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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Maria had a happy childhood, until she realized she is different than other girls her age. Being different was a burden in Romania’s first years after communism, as it had been, as a matter of fact, during communism as well.
At first there was nothing suspicious. Children usually play together when they are little, irrespective of their gender. But, when they grew a bit more, she noticed that her friends preferred to talk about boys, while she proffered spending more time with them and listening how they were talking about girls. Maria was clever enough to know she had to restrain herself from commenting about girls and that she had to settle with thoughts and dreams. Indeed, no one could take her dreams. And if her friends were talking about boys, from a certain age, even shameless, what they would do to them, how they would do it, how their muscles are, how they look in those tight pants, of course, at first there was all talk, until they went to high school, and some went from talking to doing. Maria participated to these discussions nodding and agreeing with everything they said, sometimes even raising the stake, when in fact her mind was somewhere else, thinking about a beautiful child with golden hair, from another class, whom she had started to like so much that it hurt.
She knew, however, very well the Romanian society’s take on homosexuality, that it rejects its representatives, and that especially the Orthodox Church stigmatizes them. Maria was born like most Romanians in an Orthodox family. Her parents were professing Christians, so no wonder she had received the name of the most important woman in the history of Christianity. She was fully aware that no one could know, that no one had to know! By no means, no matter how much she would have to sacrifice. Her parents would be devastated, would see it as their own downfall, and their beloved daughter doomed to endure the endless ordeals of hell. Of course, they would have tried with all their strength to “heal” her and to save her soul. But this would have done nothing more that make things worse.
So Maria decided ever since she was young to choose the lesser evil, and instead of hurting everybody and simultaneously tormenting herself by being forced to choose the right path, she would rather hurt herself, silently, this way she would be the only one suffering.
No matter how difficult it was in the beginning, however much she felt her soul torn, little by little she got used to the role she was playing, she actually assumed so well the role, that no one realized. And the night was hers alone, she could make love with whomever she liked, in her mind, alone and locked in her room. During the day she would flirt with boys, praise them, she would pretend in front of her colleagues that she admired their bodies to which she hold loose. She was exaggerating, indeed, as rumor had it that she was kind of loose. However, the boys who had tried to court her knew better, as none of them had any chance with her, and she hadn’t in fact even went to a drink with any of them, privately, although she would never say no to going out as a group. They knew, but despite this they would state the contrary.
“Do you know whom with I went out last night?” one of them asked, Nicolas, the one who had the reputation of a real Don Juan among XII graders, in fact among all boys at Şaguna High School.
The others would shake their shoulders, waiting with interest to find out.
“With Maria!” he boasted. “I kissed her until she was dizzy, then I could do whatever I wanted with her! If you catch my drift…”
The others were cocking up their ears, they were nodding that they understood, but they wanted details. They were all fusty, on the one hand due to the cold beer they were drinking on the sun burned terrace, on the other hand due to Nicolas’s stories.
“When I took off her panties she quivering like an aspen leaf, as if it were her first time. And,” the idea had just occurred to him, “it really was! I couldn’t believe my eyes that she was a virgin!”
This fact had boosted his popularity from very high to untouchable. Nicolas was walking tall and he felt like a winner. His need to embellish the story even more was growing inside him, to match his ego which was now huge.
“But first, I left her caress me, you can imagine that this task was very important for me. No one gets to the next stage, if she fails the oral exam,” he said slyly, winking. “It doesn’t matter who she is, even a silly virgin, it is all for nothing. I am very strict about this, I’m not famous for nothing!”
“And, did she pass the test?” one of the guys asked, with his pupils dilated with arousal.
“Well, I have to say yes! You could tell she knew what she was doing. I think that is why she was still a virgin, because she is so insatiable. Uh, it still tickles when I think about it,” he said and he fixed his pants.
“And then what?”
