The day starts chaotically. The living room is full of people. The moka pot won’t cool down – after each coffee we pour we leave it under the cold running water for a bit so that we can at least open and load it again. While I’m wondering if everyone will manage to have a proper breakfast, outside, M. and Lukaš are trying to fix the car trunk. I’m happy to learn that using a hammer or some other unknown magic tool they’ve managed to bring the dent somewhat back to its previous shape and the truck can close again.
Hooray. 1:0 for us.
The first part of the day passes in packing forks, plates, decoration, fridge, blankets, tents and whatnot. There’s even a stuffed dead duck in one of the boxes. It should act as the chicken from the wedding dance1 I think we’re going to show the Czechs. Lukaš is out to buy the beer and get the amplifier from the repair shop so that we can have music. First I think he’ll be back in about an hour and a half but lunchtime passes by, Uncle D. stops his lorry in front of the house and he’s still away. At some point he sends me a photo of bowties from a men’s suit shop. I tell him to get the yellow one, fully confident that it’s exactly yellow that will be the dominant colour of our wedding (one of the few things which actually turned out to be true). I also tell him to hurry up.
The situation begins to get tense when the scheduled time of departure to Kara Dere passes and the groom is still gone. Fortunately, there are enough “workers” at home and together we manage to load the lorry. Finally, Lukaš comes back; we unload the beer packs from the car and load them in the lorry. It turns out something is not exactly right with the amplifier so for now whether we’ll have music or not is still a question. I give my dress to M. who’s coming to Byala with his family on the next day and can leave it in the guesthouse where they’ll be staying. Somehow, I can’t imagine tossing it amid the rest of the stuff in the lorry.
Five people, excluding the driver, can fit in the lorry. Providently, my sister and I sit next to Uncle D. with three Czech boys sitting in the back who are going to help with unloading the heavy stuff. Lukaš takes the boys’ girlfriends in his car, jokingly saying that perhaps we won’t see each other again. At that time he’s still in the mood for jokes.
We set off in the still pale afternoon. The open windows of the lorry let in dust and the smell of warm hay. Somewhere along the serpentine road to Varna one of the Czech cars overtakes us. I wonder if, hurrying ahead, they’re going to find the right way. After the mountain the road opens – endless fields span on one side; the sea gleams on the other. I look at everything through the boys’ eyes. I love doing that when I show the beauty of a place to someone who’s seeing it for the first time. I also love traveling somewhere. No matter where, as long as the journey is long. Regardless of what awaits me at the end – something good or not – the journey is still my favourite part, especially when following the road is not my responsibility.
That’s why my peace slowly but surely gives way to tension the minute the lorry gets out of Byala and enters the dirt roads. Armed with a mere satellite photo of the area, I navigate Uncle D. but very soon the road becomes too rough and strewn with craters. For a moment the burning feeling of panic in my stomach makes me numb. I don’t know which way to lead and I’m even more worried about what Uncle D. might be thinking. I’m typically much more worried about the majority of men drivers’ reaction to problems on the road than about the problems themselves. He says nothing but my tendency to unravel the thoughts and feelings of others doesn’t leave me alone.
In the end we decide to turn back and take another road. Turning back on the narrow road of course isn’t easy. We all get off and start pushing the lorry to help it. We take a new road, a bit wider this time. I watch in awe as Uncle D. does anything but slow down at the holes and goes over them without batting an eyelid. I calm myself down, supposing that when he was young and learning to drive all roads used to look like this. The anxiety about whether I’m leading him in the right direction hinders me from enjoying the surrounding beauty. Ahead and to the right, the sea at Kara Dere is painfully blue against the distant forest. The late afternoon turns the fields dark yellow and the leaves of the vines begin to redden.
At some distance ahead I see a strip of trees going east. I identify the element of the satellite map I’ve been looking for all the time. We make a turn and soon the lorry stops in the “Kara Dere parking lot” – a big clearing where people leave their cars and campervans in the summer.
We unload everything and pile it up to the side of the cars. It seems incredible that this pile contains all we need for the wedding. The sun is already descending over the fields when Uncle D. starts his journey home. I watch as, light already, his lorry staggers along the road with a speed too high for this terrain and I silently wish that he comes back home in time for dinner. And to stick to his word and come to take us back on Sunday.
