Struggle. Love. Cry. Hope.
For Romanian click here.
A novel first published in Romanian (Eikon 2017), available in English (translated by Mihaela Alecu) on Amazon (click on the image).
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Azade and Ana were lucky. A friend had told them about a flat with two bedrooms, trim and nice, that had just went on the market. They liked it a lot so they rented it and they moved in together when spring took over Zürich. The colors exploded in the trees that were in buds and in the gardens, the air had become worm, the lake was shimmering friendlier in the sunlight. Everything was brighter and everybody seemed happier. In groups or couples, people were staying on the grass, on benches; they were walking or drinking beer on the countless terraces on the lake’s bank or on Limmatquai.
The house where the two friends had their apartment was close to ETH. It was an imposing building, three floors, like many other houses on the surrounding streets; it had a big enough garden to accommodate two trees in which birds were singing cheerfully and most of all a lot of flowers. Their apartment was at the first floor; therefore they also had a terrace and direct access to the garden.
“We can invite our friends over to visit!” said Azade happy from the first day.
“Yes, it is so nice and welcoming!” added Ana. “I cannot wait to host a party!”
“A party is a very good idea,” Azade confirmed. “Let’s do this as soon as possible!”
“You know, we had many parties home, during high school. In fact, this house reminds me of my parents’ house in Brașov. I’ve probably told you before, Brașov, I mean the old town, not the communist area with apartment blocks, and the hills around it, resembles Zürich a little, except for the lake. But many houses here look like Brașov’s old houses, the ones built by Sasi.”
“I should come visit you sometime, in your hometown,” said Azade.
Ana smiled and confirmed.
“You should, indeed! You will love it!”
“Show me some pictures of Brașov!”
“You want me to? Wait a second…”
Ana opened her laptop, then she searched for the pictures folder.
“I look at these pictures every time I get homesick–”
“Come on, don’t be sad now. I know it’s not easy for you to live far from home…”
The girls were watching the pictures, while talking.
“Wow, it looks wonderful!”
It was a picture of Catherine’s Gate, an arch building, with a higher tower in the middle of its roof and four other towers in its corners.
“Yes, indeed it is. But what it stood for a while back, it didn’t quite… whatever, for the Romanians–”
“Please, tell me.”
Ana didn’t seem affected.
“Eh, it happened a long time ago, so I have no problem with it. But there are still people who won’t let go and still bring up things gone by… actually that is what bothers me more.”
Ana went silent for a moment, staring with her big brown eyes somewhere far away, as if she could see through the walls.
“I’m sorry,” she said eventually. “I was carried away by memories. From immemorial time actually, because they aren’t even my memories.”
Azade looked at her empathically. She nodded approvingly.
“It’s alright. There’s no rush.”
“I can see now in my mind images of Catherine’s Gate, as if I would be there. I can see images with Romanians who were not allowed to enter their own town, Brașov, because they were for a long time under foreign domination, for centuries. Romanians needed a certificate or something like that, to be allowed to enter the city, I mean inside the defense walls. They lived outside them, in the neighborhood called Brașov’s Schei.”
After a pause, she said:
“But better yet, let’s search online.”
She keyed Google, and then in the search section, she wrote ‘Brașov Catherine’s Gate’. Then she opened ‘Wikipedia’.
“Well, it’s not much, but surely there is still some information. Probably more than I know.”
The girls then read the text on Wikipedia. When they got to ‘Porta Valacce’, Ana said:
“The Romanians were called Valahi back then. South Romania was called Valahia. I really don’t know why.”
“Let’s search!” said Azade.
Ana wrote in the search box from Wikipedia: “Wallachia”.
“Here it is,” said Ana. “Let’s see here, etymology.”
She first read silently for a few moments, then, immediately out loud:
“… is derived from the word ‘walha’ used by Germanic peoples to describe Celts, and later Romanized Celts and all Romance-speaking people. Hey, I really didn’t know that!”
“To me it sounds like Valhalla, the mythological land of the god Odin.”
“Ha-ha,” Ana giggled, “that would really be something!”
“Do you know of any Viking tracks or influences in Romania?”
“Well, actually I know that the Vikings got in their raids even to the Black Sea and to Romania, actually back then it wasn’t Romania, but whatever the nowadays territory of the country. Let’s see what we can find out about this…”
Again Ana wrote in the search box: Vikings and she pressed enter. Under ‘Vikings expansion’ there was a map ‘Travels of the Vikings’. Ana clicked it and enlarged it to maximum resolution.
“Look, they got to Romania through here. On these rivers. Hmm, I always thought that they got through the Mediterranean Sea, but it seems that I was wrong.”
“Anyway it is something extraordinary. Look at all these routes. For the years…” she approached the screen even further: “866 and 900 it is amazing!”
“I know! I have great admiration for the Vikings, even though their raids were not pleasure and entertainment trips, but violent raids, to conquer and rob.”
“I agree with you,” confirmed Azade. “After all, we are talking of troubled times… However, these people were amazing sailors!”
“Indeed, I cannot say no to something like this.”
They both smiled. Azade continued:
“Let’s go back to Brașov.”
Ana approved joyfully. She turned off the browser and she went back to the pictures. She presses next, there appeared a picture of a house.
“This is my parents’ house.”
“It’s beautiful! And look how big it is! But why do you say ‘my parents’ house’ and not ‘my house’? It is yours as well, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is. But because I gave up the thought to ever going back to Romania, I rather–” Ana said and a shadow of sadness covered her face.
Azade looked at her silently, waiting.
“At least not in the near future,” added Ana.
“Why not?” Azade asked.
