I once knew a pretty girl
And she was in love with the world
And she loved a young man
Who loved her body but never saw her mind
He took everything she had kept
And then he took everything else that was left
But no one believed her
No one believed her
These words are the last drop in the cups behind my eyes. Místy-eyed, I barely see the greasy glass of the oven. A moment like those least full of self-respect when I just want to be pitied but I’m not. A soapy sponge in my hand, tears down my cheeks, phones in my ears. Exhausted from cleaning and tidying up the house before the wedding. The damn grease won’t come off. I’ve always seen the grease clinging to kitchen devices as a symbol of problems never solved in time. Of dirty linen you must wear in front of your guests – whether you like it or not – because you have nothing else.
I want to break down. Right there, on the floor in front of the oven, stained with dirty foam. To admit to myself that the words from the song are written about me. That I’ve been robbed by my love and turned into nothing. And then to save myself. From a wedding. And from cleaning up the greasy glass, if I may.
Unfortunately, the whole world is unimpressed by my pain. My phone constantly interrupts the music and I am forced to take off the earphones and listen to the retro songs on the radio played by Lukaš (whom I don’t even want to see right now). I alone force myself to keep cleaning the oven…
And yet, there are just a few hours left until the night when I’ll fall asleep, exhausted, and I’ll wake up straightaway to leave. Yes, in the very same day when the guests arrive I am leaving in another direction. Alone. With my backpack. A justified escape which, as I rightfully guess even now, will eventually save me. From a non-wedding.
A little more than a week before the wedding. I can already say we have something like a plan. True, we haven’t been on the place itself yet but Google Maps clearly shows all the dirt roads that lead to the Byala Reka beach. We can’t get them wrong, can we?
Something more, the biggest problem (in my opinion) – the tables and the chairs – is already solved. Lukaš and I bought wooden planks which will turn into tables and found/bought/took from where it wasn’t really allowed a few pallets which we’ll use in any way we’ll deem good. The chair problem was solved one morning while I was lying in bed terrified by how fast the time was going. ‘Why can’t they be coffee sacks?’ I think and a few days later a car pulls over next to my house unloading fifty burlap sacks in a wonderful ‘natural’ colour and with the birthplaces of the coffee written in red and green. Sounds simple but it wasn’t. I add it to my ‘Personal Logistic Achievements’ list. Looking at them, I’m almost overcome by the long lost into the abyss of despair and fear enthusiasm about getting married on a wild beach. Then Lukaš, in his typical way and quite reasonably, asks me: ‘Are you sure that you can fill them with sand and it won’t get through the holes?’ No, I’m not and looking at the heavy knit sacks I feel my enthusiasm goes back to the familiar comfort of the abyss. Then I make a little burlap sack and fill it with salt. Nothing gets through.
Relief has temperature and taste. It’s warm and sweet.
We also have a pavilion tent, an electric generator (thanks to Lukaš’s bosses), blankets, curtains for the decoration, rooms for part of the guests. We still don’t have a drinks fridge. We’re trying to reach out to drink warehouse owners so that we can rent one from them but so far it’s been unsuccessful. We gave up on the beer tap long ago. Ten days before the wedding things are already starting taking shape. We sleep less and less, we fill our days more and more and we try to keep up the hope that this fragile shape will after all manage to hold the weight of the unknown that fills it.
I sit over a cup of cappuccino, reading a book. My backpack is leaning on a chair. I feel as if I have everything in the world I need in immediate proximity. I feel self-sufficient – something I’m not normally good at. My sister comes, carrying her own backpack. I feel a true surge of happiness and gratitude for finally – after all these days of anxiety and chaos – being able to sit in a café with her so that we can talk without hurrying. She takes out the wedding rings, photographs them and shares the picture in Instagram. It’s exciting, I think, but I also make a note to myself that if she had given me the rings at home and not in this quiet café 240 kilometres away from home it would be much different.
We’re here because we were invited to a wedding. A long time ago. Long before that winter train to Hnevice when I got the idea of getting married in the summer. A wedding that’s a week before my own. So far it had felt like a problem but today it feels like salvation.
We go towards the hotel – I, my sister and the stories we have, our shadows which also need to catch up with each other so that we both know what exactly is happening with each of us. I think that never before have I been to a new city in a hotel with my sister. The feeling is light and nice. We aren’t in a hurry at all. I sing out my wedding song for Lukas to my sister. She plays her favourite songs to me among which I find one which is even more perfect for my wedding. Each word in it sings love, promise, eternity.
