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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October 30 will always remain in Ana’s memory, and in that of millions of people, Romanians or those close to them, as a cursed day. When Elena, her mother, called her on Saturday morning, Ana was still sleeping. She had returned home late at night, after and exhausting operation that was successfully completed.
“Hello, is something wrong?” was her first reaction.
“Yes,” her mother got to say and weeping stifled her voice.
“Mom,” cried Ana scared, “what’s wrong?”
“Didn’t you see the news?” Elena tried to clear her throat.
“No,” she answered.
A saving thought went through her mind: if she could see the news in Switzerland, meant that her father was all right. But, however, it meant that something very serious had occurred, a subject for international news. Therefore any sigh of relief provided by the first hypothesis was dashed by the second.
“There was a fire in Bucharest,” Elena got to say. “It’s a big tragedy!”
“Oh my God,” Ana quickly said. “Where? When?”
“In a bar or something, it was called Colectiv. O dear, Ana, a lot of young people died, they burned alive, and many are in a very serious condition.”
Ana didn’t know what to say. The impact was so strong, that she didn’t even realize how many thoughts, images were going through her mind. Already her mind had started medically analyzing the burned bodies, to find solutions. In the same split second, another thought occurred to her:
“Is there someone we know?” she barely dared asking.
“I don’t think so of what I know. I have asked that myself, I watched the news all morning, but I don’t think so.”
“Thank God,” said Ana. “Mom, let me call Amanda. Kisses! Hug dad as well. Take care of yourselves and be strong!”
Ana hang up and quickly started searching for Amanda’s number in her phonebook. She called. She got a busy tone. She called again. The same. She started typing a SMS. She didn’t get a chance to finish it when the phone rang.
“Hello, Amanda, are you alright?” Ana asked her impetuously.
“Yes, I am alright. You found out?”
Amanda tried to stay calm, although the tragedy had affected her a lot as well. She cried all morning, but now she had calmed down, after talking form almost half an hour with Ioan, who was in Vienna and who told her he will catch the first flight to go back home.
“I know you hate me, he told her, but I will come, I want to be close to right now, then you can hate me again afterwards…!”
“Yes, my mother called,” Ana answered.
“I cannot believe what just happened,” said Amanda.
“And yet, what happened?” Ana asked her as she had no clear idea.
“There was a fire at Colectiv Club, during a rock concert. It all started from the fireworks, but the insulation contributed as it wasn’t fireproof, on the contrary, it was highly flammable.”
Amanda couldn’t help herself and started crying slowly.
“It burned like gas. And people couldn’t do anything to save themselves. They stepped on one another, because there was only one exit. Twenty seven young people died,” said Amanda already sobbing, “but a few dozen are in a very serious condition. They’ve burned so much that they have no more skin, nor flesh…”
Amanda stopped. Again she could no longer speak because the cry was strangling her voice. Ana tried to calm her down.
“Wait a second,” Amanda suddenly said, “Maria is calling. I tried to get a hold of her all morning…”
And she hang up. Ana waited a lot for Amanda’s phone call, then she tried calling her herself, but only in the evening Amanda answered.
“I am in Bucharest,” she told her. “I couldn’t stay home anymore. I came to donate blood, to help however I can. But, she said after a break, it’s serious. It’s more serious than I imagined, more serious than you can see it at the news.”
She took a break. Ana encouraged her to tell her everything.
“Cezara, Maria’s girlfriend is also injured, but thank God, she only has medium burns, the doctors said she was lucky. Anyway, she is hospitalized.”
“Very well,” said Ana, “she is going to be alright!”
“The problem,” Amanda continued, “is that there aren’t only the burns, but also flue gas poisoning, a something monoxide, they said it on TV, but I could no longer stay home to watch. I had to come here…”
“Those who are in the most serious conditions are destroyed inside and outside. Now we are going to Colectiv, to pray and to light candles,” Amanda got to say before she hang up.
Ana had spent the day searching online and on the news details about the tragedy. Meanwhile she was answering the phone, a lot of friends were calling her to ensure their sympathy and solidarity. They were all saying that if there was something they could do to help, anything at all, she should ask.
Ana thought about collecting money to help the victims, and when she found the accounts already opened, she was the first to donate, then she wrote an e-mail to everybody, with the foreign currency bank account, leaving each one to decide about how to proceed next. She stood up late, reading updates, crying by herself. At one point she went out on the balcony, to get plenty of cool mountain air, like a balm to her soul’s wounds. She knew very well, like anyone who was ever burned that there was no other pain more intense and more lingering, but, above that, she knew, not like a burns’ specialist, but, however, like a doctor, how serious are the consequences of burns and that their healing is a real torture. She hoped, however, that this would occur for most of those who survived.
She then fell asleep again, with difficulty, and in the morning, the first thigh she did was to open her laptop to find out the state of things. Three days of national mourning had been announced, and in the evening a march in memory of the victims, in the capital and in major cities of the country. But unfortunately, the number of dead people grew, and the signals were not at all encouraging. The immune system of the victims was completely destroyed, and infections couldn’t be held under control.
She couldn’t get in touch with Amanda at all on Sunday. She hoped everything was alright with her, and that Cezara was going to be alright as well. Ana, who hadn’t prayed since forever, found comfort praying, and for the first time she was praying for Cezara and for all those who were suffering so much. She wasn’t sure who was the God she was praying to, maybe the universe, maybe faith, maybe to a divinity known only to her, but when she was saying “God, help them!” she felt her prayer was going somewhere, and that it was helping, that it wasn’t lost in vain.
Ana was happy to learn that many foreign specialists mobilized, some went to Bucharest, and others offered to receive the injured. It was obvious that hospitals in Romania couldn’t handle it, although she found out that there was a special, very well equipped with hyper-modern equipment, precisely for serious burns, but that it hadn’t yet been inaugurated. She couldn’t believe it, and she thought that it was probably erroneous news.
