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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The four friends were admiring the photographs Ioan was showing them, one by one, slowly leafing through the pages of the album, with a care similar to one rising from the fear that those might leave the album to return to the wonderful places they were taken from.
Ioan stopped at one photo.
“Here is La Rambla, he said. An iconic street of Barcelona, stuffed with people at any time, be it day or night. It’s a street that never sleeps.”
He slowly turned the page:
“Come on man,” Mircea told him, “go faster, we’re not going to eat them.”
“What’s with the hurry?” asked Ioan. “We must pay attention to details, to admire these places and to acknowledge their true value.”
“I like it like this,” said Amanda. “And I love Barcelona. You definitely have to take me there.” She gave him a peck on the cheek.
“Oh, we’re so well behaved today,” Ana joked.
“We have serious business to attend to, here,” said Ioan.
“So what,” Amanda jumped, “the other think is not a serious business? We’re kissing until our lips hurt, what could be more serious?”
“Does she always have such a downright manner?” Ioan asked Ana.
“Hey, I’m right here,” Amanda shouted at them.
“Oh, yes, answered Ana,” ignoring Amanda. “Sometimes even worse.”
“I can hear everything you are saying, hello!”
“I like it,” Mircea jumped in. “Compared to those hypocrite colleagues of ours, like Manuela or Elisabeta, God forbid!”
“I’m happy you like it,” said Amanda, “but I’m still here.”
“I like her too,” Ioan continued the game.
“Hey, you people, cut it out!” Amanda continued.
“And I love her like a sister;” Ana didn’t give up, bursting into laughter.
“Pff,” Amanda sniffed. “You are annoying me!”
“Hey, you were here?” Ioan asked her lovingly, and hugged her.
“Yes, I didn’t even saw you,” Mircea added.
“When did you get here?” Ana finished it.
“Leave me alone,” Amanda pretended to be upset.
“Honey,” Ioan approached her. “Why are you upset?”
“You just got here, and you are already nervous,” Mircea added.
Hearing this last sentence, Amanda couldn’t hold it in any longer. Her blustering way pushed her into a blustering laughter. She pushed Ioan on his back, then she climbed over him like on a horse, she put his hands beneath her knees to prevent him from moving, then she started tickling him.
“Au, stop, stop, forgive me,” he was begging. “I won’t do it again!”
He was laughing like crazy, due to her tickling attack.
Now Amanda started to pinch him just as impetuous, but very softly, as if it were the touch of a butterfly’s wings. Ioan however, for her sake, pretended to be powerless.
“I’m sorry milady, almighty master, Kronstadt countess.”
He couldn’t hold it in for too long, so he started laughing. He was laughing and he was shaking, causing Amanda to move like in a rodeo. She pulled his hands from beneath her knees and she took them up, holding them with hers, as tight as she could.
“You are my prisoner,” she said.
She stretched them to the maximum, which made her to lean over him completely. At that point he stole her a kiss. He could feel her breasts pressing against him. He broke free from her grip, and he pushed her on her back. He gave her a long kiss.
“Hello,” Ana jumped now. “We are here too!”
The two couldn’t hear a thing.
“Take a break,” Mircea told then as well. “I thought we had serious business to attend to here.”
“Come on, guys, stop,” Ana told them again. “We have to go any minute now, the contest will start.”
“It cannot start without us,” Mircea shook Ioan. “We are the special guests.”
“We are the jury,” Ana corrected him.
“Yes, the jury!” Mircea agreed.
The two were not reacting at all, as if they had exited Earth and they were leaving in a parallel universe, just theirs, without knowing that their bodies were still there on Earth and that the others could see them.
Ana and Mircea gave up fighting with them. They took the album to watch the pictures. But, without Ioan telling them what they were depicting, talking to them about the colors, like a painter, about the smells, like a perfumer, about lights and shadows, like a photographer, about people, like a novelist, it was no point doing it. Ioan was all this, and a lot more. Ioan was the artist of the class. And now, he was an artist in love.
“We have to go,” said Mircea.
The two suddenly stopped. Ioan stared into Amanda’s eyes. She was devouring him with her eyes.
“You go,” said Ioan.
“We’ll come later. A little bit later…” Ioan added.
Amanda nodded again.
“What?” cried Ana. “Amanda! You cannot do this to us!”
“You will manage somehow,” said Amanda. “And we will come to, I swear. Go, before the concert starts.”
“But don’t be upset!” Ioan asked them on a pleading voice.
“We won’t be upset, you crazy people,” Mircea told them.