An old story
A typical story
He goes down a green hill
She whispers, ‘Come lie next to me.’
Look now, look at the beautiful day
The two of them are one
An old story
He begs her on his knees
I don’t know how to explain it to you
It’s just I want nothing more than
To grow old with you
That you make me a better person
We set off, barefoot, the road is hard
But now you’ll be my sun
And I – a sunflower
And after thousands of years I will still want you
From the photograph you took of me
And after thousands of years they will dig us out
Of the thick ice
Naked, we talk and we kiss all of them one by one
Naked, we talk so that they can hear the next verse
So that they can hear that:
One person is bigger than the whole world
One love is an ocean, I will swim across it
One life hasn’t been lived if you haven’t shivered for anyone
If your heart hasn’t been a firework
Everyone has his own songs so I ask my sister to give me this one. To allow me to use these words too on my wedding because I believe they’re written for me. She says yes. She has another song by the same artist. ‘A green-coloured shore.’ This song is written for her.
We take a shower and go out for lunch. Our stories still haven’t caught up with each other. The day is hot. We call the rest of the people from S.’s hen party so that we can determine our own roles in the organization. We’re given the best – decoration. We dive into the long streets of Ruse and all the little cheap things shops. I unconsciously reach for a white vase, yellow artificial flowers and packthread that will hold a garland. While we’re in the shop I still don’t know S.’s hen party decoration will later be added up to the decoration of my own. That the artificial flower bouquet will be the souvenir-gift for the girl that caught my natural wedding bouquet.
We gather on a bench in the park. L. comes along and each of us puts a handmade strawberry headband on her head. It turns out we’re all wearing flower-patterned dresses. The quiet of the afternoon city, the expectation of the hen picnic-party, all these feminine things around me are the complete opposite of what surrounded me the previous days. Here, just before my friend’s wedding, I feel so much more like a bride than at home. Using packthread and yellow-purple napkin flower garlands we enclose a little patch of grass and cover it with a big blanket. The rest of the girls take out the food. The hen party goes quite untypically – (almost) no alcohol, a completely calm atmosphere and some boys attending too. The night only manages to soften the heat a little and to blur the lines of the city while we’re walking through it on our way to the hotel.
S.’s wedding is a blur of fairly lights. Although traditional it’s also one of a kind. A true example of perfect organization, well considered things and flawless logistics. We have a lot to learn, I think but then I quickly suppress the thought with the conclusion that we have no time for learning. Our wedding is just after a week. Leaning on the hotel room wall in her pink dress, my sister can’t put her phone down. Her boyfriend, who’s traveling to Asia on a bike, can’t leave Istanbul because of the coup attempt. We’re watching the news all the time as we’re getting ready. I think about how personal history blends with world history in the most random of ways. I wonder what will happen in Istanbul and whether while Lukas and I are exchanging our rings after a week there will be people dying there. In seven days however we’ll all see history will take a better or at least a more bloodless turn.
I use the free morning hours to write my wedding speech. It happens fast. I feel as if something in me has been released and the words are just pouring outside. The logic of the text weaves itself up. Whether it’s because I’m here alone, with my backpack in immediate proximity, or because of the fear of vowing, the speech contains both giving out and tentativeness in equal amounts. Love for my future husband and love for myself. It’s not a vow, just a promise. Although it sets no clear-cut conditions, my vowing isn’t unconditional.
We go to the wedding and I create an imaginary notebook in my mind where I’m going to put down all the traditional things so that we can then present them to our Czech guests. At this stage we still think that apart from singing songs we’ll also have time to present the Czech and Bulgarian wedding traditions on the Byala Reka beach. Let us though leave the main characters of our wedding in the black. They still have seven days to go and not a particularly clear picture of the event.
S.’s husband is a Dane so each of the three stages of the wedding – the stealing of the bride, the church and the restaurant – passes ‘dubbed’ in three languages – Bulgarian, Danish and English. First reason to be optimistic – this doesn’t seem like a problem for them; on the contrary, it turns the wedding into a really entertaining experience. I hope our bilingual wedding goes just as well, I think but then I stop so that I can be totally present in this one. The celebration takes place outside of Ruse in a beautiful chateau with a view to the Danube, an outdoor pool that looks as if it’s inserted into the hills themselves and a long immaculately ordered sea of vines. There is even a boat in the sea decorated with Danish and Bulgarian flags. There are people of 13 different nationalities on the wedding but we all speak fluently the international language of dance and fun. The night ends with a long and beautiful firework show. Staring at the sky, I am far from here, singing to myself:
‘If your heart hasn’t been
A firework, a firework’
Part of Lukaš’s family is already here. The rest will soon follow.
