PRINCESSES FROM SLAVEYKOV
After ten missed calls, she finally calls back and amidst the noise of the elevator she reads aloud the text from 5:30 that morning: "Got any ground beef at your place? It’s urgent. Five exclamation points. What’s going on? Please tell me this is some kind of autocorrect gone bad."
"It’s not. That’s exactly what I meant."
"Ground beef? I’ve heard of weed being called ‘salad,’ but never ‘ground beef’ before. What I mean is, imagine if I sent you a text like that at 5 a.m..."
"I can imagine. But if you’d answered I definitely would’ve been able to explain it better..."
"Just don’t tell me you’ve started doing drugs, please, spare me that at least. I know how you like to get your drink on, I’m already used to turning off my phone at night, but still - there are limits, you know."
"Sorry, but it really was urgent and I really did need ground beef. But whatever, it doesn’t matter now. It’s already too late."
"Actually, it’s early, if you ask me. I’m just taking the dog out."
"I heard her barking while you were going downstairs... Hahah, actually I was just talking about her with Ivan today."
"With Ivan from Friday, he was on the night shift and you know how it is - after last call but before they’ve closed the doors it’s the best time for a heart-to-heart."
"Yeah right, just talking. And then you don’t remember a thing. I’ve seen that enough times."
"It never depends on anything. But whatever, what were you saying about Liza?"
"Hahah, it’s a bit of a long story. If you want I can call you back so I don’t run up your bill. You’re still one of my free numbers."
"Don’t worry about it."
"Okay so, me and Ivan have discussed this before, too. All night I was trying to close in on this girl, I even left to see her home..."
"To close in, is that the word?"
"Well, if that’s the word, I don’t know why you think anything’s gonna come of it."
"Precisely, that’s exactly what we were saying - there’s no chance of finding a girl using that scheme. In this case, even less so, because we were supposedly talking for an hour and everything was fine, but in the end when I hauled her towards the cab..."
"OK, fine, when I suggested we share a cab, she suddenly told me she had a boyfriend. I’m no longer in this game, so I just asked her one more time whether she was sure she had a boyfriend, she said she was and so - I left her to take the cab herself. I went right back to Friday for a nightcap. And Ivan was like totally stunned, ‘cause he thought I’d gotten lucky or however you’re supposed to put it, but when I told him how this chick suddenly remembered her boyfriend and he told me what you always tell me as well - with your kind of lifestyle, that’s what you get. What else could you expect? And he was like it’s happened to me so many times - while I finish closing the bar, while I’m cleaning up, putting on the alarm and going out - the sun has already come up and all those people have flocked to the bus stop to go to work. And when I cut through the park, what do I see? Chicks. Chicks walking their dogs all over the place, man. And I’ve thought to myself - what the hell could you have in common with these girls when you haven’t even gone to bed yet? Nothing! Because she might go out Friday, but it’s always in the back of her mind - tomorrow I’ve got to walk the dog. Get it? And I’m like you’re right, Ivan, you’re absolutely fucking right. Take me, for example... and I told him about Liza, hahah."
"Well, about you, of course. Me and Ivan had this mega-heart-to-heart. A bar just sets the stage for that kind of thing, especially when only an hour earlier it was packed, then suddenly all that’s left is the music as a backdrop and the empty glasses to be gathered up. And of course, he’s had his own stories like that, too... so we have a good long chat, hahah. But whatever, suddenly I get really hungry so I tell him, sorry, Ivan, I’m gonna hop over to Mimas. But at Mimas they were out of döner and were like we can make you a hamburger, if you want, but as you know I don’t like their hamburgers ‘cause they fall apart in your hands and so I headed over to the sandwich place on Slaveykov. I was totally up for a princess. The ones there are the bomb, as you know. So I go down there and see that dude, the one who’s been pulling the night shift for ten years now."
"The tall guy? The one who’s seen so many shitfaced idiots that he could blackmail half of Sofia, that guy?"
"Yep, that’s the one. And he hasn’t changed a bit - the same bags under his eyes, the same haircut, the same look. He just asks you what you want and that’s it. So I tell him to make me a princess, but I’m like a real princess, man, ‘cause I’m damn hungry for one. I’ve dragged my ass here all the way from Friday for it. And I think to myself, now’s the time, man, I feel like this guy is finally gonna start talking to me while I’m waiting for that princess, I’m on a roll today in any case... But he keeps quiet. He just takes the slice of bread with the raw ground beef out of the fridge, puts it in the toaster with his zombie-like movements, turns on the timer and that’s it. Not a single word. But me, I don’t know what got into me, I’m like dude, I’ve known you for ten years now, and you’ve never said shit to me. And he - all calm and everything - is like whaddya want me to say? I’m like I have no idea. Something. Whatever. Like, for example, why are they called princesses, do you have any idea?1 I don’t know. That’s all he says I don’t know. But again he says it all serious like - so you can’t laugh, but you also can’t think up any way to keep the conversation going. I don’t know what’s gotten into me, but I won’t let it drop - OK fine, but haven’t you ever thought about it? It’s like we’re cannibals, man. Just imagine: some foreigner comes to visit you, you take him all around Sofia the whole day, at night you go on a bar crawl and finally: now, for dessert, let’s eat up a princess. Can you imagine what he’ll think? And the dude surely would’ve said I don’t know again, but right then two guys walk in to get a pocket sandwich, so he goes to take care of them. And while he’s warming up the buns in the toaster and putting on their toppings, my princess is ready, too. Seasonings? Mayonnaise or ketchup? He asks me again, but I’ve already started in again so I’m like, no man, I want a real princess, is it that hard?
