Apr 202020

Travelling around Bulgaria by train, we'd settled into a compartment with several strangers. The smiles they'd bestowed on us quickly froze as another man entered. They then beat a hasty exit. Curious, we watched him load his suitcase on the luggage rack above. As he reached, his jacket rose revealing a large gun in a holster at his waist. We sat motionless, in fearful silence, while the man observed us carefully and scribbled in his notebook. "Mafia?" I mouthed to my partner. We discovered later that he was, most likely, a member of the secret police. Members of the Bulgarian Mafia don't deign to travel by train, apparently.

A conductor arrived to inspect our tickets and – to my consternation – he also asked to see our passports. Mine was in my money belt, under my clothing, along with all the cash I'd brought for our time in Bulgaria – ATMs being in short supply – and my plane ticket. I tried to extract it without showing the man with the gun just how much cash I was carrying.

Later, I needed to go to the toilet – just a hole in the floor through which the track whizzing past below was clearly visible. Job done, I re-zipped my pants. Clunk! I examined the floor to see what had fallen. Nothing? Instinctively, I patted myself down. Bugger! My money belt was gone. I hadn't re-fastened it properly, in my haste to stuff it back out of sight. But where is it? My eyes lit on the hole. Oh no! Without much hope, I peered down. But there it was, lodged at the very bottom. Out of reach? Almost.

I gingerly extended my arm through the less-than-savoury hole and using a pincer action with my outstretched fingertips successfully retrieved my money belt. One false move or an ill-timed bump and my worldly wealth and only ID would have been deposited in the middle of a train track somewhere in Bulgaria. Plan B didn't bear thinking about.

It was three days before I could bring myself to confess to my partner. He was upset because he'd accidentally left his favourite fleece jacket somewhere. "Never mind", I said, "things could have been worse – much worse".