(Translated from Romanian by Mihaela Alecu. For Romanian click here)
“Can you imagine” he told me “how awful it was for me to hear such a thing. Even now after so much time I can still feel goose bumps. Because I could not know if it was a trap or the guy was serious. You can imagine, although you are young, how things used to be back then: several months had passed since my good friend Ioan, decided to stay in Italy. Ever since, the Secret Police seems to have gotten even madder. The investigations would not cease, and they would not only investigate the members of the family, they can also tell you about their experience, but also friends and I was no exception. At first, they would ride me in the snaffle, then they would get to warnings, never mind, I don’t want to remember all the details, then they would get to promises, you know, right: comrade, if you will cooperate we will give you everything you want. You want the job of the director of the theater? We will give it to you. Do you want to be a university teacher? It can be fixed. Or maybe you want to travel to a conference in Germany? This can also be done, of course, you will be accompanied, given your background… Aaa, what was I saying? that’s how they said it, background, but I had no background, I minded my own business, I was teaching Romanian language and literature in the countryside where I was distributed and I was happy that I was left alone. Although I was friends with Ioan I had escaped their “love” because as you can probably see, I’m thinking it now, I was neither as genius as he was, nor as reactionary. You can call it cowardice, but I used to say to myself that if I would stay in my place and mind my own business they would leave me alone… It seems that I was wrong… Of course, I’m not blaming Ioan, God forbid, he did well that he staid, what was a man with his intelligence supposed to do here? But I cannot restrain myself from observing it if he wouldn’t have stayed, I would probably never have been investigated. Although who knows with these insane men everything is possible, they would have figured out a reason if they wanted to. Or what, as if they would have needed a reason. They were the masters, they could do what they want it if they wanted to investigate me just because I existed they could, couldn’t they? Right, so I’m not blaming anyone. I mean, pardon, I’m not blaming him or myself, but I am blaming them! I don’t want to hear excuses that they were only doing their job, the ungracious duty requested by the party etc. no one forced them to be pricks, beasts, terrorists. True terrorists, them, the police men and the informers. Do you know what actually the saddest thing was? That you really did not know if someone near you wasn’t in fact a snitch. Look, for example, at my school. I have no idea who that man was, who told them all I did, all I said, although I did not do anything, I did not say anything… so you can imagine how terrified I was.
I still had alive in my mind the endless hours spent in that empty room, with the dampness of walls rising up to the middle, but with only one chair and which the comrade performing the investigation would seat and another crooked one for me, at that depressing table on which there were only the pieces of paper where I was expected to write down my confessions. What to confess? I did not do anything, I told them. I’m sorry, I don’t want to seem disrespectful, comrade, but I really don’t know what to say. When the comrade would smack his fist against the table, my heart would stop. I think I’m lucky I never took a smack, I don’t know how I escaped. Maybe they knew as well that I truly didn’t know anything and just wanted to remind me, in case I would ever forget – how could I forget? – Who the boss was, the master! But let me come back… so not even two months had passed since the last investigation, when this guy called me, with his deep and slow voice, that would inspire anything but trust. And he tells me, can you believe it? That he traced an inter-war diary, considered to be lost, that I might find interesting: if not for yourself, then definitely for your friend Ioan, you know who. At first I thought it was a bad joke, only afterwards I became terrified thinking that it might be them. And I hung up of course. But the guy was persistent, he called again. Please don’t hang up, he told me, I’m not talking rubbish. We must meet, for me to prove it to you. But you realize, he told me, that if your phone is intercepted, I am risking my life. Therefore please, go tonight, at 7 o’clock sharp, to the public phone in the corner, I will call you on that number. Like that one couldn’t have been intercepted, ha. You can imagine I battered, I struggled all afternoon. What is this? What diary? And why would it interest Ioan? But, after all, who cared, Ioan was in Italy well off, and I was under the surveillance of the Secret Police. It was all they were waiting for, for me to do a wrong move… let us say it would have been true, that the man wasn’t one of them, but that he had something for me to give to Ioan, how could I send it further, without risking my own life. Imagine, who was talking of danger, a guy whom I didn’t know and he was transforming me into a target. Why me? Just because I was a friend, although a quite close one. Or more likely a disciple, I must admit, because I always had something to learn from him. In every class, in every discussion, if he was there, it was impossible for him not to come with a personal interpretation, with a never before encountered detail, with a clarifying observation, although most often than not he would completely turn around the entire perspective. He was miles away from us, he was probably closer to his master… and then it occurred to me. But no, it was impossible, it was impossible. No! The Secret Police would have been the first to know, if… no, how could it be? And yet I could not stop, what if? Indeed nothing is impossible and not even the Secret Police is almighty. I knew from reliable sources that there was still not yet caught a member of the resistance in the mountains. If this was possible, than the Secret Police did not know everything. Maybe, just maybe, this got away from them as well. Therefore, can you believe it? Hmm, I decided to go. Yep! Yes. And I went. At 7 p.m. I was in the phone booth. At five past seven I was already shivering. At ten past seven I was worried and at a quarter past seven I was running from there as if a bomb was going to drop. Lucky it was already night and although my feet were frozen, now that I was running I had started to warm up. Of course, I only ran for a few meters, I’m not much of a sports man anyway, but I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. This much training I had myself, as I was used to running after the bus in the morning, in order not to miss the economy train, by which I would commute to work each day like the entire working class. So I stopped running but I continued walking. I did not stop at home, I was sure I was already being followed; the best thing would be not to go home. Maybe they will lose my sight if I take the small streets, I thought. Or maybe they will get bored… Therefore I was walking, not fast, but not slow either, careful to every move around. But there were none. Only a dog barking or the crack of a door. But no one was following me, I was convinced after walking for almost 20 minutes. Therefore, eventually, I returned home.