“Yes, you are really going crazy!” Ana cried again. “Amanda are you sure you want… to… stay?”
“Yes, dear, I do. Don’t worry, I am in good hands,” she added, smiling and caressing the Ioan’s thin pianist fingers.
“Oh, alright,” said Ana, understanding. “If that’s what you want…”
Ana and Mircea stood up. They didn’t even get to the door, unlocking and preparing to leave, when the two already started kissing passionately again.
Ana sniffed and she pushed Mircea out as he was about to tell them something more.
“Come on, come on,” she bustled him and she forced him out the door.
The lock’s click was heard behind them and Ana breathe relieved.
“O my God, they are crazy!”
“As mad as a hatter,” Mircea encouraged her.
“What hormones can do to people,” Ana added.
“Yes,” said Mircea.
However he was looking at her, as he had never looked at her before.
“What?” she asked.
“Nothing,” he answered quickly.
Then he stopped talking. So did she.
He took her by the hand. They were walking like that to the bus station, silently.
After a while, while they were waiting for the bus, Mircea broke the silence:
“You don’t think that… No. Right?”
“I’m sorry?” asked Ana. “What are you muttering these?”
“This guys, do you think that…?”
“That?” she asked him. “Don’t you dare say anything!” she rapidly stopped him.
“Well…” he started.
“No, no,” she said firmly. “I don’t want to hear about it. We are not discussing this!”
He, shy and compliant, obeyed. For a while. Afterwards, he tried, with a whispering voice:
Ana shook her head no.
“The bus is coming,” she told him, with a voice as if he was sick and she was announcing that the ambulance was coming.
The truth is that they both felt relieved when they got on the bus. They could now look at the houses, blocks, people and trees that were passing them by, careless about the problem that was tormenting this mind now and would also torment their sleep from now on. And during the show they would have something to see. Although they were both sure that despite the fact that their eyes were going to be looking towards the stage, their attention was going to be directed at the two friends that they had left in a certain way in Ioan’s studio, and whom were going to come later to the concert completely changed.
They got to Livada Poștei quite fast, faster than they expected considering the cram. At the last station the bus didn’t even stop, because there wasn’t room not even to fit a needle, let along more passengers. Therefore they recovered some of the time lost in the other stations.
People were coming from everywhere and they all headed to Piața Sfatului. Both Mureșenilor and Republicii were crammed with people. People were happy, the weather was great, the show was about to start.
They hadn’t bought places to sit, so they had to look for a place to stay somewhere so as to be able to see the stage more or less. They found a good place next to the big window of a restaurant. Ana could even sit, at least until the concert would start. Afterwards she would have to stand up; otherwise she couldn’t see a thing.
Mircea would have liked to hold her in his arms, but he didn’t have the courage to tell her now. Lucky for him that Ana could read his intentions.
“Do you want to sit? You could maybe hold me,” the saving question arose.
“Yes, of course,” the boy’s quick and joyful answer came.
Mircea sat down and Ana delicately leaned over him. She didn’t like the tension floating above them like a storm cloud with their name on it.
“Do you remember what the history teacher told us last time about Cerbul de Aur?” Ana asked him to get rid of the burden.
“Yes, how could I forget,” replied Mircea. “It was such an intense class, it’s still lingers in my memory. I don’t think I will ever forget…”
The history teacher was in fact a substitute teacher, he was a fresh graduate of the History and Philosophy Faculty from “Babeș-Bolyai” University of Cluj-Napoca who had just started his doctoral studies in philosophy; he was studying long distance and therefore he needed a job. “Don’t call me mister teacher, call me M. P.”, he told them during the first class. He likes to make his students fell in love with the subject, not to learn it by heart. “And repeated like a tape recorder. I don’t need thirty more broken tape recorders”, he always used to say. “I need thirty brains that are able to think and to question but they are given as being obvious”, he continued. Sometimes he shocked them: “whoever wants to swallow the food that has already been chewed by somebody else?” he asked them. It was clear that M. P. was teaching in his own way, in a way that the students had never encountered before. They all loved him, but some girls had really fallen in love with him. After all, he was only a few years older than them, and some of them were going to be of age soon. But M. P. didn’t give them a chance and cut off the romantic enthusiasm from the start, and the girls had only their soughs.
