THE STATE OF NORMALITY
By DOINA HORODNICEANU
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© 2002 Doina Horodniceanu
I close the Diary; I close my eyes and I recall one more time that January Tuesday morning when Victor and I wandered around on all kinds of streets drinking lots of coffee. It smelled like spring, but it was still cold and cloudy. A sense of revival was floating in the air, but at the same time a deep, unclear presentiment of danger, of fear.
We approached the gates of the grandiose white building, where the Party Headquarters was established dominating the town from the top of the hill. Surrounded by a deserted circle the lonely, powerful citadel monitors the entire life. Eternally waiting for a phantom's invasion. Approaching the wire fence, we felt the cold penetrating our bones and our souls. After the main gate guards checked our names, we passed through big baroque halls and stopped in front of a desk. A well-built man, all muscles and no smile, asked us to wait.
"I can’t go farther than this. I'll wait for you here. Good luck!" I said.
The secretary bodyguard took Victor to some big gold and silver doors. A dark room as large as a cathedral opened in front of him. For one moment, in that huge office, at that long green table, in the penumbra, the red line on the white face with a severe and sad expression opened:
"Dear Comrade, I strongly appreciate you and your work. I like you. This is why we picked you to make a portrait of our most beloved president. We have confidence that you will be able to leave a testimony of his Great Spirit and dedication. You will get everything you need, with only one condition. You are not supposed to bother our great leader with any questions or discussions, since he is very tired and busy with all the state problems he has. He will have the kindness to allow you one hour of his precious time, every weekday. But remember NO TALKING! Any questions?"
"What time, tomorrow?"
"Five o'clock, in the morning."
"Yes, do you have a problem with that? A car will pick you up at four thirty. If you don't have any other questions, you are dismissed."
"Thank you! Good day, Comrade!"
He left disconcerted.
When I asked Victor how it worked, he had no answer:
“It was like talking to a mask, or rather, seeing a talking mask.”
We left with mixed feelings of irritation, doubt, disgust and fear.
Every morning he was brought there, cleaned and sprayed very carefully because The President was allergic to cats and afraid of viruses. Otherwise he was a pretty good model, just standing there and staring out the windows, surrounded by his bodyguards and two dogs. If he would not move once in a while you might think he was just a wax copy. He was born in Scorniceste and was the son of a shoemaker and a handicapped woman. They baptized him Nicolae because his father forgot he had just used the same name for a younger son and if there were any logic in this world he wouldn’t have survived. When he was just a toddler a cholera epidemic struck his village. He survived that and he survived the big drought that hit the country two years later. The over-dried earth was stony. Nothing could break it. People and animals died of hunger. Ten years later he found himself in jail because he broke in and robbed a church. He hated the priests more than anything else in the world. One year after that he survived the big war and the Russian invasion. It was then when he started to distribute and sell communist flyers and newspapers in order to survive on the streets.
His face was neat, oily skin without wrinkles, thin black colored hair, but his empty eyes were tired and on continuous alert. Rather short, with a prominent belly, in other circumstances he could be taken as one of those kind, retired old men standing in endless lines for a piece of bread or a bottle of milk.
One day, only fifteen minutes after the session started, somebody from the upper floor lost a carpet that floated for a second in front of the window. The session was over because the President had an accident and needed to be changed.
The next day the car did not show up, and later in the morning a male voice on the phone told him there were not going to be any more modeling sessions and he needed to finish the painting using the sketches he already made.
To be Continued...
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