I fell asleep covered as usual with a blanket and coverlet, with my sports equipment over my pajamas, but I suddenly jumped scared. I did not know why the phone was ringing at that hour. I looked at it and I did not know what to do. Should I answer it or not? It insisted, that’s why I answered. I apologize, that voice whispered, but I was followed and I did not want to endanger you. That is why I did not call, but you must know, that if you still want it, I will try again tomorrow same time, same place. And he hung up. I remained speechless. The fact that he would call after getting rid of his followers proved his truthfulness. I mean, wait a second, what if there was no follower, and if it he only made it up to gain my trust? And what did he mean, if I still wanted it? When did I ever want it? It’s not as if I went searching for him. No, I’m not going to fall in this trap again. I won’t go anywhere. Christmas is close; I better stay home and do some ornaments for the Christmas tree, from colored paper as I learned when I was a pupil. Then on Christmas Eve I will quietly wait for the children to come sing carols, they do this every year. Why would I need to go to phone booths in the middle of the night waiting for a stranger? This is how I fell asleep, thinking about all these. I don’t even remember what I dreamt that night, but I’m sure that in the morning I woke up with a dry mouth as if I would have been running all night or as if it would have been too warm in the studio. No matter how much I drunk, my thirst would not go away. Since my curiosity was bigger than my fear. But what if, I kept asking myself… so I went. Hmm, you can smile, I want to smile now myself, but then I had my heart in my boots. I was almost like a ghost. I’m not even sure I did not become a shadow all the way through, a ghost. I got there at 7 o’clock sharp just when the phone started to ring. This time I knew how to lose them; the voice told me when I confirmed it was me. I hope now you will believe me and will not suspect I’m an informant… I don’t know what to believe, I answered. For now, everything is possible, anything is possible. If you are by any chance… if I were by now you would have been arrested. That convinced me, he was right. They would have taken me from the moment I opened the booth’s door or at least when I lifted the receiver. But they didn’t and here I am, still in one piece, speaking on the phone with a stranger about a so-called diary. I know what you are thinking, he told me, how is it possible for this diary to exist and not yet to be in the hands of the Secret Police. He was again right. Well, he continued, I didn’t really say that. I just said that I tracked it down. And, I could blaster, but it is not the case, I have a copy of it. A copy, I almost shouted? How is it possible for copies to exist? Probably, he answered, whoever took care of it knew how important it was, and to make sure it won’t get lost, and you can see that he was right since the Secret Police took care of its disappearance, typed it. I have the carbon paper copy.
You mean to say that besides the manuscript, there is, aaaa, an original, typed copy? Exactly. And it is the diary I am thinking about? I am convinced you are thinking exactly about the correct diary, no doubt about it. Of…? Ssssh! He said quickly, no names on the phone. Maybe this is a safe phone, but even so, it is better not to say names that could start not only storms but real cataclysms! It would be best to meet. To meet? I almost shouted. Mister, what is wrong with you? Keep calm. Of course, we must meet, how else? Yes, yes, you are right, I whispered. I’m sorry. Mister? he did not answer for a few moments, then I heard him. It’s alright, a man went by, but he didn’t even look at me. Although wouldn’t it have been normal for him to at least look at me? I’m sorry; we better talk again tomorrow, the same way. And he hung up. It was as if I could see him rushing in the opposite direction from that man. But he had called me mister. I haven’t heard something like this for how long? Too long… it was blasphemy, treason even just to think in such a bourgeois manner.