The Czech car arrives not long after that. While the people are making their first contact with unknown representatives of the local population – an elderly guy who takes a big plastic bottle of rakia out of a plastic bag and pours them – I try to connect with Lukaš and to a group of friends who I know should already be in Kara Dere. Both turn out to be a difficult task. Sometimes there is network coverage in the “parking lot” and sometimes there isn’t but this is my only chance to hear from somebody. Once we go down to the beach our phones will turn into mere cameras. I start walking back towards the fields, hoping to catch a better signal. I reach the beginning of the strip of trees where I see two black dogs. It seems they’re coming towards me so I run back and stop only after I’ve heard the first voices coming from the parking lot. Kara Dere’s “wildlife” is trying to scare me again. I take my sister with me so that I don’t face the dogs alone again and we go back to the fields where I finally manage to get to Lukaš and explain to him how to reach the parking lot. I’m not that lucky with the Bulgarian group. The last I hear, while we’re still in the coverage zone, is that they’re wandering along the roads on their way here.
After Lukaš and the girls arrive everyone takes a thing from the pile and carries it down the steep slope leading to the beach. Although there’s a lot of us, it seems to me that takes an eternity and I’m already wondering how much heavier it will be on leaving when we’ll have to carry the stuff up the slope. I’m also wondering if, lucky as we’ve been by now, getting the heavy generator and the fridge down the slope will end up well but the boys do a fantastic job. In the end there’s only a huge trunk left which we decide to simply push down the cliff. I am holding my breath until I see it tumble down at a safe distance from people and things.
The night is already descending when I learn the Bulgarian group is having a problem. They’re stuck in some rut and can‘t get out. The bad thing is we don’t even know where they are and how to go and help them and I’m not even sure anyone of us has a rope in their car. Eventually it all ends up well. A few boys on ATVs pass them by and help them get out. Soon after that they’re on the beach with us.
Although the pavilion tent is already pitched in place, most of the things will have to wait until the morning. The beach around is strewn with boxes, crates and backpacks. We sit by the shore, watching the moon’s long reflection in the calm sea, and treat ourselves to rakia for the well done job. I can’t rest yet, though. To everyone’s amazement, I put a foldable chair near the others and I sit in it with a computer in my lap. I hope I’ll have enough battery to translate my speech to English. Then I hope someone will translate it to Czech.
We don’t have fire so soon everyone puts on a jacket or a scarf. The sand is cold against our bare feet. Gradually the talking gets quieter. Exhausted, Lukaš falls asleep in his place but when I wake him up he says he’ll stay a bit more. To me the day has already been long enough. I leave the group and pitch our tent to the side of the “wedding spot”. I’m too cold and tired to bathe. I get in and the sound of the waves quickly sends me to sleep.
I wake up very early and go into the sea. It seems the most natural thing in the world to me. Leaving your tent and then bathing in the water which is still cool to the touch. More natural than taking a shower in the bathroom. There’s something hospitable about sea water; something that resembles either the mother’s womb or our primordial past.
Everyone is still asleep so I take a long walk by the shore. I find the spot where I recall there was drinking water springing from the cliff behind the sand strip. I’m happy to find out there is water, albeit slowly running. In fact, there’s water running in thin streaks down the cliff that’s right behind our wedding spot. I’ve never drunk from it though and I’m still not sure if we can use it. A bit later we’ll all forget about these worries and the spring will turn into a fridge, a sink and a fountain to drink from. On my way back I collect multicoloured stones smoothed to perfection by the sea. One of them is so pretty I just have to tell somebody about it so I wake Lukaš up bringing it to the tent. The rest of them I line up on the bench we brought so that they can dry.
