(Translated from Romanian by Mihaela Alecu. For Romanian click here)
Mircea woke up in the middle of the night and could not fall asleep again. He couldn’t escape what he feared, this night either. But now, unlike other times, he felt his head heavy, as if he was going through a hangover. He shifted in bed from one side to the other, without being able to find his place, and when Sorana moved next to him, he realized it. I am going to wake her up, he said to himself, and he arose slowly, imperceptibly, like a cat lurking for a dove, the future meal. But he did not want to eat. After a few haunting hours of sitting on the couch, he picked up a book and started reading. But, after a few lines, his eyes started burning so much that he couldn’t even hold them open. In the bathroom he splashed plenty of cold water over them and it seemed that he was feeling better. But he did not know what to do. The sensation of unaccomplished sleep, of interrupted rest was like a flu fever. The daybreak brought a temporary feeling of peace. Until next evening, when he couldn’t sleep at all. This time he couldn’t hide the problem from Sorana any longer, as she woke up in the middle of the night, confused, if not a little scared, not to find him in bed, next to her. What happened, she asked him? I cannot sleep, he answered, laying his head in her lap. The young woman squeezed him with her arms, protectively. She was caressing his hair, hoping it will bring him comfort. However, she could see on his overwrought face that it was helpless. Tomorrow we are going to the doctor, she told him, we will find a cure. She kissed him, and her cold lips cooled his temples. The morning found them like that, clinging to each other, like companions in arms in the trenches, during frosty winters, on an absurd line.
While Mircea was taking a shower, Sorana was speaking to her mother, a renowned neurosurgeon form the capital city. Can’t you recommend us someone in Braşov? She asked her. Do you think we have to come to Bucureşti for insomnia? Al right, have it your way. Thank you, kisses. Bye.
At 10:30 they were already in the railway station. At 11 the train was leaving Braşov, heading towards the mountains. You could see the cross in Bucegi far away, on the peak, lofty, among the fuzzy clouds of the early summer morning. I miss the mountain, Sorana told him. Although we are next to them, I can’t remember when we last walked across them… I think it was the summer of 2006, said Mircea. It was then when I saw you bathing naked in that lake. Till this day I haven’t stopped wondering how you could do such a thing. I didn’t think anybody would see me; she tried to explain herself, blushing today, just like she did back then. No, he smiled; I meant the water, which was cold like hell. She laughed and she kissed him. The check man stapled the tickets, and he promised her that they will stop at Buşteni, on their way back. Or, she continued, maybe it would be better to first stop at Breaza. We haven’t been there since New Year’s. I’m sure the clean air will be good for you, and the insomnia will go faster. Otherwise, you will become a second Cioran. And, he laughed, the world could not handle another one!
They were still joking when the train was entering Gara de Nord, as if they were on a trip. Not even Sorana’s mother could read on their faces the concernment, although she could guess it. That was why she was trying to reassure them. I will take you to the best specialist. If we have to, we will do all the necessary analysis. And MRI, if necessary, although I don’t think we need to. It is probably just an episode; it will go away with the specific treatment.
Indeed, Mircea was seen by the best. He even did a RMI, to discard any fear that it might be a tumor or who knows what; it only revealed a more intense cerebral activity in the right lobe than the other, and that was it. The treatment prescribed worked from day one, therefore Mircea slept until Breaza. This time in the car of Sorana’s father, who was pleased to take them there. Although, at first, Sorana’s mother was not happy that Mircea was “a commoner”, he had liked him from the beginning, and shortly they both received him in their family, so much that sometimes they defend him, against their daughter. She always objects, hey, I am your child, not him, but only as a joke. In fact, she is very happy that everything was much simple than she thought, and the fright that her mother, otherwise loving, but who could be so blunt sometimes, will reject him and will cause a perpetual conflict for which she did not have the solution, proved to be only a short-term, maternal, defensive mechanism.
Once they got to Breaza, at night, the insomnia came back, full strength, just that being rested due to his earlier sleep, Mircea was not feeling tired at all, so he took advantage and started reading from his favorite book, Out of this world, the edition signed by the late author for Sorana’s mother. He read it again until morning and when Sorana woke up, she found him quietly looking at the sunrise. His face was enlightened, but he enjoyed this sensation which energized him. I don’t know how you can stare so much at the sun, she whispered, handing him the steamy, inviting cup of coffee. Good morning, he kissed her, instead of an answer. Did you sleep well? Look, he eluded the answer again; I thought we should go on the mountain no later than tomorrow. It’s enough that we are relaxing today… What do you say? We put on our backpacks and we climb to Omu? Do you have the guts? Isn’t it too much? she hesitated. Without any training… So, you are scared! No, I’m not scared, just that… Alright, then you will stay at the cabin and I will go on the expedition by myself. I need it. OK, she agreed.
