by Jeremy Herridge
They were clients of mine, or had been, and they had invited me to their twenty-fifth anniversary celebrations, in their hometown on the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria.
As we waited in the bar for the other guests to arrive, Georgi told me the hotel had been built by the mafia with money siphoned from the EU, a multi-million pound white elephant that lay empty for most of the year, while the vast high ceilinged rooms gathered dust and the carpets grew damp and mildewed.
Later, one of the guests seemed to attract all the attention – a short middle-aged man with a pliant face and a wide, Rumpelstiltskin-like smile, his fingers entwined with those of a tall young girl whom he introduced as ‘Katja, my very old friend’. When Piotr spoke, everybody listened. He spoke in a low, lilting, heavily accented voice about the pressures of his work in government, the narrow course he had to plot between the ties of bureaucracy and the needs of his public. His phone rang frequently, and he always answered. When he stood to pace the room I spoke to Katja, who wanted to be an actress in America. When I asked her how she knew Piotr, she smiled like I was the child.
The next day we toured a nearby town where a number of vampire graves had been found – 700 year old corpses with iron stakes through their chests in the grounds of an ancient church. Piotr appeared dressed all in white, as if in some kind of sailor’s suit, or maybe for tennis – long white shorts, black leather belt, long socks and pristine trainers.
In the sunswept cobbled streets of the old town we wandered directionless, stopping at the stalls selling rosewater and icons of long-faced saints. Outside the church where the archaeologists did their work, Katja gave me her camera and stood on her toes in her platform heels pouting into the wind, hair blowing behind her like a comet’s tail. Nearby Piotr kicked through the long grass in his white trainers, phone clamped to his ear.
I turned back to the church and watched the workers brush the dirt from the bones that emerged from the soil like bleached white submarines resurfacing from the past. Some were clearly children. But I saw no stakes, no fangs, and nothing out of the ordinary.
Jeremy Herridge was born in Hong Kong in the seventies.