Gradually everyone wakes up and coffee starts getting made on the travel stoves. My acquired, or perhaps innate, sense of order won’t leave me alone – I want all this stuff tossed on the sand to just get inside the tents so that we can start building. (I think I’ll be a horrible mother. J) And here I hit something, like a wall, which I had never foreseen – I’m not the only person here making this wedding. It turns out Lukaš and I have a bit different ideas about how to use and where to place each thing. It gets to the point where we start yelling at each other in front of everyone. Only the Bulgarian group understands; the Czechs must be really confused about what’s going on. Hurt, I sit by my sister and M., on their urging, to have a coffee and calm myself down. Eventually the things cool down but I feel the familiar feeling of despair rising in me again which takes over every time I realize Lukaš and I really speak two different internal languages.
In the end we put off the main construction work for the afternoon. Lukaš and I go to Byala where we have to arrange the rooms for the guests and to call everyone else who is getting here today or tomorrow. First we drop in at “Chayka” – the house of some friends of ours where part of the guests will be staying. Their shady garden full of flowers seems like the most pleasant place in the world right now. I use the opportunity to upload to Facebook photos of the area with directions for the right way. The last thing I want is for the guests to wander to the wedding spot like we did. Then Lukaš and I separate and I start walking about the town looking for free rooms for the rest of the guests who are not going to sleep on the beach. It takes a lot of time – no one wants guests for one night only, especially for the next, and the midday heat is killing me but eventually I manage to arrange everything a day before the wedding. Instead of hiding under a sunshade and getting a frappe, though, I set off to Kara Dere on foot armed with torn pieces of cardboard boxes and markers. I intend to place signs along the road for additional ease of navigation.
I must be looking absurdly – a girl with a small backpack, straw hat and short dress who’s walking alone down the dusty roads between the vines, stopping from time to time to draw yet another arrow on the cardboard box sign and then hang it wherever she finds it possible. Unfortunately, there are no trees along the way and I’m forced to hang some signs on bushes swaying in the warm wind. However, no one sees me – only a mad person would go out of his house or shady beach shelter in this hour to take a walk along the vines. The only one who sees me is a foreigner riding a scooter who stops to ask what I’m doing. I find out he’s Indian and that really amuses me. I tell him I am making signs leading to the beach where I’m getting married the next day. I guess that amuses him.
After a life-saving plunge in the sea I join the Czechs who are making lunch. They’ve bought plenty of huge red tomatoes – only looking at them makes me proud to be a Bulgarian. There’s a watermelon cooling down in our natural fridge – the puddle under the spring – which we later cut in pieces and share. At the same time Lukaš comes back, angry that we started eating it. He forgets about it though when he takes a look at the beer – we’re left with just about the half of it. I look at the Czechs, already red by the sun, and at their cups, but we can’t be mad at them – we need to rewards them somehow for not just being guests but also helping us create the wedding.
As the sun starts going down to the west and the shadow of the cliff behind us crawls closer to the sea we get to work. The tables with legs are already put together. Now it’s time for the lower ones. The boys are busying themselves around the pallets, drills in their hands. The girls are filling the burlap sacks with sand; we tie them up with strings of packthread and place them around the tables. The pallet tables turn out to be too low so we place them on top of sand piles, hoping for the construction to endure.
A few Czechs take up the most challenging project – digging a hole for the generator. When on, the generator sounds like a tractor, so, to muffle the noise, we intend to place it in a hole in the sand. The hole is dug and the generator is placed on a pallet so that there’s some air ventilation under it. We connect it to the extender. We pour some petrol in it. Three, two, one. It’s working. The portable hob is getting hotter so we can make coffee without travel stoves. Another win! (Well done, boys!)
My sister and the Bulgarian group are coming back from the forest, everyone dragging a long branch. Gradually the branches turn into a beautiful arch which we decorate with some of the curtains. I can’t stop looking at it. So many years of browsing through Jose Villa’s website or other wedding photos à la Pinterest and here I am, finally having my own wedding arch overlooking the sea. From this moment on the guesses of the neighbouring campers that there’s going to be a wedding here are confirmed. The arch is immediately put to use. One of the girls puts a chair under it and opens an improvised hairdresser’s salon without a mirror but with the most beautiful view possible.
The last of the big projects is the toilet. Considering the materials and the environment available, it’s an engineering masterpiece. It contains all we need, even some extras as the girls note happily. The funniest thing? It’s placed in such a way that in sunset the sun illuminates it from behind and creates a unique theatre of shadows where the people using it are main characters and everyone else – an audience.