“I took all her clothes off, all of them, and I looked at her all around, with special attention. I don’t like to go any further if I find any major flaws. I mean alright, not a mole, I actually like those, if they are small and cute, but I cannot stand, for instance girls who are not trimmed down there. And this one was well trimmed, I must say. I think that she is the first to get A plus. There have been As before,” he said quickly, “but not A plus. I even had some Bs, but I didn’t go lower than that–”
“Is it true that you have sent one home?” one of the youngsters, sitting on the opposite end of the table, shyly interrupted him.
Nicolas didn’t look bothered by the interruption; he actually liked talking about another one of his inventions, Christina.
“What do you think, man?” he asked him frowning. “That stories go around for no reason, without carrying any truth? And the truth is somewhere in the middle,” he added. “This girl was a very good kisser, she could kiss all over, without scratching one bit, she had a unique style, as she would walk her tongue, while her lips were working, something unbelievable! But other than that she was a disaster. I’ve never seen so much hair down there in my life! I don’t think this girl ever bothered to do something about it. What more can I say, it was nauseating. But the truth is, I must confess, it was I who let, we were at her place!”
Nicolas started laughing, a healthy laughter, the laughter of a real man, not of a XIIth grader, a contagious laughter that was passed on like scab, so that all the boys sitting at the table were laughing uproariously.
“I bet you are a virgin!” Maria said to him, a friend of one of those sitting at the table had told her about Nicolas’s boasting.
Maria had let too much pile-up, due to self-imposed conditions, like a water storage dam which vibrates under water’s pressure, but does not cave in, in order not to have to put up with the gossip and filth of others, not to take in the nonsense delivered by those around.
They were in the middle of the high school’s hall, and Nicolas was surrounded by his fans. Maria walked straight up to him, she made way through the others like through blur and she said loudly, to the teeth:
“You are a liar!”
Nicolas, taken by surprise, lost his tongue.
“How can you lie like this, you urchin?” Maria shouted at him. “That you had sex with me, all kinds, that I was a virgin? I still am, if you must know, but I don’t boast as you do that you are not. I bet you are a virgin!”
“In your dreams, baby girl,” Nicolas tried to regain his forces.
“Baby girl are you, you parrot!” she shouted at him.
People had gathered around like for a freak show, circling them.
A lot of girls were looking at Nicolas amused, and he could see the loathing in their eyes. All his popularity was hanging by a thread, and he didn’t know how to fix it. He felt cornered, like a boxer waiting for his knock-out in order to save himself from collecting so many punches. He wanted to run, to hide, but he had nowhere to go, he couldn’t do it.
“If I take off your underwear now we can all see that you have nothing there. Maybe something tiny. I bet you cannot even get a hard on!”
Nicolas stepped back, almost tripped himself, as if he were afraid that the girl might actually do it. Her look said that she was capable of anything.
“Yes, yes. That is it baby girl,” Maria shouted at him again. “What are you going to do now? Are you going to cry? Are you going to run to your mommy, to tell her I caught you lying?! You lunkhead! Careful how you are going to behave from now on, careful about what you are going to say, or better yet don’t say anything about me, or I will undress you in pure daylight, so that we all see how much of a man you really are, there where it is most obvious, I believe you are not!” Maria continued, then she turned her back at him in the applause and cheers of all those present.
When everybody spread around laughing, and Nicolas was left with just two or three of his most loyal friends, he tried to smile, but it was mostly a deaf grin.
“She’s so stupid! She cannot stand it that I am with somebody else,” he finally said.
But, not very convincing, not even for those who had believed in him until the end, because they left as well, nodding their heads, leaving him alone in Şaguna high school’s imposing hallway, loaded with history.
Nobody was surprised, maybe just a couple of persons, when Nicholas didn’t come back to school the next day, nor the next, nor ever. Rumor had it that he had committed suicide, that he had left the country, to get lost. Reality was, however, less romanced or dramatic: Nicolas convinced his parents, and they moved him to another high school, on the opposite end of Brașov, to a similarly well appreciated high school, the Informatics High School.
