We sit in the gloomy bar, cigarette smoke drifting over us, music barely heard. We’re the sole customers. Lukas’s university mates are here to bid us goodbye. Right now going back to Bulgaria sounds even exciting. Although we haven’t left yet, plans are being made at the table of a group coming to our wedding. Even a provisional date is being discussed. Outside it’s February but for a short moment I see the familiar beach of Kara Dere, lights in the warm night, fireworks. Everything seems so far away.
It looks like spring will never come. We sit in the café, me casting a look from time to time through the window at people surprised by the unexpectedly cold wind. There’s only one boy here with us but he quickly catches our afternoon mood and sets himself on the same frequency. M. takes out a sheet of paper, determined to finally set the beginning of the planning of my wedding. A guest list and a menu. I haven’t had a laugh like this for a long time. Amidst the scent of coffee all this craziness seems perfectly possible. Even the number of guests can’t scare me. Nor can the fact we only have three months. Occasionally someone asks a serious and rational question which remains answerless but for now this doesn’t seem to worry me.
We still have three months.
Lukas and I are skyping. He tells me how he went to the town hall of his hometown to get a marriage license. While he’s complaining how expensive it was I wonder, ‘So we’re really doing it?’
The document is the first thing to help me understand the wedding that so far has only lived in my head must become a reality. For the first time I feel fear. I feel that after we involve documents our love will become less ours. It will be objectified in the form of a marriage certificate. Licensed by some institution. As if it needs to be…
As if the fact Lukas isn’t here at the moment and I want more than anything on this world to have him lie next to me and hear him breathe isn’t a good enough confirmation. As if the imaginary wedding that lives in my head needs to happen on paper.
Lukas interrupts his work in the Czech Republic because he can’t be without me.
He only comes back for a while, actually, which reminds me of that first year of ours when we would repeatedly travel 3000 kilometres there and back to spend at least a few weeks with each other. It reminds me of the most hateful moment when I would see him off at the railway station and stand on the platform until I would lose sight of his face first, then of the window and finally of the two red ‘eyes’ of the train. It reminds me of the moment when he saw me off at the Florenc bus station. Of my wild desire these separations to just stop happening.
Anyway. This time I know he’ll really be away for just a while. On the other hand, the fact he’s not here doesn’t help the wedding plans at all.
That’s why, in one of the holy days, we take advantage of his being here and set off to Kara Dere. A place we’ve already painted in our heads but which still remains just an empty beach. Completely unsuitable for a wedding. The very first step we take to accomplish our idea makes it clear it won’t be easy. We know what we’re looking for – the man who ran a bar on that beach two years ago. But that’s all. While the car is ascending the serpentine road towards Varna I think about how the owner of the bar could live on the other side of the country and how it might be that no one knows him. Such a possibility could stop someone from traveling 80 kilometres. Not us. And it turns out to be a good decision.
First we enter Goritsa and decide to ask the locals if they know who ran the beach bar. It’s quietly raining in the village. Some people send us to a restaurant owner. While turning the car around I think how funny it all is. I feel as if I’m starring in a Balkan film. It’s as if I’ve travelled back to the past – we’re looking for some people in the most ancient way possible, just going and asking about them without even knowing their names. The restaurant guy doesn’t give us a name either but he’s heard that the man in question is a relative of an acquaintance of his. We’re sincerely amused by the chain of people which is already forming itself and which will take us to the bar owner. The man, on his part, is amused by us and our decision to get married at Kara Dere. He offers his restaurant as Plan B. ‘The road to the beach is too bad anyway.’ We thank and move on.
It turns out the acquaintance from Byala is exactly where we’re told he should be. (And it could’ve been that he wasn’t.) He meets us, confused, and then serves us two pieces of news. The good one: it’s true the bar owner is a relative of his. The bad: the bar has been closed since last season due to hygienic reasons. The first of a series of blows at our ‘organisation’. Despite that, we decide to find him and talk. Ch. – the bar owner – doesn’t pick up his phone but the man is almost sure he knows where he is – at the restaurant he’s renovating. Led by another situation with an unknown ending, we go into Byala and to the wooden restaurant which is indeed getting ready for the upcoming season. We ask for Ch., they call him and then we see a familiar guy.
‘Ha, aren’t you from Kara Dere?’
We laugh. It’s a feeling not just of joy but, seemingly, of pride too. As if the fact he recognized us – although we never spent a lot of time at his bar and we haven’t been there for two summers – legitimizes our belonging to that place. ‘Ha, aren’t you from Kara Dere’ sounds as if Kara Dere is not just a place where you can find yourself at but also a place you can originate from. Yet again I am convinced it is the only place I would get married at.