"What do you mean, ‘real’? You haven’t started using those hourly hotels, have you?"
"That’s exactly what he said first: Buddy, the real ones are at the Paris bar. We’ve only got ground-meat princesses here. But I explain to him that I’m serious - I’m talking about a real live princess. I tell him that right before coming here a bartender friend of mine and I were talking about it. All girls want to be princesses when they’re little, but when they grow up - they become the exact opposite."
"What’s the opposite of a princess?" The voice can hardly be heard over the phone, drowned out by a sudden bark. "Sorry, she’s in heat..."
"Never mind, other dogs are always coming after Liza. She’s gotten very flirtatious."
"Yeah, I mentioned that, too."
"Oh, please. As if you’re one to talk..."
"Hahah, of course I’m not."
"And what happened in the end? My arm is going numb from holding the phone."
"What happened? The dude started talking! I couldn’t believe it. For the first time ever. So you want a real princess? I tell him, yes, isn’t that what everybody wants? And so he went into high gear and there was no stopping him - so look here, in the strict sense of the word it’s a no-go. A princess by definition is the daughter of a ruling monarch, the eldest daughter, if possible. But you need her to be unmarried, because that’s what all the fuss is about in fairytales, right? - you have a big fancy wedding and snatch half of the kingdom. That’s right, I say, and everybody lives happily ever after. Who doesn’t want that... But he’s like - dude, as of the present date, September 26, 2013, insofar as we can trust Google, the choice comes down to a single person - Alexandra, the daughter of Henri, the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, who is also the only white sitting princess according to those criteria. Incidentally, she’s not half-bad, judging from her picture on Wikipedia, and she’s the perfect age for you - born 1991. How possible it is, though, is another question entirely, if I were that kind of magician I’d hardly be pulling nightshift to sell sandwiches to the likes of you, now would I? But in any case - at this point he’s firing all this off like a robot - after Alexandra, you find yourself in over your head real quick - starting with the seventeen-year-old Iman of Jordan and Their Royal Highnesses Azemah and Fadzillah of Brunei, passing through the Arab harems where no non-Muslim is ever going to set foot and finally arriving at the six royal heiresses of legal age at the court of the King-Inseminator of Swaziland and the Tongan princess Lātūfuipeka Tukuaho. Her name says it all. Those are the princesses who are available. All the other unmarried ones (including the Belgian, Dutch, Danish and Japanese princesses) are still underage. You’re gonna have a hard time pulling off a romance with any of them without doing some time. But now, if we expand the definition..."
"Hang on a sec, my arm is totally asleep from holding the phone... OK... I’m back. So what were you saying... if you expand the definition?"
"So he was like, if we expand it, we can include all unmarried aristocrats, not just the daughters of a monarch. In that case you can count on a lot more Europeans, but as you know very well - after centuries of keeping it all in three or four families, don’t be expecting much (besides ever-improving prenatal diagnostics). Fine then, so you’ll ask me - and not without justification - why does everybody want to find a princess? The one and only reason lies in the stability of the notions we create for ourselves. Now, when he laid that one on me, he flat-out blew my mind, I swear. He’s like, it’s the same as how kids draw little houses with red roofs, a smoking chimney, a wooden fence, a doghouse and all the rest, but in reality they all live in apartment blocks and high rises here?... He goes on: Here’s where it all comes from - how did people live back in the day? And I’m talking real people, not aristocrats. They lived in shacks. No hot water, no sewage pipes, no education, they had a few clothes from their dowery and that was it. And nobody gave a shit about them. They had no rights, nothing... While princesses were another game entirely. They ate regularly, bathed whenever they felt like it, slept in real beds, they could read and write, they were respected, in short, you get my drift. Nowadays, almost all girls everywhere that fairytales are told de facto live exactly that kind of life. The only difference is the lack of a title. So, if we’re talking that kind of a princess - a good, well-bred, pretty girl - then I can help you. And I (after I managed to pick my jaw up off the floor, I mean) was like: that’s it, man, what more could I ask? What do I need to do? And he’s like: it’s very simple. I’ll make you a very special princess, you just need to get the ingredients. Give it to the girl of your choice walking by here, she takes a bite and she’s yours. Forever. And you catch me drift, right? We are on Slaveykov and Rakovska, you have no idea how many fine girls pass by here every day..."
"Only someone like you would fall for that."