“I want to study IT in Cluj, in college,” he told them. “That is why you have to transfer me to that high school now, until it’s not too late.”
It wasn’t too difficult for his parents to transfer him, although he was in the XIIth grade and although half of the second semester had already gone. The real estate business they had in Brașov, started immediately after the Revolution, first as simple intermediaries between sellers and buyers, now they were developers of a whole residential complex, allowed them to be able to financially support any wish that might have occurred to their precious son.
At Şaguna nobody missed Nicolas, and his fame disappeared immediately after he did. But the memory of the lies he had invented remained, and especially the fact that a regular girl, not even the most popular or the cockiest, nor the smartest, nor the richest had blown his cover and embarrassed him in front of everybody. And so Maria became part of history without hoping for it. Even her name was forgotten, and during the following years there were talks about a girl who withstood the worst guy in school. One generation later a legend was circulating about how the Bishop, back then, and soon to be Metropolitan, Andrei Şaguna, came to found the high school. In the legend he was the bad guy who had turned over to the authorities a woman who withstood him.
The mix of reality and fiction had become folklore at Andrei Şaguna High School.
The history teacher from Honterus, M. P., knew Andrei Şaguna’s real story.
“The truth is,” he used to tell his students, “that Şaguna helped the Habsburgic authorities to catch the Hungarian who fought for the rights of Romanians living in Transylvania, Katalin Varga, or as we call her, Ecaterina Varga. You can be proud because she was originary from around here, from Brașov County. It is believed that Şaguna did it to avoid the drastic repercussions against Romanians, because they refused to turn over the fearless defender of their rights. Rights that in fact they did not have, and which she persistently continued to ask for from the authorities. Until they got to consider her their enemy, and considered her dangerous, especially since she started inciting people to demand their rights including through riots.
“Now, whatever Şaguna’s reasons were, I found out that the students, otherwise said your colleagues from the homonymous high school considered it to be treason. Especially since Andrei Şaguna became a bishop only one year later. But he washed his sin becoming himself a defender of Romanians’ freedom. He was the one to send to Ferdinand the First of Austria, the one who preceded great emperor Franz Joseph, a petition signed at the Great Assembly of Blaj, in 1848, together with other important political men of the time, by which they requested the abolition of serfdom, printing press freedom and the establishment of educational institutions in Romanian. After Franz Joseph became the emperor of Austria and the king of Hungary, Bohemia and Croatia, great price of Transylvania and great prince of Serbia, and, trust me, the titles did not end here, but we would get to the end of our class until I would get to mention them all, Andrei Şaguna sent him a petition as well, with the same requests.
“But Şaguna did not stop at only sending petitions, he will do much more. So he got to lay the foundation stone for the Orthodox Gymnasium in Brașov, established in 1850 and which from 1992 bears his name, or to establish from his own money, again in 1850, the printing house in Sibiu. Starting then his work to help Romanians never stopped, and after he became Metropolitan he had even more power to complete his work. Şaguna established a few hundred primary schools and tens of denominational secondary schools, he founded in 1853 a publication in Romanian, Telegraful român, which still issues at Sibiu’s Archiepiscopate, and he supported the founding of The Transylvanian Association for Romanian People’s Literature and Culture (ASTRA), whose first president he was. In between 1898 and 1904, ASTRA published the first encyclopedia in Romanian, in three volumes, simply called The Romanian Encyclopedia. And since we are talking about firsts, don’t forget to visit every now and again, the first Romanian School. Take advantage of the fact that it is right here in Brașov!
“And finally, maybe you don’t know, but Şaguna was not even a Romanian but an Aromanian, his first name was Anastasie, Andrei was the name he got when he became a monk. The place of his birth is in North Hungary, at Miskolc. And, so that you get to know something that not many high school students know,” he concluded smiling accomplice, “it was there where László Gáldi was born as well. He was Eminescu’s translator to Hungarian, Eminescu’s and some other Romanian writers.”
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