The conversation is neither pessimistic nor optimistic. Simply realistic. We learn there’s nothing left from the little bar on the beach. We learn we are not the first to marry at Kara Dere. We also learn what we thought was Kara Dere are in fact two localities and that the forested part of the beach which I see in my daydreams is completely unsuitable for a wedding due to the bad condition of the road. ‘Byala Reka’ (‘White River’), Ch. says and it’s the first from many subsequent times when we will hear the name of this place – the only one, apparently, where we can make our wedding in the desired scale.
We say goodbye to Ch., hopeful. We arrange for us to call him again with more information so that he could help us find a few things – a drinks fridge, an electric generator and a beer tap. On our way back to Burgas I silently roll these three things inside my mind like a mantra – fridge, generator, beer tap.
By now I think we only have two major problems – the lack of tables and chairs.
I don’t even suspect how wrong I am…
I have a problem with specific things. Very often, when I see a shooting star, I wish something like ‘I want to be healthy and happy’ and then, even before its tail has melted into the night sky, I regret I wasn’t a bit more specific about my wish. They say we need to make ourselves clear when we aim a wish at anyone or anything. And really, imagine if someone says to you: ‘Make me happy’ and then meaningfully remains silent…
The specificities about my wedding are just as problematic. Not a day passes without me, on the way to the shop or the city centre, calling its image in my mind. However, there’s nothing specific about it. It’s all brought down to colours and feelings: the light can be described as ‘prolonged-sunset-y’; there are not specially devised places for the guests but I feel they’re there. I see those of them I wish to see. My dress is neither long, nor short – it’s just a white blur. My hair… I don’t even know. I only know I feel wonderful – as if the whole world is here to just grant my wishes and no one else’s.
How, in those days of spring, didn’t I understand everything was doomed from the very start?
Sometimes I really think Lukas doesn’t give a thing about the wedding. In fact, I believe he doesn’t even recall the fact we’re having it. That’s why I am more than surprised when he tells me one day: ‘Why doesn’t either of us sing a few songs at the wedding?’ I’m in awe. He’s just read my thoughts and intentions. What’s more – by the way he says it I judge he spent a lot of time thinking over it and imagining it. Just like I did. I straightforwardly take this little thing as a proof that there’s no way we cannot be soul mates but in my mind I also make a sigh because I see that we both tend to live in our daydreams.
We still have nothing but we both think about songs…
I believe I’ve found mine. Ours. A song that was playing from the computer at the Art Academy studio in that distant winter day when Lukas asked me to model for him for a project – a moment about which I later told my friends it ‘would’ve been quite erotic if I’d liked him.’ A song I heard on the radio, although with a slightly different melody, a few years later during a drive to Usti in a mournful autumn morning. A song which I later found out was performed by many singers including a woman with vocal abilities I could handle. A song which was not just the background to my first date with Lukas but also one that, accidentally or not, is perfect for a wedding:
The power of love
Force from above
Cleaning my soul
Flame on, burn desire
Love with tongues of fire
Purge the soul
Make love your goal
Every day when I’m home alone I sing the song, I learn it better, I repeat the most difficult part again and again. I don’t even consider an option of me not singing it to Lukas on our wedding day, taking him back to the beginning of what brought us here. I sing, standing in the middle of the room, but in my mind I’m so far away from here that if I move a leg I’ll feel the sand slipping from it. I sing without even realizing all those practical things related to singing songs in the open. When daydreaming you need no amplifiers or microphones. The message always reaches the listener and the music… well, it just comes from somewhere.
Little by little, like separate little stones which will later serve to build a wall, we accumulate things for our wedding. T. draws the invitation which eventually no one gets. It’s Lukas and me in it, big packs on our backs. Are they our distinctive feature? I wish it were so. But rather I remember a summer day when, having just reached the sea, somewhere near Albena, after an insanely easy hitch-hike from the Czech Republic, we called T. and her boyfriend who lived nearby. I remember how they took us in their car from a little gas station – disheveled, big packs on our bags, in the middle of nowhere. We must’ve looked adventurous. I guess it was exactly this moment that inspired her – one of our most beautiful. And yet, nothing more than just a moment.
The rings are ordered. Silver ones. That’s the only thing we can afford. I think up a message in the last minute to be engraved in the inside part. Long before I will sit down and devise my wedding speech, I half-consciously already know I won’t be vowing, just promising.
It takes me about half an hour to pick a dress after browsing a few sites of popular fashion brands on my phone. It takes me about month to settle on ordering it although everyone says it’s wonderful. It arrives in a cardboard-coloured box and I collect it on my way to work. At the school, a bit before the children arrive, I take it out, see it live for the first time and make a sigh. It’s too long… But then, being the first piece of clothing I’ve ever ordered online, it looks well enough.
