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Streets and Dreams
prose [ ]

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by [Aritmosa ]

2005-03-14  |     | 

When I was almost three years old, my parents and I were living in Tecuci, a small town which had nothing special. I remember myself crossing the most circulated street, which was close to our house, to enter the park, a place where people came to meet in the cathedral and where during spring and summer the neat lanes were full of petunias giving the air such a pleasurable fragrance that was taking my breath away. My mother aged twenty three was desperate to hear that her child had crossed the street alone. It took her a few months to persuade me it was really dangerous to do it again. In the kitchen, I was listening carefully to what she was saying. Then I promised to submit, but the next moment she was busy I was going out and run to that garden again. I had become an expert in crossing the street. After I told my friends about my adventures, they started to come with me, which attracted the anger of their parents and made my mother keep other sessions of monologues in the kitchen.

My taste for discoveries improved and when I learned how to write and was initiated in geography, I made a list with all the countries and places that I wanted to visit one day. It was a real agenda. Now I am twenty one and a student in international economic relations. During the last three years I took a job to earn my own living and I could visit a part of the countries that were on my list and, to continue my dream, last year I applied for a scholarship to study economics in France and I was sure I would receive it without any problems. However, the things that we want do not happen exactly according to our wishes. I sent all the necessary application documents, the university sent me back the invitation and I went to the embassy. Here, the French lady speaking a shortcut Romanian said they need a fax to confirm the accommodation in order to give me the visa. I sent an e-mail to the university office for the international students, but the French man sent me back a long list of internet addresses in Paris, as if my home was going to be an electronic site. I looked through them, but all the offers were so expensive that I did not know what to do. I was disappointed. I could not afford to live there and I started to consider remaining in Bucharest and finding again a job.

By night I dreamt a big ajar old wooden door of a castle with a golden number seven on it. Beyond it the thick air was pitch-black. I did not open the door, but went on, hands in pockets and reached a promontory nearby. The more I was closing to the sea, the more I was losing my blouse and my trousers bit by bit, until my body was naked. My grandmother used to say that naked people in a dream attract danger and it is of bad omen to be dreamt without your clothes. I continued my wander and the more I was approaching to a tavern next to the beach, an invisible person was coating my body with the veils of a white dress. I sat down at a table where corpulent gypsies were chatting, drinking and listening to manele, that type of music that mingles oriental themes, Romanian folk music, gipsy colourful tones, and sentimental spicy verses. This music has crazy funs and fierce opponents, but it is an authentic expression of a cultural stage. The men wore big signet rings on their fingers and thick shining necklaces. The women dressed in large flowered skirts had long braids. Even if they seemed to smell curiously all the time, they had a sense of freedom on their lips full of dark rosy kisses. As a matter of fact, I do not like this kind of people, but in my dream I seemed to be their friend, because I ended telling them stories, cross-legged and hand on my cheek. I woke up and I saw a blue sun pushing up the lazy clouds. I was more and more convinced that I shall never go to France, but stay at home with my fellows.

After a few days I read a small advertisement in a well known newspaper. A national TV station was searching staff for two new shows imported from America. They offered all sorts of jobs, because they started everything almost from scratch. After the second interview I was accepted to work as a reporter assistant. I went home and my parents were bemused to hear it. They wanted me to work in a bank, to be close to those who make money. I wholeheartedly appreciate these people that offer you credit to buy a house, a car or to build up a business. But I have a more active nature, a sense of risk and I was already dreaming about how it would be when I am in the big hall of an emergency hospital full of wounded people, near a block of flats that exploded due to gas leakage or in a court room where a tough criminal is judged. While feeling like a pray to these fancies, I thought I was checking the strength of my nerves as an engineer checks the airplanes before a new flight.

The morning when the training was supposed to start I had a very beautiful dream. I was in my room. Everything was clean and the red velvet blanket was on the bed. The window was open and a warm air was coming inside. Suddenly a black-eyed man entered the room, took me in his arms and touched my lips with his lips so long and accurately that every piece of my body became light. He was from Cairo, I said to myself. I got up smiling and closed my eyes again concentrating on the features of his shadowy face. However, I could not manage to see who he was. I phoned Petre, but he was sulky and answered only yes and no. We decided to visit my aunt in the mountains during that weekend.