When my sister and I come in we learn they’re at the beach which means the combination of attending the guests and preparing the wedding can wait a bit.
This combination becomes a mission impossible in the next three days.
I don’t even remember where exactly we sleep. Gradually the house fills with guests. I try to pay them some attention but each minute dedicated means waisted time for preparation. Fortunately, there are people helping me. My sister makes the song list and together with little E. uses pressed paper to decorate the fruit crates which will hold the wedding cupcakes. I hunt bottles and mason jars in the basement, wash them and then our modest ‘Decoration Department’ wraps them with the old lace mum keeps in a drawer. We’re not throwing wedding charms because some might get lost in the sand but each guest will get one as a souvenir. We sit around the table, pleasant summer twilight getting through. A coin and some wheat grains wrapped in yellow paper and tulle. We need around 80. The endless rhythm – tulle, paper, coin, wheat, packthread – carries me away. I sometimes love monotonous manual work because it lets my mind wander. Besides, precisely in moments like this I have the opportunity to pay attention to the people around even without looking them in the eye. The little charms though don’t seem good enough for me. So, on the following day, I go to the shed behind the house where, since last summer, we’ve kept a sack full of sea conches. I select 80 of them and wash them. Each will hold a little charm and, placed near the ear, will be a sound memory from our sea wedding.
Washing the conches, I think about Dad who was still here a year ago and didn’t look ill. It was him who brought the conch sack. We boiled them outside in a big cauldron and then had to take the meat out under his directions while he was sitting on a trunk, the eternal cigarette in his hand. That summer night we had dinner right there, next to the cauldron, under the vines, another trunk serving as a table. Cleaning up a full sack of conches, although a bit disgusting, was also a type of monotonous manual work which let me have long conversations with the people around. I am grateful to those conches, which of course I didn’t even have a bite of, for granting me those several hours in dad’s company. Sometimes life doesn’t give you a second chance for moments like this.
Dad will, after all, be present at the wedding. For quite some time now I’ve been joking that he’s going to have the best view – ‘drone-like’ – from above. Still, I’m going to get him materialized by framing and taking with me one of his old sailor’s photos. His sailor’s baptism – something which in those days meant getting covered with mazut from head to toe and then thrown in the deep sea. I’ve loved this photograph ever since I was a kid and I’ve always joked that in it he had a beard like Hristo Botev’s.
Unfortunately, the work in the Decoration Department soon gets done. I have the feeling I dedicated too much time for something too insignificant. Of course it isn’t so but the wedding decoration is nothing more than a tiny yellow flower on top of a pile of randomly thrown stuff which has to be ordered, put in a box and made ready to ship. The only thing I’ve done is I’ve carefully moved the little flower from the top of the pile.
Three days until setting off and we still don’t know how we’re going to get all these things transported. The fact Lukaš will be at work also doesn’t help the organization. Fortunately, just like with the conches which are going to hold the wedding baskets, Dad again interferes from above as if, typically, he won’t let the things fail just because a couple of not so well-organized young people have decided to undertake them. He draws my eyes towards the end of the street, by the stadium, where there’s always a parked lorry with a big empty body. Embarrassed as I am, I go to Uncle D. to ask him to drive our stuff to Kara Dere. Unbelievably, he says yes. In the twilight of a yet another day that draws the wedding closer, I patiently wait for him to tell me about his sailor’s years memories. I learn Dad used to help him a lot, so now he’s going to return the favour. The only thing he wants is a vignette and fuel.
On my way home, as I watch the sunset, I understand death is not an end. The things one did keep living after him. One’s good deeds keep helping his family.
I don’t remember a time when there were so many people in my house. My wish to make them feel well and at home collides with my pressing need to find, wrap and think up things. The burlap sacks are piled in the yard. The electric generator is also here. I still hope some drink warehouse near Byala will rent us a drinks fridge but by the end of the day it’s clear this won’t happen as well. In the end we’re going to borrow a small fridge from my uncle. Lukaš has already turned the pallets we bought/not exactly borrowed into legless tables. We’ll think about the legs on the spot. At least we have a pavilion tent – probably the biggest investment in our wedding so far – which will protect the food from the sun during the day and – God forbid – from rain. That same evening M. – Lukaš’s brother-in-law – goes out and quickly makes a few more tables with dismountable legs using the planks we bought. We’ve also agreed on the menu to a great extent. Part of the products are already bought. We’ve ordered an industry scale amount of meat which our mothers are going to prepare at home on the wedding day and which is going to be delivered to Kara Dere immediately before it starts. The relatives are baking sweets. Two friends of mine are making the wedding cupcakes.
