This story is by stella vlachodimitriou and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
On December, 21st, 1983, Gwen, escorted by her husband Timothy and their couple friends Kate and John was walking on the streets of Sofia, Bulgaria, when she noticed a shadow behind. They were steering towards the notorious cathedral Saint Alexander Nevski, a neo-byzantine style church, one of the main tourist attractions of the city. She turned her head to the left and with the side of her eye examined the tall figure wearing a long gabardine and a big round grey hat reading a newspaper. His figure made Gwen shiver for a reason she couldn’t explain but she thought she felt this way because of the city’s vintage face combined with the book she was reading earlier that evening.
She looked around with her eyes wide open and tried to set every image in her mind.
It was the last day of their trip and she wished everything would stay in her mind as clearly.
Timothy put his hand around Gwen’s waist. He looked at her and admired her big blue eyes. Here figure was a noticeable contrast in the city’s scenery of poverty a thing that made timothy unable to resist capturing this great contrast in a picture. Not that she was rich or anything but she had classy looks like she was a high-born. Her taste on clothes made her look like a princess and maybe she really was his princess as she behaved like one. Her long coat attracted everyone’s attention and no one would take their eyes off of her while she walked.
The city was a transparent bazaar itself. Locals, dressed with heavy and old fashioned clothes to protect themselves from the frost, stood among the tall but narrow buildings, ready to share every information about hotels, taverns -even stolen objects- for as little as a cigarette pack or a couple of fruits if someone could spare a few.
The four friends had already granted a satisfactory amount of various goods to some of them and had helped quite a few locals in need.
The lengthy queues outside of the store doors could give the impression of a minimalistic urban project if someone looked down from up high. Also the dark face of the city couldn’t miss the scene. The black market offered its services if a man wanted to get the currency exchange for more yens.
They had been there by car, all the way from England, as they loved big road trips and their wardrobes were full of brand new designer clothes as Bulgaria was famous for their low prices.
Gwen and her companions were walking towards the national theatre of Bulgaria dawdling at the architecture of the building, when she noticed the long gabardine again through the reflection of a window shop.
The image of the figure she saw an hour ago flashed back to her mind and her heart stung. Without even thinking about it she uttered to the others. : ‘’ I think that man is following us.’’
John raised his eyebrows and turned his head sideways: ‘’ There is no way someone is following us Gwen. We’re not spies! I think you read too many harlequins.’’
‘’ I don’t read harlequins John! In fact I snub them.’’ Gwen rebuked.
Timothy, who was enjoying Gwen’s absurdities and had always found them cute, laughed: ‘’ John that was a hit under the belt. Gwen doesn’t read harlequins, she only solves great mysteries. Both in her books and in real life. Have you ever heard of the famous keys mystery? Gwen solves it every time she loses her keys. By that I mean every day.’’
Gwen shook her hair, put her hands in the pockets of her yellow long coat and turned her back on them.
A few minutes later while everyone was mocking Gwen for her mysterious though, t a chubby black-haired policeman approached them and ordered: ‘’ You are under arrest. You need to come with me to the station.’’
’’On what accuse sir?’’ Timothy countered.
The policeman straightened his moustache and demanded: ‘’ Just get in the car if you don’t want trouble.’’
Everyone did what the policeman had just asked them while looking at each other completely lost and puzzled.
On their way to the police station Timothy attempted to comfort Gwen, who was now bemoaning, by offering his hug but instead he ended up with a bump of her bag on his head.
‘’When I say someone is following us, you listen to me! Got it? Now get your hands off of me.’’ Gwen barked and crossed her arms. Timothy’s hands were now squeezing Gwen’s bag, but he didn’t say anything.
By the time they got to the station they walked into a room with a big glass partition and an iron desk right in the middle of it where they were asked to take a seat and wait. Outside of the glass partition they could see the street and the shops. An old man who was the employee of a furniture shop was looking at them. The dull lighting of the lamp hanging of the ceilling was making everyone nervous.
When they were left alone Gwen was puffing and yelling at everyone: ‘’ I told you this man was following us, you should have listened. This is dreadful. Did you see their guns? They were holding them prominently.’’
Timothy tried to compose her: ‘’Calm down darling. Maybe that man has nothing to do with what happened. If we just keep calm the misunderstanding will be solved and we will be free to go.’’
Gwen was ready to scold him but she didn’t because the policeman walked into the room with his two assistants. The strong one with the light brown hair took Timothy’s jacket and examined it. Then he started searching Timothy’s body until he assumed he was ok and left him alone. The other one, the thinner, searched Kate’s bag and clothes. After Kate was clear too, they searched John.
It was Gwen’s turn now and the big man took her cloak while the shorter policeman examined her bag. The chubby policeman who initially arrested them seemed to have a high grade in the police force and was walking around looking at them with suspicion.
Gwen’s eyes were on fire while she looked at them and couldn’t stop herself from barking: ‘’ What are you doing there sir? This is unacceptable.’’
The thin guy was now scratching her bag’s lining checking if anything was hidden there.
A second later she barked: ‘’ Don’t you dare and destroy my bag!!’’
The man never answered and kept groping. Gwen then turned to the other man who was taking pictures of her belongings.
At this time the man was photo graphing a piece of paper that Gwen had forgotten in her bag which was showed her analytical payments of her work. She was looking at the two men puzzled and at the same time furious. ‘’Why are you taking pictures of this paper? Here is my ID, why don’t you photo graph this?’’
The man didn’t reply, instead, he talked to someone on his wireless and the three men left the room.
A few minutes later the short man came back with Gwen’s belongings and released them.
Gwen’s face had turned in to a lake of tears and it had a reddish color similar to her lipstick while they were walking out of the station. While her friends were trying to comfort her she stopped crying and her eyes shone. Her cheeks lifted up and where there were tears before now showed her characteristic dimples.
Timothy released his arms and looked at her confused: ‘’ Is that a smile?’’
Gwen giggled: ‘’ I can’t believe what we went through in the last few hours of our trip. It was like I lived inside my mystery books. I felt like a spy. I can’t wait for our next adventure.’’
‘’Gwen you are unbelievable. I was so scared. You were in shock and yelled the most and now you want to live a similar adventure?’’ Kate rebutted.
‘’Yeah I loved it. This was an unforgettable trip and I can’t wait to narrate our tour de force to our friends back in England. You never know what will shake your life up and add flavour to it. I believe we brought this to ourselves by wearing such different clothes and spending money at everything.’’
‘’I guess you are right about the attention. Plus, Our Christmas table will be flavored in so many ways this year.’’ Kate added and made everyone laugh.
The next day on their way out of the country they saw a beige car following them. When they passed the borders the car disappeared and they never saw it again.