

"Drive!" The commander barked. … and they drove!

To pack the vehicles in one hour was utterly impossible. But we did. We had only one problem: Our cat had disappeared. A soldier rapped sharply at the window of the car of the red boss, which had returned; he rolled down the window. The guard revealed a black chronographic military watch. "Ten thirty, commander! We’ll need to go!"

"But we can’t find our cat", I said.

"The boss vaguely nodded but said nothing.

"The cat…" I tried again.

"I heard you", he said. "Enough!"

He turned back to the guard. There was no reluctance in his voice. "Gear up and await my orders. Three minutes."

"Very well, sir!"

I got hold of Poul, an elderly man, who would be left with the others. He was always kind and helpful – but he didn’t like animals. Especially cats!

"Will you take care of Melas?" I asked.

"The cat?"

"Yes, the cat."

A soldier waved at us. He was speaking into a walkie-talkie.

Reluctance was to be seen on Pouls face. "Yes, I’ll take care of Melas!" he said.

The whoop of a helicopter overhead. The wind was strong and the roar of it in the trees was like an ocean. We left with five or six police units. Police in front and in the back. The other families left behind were waving. The vehicles with the blue lights wanted us to go faster but we kept to 20 miles per hour. Farmer tractors can’t go faster", we said.

As we approached the base of the mountain west of Varna the land took a downward slope. By degrees we descended and the world sank from view. Where were they leading us? What was waiting us ahead…