Translated by Irina Sholeva
The day idly rolled over and stopped in the late afternoon. The parking lot on the outskirts of Burgas was filled with arriving cars. People got out of them, walked along the dusty road, crossed the railroad tracks and continued to the brine pool.
In its rusty waters that smell of rotten eggs, their bodies become weightless, emerged on the surface and floated easily like rubber dolls. Nearby, beyond the wooden bridge, other people who are covered from head to toe with black mud strolled around, waiting for the mud to dry.
Gradually the color of the mud changed, going from pitchy black to mousy gray. Strange figures in mousy gray and pitchy black spots were moving back towards the sea, where, when the mousy gray overtakes the pitchy black completely, the sea waters would wash away all the mud and leave only the effect from it – smooth skin, a strong body and a supposedly strong spirit. It didn’t take much to see which visitors were here for the first time. They were squeamishly wrinkling their noses while entering the brine pool and reluctantly, with disgust, smeared mud all over their bodies.
Those who were used to the procedures were walking boldly into the sticky substance and were energetically smearing it all over their faces and bodies in a thick layer. The characters in this story belong to the latter group, but for now they are still wandering in synch around the mud baths, having a leisurely conversation.
“This water is miraculous, miraculous, I tell you! My back didn’t hurt the whole winter. That’s why I’m regular here and I’ve told myself that this summer again – a minimum of 15 sessions!” says Zachary.
“I hope you’re right. These bone spurs are torturing me, man… They say it helps… I hope so, ‘cause this pain is unbearable,” sighs Stoyan.
“You’ll see, you’ll be as good as new. Like I told you, I’ve almost forgotten about my bone spurs after three summers of sessions here,” Vassil reassures him.
“I hope so, I hope, man…” – Stoyan makes a circle around the group.
“Let’s enjoy it while we can. I heard they were going to build some complex here, a spa, I guess that’s the modern way to put it these days. If that happens, we can forget about the mud baths. They’ll charge some out-of-this-world fee and only luxury cars will start parking here,” Zachary scoops up some salt and starts scrubbing his back.
“Even if they weren’t out-of-this-world, with my pension… Maybe someone will think about the pensioners and make it free for us?” There isn’t much hope in Vassil’s voice.
“Bahhh! Who would think about us, man, no one cares about us. Vested interests are what’s important, with this financial crisis, things are going from bad to worse. They say that the winter will be harsh, I wonder if we’ll survive till next summer at all…” Stoyan sighs deeply and moves forward.
“Well, you chose the new government, why are you worried,” Vassil snaps spitefully.
“Bahhh, we chose! The new government can’t work miracles. It’s still suffering the consequences from your government,” Zachary retorts.
“Let’s not talk about this again, man. Yesterday I had a headache because of you.” Stoyan cuts them off.
“What should we talk about then? About the finical crisis? That’s a very cheerful topic.” Vassil doesn’t give up.
“What do I see, tsk-tsk-tsk,” Zachary says suddenly.
The other two follow his gaze.
An Intriguing Stranger
Zachary’s gaze is fixed on a young woman with very white skin and light blonde hair framing her face. She is wearing a dark blue bikini. She enters the brine pool with a slightly wrinkled nose. Little by little, she gets used to the smell and relaxes into the water, while making elegant circles with her hands.
“From where did that mermaid come from?” Stoyan cries.
“From the moon’, Vassil won’t stop harping on his spiteful tune. ‘Where do you think she’s from?! She must be a tourist.”
“She looks like a Russian girl,” Zachary guesses.
“Polish.” Vassil expresses his opinion authoritatively.
“She must be a Russian girl, man!” Stoyan takes Zachary’s side.
“Hm, you’ll lose here. I know Polish girls. I can recognize them from afar. I used to be a porter at Sunny Beach. There were only Poles in the hotel, but I remember one young girl who was like a droplet of dew.”
