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￭ (in the doorway)
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2014-02-12 | |
“Childhood ends when you realize that you are to die some day”
They say that the Earth, the planet we lead our lives on, as cognition-endowed beings, unique in the universe – at least according to the knowledge that is available by now – exists - once physically, actually, in its natural singularity and billion times virtually, as it is reflected in every inhabitant’s mind.
It is the same for the human being. We exist - once for ourselves and many more times in the ways we are perceived by those living beside us, for a longer or shorter time.
Each of us has unique moments in their mind, starting with their oldest memories. If the planet may not create its own image of itself, for the human – even though this image does not start at the beginning of life and even though it is not the most realistic – it is for sure the most comprehensive. Our own image of ourselves is important from the perspective of the permanently initial condition of the moment we live in, for the upcoming life. This own image creates the possibility – according to the Romanian saying – of “learning from mistakes”, but it is not necessary to learn from our own ones, if possible.
Alexandru very clearly remembered his first memory, and it was about work.
Though his family used to talk a lot about the naughty experiences he had had during his childhood – for example once, while going to sing carols with his elder brother - Ionel - Alexandru put his hair on fire, and got it burnt to the skin, or some other time he fell into a hot boiler, and got a big part of his body scalded – he could not remember any of those.
For him, the oldest clear memory, although it has no relevance, is the day when – at the age of about six – he carried water into a demijohn. His folks were at the field work on one of the hills near the village. Feeling tired, he stopped for a few moments to have some rest and, just then, he heard his father’s harsh voice:
– What are you doing over there, sleeping?
This was his oldest memory that often came to his mind.
Maybe it had something to do with the climate in the family, where everything focused on work. The children have started their every day animal raising and ground cultivation work, since they were very young, and those have been the only activities on which a five-child family had had to live. All the three girls - Maria, Nina, Viorica - and Alexandru, used to work. Ionel, his only brother, suffering from polio, used to guard the house and courtyard.
He hadn’t started school yet, and already went to hard works for a child of such young age. He led horses by the bridle to plow or butting plow the land and, very many times, when the horse suddenly lifted its head, it lifted him up, too. He carried pieces of wood from the forest, cleaned the stables, which work he continued after he started school, too, as learning was considered a must “in between” the other activities.
There was a real hierarchy of the children’s work, from guarding the animals grazing in the forest or on the grazing ground - which was the easiest job - up to fruit harvest and other works on the field. That toil was to be done even when the children grew up.
As students in university, they used to work at home, during holiday. Covered by scars and marks from the horse bites, blows from cows, cuttings from hoes, they tried, as much as possible, to hide those wounds from the eyes of their colleagues.
For Alexandru, work was not a big issue. Although those works took a lot of his time, he was able to get very good results at school. Starting from the first grade, he was permanently one of the first in class, he usually was quite the first, making himself distinguished, especially at those subjects where a good thinking was more appreciated than memory storage.
It was not until he started school that he was able to have a picture about society, generally speaking, or he knew what happened in the village, also due to the fact that their father did not allow them to get out of their yard and play with the other children.
At school he began to understand something about life, that there are differences in wealth or in behaviour among people. He saw how other children had a sandwich to eat during the breaks or they could afford to go to the shop that was next to school, for buying a cake, which he was able to do once, only, when he found two lei in the grass, while guarding the grazing cows.
But he was not bothered by that, as he accepted everything quite easily.
Actually, the real problem of the family was the continuous tension created by his father - a jealous, drunkard and violent man.
Maybe his elder brother and sisters had known their father when he had been different from now, but Alexandru knew him only like this, pressing a real terror on everybody, even on the animals in the yard.
Nobody slept until father had reached home, because if he was drunk they risked being beaten while sleeping. Their mother had to wait for him with clothes on, because if he wasn’t drunk he demanded that she got out into the yard, as soon as he arrived, and if he was drunk, she could not sleep at home that night, either. Actually, there were two possibilities: either he calmed down at last and mother sneaked into another room or in the attic, later on, or he did not and then mother risked being beaten for saving the children – which meant that all them had to go to grandma, no matter the weather, and mother had to hold Ionel, the sick child in her arms.
Here, Alexandru became jealous on the other children who had a normal family life, and who could have a normal childhood, with their normal problems and joys.
Mother was their only moral and, very many times, even material support. Having her beside, they were happy, made jokes, played, they were normal children, which did not really happen when father was nearby. He could not be friendly when he was not drunk, either.
While talking, when father was not present, somehow, he could not remember how, they had reached the philosophic problem about life and death.
A long time after that, Alexandru kept being concerned about the idea that his mother was to die one day, too. He kept staying around her, waiting for the right moment to ask her a question about his concern.
– Mother…, is it true that all people die?
– What a question to ask! Go and play and leave me alone.
– Mother, please tell me.
– This is not a question for you.
– I will not leave without your answering me.
– Well, they do.
– And you?
– Me, too.
– And whom will you leave us with?