The moon rises above the sea again only a bit smaller than the day before. This time we sit around the tables where a few tealights are burning, casting warm light. Several Czechs are making dinner. I’m all the time thinking they’re making a huge bucket of shopska salad2. In the end, however, when we all line up by the pavilion tent, porcelain plates in our hands, we’re all given pasta. I’ve never thought the ingredients of the shopska salad can match pasta and sauce so well but we all agree it’s really tasty. The fact we’re eating in porcelain plates illuminated by the moon and the stars turns the dinner into a luxurious experience. After the food everyone indulges in quiet talk and the darkness gleams and goes off with each drag of a cigarette. E. takes his guitar out and we start singing Nirvana songs. I feel my voice cracking and I wonder how I’m going to sing the next day. Although I’ve laid a blanket on the makeshift bench, I’m quite cold and I am really starting to wonder how I’m going to get through the wedding night in my thin dress. The exhaustion makes me drowse and soon I’m again one of the first to leave the camp. I sink in the warmth of the tent, ready to face my last night as an unmarried woman.
What wakes me up, however, is not the sun, setting the beginning of the wedding day. When I open my eyes it’s still dark although I can see through the roof of the tent that the moon has moved higher in the sky. I hear Lukaš screaming and I can tell he’s having a tremendous fun. I’m not exactly sure what’s happened – the only thing I can hear are the partially muffled exclaims of a multitude of people who are apparently in the sea and who are apparently quite drunk. I rest my head on the inflatable pillow again, feeling both annoyed at being awakened and slightly jealous. We’d never said anything about stag or hen parties! I feel a bit betrayed although I know it’s me who chose a boring ending to my day. Well, the hen party I’d liked to have but didn’t because of lack of time would have looked differently anyway. It would have been more “mine” – calmer, more beautiful, in the daytime.
Day and night. Perhaps that’s who we are, I’m thinking, trying to fall asleep again. Always in conflict, always having a different idea about things. The only thing that connects us are sunrises and sunsets. I realize I’m probably wasting my last day of “freedom” in sleep but eventually I choose to close my eyes again and be fresh on the next day.
It will turn out to have been a good idea.
As soon as I open my eyes, I realize it will be hard for the day to start. Each attempt I make to wake Lukaš up is met with some indefinite moaning. It’s still quite early so I cut my unsuccessful attempts and start preparing for the wedding. A bath in the sea and then shaving my legs with an electric shaver at the porch of the tent. I look ridiculous but there’s no one to see me. One day I’ll tell this to my kids: how I was sitting at the porch of our tent, shaving my legs with an electric shaver while their drunken father was refusing to get up and get married. Here, on this wild beach, however such things don’t look so odd. Soon M. wakes up, comes out of her tent, which is near ours, squats at the porch and starts washing her teeth. She’ll be a witness at our marriage and it seems she’s even more serious about her duties than Lukaš.
Finally he wakes up too but I can tell he’s having a very hard time. In fact, he isn’t even a bit sober. This amuses me to a certain extent, especially when he decides we should go for a swim and without our swimming suits too. There’s nothing unnatural about it to us but we’ve never done it together with so many people we know. It seems our idea appeals to his brother and his girlfriend too who have apparently arrived the previous night and pitched their tent next to ours. We swim towards the camp where Lukaš lifts me on his shoulders and we both get out of the sea and pass under the wedding arch naked, while the rest of the people are making coffee next to us.
There’s no way I can better describe the situation.
We don’t have a lot of time to hang around. We quickly take the clothes we’re going to need and prepare for going to Byala. In the fuss M. realizes she’s lost her identity card so she can’t be our witness anymore and we need two. Fortunately, another friend who also arrived late last night will cover for her. We tell the rest we’re going to Byala to get married and we’ll be back soon and our comment makes them laugh.
It’s a pity they can’t be with us all during the civil marriage because things get even funnier there.