The other two are listening with half an ear to his words while watching the girl. She continues to move gracefully and idly. At some moments she stops, stretches out in the water, relaxes and absorbs the sun with her face.
“Stop staring at the girl like you’ve never seen one. Listen, let me tell you about the Polish girl.”
A Porter’s Love Story
She was like a droplet of dew. Blonde, with blue eyes, like the girl here but more beautiful. (Exclamations – she couldn’t be more beautiful, think a little, man!). Her name was Kachka. Katharina, but everyone called her Kachka. She was twenty years old. Two girls had come with two young men.
Her friend apparently had something going with one of the young men, and the other guy was his friend, so in a way she was set up with him. However, she didn’t look much interested in him. Every time she passed by the reception, she would cast viscous glances at me with her wild primrose-blue eyes. I didn’t hold back either, I also smiled faintly and watched and watched her.
She grew flustered and blushed, smiling to herself, looking down and hurriedly passing by. She was so sweet I could have gobbled her up. The young man, however, started to notice this and was getting nervous. They had come three or four days before, but things weren’t going as he had would have liked.
They were supposed to stay for two weeks. On the fifth evening, I was working the night shift, Kachka came to me, she was trembling and crying and in broken Russian explained to me that the guy had gotten drunk and come after her. I offered to let her come to my room, as I was working then.
She hesitated for a bit and in the end accepted. When I came back in the morning, she was sleeping peacefully as an angel in my bed. I lay down on the other bed and was careful not to wake her. I offered to let her to stay in my room if she wanted and she agreed. The next evening, she went out somewhere with the guy and came back late, I heard her, taking off her clothes, my heart started pounding like crazy but I didn’t expect at all the thing that happened next.
She came into my bed. We stayed awake the whole night. We were together until the end of her vacation. The other guy was dying of anger and jealousy, and one night came banging on my door, but after I explained some things about life to him, he calmed down. He just kept glaring angrily at me.
Kachka left in tears, she didn’t want to go home. Later she wrote me. I wrote her, too. She sent postcards, pictures. The next summer she came again. I was waiting for her and we were together for two more weeks. I had a nice time with that Kachka… At the end she came and said: “I can’t live without you, let’s get married!” And as I was young and crazy, I said: “Let’s do it!”
She went back to Poland, prepared her parents, and I started to get ready to go there, but the authorities wouldn’t let me go. And we started to put things off. She didn’t come back the next summer, I met Maria, and that’s what happened with my Polish love. But I can tell you – I recognize Polish girls and she is one of them.
Meanwhile the girl had come out of the brine pool and was heading towards the mud.
“I stayed in the brine pool too long, I’m going to smear some mud over my body,” said Zachary.
“So did I, I overdid it,” replied Vassil.
“Let’s head for the mud already.”
The three of them walked along the water’s edge, then waded out and headed towards the mud. There, from afar, they spotted the beautiful stranger. She had removed her top in contrast to the other women and was smearing mud all over her body. Soon, her firm breasts were also pitchy black. Zachary, Stoyan and Vassil swallowed hard at this view.
They settled in not far from the girl and also started smearing mud on their bodies.
“I still think she’s Russian,” said Zachary. “They are more open-minded.”
“Are we making a bet?” Vassil perked up.
“Let’s do it! For a Cloud cocktail!” Stoyan backed them up.
“Who’s gonna ask her?” Zachary asked hesitatingly.
“We know who, man! Vassil. He has experience with Polish girls after all,” Stoyan answered back for the earlier nagging.
“Well, I’ll ask her, it’s not a big deal. But let’s let her wash away the mud first. It’s not good to bother her now.”
In the meantime, the girl had covered her body and face with mud and was heading towards the beach. Zachary, Vassil and Stoyan followed her from a distance.
The beach was covered in trash and plastic bottles and in between the junk sunbathers had laid down their beach towels. The girl was standing and waiting for the mud to dry completely on her body along with another dozen people, who were walking back and forth along the shore. She stretched out her arms and stuck her chest out. She took a deep breath and slowly started to do exercises.
