1986. Communist regime in Bulgaria. The place is Varna. It's summer. About ten young people under the influence of the American hippie culture of the 60's gather on a glade in the Sea Garden. They drink, play guitars and await the sunrise. The cause is plain. During his service in the army one of them stays alone on post the night against the 1st of July. At that time he promises himself that he will never be alone on that day again and that no one should. The idea widely spreads. People start to gather every year all around the Black Sea coast. The welcoming of the sun on the first of July becomes a unique Bulgarian tradition and the song of Uriah Heep, July Morning, symbolic. The meaning as a protest against the system changes after 1989, but it stays linked with the freedom of spirit and the rebirth of life.
Present day. It's the 30th of June. We're travelling east to the Black Sea coast. The arrow on the board shows we're moving at 150 km/h. My foot is on the gas, the pedal is fully sunk. I try to push the BMW to its limits, at least reach 200 km/h, but the traffic prevents me. That and I see a car that flashes me with its headlights, giving me a signal which means there are cops ahead. I slow down and check if I've fastened my seatbelt, just to be sure. We're close to Petolachkata.
It's hot. All four windows are down and the wind blasts us in the faces. Our ears are deafened from the pressure. We don't talk. At the speed we're going it's impossible to hear our voices. Even the four speakers in the car, that should be playing Shturcite right now, are silenced.
There are four of us.
The initial plan was for all of us to meet in Sofia and set off from there, but our exams were over earlier. Summer was starting. There was no point in staying on campus, so we all went home. The problem was we were all from different parts of the country, so the plan had to change. A lot of kilometers were covered before we could all gather.
The distance between Sofia and Burgas is 430 kilometers. The BMW belongs to Ivan, who is from the capitol. The biggest detour was I, so I decided to catch the bus from Vidin to Sofia yesterday and meet him there. With that our road prolonged only with some 200 kilometers.
Ivan, or Vankata as I call him, is the rational kind of guy. He studies Business and Economics, works as an IT specialist and still hasn't once missed a rock fest from one end of the country to the other. He's tall, big and strong, with an almost shaved head. We know each other from a party where after a slight bit of misunderstanding I introduced him to his current girlfriend. You can find him in places where there is some kind of entertainment, in most cases involving alcohol. His father is rich, but he has always been independent with money. After an argument with his family, involving me, they barely talk and see each other.
We set out from the capitol together with destination Gabrovo through the Sofia-Varna highway. About two hours later we turned aside from it for Sevlievo and after 30 kilometers we were in front of Sonya's house.
She hugged me dearly and gave Ivan a long-lasting kiss that had the passion of the missed weeks together. The couple settled on the back seat and Vankata let me drive.
It was still an hour before sunrise. We were in North Bulgaria and had to cross the mountain Stara Planina to get South. The passage through Shipka was foggy. It took us an hour and a half to pass to the other end. I was careful as there were many sharp turns both as we ascended and descended. Good thing there weren't any trucks or it would have taken longer.
Opposites attract each other. Sonya is the wild type. Everything around and about her has to be a constant newfound experience. Blond, little and beautiful, her mind is set on seeing the world anew every single minute. Maybe that's why we became friends. But unlike Vankata who knows and has a reason to do things his way, she is more of an easy-going air-head that gives in to irrational impulses. She says that's because of her past, which no one knows anything about, not even her boyfriend. Every time we try to ask her she refuses to answer.
We arrived in Plovdiv with the sun arisen to get the fourth member for our adventure. We found Tony still asleep after a rough night, during which, he mentioned, his life had been in danger for the fourth time ever. It didn't take him long to join us, carrying with him the backpack we always saw him with and an acoustic guitar.
Suddenly a huge, long line of cars appears before us. Our speed drops. I shift to fourth gear, then as I come close to the Golf 4 in front of us I'm forced to change to third.
We've arrived at Petolachkata.
Ahat's Black Sheep starts blasting inside. We are able to hear again.
"Пиш пауза! (Wee break!)" Tony shouts, making us aware that we are actually going somewhere and not just mindlessly moving with high speed. Though, there is some special feeling when we are in that condition.
I drive through an OMV gas station. There's a no-entrance sign but I ignore it, as do others. We see a lot of cars and a lot of people. I find a spot in the parking lot. Tony rushes out to the toilets. Vankata, Sonya and I head inside to get something to eat. I notice that the same sign is placed on all exits. Someone must have made a joke.
