I was in the NDK district, walking along the lover's bridge, my hands sunk deep into my pockets, my eyes scanning the horizon for her. This was the exact place that we had kissed.
A week before I was a simple tourist, snapping pictures of the sites and bathing in the beauty of this city which had been occupied and influenced by such a rich array of cultures. When I had booked the flights it was simply to have a bit of a holiday with my girlfriend and try and rekindle things between us. The search criteria hadn't been too heavy; we were looking for a place to go that wasn't too expensive, or too far away, and somewhere that we knew absolutely nothing about. Well the third point was one that I added.
Unfortunately, about a week before we were due to fly out, Angel broke her leg and so it was in plaster. She said that I should still try and go, but see if a friend wanted to join me; at least that way, the tickets wouldn't be completely wasted! I called around over the next few days but to my dismay no one was available, not even for a free holiday. Reluctantly I had to give up on the idea.
The night before the flight, that appeared to be taking off with two empty places in it, we had a huge argument. We'd been together for a number of years and loved each other and yet didn't seem to know each other any more. This was one, of what had become and endless stream of arguments and I was tired. I needed space to myself, to breath.
While lying on the sofa that night I decided that I'd just go alone.
When the flight took off I felt a surge of freedom and anticipation. I was really looking forward to throwing myself out into the unknown, it had been so long since I had last done anything like that and I had forgotten what it felt like.
Two hours later the plane touched down and I was greeted by snow as we got off and stepped down onto the runway. I went to luggage reclaim, to collect the small bag that I had thrown together at the last minute the previous day, and towards the exit. To that point there was no problem, I mean an airport was international and you simply had to follow the taxi sign. I hopped into the taxi and asked him to take me to a hotel in the center.
He suggested the Sheraton, with the rotunda of the Church of Saint George at it's heart, but I quickly poured cold water on that idea as, apart from the price, I was keen to actually find myself in a foreign environment and not simply go to a standardized product of a hotel, where I could have a traditional English breakfast. Having managed to get my message across the man laughed, shrugged and with a slightly quizzical look dropped me off at a small hotel, which he assured would be more, "Not English."
I dropped my bag up to my room, and sat on the bed to test it. I didn't fall through which was a good sign and the sheets were clean, so that was good enough for me. I went to the bathroom, splashed some water on my face and decided to have a look around. With no guide book, map, or any idea of where to go or what to see I stepped out of the hotel with a spring in my step and a smile on my face. I spent the next few days slowly getting my bearings. My ears slowly became accustomed to the language, recognizing the odd word or phrase here and there. The Cyrillic alphabet was a serious barrier to reading anything though! I decided I needed help and set off to find it.
And so it was, that on my very last day left I met her. I was in a library looking for a basic language book and asked the assistant for help. She spoke very good English and after showing me to a good book we kept chatting. She said that she didn't often get the opportunity to speak English with a native speaker. After chatting for a few minutes I suggested that we could perhaps meet up for a drink or something when she finished work. She was a little hesitant, but eventually agreed and said that she finished work at midday.
I only had an hour to kill, and think! What was I doing?! The break had been just what I needed but I didn't know any longer how I felt about my girlfriend. We had been together for so long and in general had been happy and comfortable together. She was beautiful too and had a good sense of humor, or at least she did when we met. Recently things that used to make us laugh had started to turn into arguments.
All I knew was that this break had allowed me some perspective and realize that I hadn't felt at ease with myself as I did now, for too long. I wondered what was going through her mind while I wasn't there.
Time flew by as my thoughts swirled around in my head, tormenting me, and after wandering around aimlessly for a while, something I'd got quite used to over the last week, I went back to the bookshop.
She wasn't there immediately at midday and came out apologizing for the delay. Time had meant very little to me over this holiday, so I wouldn't have even noticed her being late if I hadn't heard the great clock of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral strike twelve.
There was no doubt about her beauty. She had a certain intensity in her look that had attracted me, and contrasted with her carefree pink hair. She was of average height I guess. Perfect kissing height I had thought guiltily as we parted, before I left the shop and brushed passed her. She was tall enough so that I wouldn't break my neck hunching over to meet her lips and not so tall as to compromise my male ego.
I felt a pang of guilt as I realized just what I was thinking of. I was supposed to be getting married next year!