Shoes… Luckily I won’t need those.
Papers – sent to Sofia, legalized, signed, stamped, delivered. The clerk from the Municipality of Byala asks me about the date of marriage.
Now there’s really no going back.
Lukas and I are zigzagging again up the road to Varna. Our car is loaded with firewood which we’re going to leave at some friends in Byala because we surely won’t have space for it during the ‘great moving’. That’s one of our missions. The other one is to meet Ch. again and talk about the three variables that hold everything else – fridge, generator, beer tap.
The restaurant is already completely different. Ch. barely manages to get out of the kitchen, visibly exhausted by the work. The tables are full of tourists, the music is loud. He sits next to us and even before he’s spoken a word we already know. It won’t work. We’ve called too late. The three pillars of our wedding – fridge, generator, beer tap – are already given to others. He’s sorry. So are we.
We go to the car in silence and leave for Kara Dere. While we’re looking for the right way among the vineyards reality gives us its first painful slap in the face. We don’t even know how to get to the place of our wedding. Lukas turns the car around midway down the first road we took – from here on it’s not good for cars. We go back to our exit point. People tell us which way we should go. Then other people do it again. The road keeps slipping away from us. While Lukas is carefully driving round the holes I look at the setting sun. The vines all around are burning in red light. Visibly close and yet unreachable is the heavenly bay of Kara Dere.
At a crossing of dirt roads we separate and go on foot in different directions to find the right way. I walk on the dust, go round holes, impossible to be gone over by car, and keep walking but the sea never comes. With each step I take I hear the surf closer and closer but I still don’t see it. Suddenly I’m overcome with illogical fear, I turn around and start running back. I have the feeling this whole wilderness around me has turned hostile to me. When I reach the car I see the headlights – in the gully where we pulled over it’s already dark – of another one. I also see Lukas heading towards it. The fear hasn’t let go of me yet. I look at the dark car and, gone numb, I expect to see the driver taking out a gun and shooting at Lukas. I don’t know what’s the matter with me but the only – and most illogical – thing I can do is rush towards him and die here with him in this godforsaken gully. Two bullets in the falling night. The distant roar of the surf. ‘And they lived happily ever after.’
Of course the man isn’t a murderer. When I reach them I hear him guiding Lukas. ‘Along the sunflowers, you know. Sunflowers, bro, sunflowers,’ he says, saying ‘sunflowers’ in English. I look at his nice car and I think there can’t be a way for us not to reach Kara Dere by ours if he went there and back himself. We go on up along the quiet dusky fields and after a while we take a road that leads to the sea. We go out of the car and head forth. It’s cool, I think and wonder how I’ll get through the wedding night in my light dress. The road ends at a cliff down which we see the beaten path to the beach… much more to the north than we wished to be. Impossibly steep. A few tents are pitched down on the sand. Right beneath us is that beautiful part – the transition between the white cliffs and the almost bare hills of Byala Reka and the forest of Kara Dere. Suddenly something stirs deep inside of me. My love for this place. The steep path almost makes me go down and reach the sea.
‘We can’t have the wedding here,’ Lukas says and in an instant the magic is gone. At first I think he completely gives up. I can already see him offering another location and then see myself telling him ‘no’ and explaining him that we don’t really need a big wedding anyway. It can be just him and me at this wonderful place and everything will be all right.
‘We need to find another way,’ he says. ‘And we need to do it today.’
Right. It will be the hard way.
A few hours later we pull over by the main road near Sunny Beach and despite the heavy traffic we recline the seats back in order to get some sleep. It’s too late now and we’re both really exhausted. We didn’t find the way. We don’t know where the wedding is going to be. We have no fridge, generator, beer tap. I doze off but my mind is still screening crazy films. I see someone coming and breaking the glass. I see gangsters from the resort pulling over next to us in their big black cars. I see us happening to be random witnesses of their dirty business and having to pay for that with our lives.
After an anxious hour or two we head home up the dark roads. I wonder where the cars in the opposite lane are headed which go past us from time to time. What made them start off at this early night hour? What their drivers have set off to do? And is anyone else wondering the same – what are these two doing in the night?
‘We were looking for the way to our wedding but didn’t find it.’
We’re home at last. The deep cool night makes us cuddle under the bedsheets. Warmed by Lukas’s body, I finally fall sound asleep. We’re finally safe. There are no men in dark cars here that can take our lives.
And the wedding? We’ll think about it tomorrow.
I’ll protect you from the hooded claw
Keep the vampires from your door
When the chips are down I’ll be around
With my undying death defying love for you
(lyrics – Gabrielle Aplin – ‘The Power of Love’
illustration: Teodora Dimova)