On Monday she went back to work, but her mind was in Romania. Colleagues were encouraging her, and Ana was crying thanking them. The solidarity they demonstrated impressed her to tears. The hospital manager came personally to present condolences, and asked her if she needed a break. She refused, saying that work was going to help her. As it had always done. She couldn’t help remembering the last time work, namely studying, helped her to overcome sufferance, probably the most intense in her life, when Mircea told her he was in love with another girl, that everything they shared was beautiful, but it was now over, and that he wishes her success in Switzerland.
When she got home in the evening, she found out that in Bucharest there were almost 25.000 people gathered in a meeting asking for the prime-minister and other public persons’ resignations, these were either directly or indirectly involved in the tragedy.
Her colleagues could not understand how a sole tragedy, like a fire in a club, could lead to a government collapse. It wasn’t easy for Ana to explain that this was only the tip of the iceberg, whose unseen part is a corrupt system, that has been working for a long time in Romania and which allowed for a club to function without real authorizations, without being fireproofed, without fire exits and so on. A system that allowed a minister whose demission was requested by the crowd to use official escort for its every driving, day after day, even for going to the market, if he so pleased, without being held accountable. A system in which the mayor of Bucharest where this club functioned declared, showing his lack of compassion for the victims, that everything was in order at that club. A system where each of those involved, from those preparing the documentation and the inspectors who sign them, to the owners who would rather pay bribes than spending more money to make things right, they are all guilty. And, Ana concluded, it is a system in which the image of the prime minister and that of the party he represents are synonymous to its specific corruption.
“Demonstrations actually show that people have come to the end of their tether, that they can’t take it anymore! And the fact that the government and mayor resigned, proves that people are right. We will see,” she added, “if things will change for the better in Romania from now on.”
Day after day, people around her minded their own business, and the pressure of those nightmare days started to fade. Ana was handling her sorrow alone when she would find out that yet another victim of the tragedy passed away, at the end of November the number of deceased got to sixty, but she was happy for each of those who were sent home because they had made it through.
Azade called her from the refugees’ camp to let her know she was thinking of her in those tragic moments.
“Thank you so much, my dear. As if it wouldn’t be enough that you have to stand the horrors of war,” said Ana, “now you have also taken on these sad news.”
“How are you holding up?” asked Azade, again thinking about others, not about herself.
“Increasingly better,” Ana answered, to spare her of her own sufferance.
“Take care of yourself, alright? You promise?”
“I promise, dear Azade. I would have liked it so much for you to be here in Switzerland, at least in Zürich, to be able to talk more often…”
“Soon, my dear, soon.”
Ana then called Amanda with whom she was now talking on a daily basis. Amanda kept her up to date concerning Cezara’s health.
“She is not good,” said Amanda in the last day of the month, a gloomy and cold day across Europe, “she is not good at all! I don’t understand what is happening,” she continued. “Although the burns were not serious, the doctors cannot control the infection. It’s getting worse. But because it wasn’t so serious to start with, which is good, it was decided that she doesn’t have to be moved to another country, like others, and this is not good for her. But, those poor people who got to the West, many of them didn’t survive…” she cried again. “Could you, somehow,” Amanda continued, “solve something for us to bring her to Switzerland? I don’t want to bother you with this problem, but if you could, she would get a chance. I am afraid that here… she will dye…”
“I don’t know,” Ana answered. “I cannot promise, but let me try. This much I can promise that I will do anything I can to bring her here.”
And indeed Ana did the impossible. She wouldn’t have succeeded without her colleagues’ help, who were there for her, including material support, because they learned that no one was going to pay for Cezara’s transportation and that they had to pay themselves. Amanda, simultaneously, organized a fundraising in Romania, and a week later Cezara was on a plane equipped with everything necessary, form a private hospital in Germany, transporting her to Switzerland, in maximum safe conditions. Ana and her colleagues were able to reserve a ward completely isolated and sterile where doctors entered only in sealed suits, looking like in science-fiction movies.
Amanda was happy that Ana succeeded to do all that. She couldn’t come as well, only Maria accompanied Cezara. Since she was injured, Maria had become her shadow. She was at the concert as well, but she had gotten out to take some air, because the overcrowding inside had made her feel sick. Not really like seasick, because she didn’t vomit then, when she went out for air, that was only later, when she assisted, as a helpless witness, at everything that was going on; when she saw coming out of the club the remains of what had previously been human beings, pieces of burned flesh, whose clothes had mixed with their blood and skin, screaming with pain, all trying to get into the ambulances that kept coming and that couldn’t help them all at once. She went as close as she could to the entry, she helped those falling to stand up and to walk towards the ambulances that continued to arrive, then she returned again, desperately looking for Cezara. She found her eventually, sitting on the curb, with her right side fuming, moaning from pain, but conscious, with her eyes lost on the entryway, thinking that she had lost Maria. She had completely forgotten that she had went out a few minutes earlier and that she herself was headed towards the exit when all Hell broke loose. She was lucky to be able to get out alive. When she saw Maria unharmed, she suddenly revived and wanted to jump to embrace her. She couldn’t, she only caused more harm to herself. Maria screamed for help, a crew arrived not long after and administered first aid, before getting her in an ambulance filled with injured people and sending her to the hospital. Maria walked to the subway, to get to the hospital, with the image of that chaos alive in her mind: everybody was coming or leaving, hazard warning lights and sirens were heard and seen everywhere, dozens of persons were spread on the ground, some had died in spasms, others agonized with open mouths looking for oxygen and the whole place looked and smelled like a war area after a napalm bomb.
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