Long queues in front the three cashiers. We let Ivan stay and order as we go and pick a table outside. Sonya and I exchange small chit-chat while we wait, both still not in the mood to handle a serious conversation. We silently agree that the life stories are for later.
Vankata brings us banitsi and coffee. He sits next to Sonya and starts explaining how a gypsy, half his size, got in front of him in the line. He just had to look at him and the other guy stepped aside. Vankata doesn't like gypsies. Sonya looks at him sympathetically and they share a kiss.
Tony finds us and takes a seat next to me.
"A guy can't take a shit and roll a smoke without someone disturbing him! Geez! They didn't stop knocking on the door!" he says and pulls out a cigarette case from his backpack. He'll want to talk in English today.
"Български, "они! (Bulgarian, Tony!)," Sonya scolds him. She doesn't know other languages.
Tony looks at us all one at a time. He smiles.
"Cuatro amigos!" he shouts in Spanish and tries to hug us all, but the table is in his way and he ends up hugging only me. We all laugh. You could say he is our main entertainer, until a little alcohol enters the veins of the other two. "Как ще е тази година? (How is it going to be this year?)" He opens his case. I see that he takes out a joint.
"Добре е да се махнеш от града. (It's good to be away from the city.)" Vankata gives his answer.
"Не ми се мисли за нищо. (I don't want to think about anything.)" Sonya says.
I stay quiet.
"Ники? (Niki?)" Tony asks me and everyone looks at me.
"Каквото стане. (Whatever happens.)" I say without much enthusiasm.
"Listen what I'll tell you," Tony starts.
"На български! (In Bulgarian!)"
"Слушайте! Снощи! Имах провидение. Ще се преродим! (Listen! Last night! I had providence. We are going to be reborn!)" He says seriously and lights his smoke.
I know Tony from long before we were uni students in Sofia. With his long hair, laid back character and the way he acts you may think of him as a hippie, but he always says there are no longer any hippies. He travels a lot, mostly hitchhiking. We've been to many places together, mainly up in the mountains. He says that the only book he has ever read is On the Road by Kerouac and he always carries it with him. The bag that never leaves his shoulder has all the necessities he needs to live away from home for a week. His favorite musician is Jimi Hendrix. In Sofia, while not absent, he studies wood-carving at the Academy of Arts. He knows a lot about herbs, music and the human heart. Because of his serious open-mindedness he often gets in trouble, either with the law, with strangers, or with friends, who leave him. Maybe that's what happened last night.
And me? Where do I fit between these party doers and family disappointments, carpe diems and secret pasts, children of the rainbow and unwillings to the law? Me. I am your depressed closet case, the odd one in a group of odd ones, with four people who know and with a world that doesn't.
There we are. Four friends travelling east to welcome the rising sun on the sea shore on July Morning; instinctively searching for the remains of that spirit that can make us happy with ourselves.
In ten hours of driving and breaks we cross from one end of Bulgaria to the other. We finally reach our designated location, Ravda, a sea resort about 30 kilometers north of Burgas.
The sun is right upon us. It is noon, 11:40. We're hungry. I find a place to park; it's close to the main street. We sit in an outside self-servicing diner. Vankata starts ordering as though a whole division would eat, but it's just for himself. He has chicken fried steak with French fries, breaded clams, and tarator; Tony and I settle for moussaka; Sonya chooses some green salad. However, we all drink beer.
Sonya suggests we go to the beach after that. Still no one wants to get into deep conversations, so we pass the time with idle talk. The weather, the road so far, the boy that walked by and I turned to follow him with my eyes.
"Ще има други на плажа. (There will be others on the beach.)" Sonya tries to encourage me.
She doesn't understand. That's what bothers me. I already saw a dozen that looked like sculpted demigods.
The season starts soon, but even now you can see there are foreign tourists here, mainly Russians and Germans, as well as many Bulgarians who have come for the same reason as us.
"Дошли са за Джулая! (They've come for the July!)" Vankata mocks the foreigners and snickers.
"The only thing they've come for is to drink and vomit. Stupid monkeys!" Tony says laughing.
Sonya frowns at him.