That day was Monday and at noon I went to the training. The American woman showed us a few video tapes with films from a successful reality show. One day before I told some friends about my plans to work in television and one of them, Silvia, said she wanted to come with me. The next day she was sitting next to me joyfully watching the films. In one scene everyone could see a burned man lying on a stretcher. As victim of an explosion, his face was almost white and he was trembling. He could hardly speak. Parts of skin were hanging from his wounded arms. His leg was also wounded and blood was leaking out of it. The camera was focusing on these extraordinary details. While the others were asking questions about the agreement with the Audio Visual National Commission for broadcasting this type of images, about the insured cameras that enter dangerous environments such as flames or water, about when the work was supposed to start, I whispered to Silvia, who was still excited and liked the images, that I go out to take a breath of fresh air because I am a little bit sick. In fact I felt I wanted to vomit. I went outside and, leaning against the wall of the gaunt building, I was searching my mind to find the thing that turned me down. And I found it. The leaking blood. The leaking. Blood. The essence of life. Losing it is an announcement of death. I went back and Silvia was like a statue with an ice sweet smile on her mouth. Or maybe of rebirth.

I met my sulky boyfriend when I took my first job as a marketing assistant and I had to keep contact with economic journalists. Petre was sitting and writing at a small table when I came into his office without previous call. His pen stopped in the air after drawing a three-dimensional invisible letter. No stranger had entered his office before and asked, Petre? Yes. I want to have a word with you. It took me half an hour to make him laugh. Eventually he smiled and I think it was worth the time spent with him then. However, his friends and colleagues appreciate him for his sense of togetherness whatever hardships may come up. Our first months were unforgettable. We met every two days and during the weekends. Our most preferable thing to do was to stay embraced and talk. The best part was when we were in contradiction. I did not agree with something, but he kept me tight. When he became nervous I did not let him go.

The following day I went to the library to prepare a piece of homework. I checked my e-mail. The French man asked me: “Que faiçon nous?” What are we doing? We? That was something meaning he needed me somehow. I wrote him about my problem and kindly asked him to help me find a place to stay in Paris and to send the confirmation to the embassy. Even in this situation, my hope of leaving to France was zero. Who was I to deserve such a kind treatment? So I went on with the TV training, learning more how to cope with wounds. Physical. Social. Inner.

I called Petre and told him about the e-mail. He became sulkier. That weekend he had to stay in the office. He was on duty so we could not go to my aunt’s house in the mountains. I promised I should come and stay with him the next day until the end of the week. I began to tell him a joke with two crows and a dove, but I could not finish because he was mewing like a tomcat. He used to do this when he felt me close to him. I wanted to continue, but he did not let me. I became nervous and he called me his little girrrl. I ended the call. He called me back with a private number. “Do you love me?” “You know, Petre, I was yesterday at the supermarket and…” “Do you?” “…and I entered a store, I don’t remember the name…” “Do you love me, little girl?” “And I saw a skirt. A very nice red skirt.” “Mew! Mew! Mew!” he continued humming ardently, childishly. “Tell me you come to take me today at eight.” “I love you!” “So do I.”

The rain was knocking at the window with every one of her perpetually emerging fingers. It was dark and I was looking for Petre as if I knew that some bastards locked him in an obscure room in a basement. The streets were moving like rivers and I was running on water thinking he might have drawn. I entered an old house, opening a heavy door, descended and opened another door. He was lying in a bed like mine as an Egyptian mummy. I could not see his face. The rain had stopped and I began to cry touching the red sheet covering him until I felt he moved smoothly. I could see through my tears that instead Petre, a green tortoise came out of the bloody clothes. I took him in my arms while he was moving his head slowly, tickling my cheeks and lips with his thin tongue. I woke up. The full moon was trying to break the windows. Petre’s breath was calm and his eyes ajar. I was afraid and felt alone. The stillness of the moment was dense and overwhelming. Only his pupils lit by the moon were moving like crickets. I took his arm, kissed it and put it on my breast. I fell asleep again.

