little fireling, little warlike starling, flickering indignantly, all
erotic umbrage. Broken wing in my hand. Pathological, shy
flame, I will care for you. Little shape of my fate, my
certain failure. What
is desire, if not
this burden. Dearth and glut
cupped in your hands: wild, deadheaded, and blue.”
After Krapets, my hosts drop me off at Zlatko Petkov in Balchik with instructions to Villa Popov. Go up the hill, fifth right, second left. When the car speeds away, there’s no one but me. Shabby me, in boxer shorts, sea coiled tufts of hair, unevenly tanned blackish brown face, salt lips; shedding sand as I flip-flop uphill.
At the second left there are no signs. No numbers for houses. After an hour’s search for Villa Popov, I begin to peep into houses, pull myself up compound walls to spot people. When I do, I only catch the eyes of old women, always in pairs, always giving out contradictory directions. From this hill – the Balchik Villa Zone, I can see the sea, it’s horizon, the white cliffs, the Balchik sign perched on top of it and the many shades of blue. I try to read the Cyrillic characters etched on the cliff in the alphabet I know, in words for shapes I know. Балчик – Ba.ty.hk. Batyhk. Or b.a.t.y.n.k. Batynk. I memorise it. I’d learn to write many more of these Bulgarian town names, village names in Cyrillic by construing my own versions for them. It came in handy, looking out windows of mini-vans, passing road signs. Some cognitive, linguistic nod between worlds of comprehension, or the lack of it.
I sit down on a rock, in front of this view, drop my bags and give up. Apart from the sea, I see signs of hotels, owned mostly by Russians, as I later come to know. If I don’t find Villa Popov, I’ll have to shell out more than I can afford to one of these high ceilinged establishments. The exhaustion of the morning, when the waves of the Krapets sea hit me over and over was seeping deeper into my loose muscles. A bed, I think. A bed and a drink. When I finally find Villa Popov – turning on the wifi and moving from house to house helped more than expected – I found a bungalow with a patio, a pool, a cat and an English speaking caretaker.
Even though Krapets began my Bulgarian episode, it was Balchik which housed me for my first night in the country. After talking over a cup of tea, and being stung by a bee midway, I took a shortcut snaking down to the Balchik palace, cutting through roads and fences of hotels. The Balchik palace does not interest me much. Having come from Romania, I take some pride in the fact that it once belonged to and was ordered by the Romanian Queen Marie but that’s as far as it goes. The palace’s archways, ravines, gardens and restaurants are hosts of more than one wedding in the two hours I spend there.
The palace is on layers. So were most of the houses before it. At every level of descent, closer to the sea and promenade, I think of my downward thud. The noise of my feet and the heavy landing of my body. I cannot walk without these thuds. I cannot walk lithely. There is no female petite here, not in body, not in mind. Given the slope downwards, it is essential to make my tread stronger, stamp harder to make the grip firmer. Be sure of no slip. An unaffordable slip. Then there’s the ruffle of my plastic bag, my the cloth of my shirt rubbing against itself, a twig I break now and then, a stone I send running down…
The last layer of the palace is the Queen’s seat and the Cross. It is easy to want to sit on this stone throne, looking at white cliffs on one side and the sea slowly coming closer to the promenade (or just that I’ve come closer). But I don’t sit. It seems a wild encroachment, just as this shortcut from Villa Popov down to the Promenade. The promenade is a stretch of semi-white and blue. Lights of restaurants turn on one after the other as the sun dims down. I feel a strange disinterest in the promenade, its lights, the newness of this town and country. Nothing around arouses me. The mind is blank, only intruded by sporadic thoughts of food. I walk down a concrete pier closer to the sea and sit down, legs dangling over waves that spray them now and then. But the lack of words in my head, the lack of a dance between me and the waves presses me to go back home. I blame the mild sense of lethargy on my exhaustion – I did start the journey quite early in the morning.