In Byala we drop in at “Chayka” where we take a shower in a real bathroom, with shampoo and soap. Where there are mirrors. This takes some of the wedding charm away I guess but the civil marriage is nothing more than a formality anyway. We can do it by the rules of society, that is, washed clean.
We’re not exactly sure what to do. The only thing we know is we need to go to the town hall and look for a woman named Stefka. I guess surnames don’t matter much here. We find her quickly – Stefka is looking at us through the window of a counter where I imagine the local old women wait to get their pension money. It’s right here where she fills in our marriage certificate. We stand at the counter – I in a short dress and a silly straw hat, Lukaš in casual summer clothes and still quite drunk – and I wonder if this is really where our marriage will happen. I know the real beach ceremony will be much more romantic than what most newlyweds experience and I know we purposefully decided to avoid any unnecessary expenses by declining a ritual in the town hall and yet all of this seems too prosaic to me. Funny even. Absurd. I recall shaving my legs at the porch of the tent and then suddenly getting married at a counter stops being so strange. It’s completely in tune with everything.
However, Stefka decides to give us a present. We haven’t paid for a ritual and yet she takes us to another building across the street which seems to perform two functions – a ceremonial hall and an archeological museum. Surrounded by enormous pots, facing the Bulgarian flag, we listen through her modest speech albeit with no ceremonial music in the background. She didn’t have to do it but apparently she liked us. We put our signatures and the people present take us phone photos. Not only the witnesses are here – M. eventually managed to prove her identity with her European Health Insurance card –but also Lukaš’s sister’s family as well as a Czech girl with excellent Bulgarian who has arrived to Byala at the same time and who’s going to join the wedding. A few more photographs in front of the multipurpose building and there – we’re already married. And Lukaš hasn’t even got sober yet.
Although it’s irrational, we go to the nearest pub for a “wedding lunch”. We can’t afford to waste time at all but Lukaš is not in the right condition to drive. Apparently, in the chaos of last night he forgot to assign who among all the drivers in the camp would go back to Burgas to take the parents and the food. It’s too late for such arrangements now so he’ll be the one to go which turns out to be one of the worst decisions taken during the wedding. Not only does he risk – at best – a fine and – at worst – his life but he won’t be there for the most important preparations right before the wedding, leaving me alone in charge of the parade.
It’s afternoon now and it’s scorching hot when we set off back to Byala Reka. Before reaching the beach my back starts burning and I feel an urging desire to sink in the blue water. For a moment I wonder if I should also dip my head which smells so nicely of shampoo but then the heat decides instead of me. I’ve never been good at looking decent (my prom photos prove that) and I guess my wedding won’t be an exception. But then, if it should be a beach wedding, let it be such – let my hair be salty and have a slight smell of seaweed.
М. – the Czech girl with awesome Bulgarian – agrees to translate my speech and doesn’t even change her mind when she sees it’s about six pages long. I try to make her feel as comfortable as possible – I give her an umbrella which the afternoon wind is all the time trying to take from her but fortunately never does. The poor girl spends hours on end translating the speech. I’ll always be tormented by the thought I never thanked her the way I should have.
Time flies by indifferently and I know if I don’t immediately become a captain the ship of my wedding will sink. This turns out to be the hardest thing in the world. Some of the guests start coming to me, asking for things to do, but I don’t know where to begin. In the end we decide to finish the decoration and make the salads. My sister goes for wild flowers and sunflowers for my bouquet. The first guests arrive, bringing sweets; the wedding cupcakes are also here, waiting to be topped with cream. Something like a buffet is beginning to take shape which I like as an idea but later it will turn out it doesn’t really please some of the guests. Lukaš doesn’t come back along with the parents (and the meat) before the shadow of the cliff has almost crawled in to the very pavilion tent. Although it’s just a bit past six the sun will soon leave the beach. Lukaš is angry because of the weak organization, his own delay and the fact we’re not ready. His mood is contagious and I feel the tension overcoming me. We meet by the arch and begin to fervently discuss what we’re going to do now. From a distance it seems as if we’re telling some sweet things to each other or preparing some sort of a surprise but in reality we’re standing there, away from the others, trying to keep our despair at bay.
