THE STATE OF NORMALITY
By DOINA HORODNICEANU
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© 2002 Doina Horodniceanu
The clock on the wall in the Romanian National Security Headquarters shows ten AM. It's Monday morning and it's worse than any other Monday morning. Anyone who claims he likes to work and more than that, on Mondays, is either a liar or a pathological case.
There are already five hours since I first met the miner’s army at the Central train station. I’m coming directly from there and I’m very tired.I’m not the only one in the building. At the upper level twelve smart guys sweat while trying to figure out a decent text for the official communiqué of the Minister of Domestic Affairs. A crowd of foreign journalists waits outside my door. My eyeballs are scratch, my clothes stink and I could use some sleep. I sip coffee from my porcelain cup and the aroma fills the room. I put the cup back on my desk and light a cigarette.
I am thirty-nine years old, I am six foot six and I wear size thirteen shoes. In the past my wife used to complain she didn't have enough room in the bed because of my socks. That was under the old dictatorship regime when there was no heat in the winter and you would sleep with your socks on. I have dark hair and brown eyes. My employees refer to me as Colonel Negulescu. My friends call me Petre and they pretend they are not aware of my rank in the Romanian Secret Service.
I glance to my watch. Ten-fifteen. The phone rings continuously but I don’t answer.
There are three windows along the white wall in my office. The frames are old and the most recent layer of pale green paint is beginning to peel. Behind it you can see the reminiscent of the older brown paint. I open the windows trying to inhale all the late spring perfumes, while I stare at the street: "How I hate these people! For using my body and my mind; for every single thing they have done to me! They’re at least as bad as I am!"
On the table by the window is a travel brochure. I flip through it and start reading:Bucharest, the capital of Romania, on the banks of the Dâmbovita river. The first written appearance of the name Bucuresti dates from 1459, when it was recorded in a document of Vlad III the Impaler (Dracula), the ruler of Walachia. Vlad III built the fortress of Bucharest - the first of many fortifications - with the aim of holding back the Turks who were threatening the existence of the Walachian State.
By the 18th century, government was no longer in the hands of native princes but was controlled instead by Phanariotes (i.e., Greeks originating in the Phanar District of Constantinople).
At the beginning of the 20th century, the city's streets were lit by electric bulbs and gasoline lamps. In 1904, the public transportation system saw the introduction of electric streetcars.
The '30s brought in a rapid urban development. The quality of this growth has made many contemporaries call Bucharest by the endearing name of "Little Paris."
The modern city is characterized by a number of squares from which streets and boulevards mainly radiate. The city has a large number of churches, usually small, in Byzantine style…
I throw the brochure back on the table: they forgot to mention Nadia Comaneci. This is for the American journalists. All they know about Romania is Dracula and Nadia Comaneci - and when they know even that much, it means they are very well informed.
I'm so tired of this city, but I still love it. It's here where I was born and where I loved for the first time (and always, after). It's here where my kids were born, where the best years of my life died and where I dreamed up and buried ideas.
I have been married to the same woman for fourteen years and I don't know anything about her. I have two kids, a girl and a boy that I love more than anything else in the world, but I don't know much about them either. My hobbies? Movies - with Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone, or Jean Paul Belmondo.
Another hobby - clothes. I like to be well dressed. "A quatres épingles"* as they use to say in French.
I love music too. I would like to sing in choirs, but any time I tried they stopped me in the middle of the song, convinced that I know it all. My wife plays the cello for a living. This should be a complete file. I can add that I live downtown Bucharest in a two-bedroom apartment, a fifteen-minute walk to my office. My mother lives two blocks down the street from my house, next to a Plaza with a big statue in the middle. Her whole life she wished to live close to statues. My apartment, I like it. I decorated it myself and I think it represents me. The bookshelves are impressive, the chairs and the couches comfortable, the atmosphere - English. In my bedroom, the oval bed is so big you can ride a bike on it.
I go back to the window to take a better look at the dirty, littered street full of potholes. On the wall is written "Down Iliescu," covering older graffiti saying "Down Ceausescu."
Even now, with the miners’ army on the streets, beating and killing the demonstrators, behind the locked doors there are people who make love, eat, drink, read, trying to ignore the atrocities that happen around them. There are children playing their imaginary games, there are hikers in the mountains, and there are people who fill their time arranging their collections of stamps, coins, medals, postcards, clocks, stones, paintings or pipes. People who struggle to maintain an illusory order on the world.
This is the Bucharest of our days. The last decade of the Twentieth Century.
The grocery store in front of me has broken windows. In front of it a group of miners finish their lunch with products from the store. They look tiered and dirty after all the raping and killings they’ve done already. The chains and the sticks lay aside. They eat grave, sitting on the sidewalk and staring at the muddy pothole in front of them.
Watching them I remember one fall night, when I was a kid, thirty years ago. My mother was cooking dinner in the kitchen. I turned on the TV. It was a comedy show. A group of people were singing: "Tonight, on TV I saw Kashkaval..." and I started to cry. My mother was worried. The song, after all, was funny. My cry wasn’t the expression of hunger or any disappointment. I was crying out of too much sadness. Why do I remember this right now, while watching the dusty miners finishing their quiet lunch on the sidewalk? Maybe because one day we will all recognize our mistakes, but it will be too late to be happy again. For the moment, only I know that.