– Eh, relax, this is not to happen right now.
– But... when?
– Nobody knows when they die.
– But when…, after many years?
– Yes, after very many years.
– How many?
– A lot, I don’t know exactly.
As the child kept insisting, and because she had made the mistake to talk to him about it, mother answered him, to end the conversation:
– Twenty years from now.
For him, the answer sounded like a sentence. He kept thinking that time went by fast and the twenty years were to be over soon.
Perhaps if the answer had been one hundred years, the result would have been the same. It was not the number of years that mattered, but the dispelling of an intimate conviction that, the dearest, especially mother, never die.
After almost forty years, when mother got cancer, when Alexandru came back home from hospital, he felt like crying. He remembered that conversation he and his mother had had long ago. Happily, a very good doctor got her operated, and that was a success. They overcame that difficult moment. Mother had such a good mood that they were blessed to be in her company. Even when she was put in hospital, she showed such a calm and serene attitude, which was contagious for her hospital neighbours.
When a new school year was over and he took the prize – as usual – his joy was tempered by the idea that another year of the twenty, predicted by his mother, had gone.
So, many years passed with no special events in Alexandru’s family. At a certain moment, something new happened, that was to relax the family climate a little bit, either by the simple fact that it distracted them from the other things or because it kept his old father busy. A television set was brought in the family.
We must show that - except the terror climate that his father generated in the family - he was a good householder, as he had built a big house, several stables, storehouses and other necessary extensions near their house, and he was one of the most hardworking people of the village.
He had an inner tendency to carry out the things he had to do. Whenever he attended a collective activity, he was behind the others, made comments on the others’ work, but his work was definitely much better than the others’. He was slow, but he did a good job.
One of the current jobs of the family was to carry wood from the forest, for sale. Alexandru used to join his father to the forest, to take wood, since he was very young, and he was pretty proud of being the only one in family who did such a manly work. Once he was run over his belly by the cart, but this had no consequences, and he was well. He was accepted to carry the wood from the forest to the cart, or in certain zones which were steeper, where the horses were not able to draw the full cart, but he was never allowed to load the cart, by his father. Actually, the loading was a ceremony which only his father enjoyed. Each piece of wood was turned around a few times, until he could find a good position for it, although it was a temporary loading, as the wood was to be downloaded at home, or even before getting home, on a hill coast which the horses were not able to climb drawing the full cart. Once, Alexandru, who attended the ritual, tried to place a piece of wood into the cart. His father took it, turned it, rotated it and finally, placed it on the same position as Alexandru had done. The latter couldn’t help commenting on the uselessness of the so many moves made by his father. For that attitude, Alexandru would have been beaten, if he had been captured. But he was not, as he had been faster than his old father.
Later on, he realized that he himself had inherited that feature from his father, even though he had not appreciated it very much at the beginning.
His family was one of the first to benefit from electricity, or to buy a radio set and a television set. The television set was bought on a day when they celebrated Virgin Mary and buying it was a great joy for the children. On that holiday, a fair was organized at Hulubeşti - a village in their vicinity. On his way back home from Găieşti, his father stopped at the fair, bought the television set and brought it home. He was completely drunk, so that everybody was surprised that he had been able to bring the television set home, in good condition.
A lot of problems occurred at the same time with the new television set – it was clear that none of the other jobs could have been given up in favour of watching TV.
School meant very much for Alexandru. It opened new horizons for him and distracted him from the heavy climate in the house.
Since he was young, he had begun to understand that a divine justice exists. One day, all the boys in his class were in the schoolyard, playing football, except for Costică - the son of Gică the forest ranger, who came from a richer family - the only one who boasted with having a new school uniform. Being angry for having not been taken in either of the two football teams that the children had made instantly up during the break, he was angrily patrolling near one of the two temporary goals, showing a visible intention of revenge. He did not have to wait long. He caught the ball that had been passed by a classmate, and headed - in a great speed - towards a deep ditch, that was near the school toilet, which had been recently discharged.
A troublesome acacia root completely changed the result of his attempt. Tripping over, he made a spectacular plunge - while holding the ball - into the mess that had been discharged from the toilet. After he was able to get out of the dirty pool - by means of the ball that he used as a life saver - in the unstoppable laughter of the boys, he headed towards the teachers’ room, being covered in dirt, from head to foot, leaving behind smelly tracks to the great despair of the school master, who was trying to keep him at distance.
In Alexandru’s opinion, that was a sort of divine justice. And since he was very young, he has begun understanding that justice on Earth exists, too, for example certain classmates were favoured by their school master - in exchange of some benefits, and a major advantage for those hard times was getting a ration book for bread. In that God forgotten village, the ration books for bread were made available for the working class, only.
Alexandru started to become more and more appreciated in class, as he was a quick-learning and hardworking child. He badly wished he had had a pair of Chinese sneakers, which were in great demand at the time, among children of his age. After many years of waiting, his wish finally came true.