It wasn’t the first time she would accompany him just to the last cabin, they did the same, for instance, in the Făgaraş Mountains, when he continued through The Devil’s Gorge, and she waited for him, taking a sunbath and getting a mountain tan, a tan which does not go as quickly when washed, as the sea tan. She was happy that at least now they would go out on the mountain, as they used to do each year.
Well than, let us start preparing, she got excited. Let us go shopping, let’s prepare the wool sweaters and socks. Mircea stopped her with a kiss. And she stopped talking.
Although he did not get any sleep that night, Mircea was optimistic. He was sure that the mountain air and the effort of climbing will help him more than any medicine in the world. Therefore, early in the morning, they were already getting off the train in Buşteni. If they chose to climb in Bucegi, then they preferred the route that went through Jepii Mici. “It would take their guts out”, as Mircea liked to say. At first he would laugh at her. You, like a real Bucureşti girl, could climb by booth, he used to tell her. Or, you could buy it, he would also say maliciously. Sorana would pretend she was upset for a while, and wouldn’t kiss him until after he, tired of begging, would kiss her by force, only then she would answer and wouldn’t let go.
And now the ascent was charging him with a force inversely proportional to the tiredness. As if every step he struggled for was a dose of pure energy. When he would rest, in the evening, in front of the cabin, getting himself ready to “conquer” next day’s peak, he felt as if he could move the mountains if only he wanted to. Sorana knew that ahead laid a night of love, the kind one could only experience at high altitudes, and she blossomed as the day passed and the night approached. And after she felt asleep in his arms, he would look at the sky through the small window and felt closer to them, not only by 2000m. But he still couldn’t fall asleep.
Are you OK?! She asked him the next day, seeing his hollow eyes. Yes, excellent, he convinced her. I’m ready. He then gave her a long kiss, he warned her, as a joke, to wait for him, not to go running with other tourists, he picked up his small backpack and headed towards Omu.
When I saw Sorana’s number, calling at that hour, I knew something was wrong.
“Hi, I answered worried. Did something happen?”
“Hello. Can you come?”
I could feel her chin shaking, as if I could see her on the phone’s screen.
I did not hesitate for a second, and I didn’t ask anything either. I knew everything was going to be clear when I will get to their house. In fact, the only thing clear was the reason why she called me. After she kissed me on both cheeks and invited me to sit down, she told me everything with tears in her eyes. She brought a notebook, without covers and handed it to me.
“You will understand even more from reading it, she told me. I, for one, don’t understand…”
And she burst into tears. I comforted her quickly, and I made sure she was alright before I left. I told her I would help her with all I could. She did not let me go until I promised her I would do everything, not just all I can.
“Money is not a problem, she told me. All expenses are covered.”
Back home, I opened the notebook. I recognized Mircea’s handwriting, although he was more careless, he had such a neat handwriting, that I always envied in school. It indicates hurry, I said to myself, and I started reading.
It wasn’t precisely a diary; it just described certain episodes, and, most of all, feelings. It started abruptly, like this: “Not even if I would have walked on the Sun itself, I wouldn’t have felt such a light. Although at first I thought it was a fire, I realized that the fire couldn’t have burst from the cliffs. And still, I was in the middle of the flames, and I couldn’t feel anything but a pleasant cold. The light was so intense that I couldn’t have looked at it without going blind, but I did. And it didn’t blind me. On the contrary. I felt my head burning. That moment I understood everything and I felt my mind clearing up, I felt the headache stop, and I knew I will never get insomnia again.”
Indeed, the rest of his notes indicate this: there is no other reference to insomnia. Only about the state of happiness he first felt, Sorana’s joy that he was cured, although she thought that the medicine were responsible for it, Mircea never told her about the experience he had. Then, shorter and shorter, more and more intense, notes about an unidentifiable anxiety, about an unknown call. Just as sudden, the notes end with “I have to go.”
Which was really what happened. As Sorana had told me, one day, Mircea just left. Without saying anything to her, without leaving any goodbye note. Indeed, she felt him more and more distant, as the days went by, more precisely, more and more preoccupied, but he never answered her questions. He just comforted her with “It is going to be all right, you will see. You will understand everything…” You are the only one I trust, she told me. I couldn’t face my parents, so please, help me! In the name of our friendship, I am begging you…
This is how my mission to search for Mircea begun. It was not difficult to start, he never covered his tracks. It is true that I never understood why he did such a thing, but I did not try to find any justifications or to cast any judgment. I just took things as they were, as a given fact, and my “job” very seriously. To make a long story short, after I discovered the route marked to Paris, I got to the capital city of France, this time not interested with its touristic beauties which allured me to visit them again. Those at the boarding house where he stayed for just a few nights shook their shoulders, but I succeeded to get accommodated in the same room. I was hoping to find something, but the paper bin was emptied, the floor was vacuumed, the bed sheets were changed etc. I was lucky with the chambermaid, who, intrigued by the light burning night after night, lightly knocked on the door to ask if he needed anything and if everything was alright. Bien, he answered. I only need a towel, he told her. The plane leaves early in the morning and he doesn’t have enough time to buy one. He is going to pay for it; he does not want it for free, of course. Because he had an irresistible smile, the beautiful chambermaid confessed, I gave him one in return for knowing where he was headed. She stopped for a moment, just long enough for me to get the chance to slip 10 euro in her pocket. “In America”, that is what he told me.