He is referring to what foreigners commonly come to our resorts for. They know how cheap it is in our country by their standards, in contrast to our own impossibility to make a proper living. The so called alcohol tourism is widely known to Germans who can't afford it in their own country. Hotels literally say in their brochures they offer buckets of hard alcohol just to win clients. Because of that I've been a witness to many gluttonous and revolting scenes of outlanders rolling down the beach in their own puke.
After dinner we return to the car and grab our towels and swimsuits. We change in the cubicles on the beach. There aren't that many people yet, the hotels are empty – there's no one under their reserved parasols and on the sunbeds, which cover most of the coastline. We choose a spot on the free sections further back from the water. Only a few people are around. Ivan and Sonya race to the water; Tony heads off to see some Rastafarian surfer who has a shop giving lessons and surfs for rent, although the season for that hasn't come yet and there are no waves; I spread my towel and lie on my back with a hand over my eyes.
I start asking myself. Where are we? What are we doing? Why? But I'm nowhere in my mind. Not even on a crossroad.
I turn on my stomach. Tony's bag is next to me. I borrow his book and for the hundredth time I start reading about Sal, about Dean Moriarty, about the Beat Generation, about that America.
After a while someone comes. His shadow falls over me. I feel water drops on my back. Tony is above me, his long hair dripping wet in the form of summer icicles, the sun behind him gives him an aureole.
"Aren't you gonna come into the water?" he asks strangely with eagerness in his voice. The two of us often talk in English.
"Nah. Later." I return the book in his backpack.
He looks as though he wants to say something but doesn't. He sits on my towel and stares at the sea. We stay silent. I watch him intently, propped up on my elbow.
"I saw a child of the rainbow," he says after a while.
"Yeah? A hippie?" I ask.
He turns to look me in the eyes.
"Your rainbow, Niki!" He smiles.
I recite his words in my mind for a while. I realize what he means.
"Шегуваш се. Как би могъл да знаеш? (You're joking. How would you know?)" I say in disbelief, remaining calm, but not incurious.
"He had one of those pride thingies on his wrist." Tony studies my face, probably expecting some kind of reaction. I don't say anything. I don't know what to make of it. "Let's go meet him!" he says out of nowhere, much to my surprise.
"Какво?! Не! (What?! No!)"
Before I can protest and say something, Tony and someone from behind grab me and lift me up. I struggle, annoyed and scared, like a little kid who doesn't want to do what his parents tell him. My heart is beating fast, too fast. Things are also happening fast. Only Vankata is carrying me towards the water. I'm being forced down a path I'm not ready to go. When will I be? Probably never. But the feeling is awful. Is it real?
I get thrown with brute strength into the air more than 5 meters ahead. The free-fall feels like flying, but lasts less than a second. I hit someone as the water envelops me, momentarily erasing all thoughts, doubts and insecurities, even my heartbeat. As I emerge to the surface I start feeling embarrassed. I apologize as I rub my eyes from the salty water.
"No problem," a guy voice with British accent says in English, after which follows a giggle.
I look at the person Vankata threw me at. My eyes remain on him even when he is looking back. His hand reaches out from the water towards me. I don't move. It's awkward. To me it feels like it's happening over the span of evolution, slowly.
It turns out I have a seaweed stuck on me. I feel silly and stupid. His hand brushes my hair in a gesture that more than just removes the thing from my head. It feels nice, his hand. It has a rainbow.
"Hey!" He smiles.
I forget English. I forget how to speak. I've never wanted to be an amoeba more than now, to be invisible, unseen. Should I run, sink, or hide? Hopefully I have a smile on my face. A wide one would be good.
The moment passes. It's ruined. I didn't have a chance to say anything. I did, but I didn't.
"Who's this?" I snap out. Two guys, perhaps his friends, join us. They look disapprovingly at me; it shows on their faces they don't like me.
Someone pats my shoulder. Vankata and the others are behind me.
The boy who still holds my gaze winks in our direction. I don't think it's for me.
Confusion, intentions, desires, vibes are all mixing. The situation suddenly seems kind of funny to me. I chuckle. Everyone, beside his two friends, shares a laugh. I get to see him laugh.
"I have to go," he says, sounding disappointed.
Our two groups get out of the water. The two of us walk closely together. Our shoulders bump and our arms rub against each other. It feels amazing.
