You know those random acts of serendipity when destiny manifests itself in such strange ways and unimaginable places, that you wonder if it is a sign, a joke or you are going slightly mad? This is how I met Kiril, the Bulgarian opera singer.
I was standing on the most obscure corner of South Park in Sofia, where the ring road meets a cross section, late for a dinner, doing my best to avoid the stray dogs and thinking to myself there was no way I could find a cab around there. Although I wouldn’t confess it to myself, for a moment I missed the convenience of hailing a cab within 1.5 seconds in the streets of NYC. Subconsciously, I reached towards the next best thing, my uber app, and quickly slapped myself, “duh you are not in Brooklyn Tina”. I hate being late, but I would never dare get on Sofia public transportation without a ticket. As the sinking feeling of how late I was, was turning into a slight panic, I spotted a cab taking the turn. Of course, it was taken. My eyes dashed beyond it, but strangely enough, the car was coming towards me. It approached slowly and stopped directly in front of me. A couple paid and waltzed itself out of the car while me, slightly-jaw dropped, but ecstatic, jumped quickly inside.
Years in NYC inside yellow cabs have left me a bit anti-social when it comes to cabbies. I avoid eye-contact, try to limit the conversation to my destination address, I buckle up and overall mind my own business. In Bulgaria I specifically avoid conversations because I hate getting ripped off with taxi fares in my own home country, just because I pronounce some words with a modified intonation. This cabbie though was unusual - he was in his 50s, his face was intelligent, with an air of positivity and a deep calm voice. His presence was relaxing and almost therapeutic. I noticed my mouth open and it started spilling personal facts like, how I quit my finance job in NYC and now I am traveling for a few months, that my sister is getting married for the third time to the same man in Greece next month, that I shot some unbelievable fishermen in Sicily… He congratulated me on my sister’s third wedding and instead of the usual skeptical “OMG-you-walked-away from a-six-figure-job-in-NYC?!?” reaction, he said “good for you, you made the right decision, you should be happy”. Mentally my jaw dropped even more, and then he continued with his own story. He also had an economics degree and worked in a large corporation a few years back. He got laid off and took up the taxi service because of its flexible schedule. His true passion however was singing. When he was younger he used to sing in rock bands, and always thought his voice was good only for that. One day, he picked up a passenger from the opera house. One word lead to another, the passenger turned out to be a voice coach, made him sing in the car and told him he was gifted with an opera singer’s voice. Too bad they met 20 years too late, otherwise he could have been a true opera phenomena. Regardless, he invited him to train with the best opera singer coaches in the country, and eventually Kiril ended up as a soloist at one of the oldest men’s choirs in Bulgaria - “hor Gusla”. I was shocked by his story, of course sincerely happy to hear it, although I did secretly scan the car for a hidden camera. It made me feel ever so slightly less insane about taking my decision and even felt a serge of hope. We spent the next 15 mins blasting his solo in “Nessun Dorma" through the streets of Sofia, gathering plenty of inquisitive and/or annoyed looks. He was singing live, confirming the validity of his vocal chords, and I was trying not to ruin the aria with my partial out-of-tune accompaniments. I told him I would gladly shoot him and the choir, gave him my card and left the cab in a blurr… only an hour late for dinner.
Not only we connected, I ended up shooting his rehearsals as well as the choir’s performance at a festival. It was really hard to shoot the choir actually. The voices, acoustics of the church and the natural light where the concert was, were so distracting. I just wanted to listen and not worry about composition, focus and my ISO. Yet, it was the most rewarding experience standing in front of 30 elderly men, who were all secretly posing for me, chests up, big smiles, basking in the sound of each click.
Is it just me, or is it hard to imagine that an ex-consultant from New York, and an ex-economist/taxi driver from Sofia, found themselves in Dupnica sharing the vicissitude of life via photographs and singing, in their individual pursuits of happiness. At that performance, neither the past nor the future mattered, because when you love what you do, you are too busy enjoying every second of the present moment to worry about anything else. The click of my camera, and hitting the high notes, was everything either one of us were aiming to feel. Maybe I will have to work as a waitress in a couple of weeks, probably neither one of us will ever be rich and famous, but there is a giant difference between fame and fortune. Every person who gets to live life doing what they love, is already rich in more ways than imaginable.
Kiril is still driving a cab when he is not singing or rehearsing. He is one of my biggest fans when it comes to making me go for my dreams and he religiously likes every photo I post on FB. I am sure one day I will see him on a real stage, singing a spectacular Italian opera. And that day I will not be taking pictures… because I will be too busy enjoying the show and his better-late-than-never fortune.