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THE STATE OF NORMALITY

Romania, 1989

 

By DOINA HORODNICEANU

 

Synopsis

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2002 Doina Horodniceanu

 

 

CHAPTER 25

 

I didn't see Marta for twenty days. The first week I was calm. I didn't exactly forget her but I regained a bit of my tranquility. I have to admit that if I entered all those cafes (where I didn’t have any business) I did it hoping to find her there. After a while, I stopped at her school. I watched her very carefully while she was talking. I studied every line of her face. Her forehead was too large, her nose wasn’t straight, her mouth was big, the upper lip prominent. She was skinny, her breasts were small and tired, the arms too thin. I knew her way of speaking, a little precipitate, and her fluctuations, and her sudden laugh that lighted her face. I knew all her seasons, all her movements, all her scents and her shadows and her silences - their torments and their colors. And I knew her walk and her run, her melancholia and her eyebrows and the instant and I was loosing my patience.

I knew everything she didn’t love even if she claimed she did. I knew everything that was far to her, so far that they almost didn’t exist: the afternoon, after the horizon, after the sea and even farther, so far they didn’t even have a name. I wanted to cry. I knew that part of her that she didn’t know and she could not recognize. The heartbeat that followed the beat she heard; the end of the word she just started, I knew everything and I didn’t like what I knew. Still, this little woman, not more beautiful than Ioana or even more desirable than my wife, this amazing woman I loved.

I was some kind of hulk floating on a sea of happenings, afraid of being alone. In her I found sometimes a smile, sometimes the beginning of an emotion, sometimes a waiting, inquiring glance and I didn’t have the strength to refuse.

I saw her in the morning and in the afternoon I wanted to see her again.

 She wasn't home. Definitely it wasn't my best day. I paused in front of the building. I wasn't too sure which direction I should take, when a red convertible BMW stopped in front of me. I was perplexed. Getting out of the car and smiling at me in a Chanel suit with sunglasses and hat was Mia. I had known Mia since she was twelve years old and used to operate as a pickpocket in the buses. She got caught and had to work for us, as an informer. She never had a choice. Her serenity and professionalism would take your breath away. When one would see that little face with smiling clear blue eyes, freckles, braided hair and impeccable uniform, the tendency was to pat her head. I don't know why but this is how it happens. When you see freckles on a funny face the first thoughts are: butterflies, jumping around, dolls, all kind of pink and blue bonbon things. And her attitude... She was adorable. Her desolate air, when the bus was too crowded, her disquieted, disturbed appearance… Made you apologize. She would always stand up and offer her seat to elders, or pregnant women, or mothers with babies. Later, at home when they would realize they had been robbed they would think at anyone but the cute girl next to them. 'Such a nice kid and well educated, her parents should be proud of her!' They would start to swear at the president and the external depths.

‘Even now she looks like a teenager dressed up for her first prom.’

"Hey, how are you?" I said. "You look great!" Suddenly the ten years that had passed since revived my memory. The distances were too large to be measured between the images of that Mia and this Mia.

I was so proud that she was standing there in the middle of the road, talking to me. People turned their heads to look at her. I looked so poorly dressed compared to her. I even wondered why she was not ashamed to be seen with me.

"Where do I live? Almost everywhere. Right now I’m coming from Vienna and I’ll stay here for two weeks, then I’ll go back there to meet my husband. He is in South America right now. He is German. We have a house in Munich, but we haven’t lived there in the last three years. We’ll be in Germany this summer, for a little while, on the Rhine Valley. We have a small cottage there. Later we’ll go to North Africa."

            “Wow, you live all over the world!”

            “No”, she smiled sincerely modest, “No.”

Strange people, I thought. And we vegetate a whole lifetime on the same street.

            "Do you have time for a coffee?"

"Yes, sure."

We sat at the only free table in the small coffeehouse over the corner that looked like an ex-warehouse. The sign outside was red neon. Inside-improvisation. Painted in a rush with three posters hanging on the walls. Here, the customers didn't have high standards. All they needed was noise. And they got it. I looked around. Beer and Pepsi. A lot of youths. MTV and the cinema industry uniformed them. Following their big screen idols, they copied them in everything: clothes, expression, the way they walk. Xeroxed beauties. But they were still fresh and alive. They still believed in Santa Claus and I found this wonderful. Even if their Santa was supposed to come in a Rolls Royce and didn't speak Romanian. Everybody was watching us. We didn't look familiar. On top of that Mia looked like a movie star. I said we sat at a table. Well, the tables were some kind of long benches. Like in a monastery. I tried to cut our way through the sea of bodies and noise. A cross-eyed, red haired girl not older than seventeen gave me a sad look. She thought she was Barbara Streissand. Only she was uglier. I had difficulties hearing Mia's story. She described Paris, and she had a way of speaking, very precisely and in detail; that would bring the city in front of your eyes better than the usual nostalgic exclamations.

"I married this man. He is very rich... and powerful. He is fifty eight."

She smoked like an inmate, with thirst. When you consider the long way the little pickpocket came... You get dizzy...

"You love him, don't you?"

             She raised her gaze. She had very long eyelashes and generally speaking she had everything one might want. Especially if you are in your fifties. She looked at me the way you stare through a window. I figured she was looking into herself.