The next day I met the reporter I was going to work with. Her name was Alina. Silvia and I were listening to her stories related to her experience of five years work in the field. That day was rainy and windy. I left with Silvia crossing on foot the immense industrial platform that separated the television headquarters from the metro station. As we were passing by huge grey warehouses, the surly weather was reflecting into their broken windows whose panes scarlet with greedy rust were sheltering the shades of huge dead lathes. As we were chatting like two town birds and the clouds were jumping from one ambiguous pool to another, the phone rang and my mother told me I had received the visa. I stopped walking while speaking. With her face lines Silvia was reproducing my twisted destiny, smiling and at the same time thinking she was to work without me. Anyway, I hugged her and promised each other to keep contact while I am in France. Reaching the metro station we separated and I began to think of Petre. Five months without each other for what? I felt like nothing, not even like a grey chewing gum spat by someone, stacked long ago on the floor.

I entered Petre’s office. He was out. There was nobody inside. I went back on the corridor, but no one passed. At the reception there was no secretary. Petre was not answering the phone. The trees at the window were trembling with cold fever like green skeletons foolishly denying the spring. I entered the café downstairs, but Gabi, the barman, knew nothing.

The next day I prepared for the journey. I was to stay in a hostel. I left by bus at two o’clock in the morning. That night I slept only one hour when I dreamt the same black-eyed man that I had dreamt a few days before. Now he was just smiling and his beautiful face seemed transparent. I woke up and Petre was lying next to me awake.

The bus was only half occupied. While it turned to enter the Victoria Avenue, Johnny Walker was burning red on the head of a building near the Senate. The traffic was low at that hour. The sitting slim black marbled statue of Maniu caressed by the empty branches of a magnolia-tree whispered to take care wherever I go. I fell asleep lying on the two seats that I could use. I was walking over the murky marsh of a thick forest. I was wearing a white transparent dress. My body was transparent too. Suddenly, a wolf, a hyena and a panther showed up from the bushes, stretching their necks to smell the pray I could have been. I did not know where I was walking to. The wolf noticed my confusion and went in front of me, turning back its head to see if I was following him. The other two beasts came along too and we walked together over the waters which were losing their incomprehensibility. I was afraid when I saw them at first, but they were transparent too. We reached a small island where a cherry-tree was spreading its thin boughs in the middle of a grove and a few birds were warbling saying that who eats its fruit becomes wiser and freer. The three animals were prowling around the tree, turning their heads toward me and I knew they wanted something, but I could not imagine what it was. The wolf stretched his front paw showing me the tree. I went and took some cherries. As I was sitting on a stone and eating them, the three animals drew near and ate from my hand. After that the wolf started to explain: “The tree is too high. It is possible to eat cherries only when a human being passes by this place.”

I woke up. We were on the Olt’s valley. In the foggy morning I ate some sandwiches and an apple. I called Petre and his sulky voice turning melodious made all my troubles vanish. I asked him if he had dreamt anything. No. He could not sleep. We talked as if we were in his kitchen. That morning he had been served the breakfast in bed. I laid my head against the window pane looking at the stone steeples of the mountains. In Sibiu, the bus stopped and everybody went to a sordid public toilet in a hotel. On the way other travellers joined us. In Sebes, a man in his fifties chose to sit on a seat behind me. Three boys from Craiova were chatting about football in front of my seat. A French language teacher sat in front of them. Some old people sat on the seats behind the driver. The man from Sebes came to Romania to see his father, the only relative he still had here. Now he was coming back to Rennes where his big family was living. He had four children, all married, and eight small grandchildren. The story of their movement to France began ten years ago when his elder son left for the first time to work there illegally. He quickly married a French kind-hearted girl and, as the time passed by, all his brothers and his parents went there and managed to build a house in a style based on the way the inhabitants of his native town used to. It was not yet finished, but his wish was to make it strong and beautiful in order to be proud to receive le maire and give him a glass of Transylvanian plum brandy. He was a butcher, had received French citizenship one year before and he was in a position to advise other Romanians regarding the life in France. As we were crossing the Hungarian puszta outstripping Szeged and the afternoon mild sky was passing from one window of a house to a window of another, the Oltenian boys became interested in our conversation and in this way I found that two of them were going to France for the fifth time. The first was working in constructions and the second in retail. These two wanted to become legal workers and were complaining about the French rigid laws. They were not influenced much by the French customs. They wanted to work a few years to earn money in order to afford a house and a car in their home town, Craiova. The third boy, who was a greenhorn, was joking telling he had a meeting with the president Chirac. A starry Austrian night was covering our bus like a velvet under the hand of a magician. The way was scattered with lit outdoor ads and red, blue and green company names were standing bright on the top of the huge buildings. In the sullen silence of the bus the darkness came down laughing with a mouth of an inverted new moon. The highway was full of immolating flashing lights.