"See you around," he says as our feet touch the sand on shore. I discern hope in his voice.
His smile elates me.
"Sure!" I speak to him for the first time. My accent must sound strange to him, because he giggles.
He walks down the beach with his two friends who start zealously talking to him and glancing back at me.
What happened? How? Why? My mind suddenly overflows with questions, emotions, possibilities. The wall is cracked. I feel confused, yet flushed with a sense of freedom. It's good.
"Bye! My ass!" Tony, always the exuberant one, says. He grabs my hand. "Let's go!" This time I don't resist. Most of the time he knows what he is doing. I let the flow carry me.
We're following them at a distance, making sure they don't see us. My eyes are fixed on his hair, on his glittering back, on his orange Hawaiian-style swim shorts with palm trees, on his smooth legs.
"They were wearing hotel wrist-bands on their left hands," Tony informs me. He's a great friend. I wish more people could see him like I do. But no, they can't; they're too clustered with what they think.
My memory drifts back. This feels the same like that other time. Some years ago there was a Pride Fest in Sofia. I didn't want to go. I despise and don't like such showy events. Tony came all the way to Vidin and took me. We only watched from the side. I was scared of the skinheads that were hanging around the back alleys, but overall I felt good. I felt good not because of the flashy depiction of sexuality, but because of Tony.
We see them enter some open gates through the beach. It's the hotel. It looks fancy. We close the distance. There's an enclosure and I see a pool inside.
Tony and I enter freely, without anyone noticing, as though we're special guests of the place. Tony suggests stealing two wrist-bands. He'll sweet-talk someone and shake hands. I don't have a plan. I don't know what to do. My eyes keep searching until I see a smile and orange palm trees. Only that the smile is a memory. The boy by the pool is not smiling. Why? Why is that?
I want him to!
Suddenly a wild and sensual euphoria overwhelms me. Maybe this is what Sonya feels all the time. I want to hold him, kiss him, possess him. I feel free. I can do anything for him.
"Un nadada? (A swim?)" I ask Tony and we both grin.
So, in a boyish, immature, goofy way I try to impress him. Tony and I both run towards the pool and jump like cannonballs. Our feet were all in sand.
The old people in the pool are startled, the others look suspiciously at us. The boy smiles and laughs as he sees us. He's surrounded by his two friends, who don't look too happy, and adults, probably parents and family, who also look displeased. Our eyes are locked. We drift into our own world, which isn't yet explored. Tony pulls me and I realize the situation.
"Come tonight!" I yell.
He nods. I hope he comes.
I want to do more, but his parents are there and a security guard spots us. The circumstances become familiar. I think we've been in this before with Tony. But instead of him trying to flurry the security, we run for it.
Last time we were at a Slayer concert and we entered from a hole in the fence sidelong without buying tickets. When the guard caught us, Tony started talking to him about Beinsa Douno, Danovism and Panevritmia. The guy was wondering what to do. He left us off the hook, only because he had friends from the White Brotherhood.
We're lazing around on the beach. After a lot of digging Tony and Sonya bury Vankata in the sand. Only his head shows. Sonya lies to sunbathe. Tony starts playing with the sand. I can't stop thinking about the boy. I have a little nap, wishing it was with him, his head lying on my chest.
When I wake up I'm all covered in sand, except my head.
"Sleepy head!" Tony smiles next to me, sitting cross-legged, in a lotus position.
"Щеше да изгориш! (You were going to get sunburned!)" Sonya explains the sand coffin which is not just a joke as I see the modeled penis on me.
As I rise up, I notice Tony's creation. He has shown the link between souls and the experience of mutuality in the form of two skillfully made sand humans in a sixty-nine pose. The masterpiece gathers audience.
Sonya wakes up Vankata, who has managed to get out of the hole after I fell asleep, and is also covered in sand. His first words are that he is hungry. We search for open showers on the beach, but don't see any and end up in the sea.
After eating we go for a walk on the main street. There are even more people now. But no one catches my eyes anymore. There's nothing to see, so we go shopping for tonight. We don't need much. My friends insist we do it without any faults. They have the special guest in mind and they want to show him a Bulgarian welcoming. So do I, I think. We buy chops, tomatoes, cucumbers, white cheese, some appetizer, mineral water and beer. Already out of the supermarket I remind them we need something for the salad, so two of us head back for salad oil, salt and vinegar.