In the end we decide we’ll leave it to the guests to manage everything – although none has been warned in advance about what we expect from them – and we’ll go to get changed so that the wedding can start regardless of the fact we’re not ready. Lukaš also insists I shorten my speech. For a moment I feel robbed – these words were really important to me; they were the most honest thing I would ever tell in front of someone else. However, he thinks the guests are already too nervous to be forced to stand through a six-page speech. I have no time for self-pity. While walking towards the tent however I start to really feel sorry about M. who wasted so much time to translate the speech.
I’ve already picked up the place where I am going to change – by the vines up on the cliff, over the “parking lot”. There are a few nice trees there where I can hang my dress while having my hair done. Almost all girls come with me, already in their beautiful dresses. We go up the slope, carrying the dress, a small mirror and a foldable chair. We surely look at least a bit ridiculous. When I sit on the chair and the girls start busying themselves around me I finally – perhaps for the first time this day – manage to calm down and even feel a little happy. Here – away from the beach and in this company – everything seems much lighter, nicer and… more possible. I think about how this is the exact way every woman should spend the hours before the wedding – in the company of other women who should bring her to her new life not just good-looking and prepared but also inspired. As far as the good looks are concerned, the girls can’t do a lot. I have no make-up apart from what they’re offering to me. My back is a huge red spot which my white dress additionally focuses upon. I’m glad my dress is too long because after three days of walking on sand my feet are awfully coarse. As a whole, I’ve felt much prettier on many less important occasions. But I can’t do anything about it.
Before long we go back to the parking lot, getting ready to descend the slope. The girls, already exuberant, turn to the owner of one of the parked camper vans in the most unceremonious of manner, asking him to treat me to some rakia for courage. Although initially confused, he gives me a cup full of some gold-coloured liquid. It tastes horribly but I drink it up, the girls cheering me on. Then the camper van owner wishes me luck but adds that, marrying, I’m making the greatest mistake of my life.
For a while his words echo in my mind but on making the first steps down the slope I feel my courage return – I can hear some voices coming from the beach, cheering and applauding, and I realize they’re not from our camp. Dozens of strangers have gathered aside from the wedding spot, eager to witness an event so rare on this wild beach. When we pass them by – I and my “suite” – I hear “C’mon, we’ve been waiting for this bride for ages!” and I feel really happy. Another moment of satisfaction with my wedding. The third one unfortunately won’t be soon…
I make steps towards Lukaš who has his eyes tied. The sun is already red on his face. There are mere minutes left until twilight. I can’t define with any certainty the feeling that overcomes him the moment he sees me in the dress for the first time but I hope he finds me beautiful. Sometimes it’s only his words that can make me feel such. I ask M. to translate the text I’m going to read to Czech and then I read just a portion of the speech. It contains such a huge part of me that I’d never risk to have it resound in Bulgarian only, even if it were just me and him on the beach. Despite that, I’m not completely sure all my words get to him. He seems too excited to take in and consider everything I say. Some of my guests however say my speech did its purpose. “I’ve never seen a man looking at someone the way Lukaš was looking at you,” M. will say later and I’ll brighten up on the inside. In his turn, Lukaš makes a short speech in Czech – he hasn’t prepared (he really didn’t have time), and later he’ll even scold me for the fact my speech made him look like a fool, but his words sound real and shiver in the air.
Actually, I don’t know to what extent my long speech would make sense. There, by the arch, I’m asking myself if it really matters that we’re making a vow in front of others. Isn’t it more important that we hear each other ourselves, even with no one to witness it? I can’t answer myself. My only consolation is the belief that it’s much better to say what you promise and vow in alone than to just repeat someone else’s words, ending it with a simple “Yes!”.
We exchange our rings.
We kiss for a long time. Too long to be appropriate. But, having closed our eyes and pressed our lips together, we have the chance to transcend into another world, away from all the concerns and duties here. A world where we’re completely safe. A world with no time or space. With no place for anything or anyone else apart from us. Meanwhile, in the real world, we’re kissing under a rain of rice and applause. The light emanating from us gets captured by the camera sensors, allowing for the moment to last forever. That will be the moment with which everyone will associate our wedding, especially the ones who are not on the beach now and who’ll never learn the rest of the details.