The next day, the French teacher told me she was continuing her university studies to obtain the doctorate in French literature. She initiated me in the ins and outs of the new education system I was to enter. The old people sitting in the front half of the bus were going to their children to take care of their grandchildren while their parents were in the office. At the back of the bus, an engineer was discussing international politics with a sales agent. They were sent by their bosses to the French mother companies to attend periodical training courses. The engineer tried to turn on the TV set and insert a video cassette, but it was out of order. A middle aged woman visiting her daughter in Lyon put an audio cassette with manele that annoyed the minority of intellectuals with its facile and sometimes vulgar verses. However, the Oltenian boys, the butcher and most of the travellers enjoyed the music. Only the engineer had the courage to change it with Stevie Wonder, which proved to be also on the Oltenian boys’ taste. We stopped in Luxemburg, where tens of huge trucks and buses were waiting for fuelling. One of the Oltenian boys had bought a cheep porno magazine from a supermarket, looked through it for five minutes in the bus together with the other two and, when the butcher finished eating, he asked for it to skim it a while too.

When the bus arrived in Paris, Alex, a painter I know, was there with his girlfriend, Adi. They helped me reach the place where I had received accommodation. After I promised Alex to go and see his painting exposition, they left and I sat down on the edge of my bed, I ate the last sandwiches, took a shower and laid down to sleep, tired with the long journey. Empty shadows of the early spring trees were swinging and telling a history projected on the wall by the street lighters. Petre was lying next to me under the new fresh washed sheets. My hand was heavy on his stiff chest. He said he wanted to comb my curly long hair. I got off the bed and brought my green Organics comb. I draw near him again, he began to comb me excited, as if it were for the first time. He was moving his right hand up and down, lying on the bed and I could see the shadow of his hand crossing gently the blue curtain of the room.

That evening I started to feel the distance. At midnight, I made a list with all the things that I had to do the following week, calculated and recalculated the expenses of the first week. In the morning, when it was still dark, I woke up suddenly. I had dreamt my grandfather, who died five months before, asking me to cover him with a blanket. I did not feel afraid when I drew near him. I touched his icy body, covered him, sat down in an armchair next to him and started to read aloud a piece of news from his favourite newspaper. I could not sleep after that. I got up and started pottering about in the room. The other bed was empty. Before leaving the building to go to the university, I stopped in the main hall where two boys with coffee skin were using the two computers. A preconceived violence was floating in the air. I waited until one boy left and sent Petre three free short messages on his mobile phone that he had with him in the hospital. There I met a Romanian student from Timisoara who came to Paris since October one year before. We had the same way and I found we attend similar courses. She initiated me in the student life speaking with such a self-assurance that shattered any trace of confusion that I had in my mind. Soon I learned she was one of the most adroit students among the Romanians living in the hostel. She came not only to study one year, but also to make money to continue her studies after the scholarship was over. Adina had had already four jobs in Paris. At first she worked on the black market, because she could not find anything to work legally and since three months, she had entered a market research company and had a part-time job.

