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Piano Profile

An unassuming silver band around my pointer finger.

My grandmother ushered me into a little jewelry shop near her old communist apartment

building in Sofia, one of many many others with the same faded gray color and the same thin

prison-like windows and the same feeling of suffocating desperation. The aesthetic of Lenin.

Buildings left as permanent remnants of regretful times, stuck in the Bulgarian soil, with

complementing sentiments stuck in the Bulgarian people. My grandma forced me to review

every inch of silver, gold, metal, whatever else there was in the little jewelry shop. She always

wanted to give me nice things; something I could wear or carry around in my life in America, my

normal every day, my other home a world away. Memories of my crazy fashion tastes from

childhood have scarred me into picking only the simplest of styles now. So I scanned the glass

cases, past the glittering stones and winding designs, and my eyes stopped at a thick silver ring.

It protruded atop the dark blue velvet like humble royalty – noticeable, yet not too arrogant or

loud. I looked at the price.

Definitely too –

“Just not something I like enough,” I mumbled passively to my grandma, who had latched onto

the fact that her American granddaughter liked anything at all in the little Bulgarian jewelry shop

by her crumbling apartment, and was now urging me to try the ring on. My grandma, who lives

off her 300 Bulgarian leva per month pension. 150 U.S. dollars to pay rent, to buy food, to talk

on the phone, to fix the heater every time it breaks (unfailingly semiannually), to pay for the

funeral services of her sister first, then her niece who was only 39, then her husband, my

grandpa. And maybe, hopefully, to be able to enjoy the little things she loves most, like new

sheet music or a special edition CD of the classical geniuses or a book, after working tirelessly as a musician all her life. The profession that feeds the soul but not the stomach.

Another ring happened to catch my eye. Well, the opposite actually – I had to squint past the

jutting angles of other alluring jewelry to see the faint glint. I checked the price quicker this time, before my grandma noticed any interest. I felt it was just enough for her to be satisfied with its quality. “I like this one”, I said and pointed to the thin silver band. Simply a circle, a few

millimeters thick. She looked at me inquisitively.

“That’s what you like? Not something bigger or with sparkles or a little more… interesting?”

I smiled, because she remembers well the eccentricities of my childhood. After all, I’d flaunt

them to her every summer in the shining sunlight of August.

“Yes, this is what I like.”

My grandma thinks the greatest gifts she can give me now are pretty silver rings.

“I’ve prepared a piano profile for you,” she said happily once we were back home. I asked her

what this meant.

“Most of my sheet music is still in Germany, but from what I have here, I picked out an

arrangement that embodies your character. You, as a song on the piano.” After the fall of the

Soviet Union, my grandparents immigrated to Germany and my dad immigrated to America,

leaving empty rooms in their gray apartment block, in an increasingly empty ex-Eastern Bloc

country. I was sitting in my dad’s old room when I was gifted the piano profile.

The concrete veils us from the heat of the sun, and in the cold and dark old apartment, this gift

feels secret, intimate, just for me to see. And it is. It is between me and my grandma. It is

between me and my grandma and the people in the black and white photos on the walls, my dad

as a baby and my grandpa as a young man and my grandma after a recital and my grandma’s

sister and their friends and my sister and my mom and me once again, little me, always making a

weird face or strange pose because I always wanted to be different.

And she begins to play.

The piece starts out with a bang – the way my grandma will always remember me. The fast-

paced, crazy, upbeat, joyous, annoying, talking, jumping, dancing, singing, laughing little me

that she raised, only between the months of June and September. The dadum, daDUM, DADUM that is me. The piano gets louder, faster. It slows down for a bit, then picks up again and daDUMs. It’s all over the place. It’s happy. There are high notes and low notes, there is every note.

I am crying.

The piece slows finally into a steady, regular tempo. It ends quietly and gracefully. Or so I

thought. And then again: dadum, DADUM, DADUM! Loud, guttural, pounding of the keys.

My grandma confided in my dad recently that she is impressed with the woman I have become.

She had always hoped calmness, class, consideration would eventually evolve from the sporadic

little creature that was me, but she didn’t always know how.

She thinks the greatest gifts to give me are pretty silver rings. She wants me to be beautiful, to

glide upon the street exuding elegance. But she also knows that I don’t glide. There is a

pounding in my steps, a daDUM she will know forever. When I look down at my silver ring I

hear her and the piano, telling me I am always the crazy little girl, in America or in Bulgaria, at

age five or twenty. Inspiring me to embrace the art of my life, as she did, because fulfillment of

the soul is what you cherish once everyone and everything else tangible is gone.

by Kristina Zlatinova

Kristina Zlatinova was the first American-born child in her big Bulgarian family tree. She grew up primarily in Washington state, returning to Bulgaria each summer to reconnect with relatives and fall in love with the majestic land that her parents once left. She is currently a student at the University of California, Berkeley, studying Political Economy and Creative Writing. She aspires to find a way to continue to balance her two beloved national identities in her adult life and career the way she could throughout her childhood.


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