Suddenly Baltic Babe let out a shriek and ran away faster than I had seen anyone move in a long time. She cowered behind a tall rubbish bin, her eyes like saucers. I saw what had freaked her out. A man was walking slowly along the promenade with a very large snake draped over his shoulders and arms. Baltic Babe was absolutely terrified. I went over to her and put an arm around her. She instantly put an arm around me and clung tight around my waist.
“See? He’s walking away. The snake is going away,” I said as soothingly as possible. It was as if I was dealing with a child.
“I can’t stand snakes,” she feverishly blurted out, her body shaking.
As the snake-charmer disappeared in the crowd, I took Baltic Babe’s hand and led her in the opposite direction. Along the promenade there were other ‘entertainers’ with live animals; a gang of what looked like gypsies had a monkey on the end of a chain. Further along there was another group of gypsies with a baby bear firmly tethered to a lamppost. The poor little guy’s eyes were sad and bewildered, occasionally bellowing out a strangled plea for its mother. Before Baltic Babe could become upset I moved us further along to another attraction on the promenade.
We came across a guy with a shooting range for all sorts of crossbows and regular archery bows. I had never done archery before and had always been curious. In my National Service days in South Africa I had been one of the best shots in the regiment so I was quietly confident in my ability to hit a target with any weapon. I remembered that Baltic Babe had raised an eyebrow in disbelief on one of our first dates when I said that I had military experience and here was an opportunity to prove it to her.
The shooting range extended 30 yards back from the public path. I bought some arrows off the Bulgarian archer and quickly all six found the bulls-eye, despite my never having touched a bow before. Baltic Babe pursed her lips as if to say, “Not bad.” Then the archer challenged me with something tougher: a moving target.
He tied a big apple to the end of string, got it swaying and came back to give me another arrow. The swinging apple didn’t shatter as I pinned it to the board behind it.
“Hey, you’re a natural,” said the archer. I felt inclined to agree, as my father’s side of the family had a long history of using weapons and perhaps it was in my blood.
“Let’s see what you can do with a crossbow. This is much harder,” said the friendly Bulgarian, waving away my offers of more money. I was impressed by his English.
The crossbow is a very different weapon from a bow and is surprisingly similar to a modern-day assault rifle. It had been more than twenty years since I had used the latter. I felt very comfortable with it as my bolts found the bull’s eye.
“You’ve got military training,” said the archer.
“How do you know?” I asked.
“The way you position your right elbow and hold your breath before releasing,” he said with a smile. Him knowing that told me that he had received military training too. We gave each other a knowing look. Baltic Babe heard that exchange and I was glad. Was she learning that everything I had told her had been the truth?
“Ah, ok. Now let’s put you to the test,” said the Bulgarian as he tied his smallest apple to a piece of string and got it swaying in the sea breeze.
This was a much tougher target to hit, so I took my time…and got it.
“Very impressive,” said the Bulgarian. We shook hands and he refused to take money from me.
I was pleased with my success and relieved that it hadn’t back-fired on me. As we walked back to our hotel, I looked at Baltic Babe, not having to say a word.
“Ya, it is important to me that my man is able to do things like that,” is all she said with a straight face.