On one of the days when father was in a good mood, he grouchily told Alexandu:
– Hey, you, take this money and go and buy those sneakers. But make sure you have been given the change and bring it back to me.
He had to go to Hulubeşti, which was a few kilometres away. That was where he had seen the sneakers, in a shop window.
He got ready for the second day. He was to ride the bike. He had learned to ride it, but used to ride it somehow reticently – firstly, because he was afraid that he might scratch it - which would have meant that he would not be allowed to use it anymore - and secondly, because he was afraid of the militiaman of the village, who, whenever he saw Alexandru, threatened him with a fine, as he was under fourteen. The militiaman was quite angry with Alexandru, as the latter studied better than the former’s son at school. All the way he had been thinking that somebody else might have bought the sneakers, which would have been a disaster. But nobody had bought them. They were still there. He was also given the change of eight lei. He could have bought something else for that eight lei, but did not dare to. He put it into his pocket, hung the bag with the sneakers on the handle of the bike, and went back home.
He was delighted. He especially liked that the sneakers were Chinese and their soles were not to head off from the shoes. Besides, they had two air holes inside the soles, and were neatly punched.
When he got home, his joy suddenly died: while riding the bike, he lost the eight lei which he had had into his pocket. He was never able to persuade his father that he had lost but not spent it. A real scandal happened for that money. The old father never trusted anybody’s word; he could never be good from the beginning to the end, not even when he had the intention to, maybe.
During his first sport lesson, he was very proud of his acquisition. It was as if his sport results had suddenly improved.
Before he bought his sneakers, when he had played football barefoot, he had tried to protect his feet whenever he had had a harder contact with any of his classmates. After that, being protected by his sneakers, he didn’t care, as he had the feeling that nothing bad might happen.
One day, they continued playing the football game after the sport lesson, as well. During a normal play move, his classmate - the militiaman’s son – who had on some heavy boots, hit Alexandru under his left ankle.
He was not worried about the bruise which had occurred under the ankle, but about the sneaker condition, which he tried to make as less visible as possible, so that he might not have problems at home.
Despite that incident, he continued playing football, on that very day. At home, nothing could be seen during the first days. But it had begun to hurt. At the beginning, the pains were slight, so he told about it only to the other children, with whom he went to the field, for the cows grazing. Each of them came with an idea. Some said that it was good to hold the hurt foot in cold water. Others said that he had better hold it in hot water. He could not hide it from his parents, as he had started limping visibly. He told his mother about it. She tried to find a way so that she might not send him to the field for a while, until his pain would stop, and she did it for a few days, by changing jobs with his elder sisters.
One day, his father had come back from the field and was getting the cart ready for going to the forest, to take wood.
– Come on, what are you waiting for? Put on your shoes and clothes, because we are going to take wood.
– Where should he go to take wood? Can’t you see that he is ill? Leave the child at home, his mother intervened.
– Stay away from this; this is none of your business. Let him work. He will survive. Don’t teach children be lazy from a young age. He loves going to take wood.
A quarrel followed, but Alexandru stayed home. He was sorry that because of him a scandal arose, but he was not able to walk, and the pains had become unbearable. After some time, he started crying.
When his father came back home from the forest, the climate had become strained. All the family were around Alexandru who was crying, as he could not bear the pains anymore.
– You, stupid woman, go and find a woman, mother of twins, to step the child on his foot, as it is to be good for him, said father, who always knew everything.
His poor mother went to find a woman in the village. Naturally, that woman’s stepping over Alexandru’s foot had no effect, and neither did the treatment applied by the horse doctor in the village, who came the next day and filled him with medicine against stomach aches.
Finally, he had to go to the hospital in Găieşti, for a few days, as everybody thought so. He was never to come back in his native village. He spent the following almost nine years in hospitals, and went through eight surgeries. Then, his life affairs kept him away from his native village.
He liked animals, plants. He liked the forest. He liked flowers, fruit. He took them with himself, in his heart, wherever the destiny took him, as his heart was always back in the native village.
“If I hadn’t had gone to jail, all my life I would have been just a dandy”
LORD, SPARE US FROM WORSE!
Most people are tempted to classify things so that some might only be positive and others only negative. I for one, do not agree with this principle and believe that in any thing that has apparently been negative, there may be some positive aspects, as well as - in a given context - a series of positive things show their negative aspects, too, throughout the time.
We know a lot of people who made exceptional careers in their lives - in a field or another - and the germs of the respective activities appeared - under completely unfavourably conditions - as war, material shortages, difficult moments caused by the loss of some close persons etc.
I remember an incident that happened about ten years ago, during a time of great economic, and not only, shortages. All the buses in the villages near Bucharest had been cancelled. I was coming with my wife from the countryside and we had to walk - bags in hands – over five kilometres to Buftea, where we had to change buses and trams. My wife was muttering, like all women:
– Others own cars and travel like gentry.
– Forget about it, mommy, this is not that bad. God, spare us from worse!
– What the hell can be worse than walking over five kilometres and carrying bags in both hands?
