THE STATE OF NORMALITY
By DOINA HORODNICEANU
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© 2002 Doina Horodniceanu
One night out with Emil and Nadia, in a fancy restaurant. She very vulgar and offensive, he kind but uninteresting. I did not understand how could Ioana spend so much time with them. Our parties in elegant restaurants depressed me. People that used live on a different planet. Indifferent, elegant, rich, without other worries except the obsession of misery. There were a lot of people like these that kept living a normal life: money, jobs, loves, everything was normal for them. A little annoyed sometimes but certainly accommodated. For the vast majority those were lethargic, decomposing days and nights. A hopeless life, disgusting, tasteless. Lead by a deep sickness of themselves and others, of the governmental events. No desire for anything, even to kill yourself. What did I need to be happy? Money, a different woman, a job? A book, a different home? I didn’t know.
We read, visited with people, attended shows, listened to music, built projects, yet among all these there were shadows of foreboding disasters.
It was before Christmas when Ceausescu decided to address a mass rally in front of the Central Committee building to show the world that the workers supported him and approved his action against the rebels in the mountains. Factories around the City dutifully sent their most trusted employees to applaud the President the same way they had done so many times before. Upon their arrival at the Market Square early in the morning, they had been told that the President had changed his mind about the speech and they could go home. A few hours later word went out again that the discourse would in fact be held at noon and that the workers should reassemble. However, the reliable Party supporters had already left and the factory activists were forced to be less selective as they scrambled to send the required number of people to the square.
At twelve thirty in the afternoon as Ceausescu began to speak to the assembly from the balcony of the Central Committee building, the students that were being held back a block away by three cordons of police started booing, yelling and singing. Tension mounted in the silent crowd in the square when beatings, hitting have been heard and the petards fired in the air. Suddenly there was a strange crack of sound and The President was cut off mid-sentence by shouts of disapproval. For a second the dictator faltered, amazement written across his face as recorded on live TV. The chaos broke loose as the youths attempted to break through the police lines and the assembled workers tried to escape. Urged on by his wife, The President attempted to continue his speech while the police started to clear the square, finally ending as the tape with prerecorded applause and cheers was switched off. The image was cinematographic: a scene of panicked crowds. Hundred of people running disoriented as dizzy ants. A long, acute whistle, as fine as a racket, fireworks like lights… I closed my eyes and waited.
The guns’ clatters didn’t cover the screams. I could hear shouting, singing, protesting. Two or three, voices always the same, distinguished themselves more clearly in the lament: “Don’t shoot, we are your brothers!” Then the rebels divided in two groups. Some of them went up on the boulevard singing. A few blocks away they had encountered the army. The others broke through the police cordons. The streets filled with confused, perplexed and (my impression was) sometimes indifferent people. At one street corner was a small puddle of blood and a candle next to it. The machine guns and the cannons clattered for the rest of the night.
Searching for the bottle in my pocket, I find Marta’s diary again. I don't remember when I took it but now that it's here I go closer to a street light and open it. The water falling over the pages ruins the text.
Marta, I Marta observe:
The winter is back. The streets are white. It snowed the whole night.– Blizzard in the morning. There are only a few days left until Christmas. Victor and I try to finish the greeting cards, and sell them before Christmas. It is our main source of extra money before the winter holidays. We worked the whole night. We sat there painting tiny images on tiny canvases, drawing and painting over the drawings once again.
By five o'clock in the morning, we spread the cards all over the room. A great number of saints riding black and brown horses on their way to the brightest star, carrying crosses and books; a great number of women carrying beautiful baby-boys in cradles, surrounded by hay, sheep and shepherds, and a great number of Christmas trees, watch us. From the street, the sounds of the first buses and trams rise through the open window. Snapping doors and rushing steps in the hallways. People's voices greeting each other in the streets.
"Well, Victor, I'm tired. My eyes itch. I’m going to bed now. You are insane! You smoke too much. I'll see you in the morning."
"Ah, sleep well. I'll smoke one more cigarette and I'll go to bed too."