I hand-wash my wedding dress and before I hang it to dry outside I put it into a clothes cover. It takes time before the case starts dripping. Unnecessary cautiousness. Lukaš is so tired of work, thinking, making and, as a whole, lack of sleep that even if he notices something white on the clothesline it probably won’t come to his mind that it’s the wedding dress. Indeed, the last thing we think about is the goal of this whole madness. Right now we’re just trying to put this madness together so that it turns into something complete.
It’s not easy at all and we’re already at the limit of our strengths. The only thing that can keep me awake and able to work is the goal of all this but we’re both losing sight of it. Things become even more terrible when M. calls us to the balcony, away from the others, and directly tells us we don’t know what we’re doing and this wedding is probably going nowhere. I still have enough faith and strength in me to counter these words but Lukaš doesn’t. Something more, he takes his fears, tiredness and uncertainty out on me. Although it’s the stupidest thing in the world I leave the balcony, offended, and find the darkest place in the yard where I can hide with a glass of wine in my hand and cry, undisturbed. After a while I hear steps and (un)fortunately it’s not him. My sister comes and hugs me and right now I’m happier than ever that she’s around. We go out into the night, walk towards the stadium, then back down the street and then back up towards the stadium and we do this several times – I, wearing funny slippers and holding a glass of wine – while I admit to her and to the distant stars that perhaps our wedding should fail. That Lukaš and I shouldn’t be together. The tiredness and the insult are so heavy on my shoulders that if the only way to ease the burden is to break up with Lukaš, right now, as dozens of Czech guests are coming here in their cars, so be it.
When I go home Lukaš hugs me and I tell him it’s not fair for him to do it because the comfort of our physical closeness has already turned into an impulse. My body instinctively responds to his but my soul remains hurt and unconsoled. Eventually I stop fighting. This way, without words, I tell him we’re going on with the wedding. But not tonight.
The day passes by a bit more calmly. So much so that I decide to get worried by the fact I’m not doing anything important. At dusk my sister and I take the bus to Kaufland where I fill my travel backpack with products for 80 wedding cupcakes and a small wedding cake. Then we drop them at R. who’s going to make them with her sister. R. offers us a glass of white wine with which we steal a bit of precious time. We go back by bus when it’s already dark. I look at the waxing moon – tomorrow evening we should be looking at it from the beach.
At home I find out a car full of Czechs is already approaching Rudnik. My first reaction is to start panicking. The last thing I need is more guests. Especially considering the fact the group of Czechs arriving by train is also going to be at home a bit after midnight. When the car pulls over however I’m actually glad to see them. One of the girls gives me a bouquet of three sunflowers. They were picked somewhere near the sea. Perhaps exactly near Kara Dere. The bouquet brings me consolation – all the time I’ve been imagining we’re going to decorate the wedding location with sunflowers growing in the near fields. I’m happy to see that north of the Balkan Mountains, unlike here, they haven’t dried up yet. The group celebrate reaching their final destination with a shot of rakia. Then they prudently offer that everyone sleeps inside the stadium so that they don’t contribute to the chaos at home. The first awesome thing the ‘Czech team’ does for our wedding. Many more will follow. We invite them on the balcony where they start taking out bottles of beer, gas stoves and canned food. In the beginning I feel uncomfortable by the fact they don’t really need me as their host but then I silently thank them.
Exhausted, Lukaš and I lie down on the sofa in the living room for about an hour. Then he and M. set off with their cars to take the Czechs who’ve arrived by train and bus. I have the feeling they’re back in five minutes. I’m awakened by the clamour of the arriving guests mixed with something new they explain to me in Czech. It takes time before I figure it out. Lukaš hit the car. He just drove in reverse and hit the car of the Czechs sleeping in the stadium. Their car is all right. Our trunk can’t get closed anymore.
I’m too tired to panic but the news leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. However, Lukaš’s reaction surprises me. Whether it’s because he’s among friends or because he’s dead tired he’s not as angry as he would otherwise be. After a quick chat with the guests we both go out to sleep in the car. We’re finally alone, at least for a while. Anxious, I look at the stars through the window and wonder what else will happen before the wedding. Beyond the limit of his strengths, Lukas puts his arm around me and falls asleep.
First Aid Kit – I Met Up With the King
Stefan Valdobrev – Fojerverk (‘Firework’)
”Rock Beneath the Waves”, Somendra Singh)