“Well, it’s a little more complicated, than what could be explained in a few words. It is a state of mind that I have developed during several years, almost twenty I could say. Years during which you become fed up of a lot of things, more or less serious… It’s a long story, maybe I’ll tell you someday.”
Just a few years back, Ana was the happy graduate of the German high school Johannes Honterus, in her hometown, Brașov. It was as if she had just gone through the heartstrings of admission. She was nervous, even though it wasn’t very difficult for her, firstly because she had studied German as a child, secondly, because she liked school. She simply loved studying. She was first in her class every year. The truth was that she liked all subjects, not just some as it was the case for some of her colleagues. For example, a good friend, Adrian, was Olympic in Mathematics, but he wasn’t at all interested in literature. Or, and even better example, her best friend, Amanda, a disaster in exact sciences, but exquisite for foreign languages, which she could learn with enviable ease. Ana couldn’t decide on a favorite subject, and because she cherished them all, she would enjoy learning everything that she was being taught. The start was a little bit more difficult, but soon all teachers knew that she was number one. Therefore, they would treat her as such, and everything worked as a perfect machinery. Ana was to serious to do otherwise, but she had colleagues whom said that if she would stop learning, she would still get a maximum grade, just out of inertia.
“Try!” Amanda challenged her.
“No, thank you. I will not do such a thing!”
“Why not?” asked Ioana, “one of the colleagues with whom she had a quite close friendship. Just for fun.”
“Maybe for you,” Ana replied, “but I’m not playing school. I really do take it seriously.”
“Yes! Maybe too much–”
“I have no other choice,” Ana responded. “If I want to get into a good university, I must prove I deserve it.”
“You are already thinking about the university?” Ioana asked her. “Come one, there are four more years until then–”
“I know, but I like to plan things in advance.”
She smiled, mysteriously.
“This way,” she continued, “nothing can take me by surprise.”
“I wouldn’t say such a thing,” said Ioana. “You never know. It’s better not to challenge faith.”
“Which faith?” Ana asked. “Do you mean–”
“Faith, just like that. You know, what is destined to happen to us!”
“What do you mean? Some sort of The Book of Life? I don’t believe in such a thing.”
“Really?” asked Ioana surprised. “Maybe you don’t believe in God either?”
“Hmm, this is a good question. You know, when I was little, I used to go to church with my mother. In fact, every Sunday, and when there was a holiday. Until the fifth grade I think. When, suddenly, I stopped. Just like that. I stopped going. I don’t know why… Now, if I think about it, I don’t even know if I believed or not in God. That was the tradition, in the family, to go to church. It was in my blood, to say so… You know, like in the blood of every Romanian: born, not made, a Christian.”
“But do you believe now?”
“If I believe?”
Ana took a few moments to think.
“I don’t think I do… In fact–”
“What, but what are you a pagan or something?” Ioana asked her with a strident voice.
“No, not at all, I was born an Orthodox, just like you. But I cannot think of someone like God, the creator of everything in just six days, plus one free. What, it was on sale?”
Ana noticed that Ioana was not enjoying the joke as she did; on the contrary, Ioana seemed quite taken. So she added quickly:
“I’m kidding, I’m kidding, OK? Don’t take it so seriously!”
“Well, for me it is,” said Ioana. “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain says the Bible. Right?”
“No offense Ioana, but I believe that too much religion, without any respect for other opinions it can easily lead to devotion and fanaticism, then to intolerance, and violence, just like that!” Ana snapped her fingers.
“What? It’s nothing like that…”
“You know, I don’t really feel comfortable now,” said Ioana. “I feel attacked. I don’t think I have to justify my belief, my love for God, and so on…!”
“Of course not. And you are not at all under attack! Of course you don’t have to justify yourself, by no means. I’m just saying that I cannot make a joke because you think I’m taking your Lord’s name in vain–”
“Mine?” Ioana interrupted her. “Now it’s no longer yours as well?”
“Well, definitely yours is not mine. My God enjoys jokes, even those about himself.”
“Girls, girls,” Amanda intervened. “Now you are both taking it too personal. Look where this discussion took you: to a fight, which will end up in sorrow. Please don’t let this story spoil our friendship.”
“No, take it slow now,” said Ana. “Of course we are not going to let a discussion spoil our friendship, right Ioana?”
“Of course not,” Ioana confirmed as well.
“We better get back to the future,” smiled Amanda. “Ana, what would you like to do? What are you thinking about? What faculty do you have in mind?”
“You should study the mind–” Ioana answered in her place.
“In fact, I just had a revelation,” said Ana. “I wanted to become a doctor anyway. But you know what, Ioana? You are right! I also want to study the mind. The brain. Even more so, I want to fix brains. Therefore, I will become a neurosurgeon!”
“You see,” Ioana quickly added, “this is faith!”
The three girls laughed, then they made a pause, then they laughed again, so that it seemed that the entire fight was forgotten.
In fact, Ana didn’t forget the feelings that that discussion had inspired. She continued to be Ioana’s friend, as she remained friendly with all her colleagues, but deep down inside she started questioning religion more, especially her religion. Often she would stand and think if she believed or, in reality, she did not believe in God.
“I need a serious introspection inquiry,” she told one day to Amanda.
Amanda visited Ana all the time, she had practically moved in. Many nights Amanda preferred sleeping at Ana’s house. Ana had always seen Amanda like a sister; even Ana’s parents, Dan and Elena, had received Amanda in their family like one of theirs, almost like a daughter. On the one hand probably because Amanda was such a joyful girl, bright and respectful, but on the other hand, because her family had big problems.
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