I had this dream:
It's hot, very hot and dark. Steep streets, going up the hill, flanked by narrow, stone-made houses. Sand floating around me covers everything: streets, houses, and people. You breath it, you eat it, you can hear it. Coming closer and closer, a roar sound, followed by marching steps. I hide in a darker corner. The candlelight trembles in the wind. The sandstorm stops. A huddle of black hooded capes, carrying big crosses and candles marches in front of me. I take two steps back, searching for more protection in the dark. The monks keep marching and saying words I can't understand. At the end of the road, hidden by the dunes is a big fire light. I follow them. From the top of the hill, hideous scenery opens in front of my eyes, paralyzing me. Three concentric circles fight for life. A fire in the middle enveloped in a loop of naked people, encircled by a black ring of hungry dogs. Some of the people jump into the fire in their refusal to be part of the dogs' feast. The white circle becomes thinner and thinner, while the dogs approach the fire. I scream and open my eyes. Thank God, it's just a dream. I keep trembling and sweat.
I hear Victor's voice calling from the other room.
"Marta, wake up, hurry, something's going on."
What kind of day would this be? I react the same way another few billion would, regardless of their nationality, education, age, or religion, that greet each other in the morning: I look at the window. It's sunny. I sigh, and leave the bed slowly.
What the Hell?! - I wonder. And what's this noise, anyway? My TV is broken, but from the other floors or maybe from the other apartment building I can hear parts of His discourse. It’s hard to distinguish what he is saying but once in a while you can recognize the guttural voice of the President interrupted by the people’s acclamations:
"Dear and respected Comrades," "Dear and respected Comrades,' 'Dear and respected Comrades,"
"Hurrahs", "Hurrahs", "Hurrahs"
Ah, the usual stuff, I think. Let's see what's wrong with Victor.
"Hi Victor, did you make some coffee? What's up? We slept less than four hours. Why did you wake up so early?"
"Here’s the coffee, I didn't wake up early, it's one o'clock; and something very weird is going on."
I take a cup and a plate for the cup without a word, or a look. I slowly pour the coffee into my cup. I drink the hot coffee, burning my tongue, in silence. I put the cup on the plate. I'm going to skip exercising today. This is for housewives. In fact, I think that five hours a week of water-aerobics or swimming should be enough to allow me to sleep a half an hour more every day. I look at Victor and I ask:
"Oh, yeah?! And what's that?"
"No, I'm serious. I don't get it but, I'm telling you, something is wrong."
"Look, watch the TV!"
"What are you nuts? You didn't sleep well or something? Do you want me to watch His speech, now?"
"No, I don't, but look: I was sleeping, and some noise from outside woke me up. There were sounds from all the TVs, coming through the open windows. While I was making coffee, all the sounds stopped. And then restarted, with the same text as before. Then I turned on your TV and the transmission was interrupted three times."
"Don't worry, I don't usually watch TV, and I think this one is broken. It doesn't run too well anyway."
"It's not only yours. All of them stopped at the same time."
"Well then it's some technical problem."
"You know it can't be... It never happened before. If this is true, all of them will be executed tomorrow. No, they can not afford such a mistake."
"As you wish. I don't know. Let's go out."
I go in the bedroom to get dressed. Victor comes after me. He has this bad habit of following me all over in the house. He can not understand that people might have absolute intimate moments and this is why they invented doors. I untie the cord of my bathrobe and pause. He wonders:
"What are you waiting for? You don't get dressed?"
"I'm waiting for you to get out of the room. I suppose I should be grateful if you don't follow me in the bathroom."
His eyes bubble up with stupefaction:
"Are you crazy? After we spent thirteen summers naked on beaches, you don't want to undress in front of me? Is it like I don't know how your legs or breasts are? I can draw you with my eyes closed!"
I threw the hairbrush at him but I missed.
"On the beaches is one thing and here is another. Get out!"
"Well, you are dangerous. Maybe you should see a doctor!"
I'm so mad at him I can not decide what to wear. I sweat while changing different dresses. Finally I make up my mind. The dress is petrol blue and Petre assured me it suits me perfectly. I trust him and I feel better now; even if Victor says that I look like a dead fish. I don't care what he thinks.
"I want to go to school, today. If you want to come with me, fine, if not, I'll meet you in the Market Square. See who else is there, and you can start selling these damn cards, I’m tired of them."
"OK, I'll leave with you, but I'll decide later, what I'm going to do. I don't know yet."
The metro is crowded. The passenger windows are rolled down but it makes no difference.
"Well, I think I'll get off at the next station and I'll meet you in the Market Square, bye!" It's Victor's voice coming from somewhere behind me. None of my senses warned me that this was going to be the last time I said "Good bye" to him.
To be Continued...
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