We pass through the car to get the stuff needed. Tony grabs his guitar and one of the tents. I get the other one and my backpack. We let Sonya carry the twigs for the fire. Vanakata has thought about it, but they're only to make it blaze; he handles the rest of the bags.
The sun is setting as we get on the beach and start searching for a secluded place with no hotels and buildings and if possible without many people. The place is somewhere on the coastline and is waiting for us, Tony is sure of it.
Hotels! Unfinished ones, grotesque, mixture of different architectural styles! They have ruined the resorts and natural look of our eastern border long ago. We end up from one concrete jungle to another, without any escape from civilization, feeling empty within the confines of our culture. It oppresses us. We search in us only to find self-loathing and dissatisfaction, we search around us in the nature that doesn't exist untouched, when all we need is another heart that will lie down next to our own, another soul to kick our cane which bends, because of the weight we carry, and offer us a shoulder.
We meet many people like us and we greet them. More will come. We walk past his hotel, then past the place we stayed on the beach today. We could have walked all the way to Nesebar, but a place with some trees catches our attention. I can't say it's secluded, but it'll do. Tony says the place is calling for us.
Vankata and I start pitching the tents. Tony searches for more twigs and branches and builds a fire in a hole in the sand. Sonya lays a blanket which is pointless, but it might keep sand away from the food and drinks. She suggests we throw the beers and bottle of rakia we've brought into the sea to get them cold.
"Dummy!" Tony says purposefully in English.
"Какво? (What?)" She asks annoyed.
It takes a while for Vankata to explain to her the sea's warmer at this time. Instead, we bury the alcohol deep in the sand.
Tony says there is not enough wood and after I finish with the tent the two of us go searching with a clear idea where.
"Готов ли си? (Are you ready?)" He asks in Bulgarian and the question swirls in my mind. Ready for what? For him? For the emotion? Experience?
"My soul is trembling," I say.
"Because it has come in touch with another it likes. It's anticipation. Universal laws."
I look at him. Tony. What would I do without him?
"What happened last night?" I don't know why but I want to know before the others.
"Later, Niki. I have great, grand things to tell you all." His voice sounds like a whisper of the wind. It's calm, down-to-earth. I know he won't tell us tonight.
It's already dark. We have entered the back streets. Soon we find what we're searching for. We borrow some wood, a few thickish logs and a few chopped, as they are stacked in front of a house. We've done it before. As long as you have a sense of self-restraint and they don't see you, it's allowed.
Everything seems to be ready when we return. The fire is inflamed, the salad is done. I grab my backpack and get inside the tent Tony and me are going to be in. Or not. I change into some better clothes. I haven't taken a bath or at least washed the sea water off me, so I use a lot of deodorant. I could think of something else, but it's like this with these adventures.
No one knows what time it is when I appear outside. Tony hands me a small flashlight from his backpack. I head for my date and everyone wishes me good luck.
I walk down the beach. In my mind we are supposed to meet somewhere between our camp and his hotel. I light my way with the flashlight. The hotels in this area are on high-ground and not in touch with the beach; they shine, but they don't illumine down here. How will I find him? Maybe if I knew Morse code, I could signal him with the light. Vankata knows it. Am I late? He may have waited for me while Tony and I were gathering wood, or while we were shopping. He may have become tired of waiting and left. I ask myself what Tony would do. He'd probably go and search for him in the hotel. My troubles are solved. But what about the way the boy would feel?
I find him not far from his hotel in my direction. He's sitting on the sand, close to the licking waves, with his feet clutched against him. He gets up when I point the flashlight at him; the sound of the sea prevented him from hearing me approach. I see his clothes are all wet and stuck to him.
"Hey, what's wrong?" I ask and realize we don't know much about each other.
"Sorry," he says, looking sad and down at his feet.
Why is he apologizing?
"I had to jump in the pool from the fourth floor," he says as though I'm accusing him of something.
"What?! Why?" I'm shocked.
"I ruined our... date." The last word gets silenced by the waves.
"You didn't! Why don't we get back to the hotel?" I dumbly suggest the easiest solution without thinking.
"No!" he says loudly. "They... didn't let me come."
Who? Who didn't let him come? His friends? His parents? Why?
