The train pulled out of Sirkeci Station at 10pm sharp, bound for Bucharest. Within an hour the slow rocking of the train put me to sleep. Sometime around 300am the train stopped, the conductor rapped on the door, shouting "immigration" and the passengers filed out in a stupor. Passport stamped I climbed aboard and went back to sleep. Thirty minutes later there was another sharp rap on the door: "customs!" The officers tore my cabin apart, like cops back home with a warrant. Finally, after fifteen minutes of pillage they left, satisfied there was no contraband in my meager belongings. I fell alseep, only to be awakened again thirty minutes later by a huge, semi-toothed Bulgarian border officer. "Passport?"
I handed it over. He glanced at it long enough to realize I was American, snorted and handed it back. "Okay," he said, "good night."
"That was easy enough," I thought and went right back to sleep. I don't know how much time passed, but once again, I was awakened by a hard thump, followed by two quick knocks on my door, like rapid gunshots.
"What now!" I exclaimed in frustration.
"Eet iz passport kontrol," came a woman's voice behind the door. I fumbled with the lock on my door as images of a snaggle-toothed, heavy Bulgarian matron danced through my head. I flipped on the light, and slid open the door.
"Holy shit!" I said. She was 5'11" with tight blond spiral curls falling down off her shoulders. A perfect row of white teeth shined in the light. Her blue border guard uniform did nothing to hide the magnificent shape of her body as my eyes were drawn to the large gun on her shapely hips.
"Passport, pleaze," she said in a deep, but feminine voice.
"Damn, you're hot," I said before my internal filter had a chance to self-censor. She held out her hand in expectation of a passport, which I quickly produced.
"You must be very tired," she said with that self-deprecating Slavic humor I know all too well.
"No, darling," I said in my best Texas drawl, "you are a fiiiiine piece of work."
My brain was screaming, "shut the fuck up you sleep addled fool."
She flipped through the pages of my passport.
"You have been to many strange places," she said, "Uzbekistan? Iran?"
"Yup," I said, "you want to come with me some time?""Hey! Hey! Hey!" my brain howled in indignation. "What the hell is wrong with you?"
I ignored it. "In for a penny, in for a pound," I told myself.
She reverted to her ascetic bureaucratic stare, but not before I caught the hint of a smile, just enough to know I'd hit the right chord.
"How long vill you stay in Bulgaria?" She asked.
I wanted to say, "had I known it would be this nice, a long time," but discretion--and the gun on her hip--got the better of me. I only managed to sputter out, "not long enough. Just passing through to Bucharest."
"Eets a pity," she clucked, "Bulgaria is beautiful country."
"Yes it is," I replied.
"Eenything else Meester Kelley?" she asked, handing back my passport.
"Your name? Phone number? Email?" I blurted out.
"WHAT THE FUCK! YOU DON'T ASK A WOMAN WITH A GUN FOR HER NUMBER YOU ABSOLUTE IDGIT," my brain shrieked in protest. My temples froze up like I'd just wolfed down an ice cream cone and there was a crashing and grinding of gears in my head.
She pulled out a notepad, jotted down her number and email, handed over the piece of paper saying, "Irina, my name is Irina. Come back to Bulgaria. You vill like," and then she walked down the hall and off the train. I was astonished. I've certainly never been accused of having any amount of charm. And I've always been horribly shy around women. I have no idea what came over me. Lack of sleep? Lunacy? Does it matter?
The Americans in the next-door compartment laughed uproariously.
"Duuuuuuuude," said Dominick, a young twenty-something on a gap year journey across Europe, "that was hilarious. And she was hot!"
"Yeah, she was, huh? Who knew a border guard could look so good?" I said.
"So, are you coming back?" he asked as the train pulled out of the station.
I grinned triumphantly, puffed up like a rooster in a barnyard. "Who knows?"
I soon fell into an uninterrupted sleep, dreaming of blue uniforms and blond curls.