The shortcut is blocked now, given that the palace is closed to visitors. I walk to the end of the promenade where I buy gin, ice, chips and other fillers. The new notes I use don’t feel exotic in my hands. It is when I begin walking back to Villa Popov that I feel awake. The road uphill winds ahead in darkness. At intermittent corners, yellow lights try to flood the uneven landscape with light but fail. I’m in the dark for more than forty five minutes. I have a rough plan – get to the Russian hotel (White Rock Castle) and continue up on the short cut from there. The fear of the oncoming darker darkness slows me. I’m tempted to hail a cab but there’s none in sight. A quiet dog follows me. He walks ahead of me sometimes. When I reach the palace gates, flooded with lights, I see him walk back to down the slope.
I find Diana, the caretaker when I reach the house. I don’t tell her about the other dogs. Their piercing barks. I don’t explain why I felt so quickly and adamantly prone to my gin. She takes me up to the terrace where in the mellow night’s darkness and summer chill, under the moonlight, I downed a shot and felt its embers spread like a counter-sigh through my body. She drinks coke. She tells me of her life, where she studied, how she crossed borders, her time in England. I like the way she speaks, with a strong faith in the things that have happened to her. There was such a singularity in her experiences that she knew they had to be shared, especially to a woman like me in her early twenties. I kept myself from drinking too much but the lights of Albena and Sunny Beach far away soon became flatter discs, spread through my eyes and felt just like the gin.
A choking disinterest in everything outside of Villa Popov and a surging need to write made me sit in the next day. I sat under an umbrella on the terrace in the flashing summer heat and wrote – gin again with me – about people not knowing their bodies. The line of the sea in the distance seemed to be burning, shaking. I see a man and a woman, whom I know is Russian through Diana, now and then in the villa. They come out to the balcony to smoke, in what seems to be breaks after periods of intimacy. I see the roofs of their heads. I try to envy them but the quietness of my day doesn’t allow me to. When evening comes, I take the path down to the promenade again and wait for the night to set in. My mind is on Villa Popov. I wish to leave as soon as I reach the promenade. I wish to have another terrace night with Diana, listening to her stories, punctuating them as and when necessary into my idea of womanhood and being. Or just sitting there on my own, in my slump of unformed thoughts.
But I test the darkness again and this time with what I think is more courage. I’m determined to not let it get under my skin and make my hair stand erect. I’m determined to not let it frighten me into wanting to not tread heavily, into wishing for the petite, so I could go unnoticed, so I could lithe around. This time there was no dog to guide me. I don’t rush. Diana won’t be in the villa. I possibly won’t see her ever again.
When I reach, I shoot down the rest of the gin. My body feels its usual weight but burns in realisation. It also tells me to not tempt such queer darkness again. Sometimes you just leave the dogs alone to the night. On the balcony, the Russian girl is seated smoking and drinking. She pours a glass of wine for me. She doesn’t say anything. She speaks no English. But with google translate, I get to know that Balchik, Villa Popov and the man from the morning are her summer rituals. We sit in silence, drinking, smoking, looking, yet once again at the lights of Albena and Sunny beach far out in the distance. When she gets up and leans against the wall, I see how she’s built. Taller, broader and bigger.
The matter of the tread is more pressing on some occasions than on the others. In a quiet library, where the flipping of pages are heard and your body feels larger than it should. In the dark of the night where dogs bound inside houses direct the stray ones that you’re passing by. Your loud body is passing by. Your body, with the noise of intrusion is passing by and sometimes when you pass by with such weight, you could easily be trespassing by.
The noise of parties on Sunny Beach and Albena don’t reach us. It’s just the lights. I think about us, heavy women. Women of voluptuous bodies, consuming more space and taking in more air with every breath. I think about us standing in public spaces and about how difficult it is for people’s eyes to consume us in one go. We don’t fit. Their eyes zig zag from curve to curve. But the heavy tread is the only thing that matches my body. It is the spit of my body. It is it’s way of guiding me through the darkness. It is a warning, that I, or she, heavy treaders, heavy women, are on our way. Not towards you, not against you, but just with ourselves, a little against ourselves but more against darkness.
When I wait for my us to Varna at the worn down bus station the next morning, I’m ready to be quick. If one is not quick, one will not get a seat on one of these mini vans.
Location: Villa Popov, Balchik, Bulgaria.