After a few minutes, it started raining.
– Can you see that it may be worse?
She did not answer. Taking all bags in a single hand, she tried to hold an umbrella with the other.
Later, I was to find out that the buses were cancelled “on the request of the working people” for providing the necessary work power in the Agricultural Production Cooperatives. Many of the exaggerations that happened during those times were, at first, applied and then, we found out that they had been requested by a group of “working people”.
For Alexandru, we may say that his departure to hospital was the end of a childhood which could be called anything but childhood, anyway. That departure meant the beginning of a new stage in his life, a long and difficult one. It was a stage when, compared to the previous one, a sort of pains was replaced by another sort of pains, which - this time - were caused by his disease. We cannot say that the psychological suffering completely disappeared, as any physical disease carries a psychological component related to the uncertainty of the future and the loneliness phenomenon. The void which occurred in his life - by getting rid of the works in the countryside - was filled by the school activities and reading. Throughout this time, the school and hospital were institutions that were vital for him.
Alexandru arrived at the hospital in Găieşti on a Monday, and he was thinking he would come back home the same day. He could hardly accept in himself – as it was not up to him, anyway – the idea that he would have to stay there until Wednesday. It was for the first time that he was in a hospital. He had overheard little from his brother - who often went for one or three months, to different sanatoria for being given the necessary treatment against polio.
The hospital in Găieşti also had a disease – it was the one that almost all hospitals in the localities outside Bucharest suffered from: commuting. Almost all doctors commuted and they paid more attention to the train timetable than to patients.
Under these circumstances, a doctor who was in a great hurry applied plaster with no cotton, or with too little cotton, over Alexandru’s ankle. Within a couple of days, all the foot part under the plaster was blue, and the pains were unbearable. The same doctor removed the plaster a few days later and made more incisions in the infected part, from where the purulence sprang on a distance of a couple of metres.
He was supported by a nice old man of eighty, who had been put in hospital for a ventral rupture surgery. The old man had made a big fuss around – he had been scheduled twice for the surgery, and each time he had refused accepting it, as there was a holiday. Finally, he chose a day when it was a holiday that was not so important, and he got the surgery, was healed and left home, in good condition, to the regret of all people in the ward.
The old man and a forest ranger - hospitalized after a terrible aggression from the gipsies whom he had caught red-handed, while they were stealing wood from the forest – were the information office of the surgery department. They found out and knew everything and further shared their pieces of news with the others.
A couple of weeks later, the forest ranger asked Alexandru’s mother:
– Are you the mother of the boy who is in ward number two, who has an injured ankle?
– I am.
– You, woman, do something and take your child away from here, as these people intend to get his foot amputated. I overheard it from them, while they were talking in the treatment room; they say that they want to amputate it, as it got gangrened.
Suddenly mother got tears in her eyes, and couldn’t follow the forest ranger’s words, who kept on talking. That idea stuck on her mind, and left the hospital being determined to do something.
When she got home, father was drunk, in the village bar. She usually did not take the risk of going inside after him, in such circumstances, as she risked being aggressed in public. But that time, she was too full of sorrow, of what she had found out at the hospital, and of resentment against her husband’s carelessness about the family’s problems. She went after him, inside the village bar.
– You, wretched man! You are sitting and drinking here, and your child is to have his foot amputated!
The man did not have a violent reaction. He realized that it was serious and, though he was drunk, he went home without making too much scandal. He went to Piteşti, to Maria, the eldest daughter, who was attending a nurse school, and had a very good orthopaedic doctor, Paul Popescu, as a teacher.
He advised mother to find a way to bring Alexandru to the hospital in Piteşti, where he had more chances to get healed. That was not simple. The doctors in Găieşti did not consent to his leaving the hospital. They were aware of their guilt and had no intention to let it made known outside the hospital.
This time, his father’s rough character saved the boy. Father had the intention of taking Alexandru away from hospital, with no personal papers or permission from doctors, on a visiting day, when access in hospital was allowed and he did it!
Having reached Piteşti, the boy was hospitalized in the orthopaedics department, which was managed by Doctor Paul Popescu. From the very beginning, he explained that the disease was serious, but after a very long time, the foot was going to be saved.
Alexandru started a general pre-op treatment, as usual before surgery, which - in the doctor’s opinion - was to roughly solve the problem. But it wasn’t meant to be. The disease proved more serious.
The operation was carried out little before Christmas and Alexandru, who was still optimistic, thought that he would go back home after the New Year’s Day.
Between Christmas and the New Year’s Day he started complaining of great pains, the same like those he had had at the beginning, when he had no plaster on his foot. That was interesting, but the doctor – who daily monitored the post-op evolution – was optimistic and said that the operation had succeeded. And it did, except that a new infection had appeared on the other side of the foot, which the doctor could not see through the little opening made in the plaster, around the operation place.
