Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

Bucharest Night

Katherine Bynum


I walked back to my hotel late last night. In the dark. In the city. I was not scared, only cautious, until I started thinking of where I was in this country of Transylvania--vampires and folklore beyond imagination. Images flashed of strangers and violence. Malevolent grins of hungry beings from a b-grade movie. And a voice echoed in my head, “It looks just like this… It happens just like this…”

A girl all alone on the street. Her heels click loudly on the sidewalk. She looks around nervously as she passes the slightly open doors of an ancient building, and wonders of the things lurking in the deep interior. She tries to get a glimpse and even considers slipping inside for a moment, just a moment, to see. Tempting that urge to feel and know evil and how it would be to meet and react with your heart flying and your mind racing to comprehend. But she walks on and the time has passed for fear. She breathes a little deeper. Unaware of the darkness closing in around her.

I got lost another time, in the city during the evening. Some say I’m very brave. But bravery and stupidity are close brothers, and it’s costly to mistake one for the other. I was farther away than I realized, and kept getting turned around on the dusty streets. Nothing was familiar. I knew that if I could just find the park, then everything would be fine. And the park is a large one in Bucharest, but I wandered all over, not recognizing a single thing.

My brain was melting down. I called a Romanian friend, but I couldn’t explain where I was, and the syllables of the street names were incomprehensible. Finally I reached the park, miles away from where I started and frazzled to the bone. I wanted to fall apart.

New experiences are fun, but there comes a time when you can handle no more and want to change the channel on the television and beep your body out of a scene. Instead, you keep going through it and find yourself examining the architecture of a brick wall for divine inspiration. My friend ran into me by the fountains and laughed at me, but I was too tired to resist his taunts. “Just show me the road,” I said.

Bucharest is better by the light of day, as I sit here with my McDonald’s coffee and dry pastry from a small bread vendor. People sit and row small boats on the lake. Children walk past me carrying balloons and talking loudly. An outdoor restaurant is playing some Turkish rock music, and it all seems so normal. Until a gypsy comes by in colored rags and mumbles in familiar tones of despair. Or you pass by a beggar with no toes, or no feet, or a nun dressed all in black carrying a sign that no one wants to read.

There was a small village nearby where everyone was having terrible nightmares about a certain dead man. He haunted them for months, and they were very afraid. So they dug him up and took out his heart. They burned his bones and scattered the ashes so his vampire self was defeated. Then there was no more trouble. And I don’t usually look for trouble. Somehow it finds me and plays with my imagination. I’m sure there are many lonesome spirits wandering these streets of Bucharest at night. But they don’t scare me anymore. I see the crumbling buildings rich with carvings of angels and demons. The new glass-walled banks with United Nation flags. The People’s Palace. The fountains. The small outdoor restaurants. The dogs in every quarter. The subway and the charming one-star hotels. There’s still room for adventure in this city as the shadows fall, and life is never dull where you have so much mystery and sadness.

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KATHERINE BYNUM is a writer who recently relocated to Romania from Franklin, Tennessee, and is currently writing about her travel experiences. She is vice-president of the Alviogut Foundation.

© Katherine Bynum

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012