"Can I get you anything else, Bear Boy?" inquired the waiter of the neighborhood hole-in-the-wall café with an ill-contained smirk.
The white Renault parked in front of the House of the Communist Party. The chauffeur rolled down the window to have a smoke. Dimcho took a few moments sitting quietly in the back seat.
I have a story in which the main character is a voyeur. It is called The Red Room. Every few months this guy rents a new place to stay in search of more and more new scenes for observation. One night, the lens of his powerful telescope falls upon a room flooded with intense red light. It is completely empty, except for the plain wooden chair in the middle. For days, weeks on end, our voyeur observes the room, but no one enters. The chair remains empty and the red light streams relentlessly into the night.
"Are all Bulgarians as touchy-feely as you?" The question had never occurred to me, until my friend Jenny asked me a few weeks after we met during our freshman year of college in Saint Paul, Minnesota. This was the first time I thought about personal space explicitly, even though I'd probably experienced it on a sensory level throughout my whole life. I was coming from a high school in Kuwait, which, although American in name, spirit, and language of instruction, was actually a hard-to-disentangle jumble of cultures, customs, greeting habits, and levels of touchiness.
To defrost from a long Arctic Vortex and to draw mangroves in charcoal I flew to an artist colony near Fort Myers, Florida, on an elongated and thin island, a Key. I didn't know there were Keys on the West Coast of Florida, only south of Miami, where I had never been. It seems a Key is a glorified sandbar which has gained solidity through vegetation sinking roots and tides bringing in more sand, mostly white but with specks of black. Some of the black came from thousands of years of shark teeth, and every morning I could see people collecting the teeth. It was an art form.
We're in the time of COVID-19, and I'm in the southernmost country in the world, save for New Zealand and Antarctica.
Restrictions are in place, although I read that ours are nothing like the lockdowns elsewhere around the world. Most days I feel lucky, although this is not luck that you'd necessarily want. It's fate at its purest; my parents moved from the United Kingdom more than forty years ago and settled us first in New Zealand, and then Australia. There but for the grace of a job offer go I and my family into most people's current reality.
I've been to Bulgaria twice, separated by a gap of three years, though it feels like I've actually been to two different Bulgarias. This difference is on my mind as I think of how my home country, America, has changed in about the same timeframe. I feel like I've lived in two different Americas lately, and think back to Bulgaria looking for words to pinpoint this sensation.
Mt. Everest, April 2011
He knew he could conquer the anguish. His head pounded against dehydration and thin mountain air, as if a tiny demon lodged in his ear canal, pitchfork raised, the same demon who might whisper to him, What are you doing here, heading to the top of the world? Are you who you think you are?
The White Gentleman decided that the weather was too beautiful this morning to waste the day in everyday nonsense. Therefore, he put on his happy hat and flung the door open with a flourish. He took a deep breath, then stepped onto the street with his left foot. The town was still asleep.
The street was so quiet that he could hear his footsteps. He'd take three steps and then a hop, because walking in an even cadence was boring.
If somebody's heart stops due to a trauma, such as a car accident or a fall, CPR cannot save them. I know this, but I don't know if it is the same with cycling. I know you should ask the victim if they're okay and shake their shoulders firmly between two hands. Jerry is on his back, one foot clipped into a pedal, legs across the frame like he's resting. It is hot and sweat drips from the tip of my nose onto his face when I bend over. I shake his shoulders and ask, Are you okay?
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Most of the houses in the village were uninhabitable. The residents of the rest of them were old people and Gypsies. On the whole, peace and love didn't exactly reign, but there was tolerance and an absence of extensive problems. The elderly Bulgarians were situated in the upper mahala, and their dark-skinned younger neighbors – in the lower one. The store on the village square was in the middle of the village and served as a linguistic point of contact.
In the empty apartment, he took a shower and looked for a piece of paper and a pen. He found an orange BIC, yellowed graph paper and sat down to write. He hadn't written for years.
Clinical Picture of Nostalgia:
Onset period: Since the beginning of eternity.
Vulnerable groups: Homo Sapiens, of various ages and gender.
Present focus: recently prefers Eastern Europe.
I used to live on the last floor, but now I reside on the landing between the last and the next-to-last floor. I don't remember how long it's been. It must be a while, though, since people seem really used to me by now and pretend I don't even exist. For my part, I just sit here, look out the window, and keep mum.
I start forgetting things. Sometimes I remember that I'm forgetting but sometimes I don't so I keep a list. I note the consequences because I think that may provide an incentive for me to remember in the future.
Forgot: to wear sash.
Consequence: beaten on soles of feet and pay docked for three days as couldn't work.
Forgot: to salute the Valide Sultan when she returned to the palace after an excursion to the Sweet Waters of Asia.
Consequence: beaten on the backs of knees with cane and pay docked for two days for insolence.
I was there early, so I went up to the second floor restroom. I seized the moment of seclusion, and scraped my own cave painting on the wall. It depicted a group of hunters who had surrounded a rhinoceros. The hunters were wearing suits and ties; it was we, the employees, and the rhino was the Agency. Satisfied with this epistle, I went downstairs.
KARIYA'S PHONE STOPS WORKING SOMEWHERE IN THE air above Hokkaido. He isn't sure what happened; at the beginning of the flight, he switched it – dutifully – to airplane mode when the captain reminded the passengers to do so, but as soon as he lands in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, his phone has stopped working entirely. He presses the power button, the home button, every combination of buttons he can think of, but in the end, even after being plugged into a charger for several hours, his phone is decidedly and irreversibly dead.
Writers often find their true material through the subconscious mind. The obsession that has guided me to my truest writing always emerged more intuitively than consciously. A writer develops, over time, this ability to tap into a reservoir of knowledge, imagination, memory, and feeling that exists both at the individual level and the collective. You go into a dark, place full of buried treasure, where anything is possible, and begin your quest for your true story. You are fuelled, all along, by the particular energy of your subject.
It may seem like nothing to you but you have to understand there was this life I was heading for like for a heavy-ass truck on the highway – fast, loose – and it was like all of a sudden I was getting a preview of it.