The street dogs approach carefully. They are going to have a great feast with all the cheese and salami from the shelves. Cheese and salami that just a year ago one could see only on TV.
Yesterday, on the restaurants’ terraces people had beer. Today everyone has hidden in their houses, afraid to be victims of the miners’ revenge. A truck full of dark faces yelling: "We don't think, we work!" passes by.
The radio is on. Every ten minutes there's an announcement saying that all the schools are canceled for today and the next two days. The universities are closed, too. The Baccalaureate exams are suspended, in a desperate attempt to save the kids from the miners’ rage.
Let me tell you this: so many crimes in less than twelve hours are hard facts even for an ex Communist Eastern European country. The newspapers are on fire: more than one thousand deaths... The fights spread in the Balkans... A new Chechnya! Civil War in Romania.... Bosnia-Herzegovina in the Ex Yugoslavian space, and so on.
The truth is a gigantic manipulation of public opinion before the new elections. This is the reason, the goal, and the bet, the hidden meaning, whatever you might want to call it, of the whole affair. A lot of stings have been played against the opposition in the fight for power, but this one is the worst. It is a disaster, a catastrophe. When someone organizes so many crimes, in such rhythm, killing so many innocent people, it means he is sure he will never have to pay for them. I can see the scenario: The Occident tries to empower the old monarchy in South Eastern Europe for absolute and total domination; and the opposition, which is pro-monarchist, agree to "sell their country" just for the love of the royal stemma. In consequence, the power must stay with the leftists who are nationalists and want all the best for their people.
I take a look at myself in the mirror and I get scared: my eyes are surrounded by big, dark puffs and I'm unshaven. I loosen the tie a little bit more, and unbutton my shirt. I pull out the electric shaver from the medicine cabinet in the bathroom and I shave. The sink’s old enamel is cracked and chipped. The water is dripping along the faucets leaving long, yellow stains behind it. I put my whole head under the cold water. It feels so good.
I slept short, less than three hours. Last night I got a call and had to leave immediately for the Bucharest Central train station to meet and organize the miners’ army. The train was entering the station by the time I arrived there. A few homeless, barefoot kids were sleeping on the red brick pavement with their brown bags full with dry breads, sweat and tobacco next to them. On the opposite side from the rail tracks it is a tall building with a neon sign saying Continental Hotel. It's there where the most important miners’ leaders will be accommodated. Six men in security uniforms were standing still at the end of the track. On the steps of wagons and out of windows, hundreds of men still wearing their coal-dusted uniforms, hung like grapes. Their leader was dressed in a gray suit with a dirty-white shirt, half unbuttoned. He was five feet two and I wondered if he had bought his clothes from a dwarf store. All the others were sweating while getting off the train, but not him. He was as skinny as the others, with boiling power in his eyes. He had the controlled movements of a man who knows what he wants and how to get what he wants.
"We didn't come here to interfere with any of the political fights," he said, looking straight through me, while pointing the posters of the National Front with his hand.
"We are here to stop a conspiracy. Behind the hooligans and the nut intellectuals at the University Square, a plot is hiding. A plot against our Republic. The poor citizens, they are just some instruments in the hands of the old Monarchy and some fanatic scholars."
"Really, is that so? Whose instrument is he, then?" I thought.
Some of the miners clotted together in the waiting room. I got closer to
their leader, bent down to his ear and whispered:
"If you have any guns, you have to turn them in now!"
"Guns? What guns? We need no guns," he pointed the sticks, the chains and the clubs.
"Here, in Bucharest," he said, "you didn’t take any precaution, you didn’t follow any directive."
He sounded strange and he seemed to hide the existence a whole structure that, for unknown reasons, he didn’t communicate me. He looked almost bored and resigned. He continued without waiting for me to say anything.
"We will fight. We don’t have anything else to do. This is why we are here. It can’t continue like this."
This conversation was lacking the strength. It sounded like a dialog between two retired people, forgotten by their family in a retirement place. Considering the vivacity, one wouldn’t say that the capital of the country was about to be occupied by a miners’ army and was ready to explode.
"The demonstrators are downtown, in the University Square. There are students, professors, young and old, women and men. Intellectuals and workers. It’s an immense crowd." I mentioned, just to say something.
After few moments of silence he finally replied.
"Of course we are not going to beat the workers. We represent them. We are workers too and we can’t fight them. But there are also hooligans and intellectuals. We’ll see if they are going to disperse quietly… If not…"
"OK. The streets are all yours. The trucks are waiting for you in front of the station."
They left and I noticed by their thighs the knives’ blades shining red in the dusk’s light. I walked out and threw up. It wasn’t shame or remorse. It was something different. I don’t know what. Maybe it was the disgust produced by the effect of power in my vines. Maybe.
Soon after that everything went out of control.
These are the facts: three months after the revolution, the people started to wake up, understood that "the wolf has changed his fur not his habits" and began a peaceful resistance against the "New Dictator with a Human Face", as the interim president liked to call himself. The intellectuals and the students got together in the same square where not long ago their friends and parents died from the bullets of the ex-government. After the authorities tried different methods of compromising the movement, the new president made a public call to all "good citizens of the country" to fight against the rebels in the Market Square. Then the miners came, their faces covered with black coal dust, waving flags, chains and sticks in running trucks. They occupied the town and started to beat and kill anyone wearing a beard, eyeglasses, or jeans - the signs of intellectuals.