I went back home with my head full of thoughts, but also with hope. If he was really a gentleman, one of the last gentlemen, maybe it was time to start trusting him. But this doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t be one ear on the ground, maybe with both, because the secret police had many more ears, everywhere. The walls had ears. It was difficult to fall asleep that evening, probably because I didn’t have anything left in the fridge and I tried to mislead my hunger with a tea, but it did not work. Unfortunately, in the morning I didn’t catch any more bread and I gave up standing one more time in line, especially since there were always people getting ahead of me. I don’t know how, but I never succeeded to save my place in a row. Maybe I’m with my head in the clouds, maybe I get easily fooled, who knows… anyway, as I was saying, I slept badly and in fact I woke up more tired than I had gone to bed. The way I was like guided, waiting for the evening. The fact that the next day was Christmas Eve did not help me to do what it is usually done: to go out and buy a Christmas tree, or at least a branch, if I am all alone and without children. But you know, holidays must be kept, even though you are alone, I know that now, but then I was excited, I was going to talk on the phone again, to establish a meeting to get to the diary, so much that I was about to catch fire. I went out to cool down and at the same time to get some bread. I stood in line for several hours at queues, but I succeeded to by one and a half, you could buy a triple portion as the shops were going to be closed for the next two days. You cannot even imagine how much happiness resided in such a simple fact of having bread on the table… I know that housewives were making cabbage rolls, my mother used to do them before, God rest her soul, but I don’t know how to do them. Therefore I settled on beans soup with pork bones, at least if it would have been smoked; but I had red onions so I cannot complain. Until I made my soup and ate it, the time had come to go. Again, like a ghost, I glided next to the two buildings that separated me from the phone booth. I thought I heard movement and I became one with the wall. No, it was just two children, probably going to sing carols. I don’t understand, my children, they will probably come too, however I hope not right now, I wouldn’t want them not to find me home, who knows who might hear of this and how it might be interpreted. Anyway, it would not be good and most certainly somebody would find out and would start asking questions. Where were you comrade teacher, since your children did not find you at home? Would ask with a dissimulated air of disinterest and boredom comrade principal. Which is a contradiction, since, normally, singing carols is about Jesus being born, of course you know, but religion was contested by the regime, at least at the surface, because as you know, it was in fact tolerated. In fact, I think it was some sort of deal between them, the heads… you know what I mean… but let me come back to my phone booth. I got there all right and the phone rang in time. Tomorrow at the railway station, he told me, take the train to Braşov. There’s a fast train at 11.35 and it has a restaurant wagon. I’ll see you there. Good luck and take care!
And he hang up. There? At the railway station? No, probably in the restaurant wagon. He didn’t even say how I will recognize him. What will I do? I started complaining to myself on my way home, complaining about all this nonsense in which I was involved and of which I could not get rid of, of which I did not want to get rid of. I did not want to go and nevertheless the next day I woke up on the platform… I was looking around and everybody looked suspicious. I had the impression that they all knew, that they were all Secret Police officers or informants. Of course, people minded their business, but I looked at all of them suspiciously. Maybe this is what saved me. Because, yes, it is true, I did not get on the train. I watched it leaving, as if I were a piece of stone. When, eventually I couldn’t see it anymore, I turned around directly into the open arms of the police. I don’t know where they had come from and when did they get there, but there were three behind me and two in front of me. Plus to two blue eyes men. He told me we should go. In the basement of the building where I was taken they told me that they know everything, that they had caught my “friend”, but that they didn’t find the diary. Where is it, they asked me, taking turns although their voices revealed all sort of violent nuances. I was terrified so I don’t know how I answered, what actually shocked me as well, not only them: If you know everything, then you know that I didn’t get to meet that comrade, therefore I have no idea where the so-called diary is, and, frankly, I doubt there is one, I think everything was but a miserable, unsuccessful set up, so let’s get it over with all this nonsense and let me leave. The Secret Police officer change faces and was speechless, the guardsman, on the other hand, knew what should be done and smacked me so hard that I went flying from the chair directly into the wall which hit me again in the head. You can imagine that feeble as I am, I almost lost my senses, thank God for the guardsman who helped me with a smack of the foot to come to my senses in time to see the next one coming, so as to make them even. But the investigator stopped him. I was surprised myself, and even more so the tormentor, but he had no other choice. You can go, he told me, but don’t think you will get out of it. We will call you back! and he left the room. And I, blustering on the walls, I went out. The cold, freezing air, set me up, and although I was feeling as if I was hit by the train, I got home, bickering with myself for having been caught in this game. You see, I’m using the word “game”, because I feel like it, but it was a true game, a dog eat dog game. You are lucky you were young and you only caught a few years, when were you born in the ‘78-’80? in ‘73, hmm, you look younger, but even so, you were just a child, whatever, a teenager, at the Revolution.