The unbearable pains made that, on the New Year’s Day, doctor Paul Dorian – a new-comer in the hospital, who was on duty that day – more thoroughly analyzed the case and decided the removal of the plaster. Seeing the infection on the other side, he decided, on the spot, that a second surgery had to be done. But, it was a holiday, most of the hospital employees had a day-off, the operation room and pharmacy were locked.
The doctor decided that something had to be done. He made up, on the spot, an operation table in the treatment room and, helped by the operation room nurse on duty, started the pre-op. They found the necessary instruments in the treatment room, and some general antibiotics. They could not find anaesthetics and, to Alexandru’s despair, they made the surgery with no anaesthetics, and he was given some towels to bite and squeeze.
So great had been the previous pains, that after they made the incision in the purulence pocket, the pains ceased. The doctor’s and nurse’s moving the scalpel, scissors or tweezers around the open wound could hardly bother him. Right after the surgery, Alexandru fell into a deep sleep of 24 hours.
However, life in hospital had its little fun moments, which made him forget about his problems.
One day, two prisoners were brought in Alexandru’s ward, one with his both legs, and the second with his both arms fractured, and they were permanently watched by prison guards, who had been transferred from jail to hospital for that purpose. One of the convicts had been imprisoned for having attacked the ambulance of that hospital itself. The two had had an accident on a building ground in town; while up on the scaffolding, they had tried to give each other a massage by stepping on each other’s back. At a certain moment, the scaffolding broke and they fell down altogether, from the third floor. The men were taken to hospital by the same ambulance which one of them had attacked before.
The two were helped by the children in the ward, with little things – that were absolutely necessary in the given situation - but this caused a lot of inconvenience to the inmates. The children’s natural tendency to play games, associated with the prisoners’ inability to punish them – due to their fractured arms and legs – made the two mad.
Dorel - a boy with his both shoulders dislocated, further to an attempt of a horse doctor to provide him with artificial breath, after he had got poisoned with rats poison – was the strongest child in the ward, and he was the most inclined to play tricks on the prisoners.
– Hey you, kid! Ion – the one who had his arms fractured - shouted at Dorel, a little after his arrival. His arms were “united” by a medical corset, which actually got him dressed in plaster from waist up, except for his head.
– Do you know what bothers me most?
– I don’t, pop.
– I can’t smoke anymore.
– And, what can I do for you, pop?
– Well, you could find a cigarette for me, as I don’t know where I have left mine since I got injured in that accident.
Later, both men realized the most difficult was not finding a cigarette, but the smoking itself, as Ion was not able to use his hands either for lighting or for smoking it. Dorel “was hired” to make the necessary moves in order to help Ion smoke. In the meantime, a lot of crazy ideas crossed Dorel’s mind and each time he lit a cigarette for Ion, he came so close with the lit match to the latter’s face, so that after a while, only a small part of his brushy moustache remained safe.
At the end of the year, as it usually happened in those times, politicians issued amnesties, and the two prisoners were discharged. The only change that occurred was that the prison guards who had secured the two left the hospital. For the two it was even worse, there was nobody to go shopping for them anymore.
The two stayed on in hospital to serve their sentences given by God, as Ceauşescu had spared them.
After a while, another change took place in their ward. Dorel was replaced by his father who, while coming to take his child back home, fell down the hospital stairs and broke one of his legs. That was destiny!
Doctor Paul Dorian - who became friends with Alexandru after having got him operated on New Year’s Day – had come from a bone disease sanatorium, from Neptun. He was kind, gentle, and empathetic. He knew that Alexandru’s disease was to take a long time to treat, and the school issue arose. At Piteşti Alexandru would not be able to attend school while receiving treatment in hospital, so the doctor thought that after Alexandru’s disease stabilization, he’d better be transferred to a sanatorium at the seaside, as he had the possibility of attending school there. Finally, they did it! Alexandru was transferred to a bone disease sanatorium in Mangalia where, while being given his treatment, he was attending school, and he stayed for almost eight years there, with little interruption.
At his arrival at the sanatorium in Mangalia – according to the procedure followed for each child checking in a collectivity – he was sent to a special sequestration area, for three weeks. Unfortunately, one day before the three weeks expired, a boy who had measles arrived. According to the rules, the incident led to the extension of Alexandru’s stay in the sequestration area until all the children in collectivity - who had not had the disease before – had it. This is how he lost the second school term, after he had lost the first one in Piteşti, and was in great danger of missing the school year, which was the seventh class.
After he moved in the ward for the children of his age, where treatment and school were done at the same time, an incident helped him not to miss that school year.
During an anatomy lesson, the teacher asked a question which no student in class was able to answer. Alexandru, who could answer - as he had the necessary books with him, read and studied all that time – raised his hand, but he put it down at once, realizing that he hadn’t been registered to attend school for that school year. The teacher noticed him and asked him to answer, anyway. Being satisfied with his answer, the teacher, Mrs. Elena Câşlaru - who was about to retire - insisted on his problem in front of the decision makers in education and got the necessary approvals so that Alexandru could catch up with the subjects during the third school term, taking all the earlier tests and those he had to take during the third school term at the same time with his classmates.