Instead of prying too much I suggest a brighter idea.
"My friends and I are camping on the beach. Do you want to go there?"
"Yes!" He lifts his head to meet my eyes with a guilty look.
The waves are splashing at our feet. We're awkwardly staying at a distance from each other. There's wind. It's a little chilly.
"You didn't ruin anything," I assure him.
I was thinking about taking a walk on the beach or around the main street, but it's the same. Right? We're still going to be together.
"Thanks." He smiles.
I get a strange feeling inside me.
"Why don't you get that shirt off. I'll give you mine. We have to walk for a while to get there," I reason. "It's not a suggestion to see you naked!" I quickly add.
He laughs and agrees. I lift my T-shirt over the head in front of him. He watches, then does the same and my eyes linger over his flesh: his neck, his nipples, his tummy. I see him differently than in daylight.
We start walking. I'm naked, he's wearing my T-shirt. I'm all goose-fleshed. I wonder why I didn't give him my pants.
"Are you cold?" he asks worried.
"Did you really jump from the fourth floor just to come?" I counter him.
"Just to come... I wanted to see you!" His hand brushes against my arm. "There was no other way! I have heard of others doing it, so I tried." Yes, I am one of those that have done it. A friend of mine also was. Could it have happened that he isn't here with me right now?
"You're here. That's important!"
I wonder about Tony. He would probably climb a few floors and jump then.
We walk in silence. I don't know what to say. We have a place to go, but it's absurd. I have him right next to me.
"Who didn't let you?" I ask the question.
He lets out a sigh.
"When you jumped in the pool today, my brothers, well stepbrothers, told my dad that I was secretly meeting with you and we were doing stuff together. He doesn't approve of me being... gay and he locked me in my room."
I stop walking. I try to realize what he is telling me. Who would...? Why...? His own father?!
"I'm sorry," is all I say, but behind that sorry is a whole chain of emotions. A sorry is not enough. It's not strong to do the stuff I think of on the moment: to take him, save him, hold him forever.
From the way I say it he must sense my concern and uneasiness.
"They were going to tell him anyway. When my mom passed away he started to change. He remarried and brought home a clumsy, poor-spirited woman and her sons. I instantly didn't feel comfortable around them and when they learned about my sexuality from my dad over a family meeting, my life has not been easy."
We are very close to each other. The flashlight points to the sand.
I thought he was perfect at first. That being gay in a homophobic country can be the only bad thing for the likes of us. He is a misfit like my friends and me; feels the same way like Tony, Sonya, Vankata, like millions of others, Bulgarians or not, gay or straight.
"I am sorry, I don't want to burden you with my problems..."
At that moment I gather all my confidence and silence him with a kiss. I silence all his pain, hardships and turbulences. In this very moment I hope all stars, gods and transcendental beings are watching us, because there is no other way to heal people's hearts.
"Are you going to do stuff with that boy?" I say when our lips part. I try to lighten the mood. I hope it works.
He looks at me for a moment and then grins widely. It works. His hands come in contact with my chest and he pushes me.
"I don't even know the name of that Bulgarian boy." He becomes playful.
"Maybe if you ask nicely he would give it to you." I also push him.
We play like that while we are walking; rubbing, poking, shoving, touching. He gets more out of it because I'm topless.
He says he likes how my name sounds. I learn his is Pete.
The yellow flickering dot is visible from afar. When we step into the light everyone is surprised to see us there. They are steadily drinking rakia and have become more talkative.
Pete introduces himself to my friends who are accepting, smiling and acting weird. When he shakes Tony's hand, he greets him.
"Hey Tony! You were right!" They all laugh when I'm unable to guess what is going on.
I offer Pete to change inside the tent, because his pants are still wet. I go inside with him just to make sure he finds what he needs.
""олкова бързо! (Already!)" I hear Sonya say behind us.
We're on our knees. The light from the fire barely reaches inside, but Pete's face is visible. I find him some pants and boxers from my backpack and grab myself a shirt. As I head to leave, he pulls my hand.
"You can stay," he says shyly.
I can stay. I'm hearing right, right? I want to and I don't object. I zip the tent and it becomes darker. Sitting cross-legged, I stare where the sound of unbuttoned pants comes from. His silhouette wiggles as he tries to remove the wet clothing. I'm thinking if I should help him, but I'm frozen in place. My mind fills with questions like where this will lead and whether it's happening too fast. My heart thumps loudly.