Those around her had their eyes on her, on her flexible, young body, her shiny golden hair, which bluntly contrasted with the mud on her face. Stoyan, Zachary and Vassil also silently were watching her, from time to time exchanging meaningful glances. The late sunbeams gradually melted the pitchy black into mousy grey. The girl finished her series of exercises and went into the sea. She started to wash the mud from her body and face and to dive under the waves.
“I told you she was a mermaid.” Stoyan smiled slightly. “She is neither a Polish girl, nor a Russian girl. Her beauty is out-of-this-world, it is…”
And the three friends entered the sea.
A Missed Chance
They were diligently washing off the mud of their bodies when Stoyan cried out: “We missed her!”
The girl had come out on the shore and was getting dried off. Her skin looked transparent, and her golden hair was shining under the sun. The sunbathers were watching her, and she was either not noticing their gazes or was very used to gathering attention because she very successfully was ignoring its sources.
She dried her hair with the towel, combed it back and put on a light blue short dress. She turned around and left.
The friends looked at each other, disappointed.
“What a pity, what a pity.” Zachary began to click his tongue.
“Don’t worry,” said Vassil. “Tomorrow is a new day. If she came once, she’ll come again.” This time there was more hope in his voice.
On the next day, again in the late afternoon, the regulars at the mud baths were gathering in its rusty waters. Stoyan, Zachary and Vassil were floating in the water, but this time their conversation was broken up by longer pauses.
“It was nice yesterday at the station. It’s been a long time since so many people came,” Zachary noted.
“Hmm, I had a headache,” Vassil mumbled.
“And you, did you manage to get some sleep afterwards? You weren’t feeling well.” Zachary turned towards Stoyan.
“I got… some sleep, man! I kept having strange thoughts…”
From time to time the three of them would glance at the entrance to the mud baths.
“We should have been more proactive yesterday,” Zachary said in the end.
“By the time Vassil made up his mind, man, the bird had flown the coop.” Stoyan sighed.
“Since you’re so smart, why didn’t you go then?!” Vassil bristled.
“You are the expert when it comes to Polish girls, aren’t you!” Stoyan answered back.
“Stop arguing, it was meant to happen this way,” Zachary interrupted them. “It’s not a big deal; after all we are gonna drink Cloud cocktails tonight at the station even without the Russian girl.”
“Polish girl,” Vassil corrected him.
“Never mind, whatever. Apparently we’ll never find out,” Zachary said resignedly.
They sank into deep silence again, floating in the warm water.
“You are very quiet today,” Vassil said.
“I’m having strange thoughts… maybe that’s why,” Stoyan said.
„It brings a story to mind. Again, about a girl,” Zachary began.
Another summer, another non happening
I was in Varna at the Naval Academy. In the summer we used to sneak out with a friend of mine and go to a pub to drink beer. Near the beach. It was a sort of break from life in the barracks. We met girls, chatted with them… One night a girl appeared and she took my breath away. She had long brown hair and eyes of some indefinable color. Hazel, thoughtful. I can still imagine her, despite the fact that it was … oh-hooo forty years ago. I watched her the whole night but didn’t dare go over to her. She was with friends, but was sitting alone, like she wasn’t with them. She didn’t talk, didn’t dance, she was just watching.
I dreamed about her all night. She didn’t appear again, neither she nor her friends. I asked the barman later but he knew nothing about them, didn’t know them. I waited for her for the whole summer, but in vain.
“Is that why you never got married, Zachary? Because of that stranger?” Vassil teased him.
“I doubt it was because of this but I still remember her. I didn’t have any luck with the ladies, it can’t be helped…”
“Well, I’ll be leaving.” Stoyan stood up.
“Why the hurry, Stoyan, it’s not even ten o’clock.” Vassil tried to stop him.
“I’ll go to the mud and then to bed. I’m tired today.”
“Are you coming to the station tonight?” Zachary asked.
