It is a hot summer’s day with the tiniest drift of cool air. We walk quite unprepared to the Romanian border wearing rubber slippers. From Vama Veche to the border between Bulgaria and Romania is a 2km walk. There is a brief idea of a destination and how we might reach it – Durankulak, a 6km walk from the border and it’s lake, a 5 km walk from Durankulak; hitch-hike. The DN39 which starts at Constanta in Romania runs up to the border control in Vama Veche after which it runs as the E87 in Bulgaria.
There are no perks to crossing a border by foot. The police at the border control do not applaud you. There is no juice bar – a tender coconut stall will be ideal (this may be the case somewhere in the world; between state borders in India) – to take the developing fatigue and plunge it back where it belongs. Regular questions of when you’ll return and how, remain. My partner indulges himself in a rebellious border smoke, seated on a bench between two rising flags and introductions written in many European languages, simultaneously feeding two thinning black dogs. Are we in Romania or in Bulgaria? Are we not in Romania and not in Bulgaria? What is this tiny patch of namelessness?
Walking into Bulgaria through this entry point is a page from an apocalyptic novel. Smoke rises from a dead fire somewhere. Dried leaves roll by. Torn advertisements with cakes of dust try to stand still. Blackened, abandoned check points with broken windows reflect a semi-forlorn fate. A wet mirage coats the horizon. Except for a line of green trees in the distance, everything else is pale yellow and dry, about to catch fire. Burning, dying out, burning again.
We take a detour at the first left that veers from the E87 and leads down to the sea. Walking barefoot on loose sand or with feet licked in regular intervals by foamy sea water is more attractive than the tar road and our rubber slippers already cutting into our flesh. Here too, distances, as with the E and D before, seem tricky. Mirages cut them short or elongate them without notice. A patch of blue sea between the brown of our ground and the white nothing of the sky keeps us going.
The part of the Durankulak beach that we reach is empty. This too is a page in a novel though true apocalypses are never followed by real stretches of empty blue. Blue isn’t a colour of the apocalypse. But apocalyptic novels do have dream scenes where characters dream of a by-gone past or see mirages of a (re)turn/change. Mirages of (re)turn have colours that are not grey or black or others that reek of dying and drying. Bright halo yellows, sea blues, flowery reds, etc., Brown, black and grey of these mirages are fresh and new, clearly distinguishing themselves from those of the apocalypse.
It’s the kind of sea I like – neither too pristine with a blue where I see my feet nor too unclean where I don’t see it’s blurred shadow. Algae float around us and gather in profusion in some spots. The stretch is too much of a miracle, its emptiness making us find something important in each of us and amongst us, inspite of shrinking us to inconsequence amidst the immensity of it all. Its evident depth juxtaposed with its simple lapping against our bodies is enough to not let us take it without fair warning. In the near or far distance, black and white dots of gulls stand watching, flying to a prospect of a fish and reassembling before the sound of its caw subdues.
Nakedness on a beach wasn’t very new but a nakedness without spectators, without a tinge of inhibition around it, came here. It seemed as if, as most clichés around private empty beaches go, that this beach was there just for us, made for us, merely by us walking up to it and catching it in its solidarity. A secret marriage of minds, attested by the witness of the sea and the sky, the rays of the sun and the gulls, a mirage of (re)turn to understanding, to forgiveness and some newness happened here. Without consent. Just as we, without its consent, walked into its lonesome slumber, effected only after an overworked and overcrowded summer.
It burns again as we try to walk out of the sea, back to the road or some way towards Durankulak. Hunger sets in. No one is in sight. Any towers or buildings we walk past are empty and broken, empty and breaking. New ones being built resound the hammer of workers into new wooden cabins, ones we’ll never stay in or see to fruition. The road makes us gnaw at each other, stirs us into an impending separation – too quickly, even though we’d just left the sea. We could be, if hunger is left to linger, in apocalyptic rage against each other.
But we are driven to the centre of Durankulak which is nothing but two supermarkets (one, wholesale), a workshop and something that looks like a small factory. The restaurant is another 5 km walk, situated at the end of the trek near the Durankulak lake but no one is willing to drive us there nor is the path leading up to it conducive. White dust rises to our face even if we tread heavily and the exhaustion does make us drag our bodies. We meet a dead snake on the path, after which we walk carefully for a good 100 mts and turn around. The supermarket feeds us – fish, cheese, bread, cream, beer, cola and more – a party for two who have returned to non-apocalyptic colour, at least inside their bodies.
Once done, we decide to return, abandoning the desire to see the lake. For lack of a pedestrian path, we walk in a single file on the corner of the road, first on the left side of it and then on the right. Vehicles passing us now and then decline our request for a ride. Though the 8km walk back starts with our lazy, suddenly full bodies complaining about their predicament, we pick up pace or pick up mind. We shift to walking in the centre of the road or running, walking barefoot now, with some regional song stirring thoughts of our own homelands, stirring conversation and affection towards each other. It seems that, like at the sea, the impending demise of the sun for the day, eliminated our vulnerabilities by merely catching us both at the same vulnerabilities. I’ve tied my slippers to my partner’s backpack but he’s worn his on his hands, clapping them together and dancing now and then, prancing from one side to the other, of the road.
Between the two countries, near the sea, there is colour and a complete lack of it. There’s dryness and salty wetness. There’s apocalypse and apocalyptic redemption. There’s the distant horizon and the close mirage. There’s vegetation and dried burnt sunflowers. There’s a lonely, barren walk towards an unreached destination and a reached destination without intent carried on through unconscious desire. There’s a small road and fields expanding beyond our vision. In this terrain, as quickly as we lost what we thought was the path, we regained a path, a lighter way to walk and even spin or dance in the middle of the road. A point between two known destinations, points where we knew where we were, completely capable of estimating, but still lost in the middle of nowhere. A terrain of subconscious conflict, just like the minds we possess.
The police aren’t thrilled to see us. We sit again, this time on the Romanian side, where my partner embarks on another victory smoke. My feet are dirty with scab buds showing already. We smell of an apocalypse passed and one to come. Of a mirage of (re)turn with a desire for the empty providence, barren land.