I hit a dead end. America is something so vast that it didn’t even cross my mind to go just like that, randomly. But, since I am stubborn and Sorana gave me enough money, and on the phone she assured me that I will get more, if necessary, I continued my search. At the airport, I was surprised to realize how quickly you can find out someone’s track if you have enough money. So, here I was, heading to Philadelphia. I was never in Philly, although I had seen Las Vegas. I liked The Great Canyon the most, not the casinos, which seemed to be from Disneyland, without the Disney characters. However, to be honest, the Bellagio fountains made a pleasant impression on me.
There is no point going into details, about how I got the address on the Ainslie Street. The house where he lived for a little while was now “for rent”. I pretended to be interested, and I could visit it at ease. I looked under the beds, pretending to be studying the floors, on the shelves, “looking for dust”, the realtor might have thought. Never mind, as the Americans are generally friendly, and if they want to sell you something they become even friendlier, I could research as I wanted. When I noticed a piece of paper, my heart started beating fast. I asked for a break, to use the toilet. Indeed, the next destination was marked. I had the luck of the devil. But the destination discouraged me.
I thanked the realtor and I left. I called Sorana immediately, ignoring the time difference. Only when she answered with a drowsy voice I realized what time it was. I don’t know what to say, I told her. I don’t know if I would venture to Peru. Up until here it was simple to track him down, but if he went into the jungle, what will I do? I asked her.
Eventually she agreed that the chances were slim, but she asked me not to give up right away, when “she could feel” that I was getting close. To try, to go to Peru, to do everything possible and even more, as I had promised. I accepted, how could I have refused my dear friend her hope, moreover the fiancée of my best friend? He was almost a brother to me, and, to be honest, I really wanted to know where he was and what had happened. But I am sorry I did not succeed. As I suspected, it was impossible to track him down. I stayed for almost one month, testing all possibilities, trying all logical and illogical tracks, but it was useless.
Stone-hearted I took the plane back home. I was already gone for too long; chasing what know looked like a chimera. I slept almost the entire flight, exhausted, thinking about Mircea’s insomnia. I cannot even imagine what he had to go through, how terrible it must have been. I tried to dream about him in the jungle of Peru, alive and happy or at least easeful, but the dream refused to come. I arrived late; I took a taxi to my attic in Summer Street. Tomorrow, I told myself, I will go to Sorana. First time tomorrow.
But, since not everything goes as one wishes, in the morning I had to take care of something that was waiting for me in the mailbox for a while. Nothing important, small errands, but which could not be postponed. I managed however to get to Sorana’s house around lunch. It was locked. I gave up and I tried calling her on her mobile phone, but “You have reached…” was the only message I got.
Next day, I called again, this time, the robot with a friendly female voice informed me that “The number you have dialed is not assigned”. Then I went back to her home and left a note in the mailbox. Then I tended to my own affairs.
In the days and weeks to come, when I remembered, I called her again, but without any success. I did not know what to believe, I had a hunch that probably Sorana went on her own after Mircea in Peru. I banished the thought; it would have been silly for her to do such a thing.
Unexpectedly, I got a message from her. She was calling for me. I left without giving it another thought and I arrived immediately at her house. The door was half-opened, I entered. From the lintel I could see Sorana sited, but I could not see who was in front of her. I didn’t even leave my coat, I bounced in, with my heart beats accelerated. I could not withhold a cry of surprise and, at the same, time, I must confess, anxiety. After all that running around the world, I saw Mircea looking Sorana into her eyes, calm, loving, as if nothing had happened. And her face expressed a love even more profound than before. Mircea was now staring at me. A smile lighted up his face. Mircea continued to look at me, somewhat inquiring. That moment I felt as if I were in the middle of cold flames, that is how candescent Mircea seemed, as if he was the fire itself. He looked at me and I realized that we were one and the same. I felt my head burn with sweet ardor. An ineffable peace then invaded me. I suddenly felt fulfilled. I smiled back at them and I knew exactly what they were about to do.