“We’ll see. If I’m feeling better, I’ll come.”
“I hope you are…”
The sun was again following its path, and in the brine pool there was the usual bustle for this hour.
“How are you today, Stoyan? You didn’t come last night…” Zachary asked with concern.
“I’m better, Zachary, thank you, much better. I got enough sleep last night.”
“It’s good that you got enough sleep, that way you’ll be rested up to lose this bet. Look who’s here.” Suddenly Vassil nodded animatedly towards the entrance of the mud baths.
Their stranger was there.
“We are not gonna wait for her to enter the mud today! Go and ask her as soon as possible, Vassil.” Zachary brightened up.
“It’s not certain who’s gonna lose, man…” Stoyan smiled faintly.
The girl stripped her blue dress off and entered the water. She relaxed on the surface and started slowly moving her hands by her sides like a big butterfly flapping its wings. That’s how she was moving through the mud baths. Her face was glowing as if she was enjoying her own movements in the warm, reddish water.
“C’mon, Vassil, go!” Zachary teased him again.
The girl had come nearer to them. As if she was lighting up everything around her. The other visitors to the brine pool were also watching her, some of them were quietly whispering. Vassil sighed.
“You are such scaredy-cats! Fine, I’m going. C’mon, wish me luck.”
He began swimming towards the girl. Stoyan and Zachary were looking on with interest. They saw how the girl was startled at first, awakened from her reverie, but after that gave a friendly smile which made her even more beautiful. The two of them exchanged a few words and Vassil came back with beaming face.
“So, what happened? Tell us. Is she a Polish girl?” Zachary couldn’t wait.
“You are so impatient! Who did all the work? Who?”
“Yeah, yeah, Vassil, you are the best, you did well starting a conversation with her. Don’t make us wait. Tell us what happened,” Stoyan asked him.
“What I can tell you is that no one wins, but I am closer. She is Czech!”
“Ahh, a Czech girl, I should have known!” Zachary cried.
“Apparently no one is going to buy drinks and it turns out that after all we are going to be the ones buying the drinks,” Stoyan said. “So, tell us what happened? What else did you talk about?”
“What could we have talked about?” Vassil smiled with satisfaction. “Her name is Eva. She is here on a vacation.”
“Did you speak Russian?” Zachary watched him with delight.
“Well, a little Russian, a little Czech, I used to work at the beach a long time ago. Ahoj mahoj, I’m good with Slavic languages.”
“You are the best, man!” admitted Stoyan and there was delight in his voice.
The End of the Vacation
During the next week the three friends continued to enjoy Eva’s presence from a distance. Every day they followed her ritual while having conversations about youth and the women they had met. One day she didn’t come. She didn’t come on the next day either. Nor the following day.
On the fourth day Vassil thoughtfully concluded: “Obviously she went back home.”
“Yes, that must be it, her vacation ended…” Zachary agreed.
Stoyan was deep in thought.
“You are not in a good mood, why is that?” Zachary asked with concern.
“It’s an odd day today, man…”
“And what’s so odd about it?” Vassil broke in, this time without his usual biting tone.
“I was supposed to celebrate our anniversary with my wife. Forty years…”
“Stoyan, what can I tell you? At least you had it and you were happy,” Zachary said.
“That’s right, man, we had it, it wasn’t always easy, but it was nice to be with her. It’s been five years since she’s been gone, but it feels like yesterday.” Stoyan sighed and two tears dropped down from the corners of his eyes.
“You can’t do anything about it, that’s life…” Vassil sighed and looked the other way.
“You are coming tonight at the station to drink a Cloud cocktail in her memory, right? And not to be alone.” Zachary looked at him, trying to make his voice sound normal.
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll come.”
“This is the end of this season at the brine pool for me. I stayed here for three weeks this summer. Next year I’ll come again, if they don’t build a spa complex,” Vassil noted.
“And if we have survived the crisis,” Zachary tried to make a joke.