(No. 1 of the Bulgarian series)
We passed Vama Veche – the last coastal village in Romania giving way to Bulgaria – and drove to border control. Being the only non-European in the car, my passport was checked further. I sat with a knot in my stomach. A type of pointless fluttering I’ve felt only at border controls and points of passage. The one where you know you’ve got everything you need, but also know that anything can happen. And know for a fact that at immigration and passport control – unlike the other scenarios where you say anything can happen – anything can happen.
It was my second time at that particular border post on the coast between Bulgaria and Romania. The first time, I’d rented a bicycle from Bazart Hotel in Vama Veche along with a friend and come up to the border. I had had a permit which was valid only in Romania. I watched the friend cycle away past the border and a minute later, past my line of sight. Even now, I cannot find a word to match the feeling that rose in my fingers and chest, as I watched him go.
I stood with my bicycle for a while, followed the sun set on open, dug out land, some sunflowers far away, buses of people, onward cars, policemen and dogs. After twenty minutes when I began the ride back to Vama Veche, the dogs chased me. I held my breath and pedalled with all I had. Five of them. But that is a story for another time.
My passport was stamped and returned to me. We crossed the border. My first time in Bulgaria. My first time crossing an international border by car.
Raluca, my hostess from Viscri in Romania was driving the car. Mihai was at the back with Rada, a nine month old who couldn’t bear the estrangement from her mother upfront. Iosif and Petru, their sons who had earlier teased me for sleeping in the car, were ready to hit the beach. The car was filled with swim rings, balloons, goggles and other inflatable things.
We were on our way to Balchik – where we would part ways for time on our own – but decided to take the access road to the right off the E87 and head to Krapets for a quick dip in the sea.
Krapets or Krapec (Крапец) is a Bulgarian village on the coast after Durankulak and Vaklino. The sun is subtle. Most of us agree it is a day made for the beach. The water is made of two shades of blue – closer to the shore – ending in white froth. A third, darker shade stands farther away from us.
Raluca brings Rada closer to the sea where the boys have already chosen their own spots. Rada’s forehead creases, her lips loosen and hands clasp each other. She does not take her sharp eyes off the sea. She looks confused. Taken aback. If babies have a habit of holding their breaths, she held hers for the first time then.
I lose my reserve when I get into the water. The child in me has sprung out to take refuge in the pealing waters. I bounce with the waves, legs tumbling me down, the sea picking me up. When I come out, I lead apprehensive Rada away from her mother, onto the sand and slowly closer to the sea.
For the first time, while travelling, I didn’t notice anything else. Just the sea and these kids around it. Did not take note of any cliffs or sand dunes, of the sea birds or the books people read. Not even the men.
We left the sea at Krapets a few hours later and drove to Balchik. I sat upfront, wondering why I had a good feeling about all this. Perhaps it was the thought of spending the coming days on the Black Sea.
Later, in Balchik, in Sinnemorets, Rezovo and Varna, I’d realise that it was Rada’s look. Her look of astonishment, incredulity at what was in front of her… The immense of nature, of wild things, of the sea at Krapets… I looked at everything in front of me, during my time in Bulgaria, like that.