All these worries were swept away by the arrival of Tatiana and her carefree smile, her twinkling eyes, full of life, hope, positivity, yet to be tainted by the brush of reality and routine. As we walked we talked and it was light, flowing and full of laughter. If people saw us they never would have guessed that we had met that very day, things were so comfortable, we were both absolutely at ease in each other's company. There were also moments when we simply walked together, without talking at all, but the silence was peaceful and not awkward.
Tatiana had insisted on showing me around some of the sights and I pretended that I hadn't already seen them. We had visited, but despite the distance traveled and the cold I felt fresh and vibrant still.
Nevertheless, when Tatiana suggested that we pop into a local restaurant for food I quickly agreed. Having someone to talk me through the menu and know what I was ordering would be a novelty here. I had previously had some amusing and disappointing (depending on my hunger) experiences. She insisted that we eat a dish that her mother prepared for her when she was a child and pointed to "яхния" on the menu when the waiter came over. She also ordered what turned out to be some plum rakia: a local strong spirit. We chinked our glasses and then laughed together as I was nearly asphyxiated while drinking it! As she talked of growing up I got lost in her green eyes, deep like pools, I was transfixed, just nodding to encourage her to continue. When the waiter came with our dish and attempted to put it down, he had to nudge me hard to be able to do so, as I was absorbed. I said that I hadn't realized that he was speaking to me as I didn't understand, it was all just noise to me. She laughed and tapped her leg against mine under the table,"You men are all the same..."
I started to feel a bit anxious, she had obviously noticed that I had been staring at her openly and quite likely with my mouth open too!
"...with an empty belly you are of no use to anyone. Now eat your chicken yahniya!"
I laughed in relief and gratefully started eating. I tried not to ogle quite so obviously and asked Tatiana a million questions about her life. I felt this need to understand the woman sat opposite me, to know her past as much as her present and future. She talked happily, and openly of her life and with an enthusiasm that I had forgotten even existed.
When my questions eventually dried up, she took my hand,"George are you okay?"
"Yeah, yeah I'm fine, I'm great actually. I feel great and the food was delicious!"
"Good," she said, and winked at me. "When your questions stopped I thought there must have been a problem!"
My hand was still in hers and we laughed together.
"Lets go!" she eventually said.
We set out onto the Cherni vrah Boulevard and walked quietly together. My mind was flying in all directions. What was wrong with me? I felt like a small boy again, all nervous and unsure what to do next. As we walked on, I took her hand and smiled inwardly as she held mine back. She guided us up onto a pedestrian bridge and we looked over the water, standing there hand in hand. Despite the fact we had only met that very afternoon, it all felt so natural and so right. I couldn't explain exactly how or why, it just did.
As we approached the mid section of the bridge I stopped and so did she. She held the railing in front of us and looked over the water. I came up behind her and took her in my arms; I felt as if my body had found it's rightful place, like a baby in the womb. Our bodies melted together as if one. I held her there in my arms for several long minutes, the two of us looking out over the water and simply being...but together. When Tatiana turned around, that almost imperceptible first contact between our lips sent shivers down my spine. My heart was beating so fast I could hardly breath. I had never felt anything like it before in all my life and that was the moment that I knew that she was the one, the one being that was on this earth to be with me. I always thought that was a load of romantic rubbish but then I had never before felt this completeness.
I would have a challenging return home and how could I break up with Angel and explain everything to my parents and friends, let alone my work. And yet, I knew this was the turn that my life was meant to take. It just felt so right. There was little over an hour left before I should be at the airport. I explained myself to Tatiana who looked at me with concern.
"Are you sure you are ready to make this sacrifice so soon? We only just met."
"It is not a sacrifice. I am simply listening to what my heart is telling me. I have no doubt. I will get on this plane now and in two days I'll be back here, on this bridge, waiting for you."
"Iskam da te celyna," she said.
By the way she was looking at me and leaning towards me, I understood what she wanted and kissed her again.
And here I was, two days later, standing on the bridge, a bag by my feet, and I waited. In as little as forty-eight hours, in a whirlwind of action and emotion. I had turned my former life on it's head. I had separated with my girlfriend, left my job and said goodbye to my friends. Everyone thought I was crazy but they simply didn't understand...they hadn't felt what I was feeling coursing through my veins. As I looked out along the bridge my heart skipped a beat as I thought it was her coming towards me, but no, a trick of the eyes. I watched for her like a man dying of thirst would look out for an oasis in the desert, but each time I thought it was her it turned out to be a mirage. I waited, and waited, and waited until I realized that she wasn't coming.
I felt a deep pain in my chest, slumped to the ground and sat there motionless...numb.
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