But this doesn’t matter, only the fact that I was left alone from then on, you see, no more investigations, no threats, no nothing. I was sure I was being followed every step of the way, that was why I did not do any. I was going to school, I strictly kept my classes, I would go for a walk during breaks, I would not interact with anybody. At first, my colleagues started talking about it, and then they got used to me being a lonely wolf and left me alone. And when the Revolution came and past I remain the same for a long while afterwards… All these events transformed me, alienated me, namely they probably reached their aim. The only fact that got me out of my lethargy was a phone call I received one warm evening at the end of spring, two years after the revolution. Professor, do you remember me? I was speechless, I did not know if I should show burst in joy or in anger. I know that you consider me to be guilty, he said as if he were guessing, but believe me I did not set you up. I don’t know how they found out, but they did. I saw them at the railway station, then, but I could no longer warn you. They didn’t catch me, although they hunted me like a dog all my life. I did not descend in Braşov and I saw them bustling through the window; I went to Cluj, I have a few friends there from college. I was as terrified as you were; believe me, even more so: if they would have caught me caring the diary, I don’t think I would have gotten out of it alive. Therefore I did nothing else but hide all my life. I did not have the courage to contact anyone, as I did with you. I felt I myself was guilty for the harm it brought upon you, not the system, and I did not want to produce such harm ever again. Maybe I was a coward, maybe I shouldn’t have, maybe it would have been better if I would have insisted. Although, after the last event that occurred, probably I shouldn’t have done anything else… What events? I don’t know what you are talking about, I answered, I don’t know if you know but I live in complete isolation, thanks to your action… I am, once again, sincerely sorry, he whispered. I felt his voice was honest, although particularly sad, the sadness which surpassed the misfortune it had caused me, of course not directly, but through that malefic apparatus of the Secret Police. Therefore I found myself asking him: are you okay? No, I’m not. But, if you did not find out, it is probably best if I don’t tell you…. Tell me what? Well, you see, I succeeded after all to send abroad the copy of the diary through a friend one month before the Revolution. If I knew I would have waited, but how was I supposed to know?… No one knew, I mean, whatever, except for some…. Probably. I have no idea about the diary’s route but probably it only got to its destination last month. Mysterious are the ways… however, I only know that my friend, who got to Germany gave it to a friend who was going to Paris. From there on, God knows! The fact is that the diary was always hunted, always one step behind. My friend confirmed that he was called in Germany by a so-called reporter who wanted to interview him about the Revolution in Romania, about the communist regime, whatever, now that he could express himself freely etc., everything happened as it was supposed to, he came with all the equipment, with everything necessary, only that at a certain point he asked him what he knew about a certain inter-war diary, about which many thought it was lost, but it seems that one copy still exist? My friend, there’s no point giving his name, was stoned. Where did the reporter know all this from? Then the thought occurred and he said that he did not know what it was all about. Eventually, the masquerade went on for a while longer, interview quickly ended, and the next day when he came back from work my friend found his apartment upside down. They had stolen a cassette recorder, to make it seem like a robbery, but my friend knew what the burglars were really after. So he warned my friend in France, who said that he got the impression that he was being followed by a guy a night before. So he considered it would be better to leave. He disappeared. For a few months I didn’t know anything about him. As such I also lost track of the diary. But what happened last month leads me to believe that the diary got to its destination. Of course, I have no proof, but otherwise I cannot explain what happened there… what was supposed to be a valuable acquisition for our culture, the revelation of truth – you realize that not only the historical one proved to be a misfortune, for me, for you, and especially for Ioan. You really don’t know anything?! Oh, how could I say it, I wonder? The best way would be to do it bluntly… Ioan was murdered. Right in the University where he went to follow him master, whose lost diary he had probably received.
I hang up, crushed by the news. How was it possible? Ioan murdered? I collapsed on the chair, and I laid there for hours, stone-still. Then I knew. I stood up and I knew what I had to do. And then I started searching, non-stop. Now, I feel like I cannot do it anymore. I am too old and too tired. After I have read your book last year, I knew that time had came, my dear, to turn it on to you. In this box you will find all the documents, all the evidence and all the tokens I’ve gathered over these twenty years. It is time for me to retire and to let you carry it on. Because that goddamned diary exists and I’m convinced that there is still a copy somewhere, either in Romania or in America, you must find it and publish it, so that we can once and for all get rid of this pressure!
Well, this is exactly what I intend to do.