"I'm cold," he says. "Want to lie down?" I think he is naked. It didn't sound like he put clothes on.
"Sure," I say numbly, overtaken from the turnout of events.
I lie on my back and feel him next to me, he presses tightly. I shift and awkwardly attempt to put my arm under his head. He gives in and his hair tickles my chest as he tries to find a comfortable position. Our bodies still aren't happy with the way we are. Pete throws over his right leg and ends up nearly on top of me. He's naked, I feel it. There's a folded blanket next to me and I cover both of us. It feels different, good and intimate. He snuggles close and I hold him tight against me. My arm that is around him slides down his waist until it reaches his cheeks.
We don't talk. We don't know much about each other. It's a sensual moment. Our souls have found their way of communicating.
I become lost in him. He is me and I am him. There is nothing grandiose, nor simpler about it. We have uncovered from the memory of time those age-old universal laws of the heart which have been written in a similar elation amidst fire, dance and stars. I want to look Pete in the eyes and say to him: "O, my own self!" And him do the same, the way that Lebanese poet has written it. But talking means prison. Words are shackles. Our hearts sent untamable waves against each other and they splash in unison and liaison.
We stay engulfed in serenity till the tent becomes illuminated and hand figures start dancing on the sides. We put clothes on and join the others.
"'ей, пияни ли сте? (Hey, are you drunk yet?)" I say as I see them all grinning.
"Полека! Душата ти идва от далече! (Take it easy! Your soul comes from afar!)" Tony gives his wisdom.
"Почти стана време! (It's almost time!)" Vankata is excited.
""они скоро ще започне! (Tony will soon start!)" Sonya is almost in ecstasy.
Pete and I settle on the sand around the fire. The blanket is thrown aside. Sonya hands us plastic cups, one small for the rakia and one large for water, and forks for the salad, which is almost like Shopska minus some products, and steaks, which were cooked over the embers.
Pete smells the alcohol funnily and takes a sip. It instantly burns his throat and he grabs for the water. I guess the closer he has to rakia in his country is brandy.
"Не понася ракия! (He doesn't like the rakia!)" Sonya guesses.
"How can you drink that!" Pete says making a frowned face.
"It's homemade!" Vankata boasts.
My friends start asking him questions, most of the answers to which I'm also curious to know. I translate to him when needed, because we don't want Sonya to be left out.
Pete and I are sitting very close to each other, our knees are touching and our hands often find themselves on our shoulders or on our thighs.
"But you were right, Tony! He is cute!" I receive a kiss on the cheek while dumbfounded.
"Of course!" Tony answers as if proud.
"What's going on?" I ask.
"Б-е-ш-е у-р-е-д-е-н! (Y-o-u w-e-r-e s-e-t u-p!)" Vankata slowly explains it to me.
"Ники, Ники... приятелите ти се грижат за щастието ти! (Niki, Niki... your friends care about your happiness!)" Sonya says.
"I'm swimming and I notice the handsome guy," Tony unashamedly says, "and listen! Listen! In that very moment I imagine him together with Niki!" He makes hand gestures in the air to be understood. "Next thing I know, he wipes the water off his face and I see it! The rainbow!" He captivates us in wonderment. "Tell me! What do you think that means?"
He tells how he approached Pete offhandedly and straightforwardly said how he had this cute friend, a closet case, but great guy, and some other things about Bulgarian males he had thought of on the spot. I feel embarrassed and thankful. The result is clear.
"'аха. Проблемът беше как да те накараме да влезеш във водата. (Haha. The problem was how to make you go into the water.)" Vankata recalls.
"Приземи се в ръцете ти, Пийт! (He landed in your hands, Pete!)" Sonya exclaims.
We drink, we laugh and talk, close to the fire, neighbors of the sea, under the stars.
Tony grabs his guitar and the first thing he starts playing is Desperado. Vankata knows the lyrics and accompanies him. Sonya is in the mood and gets up to dance. At the most known part we all start singing:
Ay ay ay ay,
ay ay mi amor,
ay mi morena
de mi corazon.