Alexandru got an exceptional result, not only that he caught up with all the school subjects but he also took the first prize, as he would do during all the school years at Mangalia, as well.
That result helped his mood, which also had positive effects on his condition.
After that success, his relationship with teacher Câşlaru got very close, until he graduated from high school when - still in sanatorium - Alexandru took the admission exam and was admitted at the Electrotechnical Faculty in Bucharest. Teacher Câşlaru – who, in the meantime, had retired – got mad when she found it out. She took it as a personal offence. Throughout her teaching career she had insisted that cancer nuclei development was favoured by the presence of the electromagnetic fields and those who worked in that field were permanently endangered. She had a native tendency to exaggeration, to the combination of some possible incidents, so that the result was always a catastrophe. She was very demanding with her students when it came to discipline, but when it came about marks, she was pretty generous. She demanded that when she entered the classroom, the students should be at their desks, in perfect silence and order. During one break, two boys, Mitică Staicu and Cristi Petrescu were fighting with pillows, as the classroom was a hospital ward. Cristi’s bed was right near the door, and Mitică’s was at the end of the ward. Teacher Câşlaru was about to come in, and Cristi’s pillow was with Mitică, who thought to himself: “If I take the pillow to Cristi, when the teacher comes, I will be walking to him, and I will be seriously punished. I’d better throw it to him, and get rid of it sooner.”
On that very moment the teacher came in, and the pillow was about to fall on her head.
– What are you doing, Staicule? Why do you throw pillows at us? Today, you are throwing a pillow, and tomorrow you are going to throw a knife, Staicule, and if it hits somebody, you will be a murderer, Staicule!
Mitică was changing faces.
– I kindly ask you, Staicule, to stay away from me, spare my nerves, and I promise that you’ll be given only marks of ten.
Mitică would have never dreamed of such a happy end. So, he left the class, right beginning with that lesson. He did not come to the next lesson, and then to the following, either. He misunderstood the meaning of his teacher’s message about her nerves, up to a certain day, when during the lesson that he was absent from, he was surprised playing ping-pong in the next classroom and the teacher started again the storm of reproofs over him. Luckily for him, he got healed and left the sanatorium!
After more than two years spent in hospitals, Alexandru got better and left for home, on holiday, for a couple of weeks. He could see the field, heavy fruit trees, wheat and maize fields again, as if such sights had completely disappeared out of his mind! The clothes he had had on when he had come to the sanatorium were not fit anymore. He had to buy others.
At home it was worse, the two sides had estranged from each other even more, it was his father against the whole family, actually there was no chance of settling the conflict.
The most recent scandal was about his father’s stopping Nina – Alexandru’s sister – from going to Bucharest to take the admission exam to university. It seemed that father had realized that – due to the home climate – the children were going to leave the house, all of them, and he was to stay lonely.
Though he had enjoyed the children’s success before - boasting whenever he had the occasion – those days he was not so happy anymore, seeing in that success a way by which his children arranged their escape from such an unbearable climate.
Finally, Nina was able to leave home and get on the bus - being helped by a man who was at the bust stop - by chance, as father had run after her, trying to stop her. She was admitted at the Mechanics Faculty, and was the first member of the family who was to graduate from a higher education institute.
During that summer, the old man tried to use Alexandru as a negotiator between him and family, considering the latter’s so long absence and separation from the family problems. He was able to do that for a couple of weeks, but after that, trying to be impartial, Alexandru told father some things, which made the latter so mad that in the evening he got very drunk, made a terrible scandal and threatened Alexandru that he would kill him with an axe.
The conflict grew worse and he had to leave home. Moreover, his disease got worse, too, and he went back to Mangalia sooner than he had intended. He left for the sanatorium happily despite all the physical pains he knew he would have to bear. Hospital was better than home.
The hospital-school simultaneity had a lot of interesting aspects. It was something usual for teachers to intervene to doctors for some students, asking for some favours. The teachers were closer to children than in normal schools – many times they went shopping, even for cigarettes or beer – without the doctors’ knowledge, of course.
At the same time, the doctors intervened to teachers in the school issues, asking for more understanding towards those who had to bear some painful treatments. Things had gone so far that nurses “distributed” cribs to students during the tests or written papers, as “medicine”, which had been made by the older students, who could see the subjects through the window, while sitting on the balcony.
Even under those hospital conditions, school rules were quite often broken. There were cases when students were expelled for good, for having been absent from classes, although they were not allowed to leave the sanatorium. They were flunked or left in the same class, to repeat the school year. Although it was a hospital, enough things occurred that distracted children from the school activity; later the children used all the array of strategies - available in normal schools, too - to escape, safe and sound, after a conflict with a severe teacher.