When I came back to the hostel, a piece of luggage and a black violin bag were near the other bed, but no person inside. I prepared a soup and some potatoes with green olives and, at the end of my dinner, Vanessa entered the room with her white smile and dark braids. My heart sunk into my stomach, fascinated by this apparition. We made friends easily because she was talkative and obliging. Almost fifteen years before she had come with her parents to France from the Ivory Coast and established in Marseille. She had been studying violin since she was five and had already given a number of concerts. She warned me joking that she’ll rehearse a lot and we agreed on the timetable. We talked for two hours and at six o’clock she left having a date. I sat down again on the edge of my bed. I could number on my fingers the black people that I knew in Romania: a TV English news presenter, a man who is a TV show presenter, a singer, a woman living in the neighbourhood, a secretary Petre met when he worked with a French company, a public relations officer working at the British Council. I had scarcely spoken with some of them. And all of a sudden I had a room mate to tell me more about the African names dormant in my childhood agenda. I was happy to discover a new limit in my mind, another street to cross. I called Petre to tell him about this new situation. Late in the evening when I was in bed, she came back, took a shower and went to bed too. They had seen a movie and went to a restaurant afterwards. Before closing my eyes I thought about the administrative men and women working in the hostel. They were nice, calm, and knew very well the stages a foreigner has to pass to receive a decent status. The chaotic web specific to huge cosmopolitan cities revealed to me as being toughly controlled by a well developed system of knowledge economy and social tolerance.

I fell asleep with the branches swinging on the wall. Petre was laying speechless next to me with a perfusion in his left hand and a bandage like a crown around his head. Do you remember when we ate on the beach at 2 Mai? Then you said we have sand shoes. Tudor had invited me to come with him to spend a few days lying in the sun. And you came along with him not even knowing I was going to be there. You came with your former colleague, Andra. Do you remember? It was only a moment after lunch… All of us drinking at the table. Tudor had put his left arm around my shoulders and your eyes filled with childish terror. You took a sip, closing your eyelids and began to tell something about a cat. Do you remember? Andra was not listening to you; she was more attracted by the gipsy colour of Tudor’s left arm. They were talking, when you… or me…I don’t remember who. I put my palm on Petre’s sedated face like a barren soil. Not a muscle moving. I kissed him and clung to him tighter. Tighter than the armour of gyps was covering his chest and hips.

The next day at noon I met Vanessa and went to have lunch. Afterwards we went to walk along the Seine. Some of the shop windows were dead with golden frames and stuffed with adorned clocks killing time, while on the sidewalk a row of paired children were headed by their teacher towards the doors of an art museum. A little boy was twittering with his lips made of plumy earth, asking her blonde, blue-eyed mother where the clouds are going to. We sat down at the table in an open-air terrace. All of a sudden, she asked me about my boyfriend. I had not told her anything before. I dropped some coffee on my little plate and stammered trying to say something. When she looked aside, I started to tell: “Petre had an awful accident. The same day I learned I could come here, his car was thrown into a tree by a road hog driving a jeep. His face, chest and belly were deeply wounded. Now he is in the hospital and I feel so guilty for being here and not there to take care of him. He was the one who did not accept not to come here. Immediately after the accident he could not speak and he used a pen to tell me what he wanted. Now he is able to speak, but gets tired quickly. He may be able to walk only in a few months… We talk on the phone every day.” I could hardly swallow, yet Vanessa seemed not to be impressed at all. A thin diffuse spot of light like a silk veil was shining on her forehead, cheeks, round mouth and chin. She turned her elegant profile like a brown coconut to take a sip and ask me questions about his health status. Her eyes like two holes of a gun made me feel something was wrong with her, but I did not trigger any question. We went to the university again and met at home in the evening. While she was roasting the meat and I was peeling potatoes, she turned her milky eyes and told that I am still lucky to be loved, even by someone who is not physically close to me. She went on saying that her first lover was killed by her father in Marseille because he found out that Alain belonged to a group of smugglers dealing with drugs and he did not wanted his girl to have to do with such people. That was why she left home leaving behind her family, her friends and all her childhood emigration memories.

We ate. Later in the evening, Adina came in to see how I was getting along with my new room-mate and invited us to a small party in the first floor living room. I drank a soft beer and instead of relaxing my nerves, it went directly into my liver like a beak tearing it bit by bit all night long that I could not sleep much. Only in the morning I dreamt again the bourgeoning cherry-tree. I was picking up cherries and gave them all to Petre.

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