"That’s exactly what I asked him - has anybody ever fallen for it? But he just laughed - of course, he says, what, you think you’re the first one to come here and ask me for ‘real’ princesses? You think you’re the only one who’s thought of it? And then completely business-like - you’ve got two hours to find the ingredients."
"And so instead of going to the first 24-shop, you call me to get your ground beef, is that it?"
"Well, it turns out it’s not that simple. For it to work, he tells me, you’ve got to get the bread from the first mega-pretty girl you meet. Otherwise you’re dead in the water. So what could I do, I was like: relax, man, no problem, and I go out to look for a girl. But the street is deserted, there’s not a soul in sight, let alone pretty girls. So I tell myself - where would they be nearby at this time of night? The only thing I could think of was BIAD - there was nowhere else at that hour. So I tear down Rakovska, then turn onto Gurko and try to go inside, but the bouncers are like: we can’t let you in, no shorts allowed. They pull a dress code on me, can you believe it? I try to explain that it’s hella important, but they can tell from a thousand miles away that I’m not the BIAD type, no way. And right at that moment I see this awesome chick coming out, looking at her phone and heading off on foot. I take off after her and I’m like: here’s the deal I’ve got to buy bread from you, it’s super important. Of course, she doesn’t get it at all, but in the end she’s like - you’re cute, I like you. So if it’s only about some bread, no worries, I know a 24-hour store near my place, you just gotta pay for the cab. So we go there, get the bread, I drop her off at her place and bring the bread back to the dude. And he’s like - 40 minutes so far, we’re doing well. Now it’s time for the cheese. You gotta get the cheese from the ugliest girl you’ve been with."
"Doesn’t matter. I’ve only used her for booty calls these last few months."
"Booty calls? You are a gentleman."
"Hahah, thanks. But whatever, I grab a cab and head straight to her place in Beli Brezi. There’s no point in calling her to ask where she is, we had already agreed on the booty call. I called from down in front of her entryway and she was like: c’mon up, but just so you know, I don’t have time to get dressed. I’ve left the door open. So I take the elevator, go into her place but instead of going to her, I head straight for the kitchen. I open up the fridge and dig around. No real cheese. Just a chunk of parmesan. But I’m like, parmesan, it’s still cheese, right? And I’m just slipping it into my pocket when she comes in. Wearing only a thong. And she’s like, are you crazy or what? You got far better places to be sticking your nose, and you’re wasting time with my fridge?"
"So what did you tell her? I’d be very curious to know."
"The truth, what else!"
"About the cheese?"
"Of course, a true gentleman never lies, hahah. I needed to get rid of her anyways. Plus, I’d told the cabbie to wait for me downstairs, otherwise I’d run out of time. And so, all I had left was the ground beef from you. I started calling you already from the cab, I wrote a text, called again, but as you know - it was all in vain. So I go back to the dude and I’m like - there’s no way to get through, she turns off her ringer at night now, and there’s no point in going over there because the doorbell doesn’t work. It’s never gonna happen. And the dude looks at me somehow more friendly-like and says: fine, it doesn’t have to be your ultimate girl, any of your top three would work. And I’m about to tell him that there aren’t any others for me, but then I’m like: he has no way of knowing. So I tell him - OK, lemme call. And I pretend I’m talking, being all charming, laughing - in short, an Oscar performance - I even cover up the mouthpiece to ask him if ground meat from a meatball counts, ‘cause that’s all she has. He said it was no problem and so - I get six meatballs from the same store as the bread, bring them to him, look at my watch, I’ve made it with not a second to spare, but the dude just looks at me with those bags under his eyes and is like: sorry, man, those tricks don’t work on me."
"Ha, like I told you, he was bullshitting you the whole time."
"And that’s what I tell him. Why would I lie, man, I really got‘em from that chick. And he was like: I’ve made so many of these princesses before and there’s one thing I know - if you’d really gone to see your girl about the ground beef, you definitely would have brought her back here. So I try to bullshit him again, saying the girl was at work in the morning, that her office was super far away, that she had to walk her dog first, but he was like: Sorry, your time’s up, there’s no way to make the princess now..."
"That’s not true," she interrupts him.
"I’ve got ground beef in the fridge." Her voice is once again warm. "It can happen."
The recipe for real princesses: Spread a thin layer of ground beef on two slices of bread. Generously grate cheese over them. Turn on the toaster oven and put the bread inside. While waiting for them to be ready, go into the other room for a coffee, you have so much to say to each other. You don’t drink your coffee or talk.
While you’re together, your princesses burn.
1. While building the Youth Center in the city of Vratsa, the construction workers discovered a Thracian grave where some young girl was buried, which more or less coincided with the moment when the local food industry was unveiling a new item consisting of a slice of bread smeared with half a raw meatball. Since there was already a "Vratsa" snack, they decided to name this new sandwich with ground beef in honor of the great discovery and thus at the end of the 1960s, the "Thracian Princess" was born - although the first half of her name was soon chewed up by hungry snackers impatient to place their orders. [back]
© Allexander Shpatov