Then the sun goes down and the magic is over. We remain by the arch to personally greet each of the guests and give him a sea shell with a wedding charm inside. However, this is where our plan ends.
When we go back to the pavilion tent Lukas immediately changes – he becomes tense and angry again and starts running to and fro in order to overcome the chaos and do as much as he can. I’m also trying to help him although everyone is urging us to sit at the table and join the toast. We never sit down. We go from guest to guest, glasses in hand, but I’m not the happy bride I was just minutes ago. It’s hard for the greetings to penetrate my thoughts. I’m not exactly sure what’s going on but it turns out half of the guests are waiting for the food to be served because they’re already seated and won’t leave the tables. Even worse, we’re short of tables so part of the Czechs sit down on the sand behind the pavilion tent, facing the sea, away from the rest. I go there, asking them to join the others but in fact I have not much to offer. Then it turns out the meat is not ready either. As far as the vegetarian meal is concerned – grilled aubergines with mozzarella which seemed like an awesome idea at home – it’s also laying there, undercooked, and it looks like it doesn’t taste that well after all. I don’t know if the others can see it but I’m overcome by panic. My younger sister does see it. Later she’ll tell me the situation suddenly became so tense that the only thing she could do was get a rakia shot. Then it all got better.
Well, I never manage to make that conclusion. Utterly despaired, I go away from the camp and turn towards the sea, hoping for a miracle. I want to burst in tears (and I guess I do it for a while) and for yet another time since we began preparing for the wedding I wish I could just give up on everything. However, this is already impossible. I go back to the camp with difficulty – as if I’m dragging some huge weight – and I try to be part of what my wedding is turning into – some chaos where I have control over nothing. I quickly realize we’re not going to be singing. Right now our only concern is for the guests to feel all right. As paradoxical as it seems, we put all our effort in that and completely forget about everything we wanted to do on our own wedding. I feel twice misled – but I don’t know by whom: because of my speech and because of not going to sing our wedding songs. All these days when I would stand in the middle of the bedroom, imagining I was here singing The Power of Love have apparently been in vain. Both this song and Firework will always remain my wedding songs… but only in my head.
With darkness falling and the guests having managed to eat something, no matter what – sweets or an undercooked steak – things begin to look better. We play music and make some space for dancing. A great deal of the people are already drunk which takes away part of my anxiety. I would even say I’m having fun. I guess I’ve already crossed the threshold of despair and I now take the things with a sense of humour.
Even the fact we can’t light up our homemade torches can’t disappoint me anymore. Lined up in front of the arch, they were supposed to illuminate the space where I am going to toss my bouquet. Luckily, somebody quickly finds a solution. I wind the elastic strap of someone’s headlamp round the bouquet, turn the lamp on and then toss it behind me. A flying light. I. catches it who wanted it more than anyone else and who was even ready to go into the water should I have decided to toss it there.
At some point the generator goes off – we’ve run out of petrol. For a moment a new threat hangs over the camp but the things are quickly fixed. Lukaš goes up the slope and asks the man who has to come and take the guests sleeping in Byala to get two big plastic bottles of petrol from somewhere. Thanks to our friends in Byala the party is saved – the lights of the pavilion tent are on again and music fills the beach. After this last push (and after he’s had a ladleful of rakia) Lukaš gives in and falls asleep, sitting on a burlap sack. No one can wake him up. I wrap him up with a blanket but I feel sorry to leave him like that so in the end I ask a few boys to help me drag him up to the tent. I want nothing more than staying there with him instead of going back to this weird, somehow alien, wedding but I don’t do it out of a sense of duty. Back in the camp, I sit by a fire to get warm and I gradually lose my desire to dance. At some point some stranger attaches himself to us and starts philosophizing – the situation strikingly reminds me of all those July Morning3 parties I’ve been to here. This comparison further robs the wedding of its uniqueness and eventually defeats me. A bit later, much before the majority of guests have fallen asleep, I go to our tent, looking forward to put this day to an end.