"I don't know... All I know is he deserves to be loved. He is a very kind, gentleperson. I would like to give him something that he can keep. That will stay with him. Forever."

             She laughed... with sorrow.

"He looks fabulous, rich, generous, the statues downtown are his ancestors."

"So, what's wrong with him? What's missing?"

"When he kisses me at dawn, his mouth doesn’t smell like flowers." She shows me her tongue the way little kids do.

"I don't know, nothing's wrong. Maybe the difference between us is too big. You see, with jogging, tennis, weights, equitation, sauna, and healthy, vegetarian food you can make a suit look better on you. But inside, the bones are old, tired and cold. Whoever says anything else, lies or is already dead. He also has a bridge with thirty teeth."

"So what, you didn't marry him to be eaten, did you?"

             The redhead came to our table. She was a student at one of the best high schools in town. She showed us her grades - very good. She was the second one in school. I started to be curious.

"How come your parents let you waste your time here?" I asked her.

            "They are not home either. My dad's new address is at the cemetery. And mom, she is a businesswoman. She travels all the time in and out of the country."

She pulled out a pack of Camels from her backpack. She opened it. She offered us one. We refused. She lighted a new one. Between the three of us she seemed to have the best time. She went to the bar. The sack remained open on the table: books, papers, a history textbook.

"What a generation. To keep a pack of condoms next to our heroes and kings. I'm disgusted." I am not a Makarenko. Any preaching of any kind would make me cross the street, but I thought of my kids. I pictured them here.

"My blood pressure rises." 

"Come on, cut it out. You’ve smoked since you were twelve. The first time you were with a woman you were thirteen," said Mia.

The redhead came back with a bottle of Ballantines and three glasses.

"Sorry, they don't have ice at the bar."

She wanted to impress us and, to be honest, she succeeded. Mia made a sign that she didn't want any.

"Not for me, thank you."

"Why not, you are my guests."

"I don't drink, thank you."

            The girl stood up and waved her hands: "I'm here, I'm here."

            A young boy in a leather jacket came towards us.

"I'm sorry I have to leave now. I'm glad I met you. See you around." And jumped around her boyfriend's neck.

"I can not believe that. Do you find this normal?! A high school girl spending her time in places like this with a box of condoms next to her history textbook?"

"Here is the great moralist?! They have personal development classes. All over in the civilized world it's like this. There's no connection between condoms and our heroes. They have the right to free love and to be safe. Not the way you did it in filthy gangs or bushes in the park."

"I can see you don't have kids yet. You can afford to talk about free sex. We'll see after you have one or two, or three... I want to hear you then."

"Now that is funny. When was the last time you saw your children?" She looked at me from sideways. We started to laugh.

It was eight o'clock. The lazy night stretched slowly over the city. On our way to her place the car broke down. A gypsy, in a decrepit wagon full of empty bottles, cans, cigarette boxes, all kinds of containers, was passing by. Who knows what he needed them for! Two skinny horses with red bows braided in their hair dragged the wagon. He saw us right next to the shining broken car and gave us a big smile:

"Did it dump you?... My poor horses... They don't crash, don't bend, don't pay taxes..."

"Why don't you mind your own business and leave us alone!"

"Why are you so mad? You don't know that discrimination is not accepted anymore? I'll make a complain to the senator."

I would've like to go on, but Mia stopped me.

"Leave him alone, let's concentrate on the car."

The gypsy hit the horses:

"If I want I can even go to Strasbourg. We have our own king now." He spat on the road and left swearing. I concluded:

"They have TV, they know politics!... They are our new electorate!"

            After few more attempts, the car's engine started. We spent that night together. In the broken morning, before leaving, I patted the schoolgirl on her hair and I recommended being good. She walked me to the door. A well-known smile showed on her face.

"Are you leaving without your papers?" Instinctively I checked my pocket - empty. Mia handed me my wallet. "I wanted to show you I haven't lost my dexterity."

We hugged. Our eyes were in tears.

"Do you remember how we first met?"

"Like I could ever forget the little schoolgirl with white bows in her hair, stealing in buses."

"Life is strange isn't it? A great adventure!"

"Maybe when you are young, beautiful, and rich."

“You have so many childish things in you. Yet you are so tired of life!” she told me.

            It was a very deep thought for someone that knew me so little. Yes it’s true. I contemplated the idea of death with a scary tranquility. I realized how simple her love would be. How relaxing!

#

            I called her two weeks ago. I called several times and nobody answered. I felt lonelier than ever. I wandered the whole afternoon downtown looking for Marta. I didn’t find her. I didn’t find anybody to talk to. I didn’t find a movie theater or a museum to go to. Most of them were destroyed or were closed for renovation, or I didn’t want to see the movies they were playing.

#

            Mia promised she would write, but maybe she hasn't had time yet. I think she is going to be all right and I don't need to make any changes in her blond delightful image, a little bit frivolous but more curious than sensual. She will happily maintain her personal selfishness saturated with the adoration of a few pretty diverse men and women. A little monster, I'm thinking, with pleasure, with love, amazed by her memory from which time will rub out any trace of pain.

 

       

To be Continued...

 

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Needs major revision
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Excellent writing!