The night unlocks our spirits and they start to roam free out of our bodies which can't contain them. We drink the 1.5 liter bottle of rakia and start with the beers. Tony offers to share his weed with us. Sonya agrees, Pete is curious to try, but we're rolling all over the beach and kissing. Vankata does cartwheels on the sand. Much to our surprise, Tony starts playing a song which he says is from an anime. He says it's a song old pirates sing, called Bink's Sake. I wonder just how much experience his existence has seen.
It's wild, we're free. The beach can't hold us. We pour our souls into the openness, they dance holding hands together, the stars caress them tenderly, the sea that has ruled over these shores from time immemorial gives them its blessing, and the fire keeps them warm.
At one time the rapture and exaltation become so uncontrollable that I think our hearts are going to burst and we all skinny dip into the sea to calm down. When we get out we all feel elevated and tranquil as though we've done some kind of ritual.
"It's time for enlightenment," Tony says as we settle down around the fire. "Нека първо изпеем нещо... българско... ПИ`! Приказка! (Let's sing something first... Bulgarian... PIF! Prikazka/Story!)"
He quickly grabs his guitar and starts. We finish just before that frenzied spirit takes hold of us again. Tony then takes a book out of his backpack and I'm surprised because I haven't seen him with it before. We all watch him intently as though we expect him to suddenly vanish, do some miracle, or reveal а secret that would make the world fall apart.
"Слушайте! "ова е втората книга, която някога съм чел! 'алил Джубран! елик! (Listen! This is the second book I have ever read! Khalil Gibran! Great one!"
He starts reading to us:
They spread before us their riches of gold and silver, of ivory and ebony, and we spread before them our hearts and our spirits;
and yet they deem themselves the hosts and us the guests.
Everyone stays silent, the fire crackles.
"Разбирате ли? (Do you understand?)" He watches each one of us. "Приятели сме! 'ората имат приятели, но имат и врагове. Най-опасните са вътре в тях!"
"We are friends! People have friends, but they also have enemies. The most dangerous are inside them!" I translate to Pete.
I want to save them all. I realize what's inside of us, what's within our families, what's closed in people's hearts. Sonya's past is her enemy. Ivan's father hates me because I'm gay and because his son chose to protect his friend, although Vankata really loves his family. Tony's enemy is probably the whole world, but deep down he feels unsettled wherever he goes. I have insecurities and struggle to be myself. Pete... What can I offer Pete? What can I do or him? I'm powerless. Maybe his father still grieves over his lost love and feels that he'll never see Pete's mother reborn if his son is gay. But who will make him realize his lost wife is right in front of him? Pete... I'm holding him and I don't want to let him go. I want to save them all, but I don't know how.
The stars have come down to earth. We see many specks in the darkness, we hear voices, songs; many people like us. They are together. We see lights and hear music from the surrounding resorts.
They say July Morning is about hope and purification, symbol of the nascent life, celebration of a new beginning and freedom. The only thing I know is that I'm happy to be here with my friends and I want that one moment, when the first rays over the horizon greet us, to last forever. The sun is first seen on Kamen Brqg where minutes before it rises John Lawton performs July Morning every year. When we see the flame globe peak from the distance in the sea, our own musician starts playing Uriah Heep's hit. We get up and watch the sunrise. Hundreds of people on the beach do the same. Pete and I hold hands as we sing the lyrics together.
There I was on a July morning looking for love.
With the strength of a new day dawning and the beautiful sun.
At the sound of the first bird singing I was leaving for home.
With the storm and the night behind me and a road of my own.
With the day
came the resolution
I'll be looking for you.
I was looking for love in the strangest places.
There wasn't a stone that I left unturned.
I must have tried more than a thousand faces,
but not one was aware of the fire that burned
In my heart,
in my mind,
in my soul.
In my heart,
in my mind,
in my soul.
There I was on a July morning - I was looking for love.
With the strength of a new day dawning and the beautiful sun.
At the sound of the first bird singing I was leaving for home.
With the storm and the night behind me and a road of my own.
With the day
came the resolution
I'll be looking for you.
You can see the road covered in the story here.
1*Petolackata ("The Pentacle" in English) is one of the most famous crossroads in Bulgaria. There are many snack bars, gas stations and shops. It is one of the favourite stop point for those who drive from Sofia to Black sea coast during summer months.
5*Ahat - Black Sheep
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