We’re in no rush to get out of the tent. There’s no reason why we should. The sun is burning through its thin walls but we lie inside and Lukaš asks me over and over again when and how he went to bed. He refuses to believe he was unconscious and dragged to the tent. We feel much better than we did the day before. Perhaps because everything is over. There’s nothing that can fail anymore. Moreover, there’s some tenderness in him which I didn’t even feel the day before. As if the fact we’re already husband and wife really changed him.
The camp is quiet. We finish the leftovers from the night before, talk about different things, sunbathe and swim. Then, lazily, we start taking everything apart and packing it. The pavilion tent, the tables, the sack chairs, the generator – the entire wedding puzzle is brought back to its individual pieces which we carry up the slope one by one. Uncle D. keeps his promise and comes with his lorry which we quickly load with all the stuff. Most of the people have already left. The rest are leaving now, everyone in a different direction. The last ones to stay are I, Lukas, his brother, his brother’s girlfriend and another girl. The two of us decide to go back to the beach and see if we haven’t forgotten anything and the rest start walking to Byala with the proviso that we take them on the way.
We go down to the beach, slowly, and aim for the place where we married the day before. The arch – now stripped of the curtains – is the only thing that hints at what has been happening here the last days. Our patch of the beach is already occupied by new people. I see we’ve forgotten the huge trunk which we had tumbled down the cliff but, fortunately, we don’t need to carry it back – the new people are already using it as a chair. We go into the water for a last bath before going home. The sun is going down again – I guess it was the same time yesterday when I was descending the slope under the applause of strangers and friends. Today, however, everything is peaceful; the wild beach is quietly getting ready for the upcoming evening.
For the first time for the past three days we feel our true connection to this place. We recall the days we’ve spent here or on other empty beaches where the company of just the two of us was more than sufficient and when everything was working out because it was unplanned. Our memories make us happy – now we’re here, just he and I, having this whole world to ourselves. Something more, we promised each other to be together, to hit the tough road of growing up, making a family, even maybe getting old… hand in hand. And along this way, for better or worse, we won’t have to prove anything to anyone else but us two. We won’t risk failing in front of anyone else but ourselves.
We go up to the parking lot, in a quiet sorrow, get dressed and drive off slowly. Lukaš stops near the sunflower field. The tires send up a cloud of dust which gets stuck to the windows. To the left the sea is shining, dark blue. To the right the sun is slowly sinking behind the distant hills. I look at him. He looks at me. We say nothing. We are silent as the dust settles down. I see a wet gleam in his eyes. Mine respond in the same way. The round, silent, wet irises – these are the rings we exchange. This inaudible ritual is inevitably followed by a kiss. A kiss whose only witnesses are the bowing heads of the sunflowers.
We move our faces apart and smile. Without a word, Lukaš drives off again.
A dirt road, a sea, glistening in the distance. A field of sunflowers.
A dusty car and two people in it. A man and a woman who understand each other best when they let go of the words. Who can’t turn their love into a performance for others because it was only made for the two of them. Who can’t become one because they’re too different. But also who – like the day and the night – still manage to catch up with each other and blend into one.
In that moment, having stopped by the sunflower field, our souls unite in a sunset. They are one for a short time and then they separate. And become opposites. I don’t mind I am the day and you are the night. That your stars make me cold and my rays sting you. I don’t mind we’re meant to be always chasing each other and never walking together. I’m fine with our fleeting encounters at each sunrise and sunset when we forget who we are and we dissolve, mixing all our colours – the warm and the cold. That’s our wedding – it doesn’t happen once but repeats itself again and again every time we decide to bring our souls together. And this series of death and life, although difficult to accept, seems much more hopeful to me than the promise of eternity.
*In many Bulgarian weddings, especially before 1989, a chicken dance was performed whereby a woman would take the big plate with the roast chicken and dance around the tables. It’s the bride’s task to try to get the chicken back from her.
**Shopska salad is a traditional Bulgarian salad consisting of tomatoes, cucumbers, onion and grated white cheese.
***July Morning is a Bulgarian festival celebrating the first sunrise of July that takes place by the sea or another body of water.
Main photography: Jiří Dvořák
Ada GiGi (Instagram)
Georgi Bonchev (Instagram)