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Romania, 1989





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© 2002 Doina Horodniceanu





My reward was a six months trip to the U.S. as part of a U.N. delegation. I lived not far from Harlem. I saw the good and the bad parts. Nobody expected me to come back. I was saving money to buy a pair of jeans for my daughter and a boom box for my son. I used to eat once a day, a sandwich. One evening while I was enjoying my usual supper on a bench in Central Park, I lived this incredible experience of being threatened with a gun for five minutes. I was admiring the view in the park (exceptional otherwise, with a lot of successive plans), when I heard a voice from behind saying:

“Gi’me yu’re money!”

For the moment I didn’t understand what was going on. I thought it was a joking kid. After two, three seconds I realized the situation; when a man jumped in front of me. He was tall, with a barbarian beard and a moustache á la Dalli. The beard and the mustache were both fake but very well done. He said it again:

              “Gi’me yu’re money!” and loaded the gun, to impress me of course. It wasn’t really necessary since I was already very impressed.

            “Why do you stare at me? Why do you stare at me?”

He had a tough voice with a strange accent, similar to the Hungarian one.

 I handed him the 10 cents I had left explaining I'm from an Eastern European Country. He apologized, gave me five dollars and wished me a wonderful night.

Now, that I’m thinking again of my aggressor I believe he was a dilettante and if I wasn’t very comfortable in his presence, then he was pretty nervous about the whole operation too. I also wonder if his gun was really loaded or not. But I’m happy I didn’t find out. I decided to go back home. A few days later we got our wages plus a small benefit. We went shopping, and at some point we found a discount store where besides all kind of other things they had something we needed the most, at a very affordable price - some yellow-brown genuine leather attaché cases. Lucky us, they had five pieces, one for each of us. It was a beautiful spring afternoon in New York. All five of us were wearing the same black suit with white shirt and black tie. It's easy to imagine the effect we produced walking down the street with our yellow-brown briefcases. We entered a cafe that emptied instantly. Three police cars blocked the exit. On our way out we were asked to get into the police cars that took us to the station. Later an official from the Romanian Embassy showed up and freed us. He explained that the owner of the bar thought we were gang members and called the police. We left the US four months earlier and I never wanted to leave the country again.


I don't think I was looking forward to getting out of prison. I am probably one of those people who would wait for their destiny with their arms crossed, ready to accept it. I didn’t see any way to defend myself. I didn’t feel dishonored; I wasn’t mentally mutilated by insults or beaten up. Nobody yelled at me and I didn’t grumble against a possible verdict that I was able to find right.

I sensed the prison walls, and the barbed wire fence between which we struggled to survive all these years. However, they freed me after a week. I got my job back and even my office.

I got also a raise in salary.

I would have thought everything was a dream if not for the black-blue traces of the handcuffs around my wrists. I think I never understood the real intentions of this world and I never tried to. I just ignored them and I kept going. Maybe this is how I got here.


During the days that followed my release, I visited George, my old schoolmate - I hadn’t seen him in a long time. His small room, so quiet, filled with books was to me the image of peace. He wanted to leave the country. He couldn’t find his place. He could not adjust himself to the market economy. 

I met my friends. We gathered every night at Tudor's place, stared at each other, at the bullets and at the projectiles with a white fear. This was in the beginning because later on when we realized that the horrible show playing outside had no connection with us we started to look at them the way we are now - in front of the fireplace. Everything that was important to see appeared clearer and less distorted there than on TV - where the same unbearable speaker using the same old language; same phrases, same adjectives and epithets, utilized under the old regime promoted the new one. Promoted is maybe not the right term because I can not imagine how one using such an exclusive language lacking any flexibility, praising any authority with the same words, can be correlated to a real thinking system, to a sincere sensibility. Monstrous individual, paralytic, bad, cynical without any ideals or sympathy for any cause, lacking even hate or sickness; but talking about a new world, a new order, a new Romania with a democratic system and a political revolution. After all it wasn’t his immorality, his infinite versatility that drove me crazy but the style. His vocabulary, the syntax, everything was false, artificial, untrue. Was this the cause so many people died for?

I walked on the streets, looking for ephemeral, ridiculous and unreasonable solutions. Mechanical gestures, monotonous habits, simulated vivacity. Besides that, the big desert that was my life. I saw a lot of people for the next two weeks. With their envies, interests, loves, relationships. None of them noticed that among them I was absent.


 I used to pull at my sleeves to cover the bruises on my wrists.

One day we visited Ioana’s parents, an other day we went to my mom, then to Emil and Nadia. I met and re-met all kinds of people.

There’s no other time when people are more interesting than in a moment of sudden political change. From one day to another they deny, change, attenuate, explain, agree, justify, and forget everything they don’t like, remember only what they want to. All these with no trace of cynicism. It’s a demon of conservatism that pushes them to prove that even yesterday when they applauded the old regime and today when they threw rocks at it their attitude was the same. During those undecided days they were puzzled, desperate, hysterical, catastrophic in their predictions. The next moment, displaying a triumphal smile, they are ready to explain how they have foreseen everything; and if anybody would pay any attention to them they would be able to avoid the disaster. They all wanted something, had plans, fixations. I lived among them like a shadow. I talked, saw, answered, listened, wondered, agreed, but behind this apparent agitation I was alone with my destiny, with my thoughts.



To be Continued...


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Needs major revision

Excellent writing!