One Sunday evening, after listening to the football games on the radio, Amariei – a joyful Moldavian – while putting his books in good order, said in surprise:
– Oops! I completely forgot about the geography lesson of tomorrow. And it is a hell of a long lesson; it’s about the USSR’s neighbours. Anyway, I am not in the mood of studying right now. If only the teacher didn’t ask me any questions!
– You, lazybones, start studying, there is enough time for it, you don’t have to milk goats as your pap does at home - he could hear the specific grumble of his bed neighbour, Drumea.
– I was not talking to you, you, flap-eared! You’d better stay calm, or I might slap you. You enjoy your Dinamo having won the game (it was about the Dinamo Bucharest football team) while mine made a big shit (it was Dinamo Bacău, which had been defeated at home).
The next day, the Geography teacher started asking him, as soon as she came in:
– Amariei! How is it possible for you to have been neglected by me, and to receive one mark only, so far, while you are the first on the class book?
All the students in class could hardly help laughing.
– I do not know, comrade teacher! I would kindly ask you to neglect me once more, until the next lesson, as yesterday I was really upset and was not able to focus on Geography.
– No, Amariei. It is a beautiful lesson, and I have the feeling that I will do you a favour by asking you questions, as you live near the USSR border. Go ahead!
In a solemn voice and very slowly, Amariei started:
– The Union of the… Soviet… Socialist… Republics... borders … Finland on the north-west. The Union of the… Soviet… Socialist… Republics... borders the People’s... Republic... of Poland... on the west. The Union of the… Soviet… Socialist… Republics... also borders the Czechoslovak… Socialist… Republic... on the west. Moreover, the Union of the… Soviet… Socialist… Republics... borders the Hungarian... Popular... Republic on the west.
And he kept on like that, speaking very slowly and fully impassioned, repeating the full names of those countries, for some long minutes, which made the teacher thank him and switch to another student, before Amariei gave the names of the so many neighbours of the USSR, which neighbours he did not know any more.
The doctors and teachers seemed to better understand the children from the other position - that was opposite to their official responsibility. While the teachers were very many and were often changed, there were only two doctors for that department - comprising students from the fifth to the twelfth class. One of them was the department head, doctor Zia Reşid, of Turkish nationality. Each entrant had a negative image on him, at first, which image would change for the better, almost imminently, when they got to know the doctor better. He was the kind of straightforward man, speaking in plain English, and he usually spoke very loudly, which bothered very many. Later, they could see the kind-hearted man, who was able to understand the attitude, problems and joys that were specific to the age of the children in that department. He had never been married and had no children. He lived with his two sisters, the younger of which had two children. He was to leave for Turkey and stay there, after his younger sister had left, as he was very close to the two nephews.
After doctor Zia’s departure to Turkey, he used to come back and spend his holiday at Mangalia every summer. He spoke about his life in Turkey. His sister’s family had moved to Germany. He was still lonely. Though a consultant doctor, highly experienced in surgery, he had not been hired on a doctor’s position, from the very beginning. He worked as a doctor, did many operations, but he was paid like a nurse and took some exams, at the same time, for having his doctor diploma recognized.
Later, he didn’t show up in Mangalia anymore and there were rumours that he had died, right on the day when he organized a small party to celebrate the fact that he had got his doctor diploma recognized, and death had occurred under unknown conditions.
A life spent in hospital for such a long time, at an age when the human personality is being shaped, could be regarded from several angles, and not all of them were necessarily negative, as we could expect from a hospital.
Let’s think only about the spare time the children had, as they were free from any responsibilities which children in a normal family usually have. During that time, in addition to the school tasks, they read the books borrowed from the sanatorium library, newspapers or magazines. There was no book or magazine in Romania of those times that the students in that ward had not subscribed to, they all read the publications, and passed them from one to another. Not only did they read the books, but they also commented them, reviewed them in detail. Then, they had the hobbies that were specific to teenage. Nobody knew by what means, but they knew the postal addresses of almost all the famous actors and singers in the whole world, and intensively wrote letters to the stars to get their autographs, posters, LPs etc.
As Alexandru was very tenacious in all his actions, he had acquired one of the largest collections, and had pictures that had been autographed by The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Adriano Celentano, Udo Jürgens, Pierre Brice, Roger Moore, Claudia Cardinale, Brigitte Bardot, Jean Marais, Jean Paul Belmondo – and these were just the most famous of his collection. But he paid the greatest attention to Salvatore Adamo’s LP and autograph, who was, by far, his favourite singer, especially for his song that was very popular on the Romanian seaside, The Girls on the Seashore.
Apart from those activities – let’s call them hobbies - he filled the greatest part of his time by solving mathematics and physics problems, from different test books which he found in the library or which the teachers brought to school. He was far more advanced than the school books for those two subjects, as well as than the class level.
Moreover, they had “His Highness” – the television set - which was both a usual pastime and an important educational instrument, and doctor Zia used it whenever they were in great trouble, implying punishment of the whole group, for a day, a week, a month or for longer. Watching TV in collectivity was different from watching it at home, or with the family. A completely special climate was created around the events watched in collectivity. It was the case of the grand final of the World Handball Championship of Paris, 1970, played between Romania and Eastern Germany, and won by Romania, after two sets of additional times. The game itself and Cristian Ţopescu’s exceptional comment – at his best during that game – warmed the souls of those children, who had been cut off the rest of the world.