In one lesson about the Soviet Union he started talking to them about Cerbul de Aur. He said something like:
“Cerbul de Aur was a successful festival during its first editions, when Romania became a star country because it did not only refuse to participate in invading Czechoslovakia in 1968 when the first edition of Cerbul de Aur was held, but it also severely condemned this action. This was an act of bravery from Romania who risked being invaded by Soviet troops itself, troops which were immediately gathered at its border. Romania prepared intensely to face an attack. The country’s president Nicolae Ceausescu, you’ve heard of him! decreed to create Gărzile Patriotice, which could contribute to help the army. Military stage was back then mandatory in Romania. In order to extend military training the law was given to Pregătirea Tineretului pentru Apărarea Patriei (Prepare the Youth for Defending the Country), shortly it was called P.T.A.P. Therefore even students who have not yet become of age we’re able to participate in theoretical and practical courses of military training. Take us now for example, we wouldn’t have been talking about Cerbul de Aur, we would have been practicing shooting!
“A great contribution came from the official or unofficial messages given by the leaders of other countries. United States of America and even China declared that they were against invasion. But it isn’t yet known if somebody would have intervened to help Romania, because the problem was mostly regarded as one of internal affairs, pertaining to the member states of the Warsaw Pact. You remember it from last class… if not look in the study book.
“The European Occident was in fact quite clear, most countries trying to tone down Romania’s fervor, advising the leaders in Bucharest to try to patch up the conflict in a diplomatic manner because they were unable to support Romania in case of War. The exception was R.F.G., back then half of Germany, who appreciated Romania’s position, but it wasn’t in itself strong enough to face a Soviet attack so it couldn’t have support Romania even if it wanted to.
“Romania however managed to escape the invasion. Firstly, its position wasn’t as strategically important as it was that of Czechoslovakia, which was closer to West Europe than Romania. Then the fact that Ceausescu and the other leaders in the country reaffirmed their loyalty towards communism and declared Romania ‘the developing socialist country’ proved Moscow that Romania would never become independent, but will always remain satellite of the U.R.S.S. That was what they cared about, not about what Ceausescu and his close ones we’re doing with and to the Romanian people.
“What at first looked like an act of bravery from the communist leader, in fact prove to be only the spark that lit the cult of personality taken to the extreme by Ceausescu. And what seem to be a cultural meltdown, which allowed for a large-scale event, a project with international participation like Cerbul de Aur to be created in the same year, 1968 (I digress: this was already closed in 1971 to make room for other manifestations like the one conducted by Ceausescu’s official poet, I am talking of course about Adrian Păunescu and his Cenaclul Flacăra, initiated in 1973, the year of my birth ( I digressed again: now you are not supposed to believe that I didn’t participate and that I did not love Cenaclul, of course I did! But I did not realize back then – what do you expect I was just a child – that under Păunescu’s friendly mask for young people and young music, as he used to say, was in fact a skilled and arrogant favorite of the system which was making in one day of show the salary a worker would get in a lifetime), coming back, indeed it also made room for other nationalist-schizoid competitions like Cîntarea României that was initiated in 1976) returning to the main subject, this false and pseudo, call it as you wish, was only the eye of the tornado that eventually wiped off with an increasing intensity the life and souls of millions of Romanians which was only closed in December 1989 with the Revolution which put an end to the 52 years of communism that desolated the country.
“Now at the 11th edition of Cerbul de Aur, you, the youngsters, born in the last years of communism you no longer live with the fear that the secret police might arrest your grandparents or parents for whatever reason created by the secret police officers. Young people should have normal concerns, how to hold hands, how to kiss, this should be their concerns not the fact that they might ruin their eyes doing their homework at candle light because electricity is turned off every evening, singing and dancing at events like Cerbul de Aur, not praising the Party and its Supreme Leader in Cîntarea României.
“You need to think about what university you want to go to, and especially in what country, not about how to escape, how to run across the border, secluded in a small compartment of a boxcar like in a coffin, with the risk of being caught and arrested, beaten or even shot.
“You, teens, do not know how much your parents and grandparents had to take, and even if you found out, you have no memory of those times. Which is good. it’s very good to know, not to forget, but it’s even better that you have no memories of those times and even more so that you no longer live like that.”
With the history lesson alive in her memory, Ana asked Mircea:
“Do you want to kiss me?”
“Yes, of course,” he answered in a soft voice. “If you wanted it too,” he added shy, but Ana didn’t give him the chance to say anything else and she rushed towards his lips.
Now they were both happy, even though they had unfinished business, at least the usual stuff would not suffer because of it.
“Everything in due time”, Ana thought, knowing that she could not avoid it anymore. Firstly, she would have to talk to Amanda. Then, Mircea will want to discuss the problem as well. But now, she continued thinking “Let’s enjoy the show.”
It started at the appointed time, because it was broadcasted live on TV.
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