Also, the first events of the Music Festival in Braşov were on TV, and Alexandru enjoyed the best the one when Luminiţa Dobrescu got the prize. She was his favourite singer, and he collected all the press articles on her, which articles he could find in the written press: comments, pictures, posters from her shows etc.
But he was second to Puiu, a ward mate, who had an unusual admiration for Margareta Pâslaru. He had a collection of more than one thousand pictures that had been issued in all the press, all sorts of articles cut out of newspapers and magazines, anything it had to do with his favourite singer. That colleague – nobody can tell the reason – did not continue studies after graduating from the eighth class, though he had the potential to do it and he was a very clever boy. He shared the same ward with the high school age students. He was extremely skilful at handicraft, at making reading lamps, lamp shadows and other objects. He suffered from paraplegia, which disease deprived him of his legs, thus being forced to lie in bed, only, or use the infirm carriage. He left the sanatorium after more than ten years, for Brăila, his native town, where he later opened a handicraft workshop, got an infirm motorbike and earned his living by doing handicraft. When everything seemed to go well, he had a stupid motorbike accident, which caused his death.
For Alexandru, life in that collectivity meant a lot. He made very many true fiends – as it happens only under hard circumstances. It was at the sanatorium that, for the first time in his life, he ate chocolate and celebrated his birthday, as well. But it was intense reading and studying that mattered most. For him, like for many others, fear of monotony turned on the engine that sparked an activity leading to solid cultural knowledge, which was to be the background for the many very good results he got later. I think that the topic “monotony – engine of civilization” should be extensively developed, as we know that, very many times, great intellectuals opened new roads by being pushed to that activity at a certain moment of their lives, by the monotony that occurred after their being forced to spend a long time under not very reasonable conditions.
Those were, let’s say, the legal ways, of spending the free time while living in the sanatorium.
But they had to come up with something for their free time as well, because, having no physical activity, they had plenty of free time. If you are not sleepy, it isn’t so simple to sleep! But there was a series of other ways to spend the free time – for which they were punished, when they were caught - either individually, or in group, if several participants were involved. An individual punishment consisted in the boys’ being given a skin haircut, or they were not given the dessert after lunch, or their parents were informed about the children’s behaviour, or – the hardest of all – they were expelled for good.
Punishment in group included all the individual punishments; in addition, they were not allowed to watch TV and the weekly movie they usually enjoyed. The punishment was shorter or longer, depending on how serious the incident was.
Of all the illegal ways of spending the free time, in sanatorium, the most innocent and frequent was the table tennis game, and the children used the blackboard - placed on the teacher’s desk - as a tennis table, and usually played it during the sleeping time, using hard book covers as rackets. Alexandru got very skilled at playing it ever since. He was even the local champion!
In their ward, it was in their habit to breach the sanatorium rules, by having dinner during the night, but it was not during the first hours after the curfew time but, most of the time, late after midnight. They had three meals a day, provided by the sanatorium, but that food was not as nice as the one they prepared by themselves, at night. After midnight, when the night treatment was given, until 6 a.m. - the morning treatment time - no sanatorium employees could be seen around. The cooking smell could not bother anybody, as all children in the ward participated in that activity, and it couldn’t reach the neighbouring wards. The usual food was fried fish, cooked on a temporary grill, which they placed on the electric hot plate; they usually fried frog fish (Gobius), bought at twenty lei the string, from the fishery that was in the sanatorium yard, on the seashore. They also had ham and onion, which they got from parents or tinned meat and cheese cakes which the teachers used to buy from the shops in town. During summer, all that food was accompanied by a garnish of baked green peppers and salad. It was there where Alexandru had garlic salad for the first time and it was not due to the fact that it was a great rarity, but because when Răboj, a ward colleague, went to the garden to steal onion, he took garlic instead, by mistake, as he could not see in the dark. When he came back to the ward, Puiu was singing Margareta Pâslaru’s song That Would Be So Nice and the humorous Amariei, noticing the mistake of Răboj, continued:
– That would have been so nice if you had taken onion, too…
Surprisingly, the garlic salad was nice and then the task of Răboj became easier than before, as he could pick anything, without being very careful at the vegetable he took.
One night, doctor Marinescu - a short, thin, and bald and bad man - was on duty. Because of those reasons he must have suffered from insomnia. At one o’clock at night, he was walking around the sanatorium. The doctors’ room was somewhere far from Alexandru’s ward, in a different building, where there was the special pavilion for sequestration, so that the doctor could not have seen or heard anything. But, while they were eating and all the participants were busy changing cutlery, as there were not enough spoons and forks, who, do you think, showed up in the doorway? It was doctor Marinescu.
– What are you doing so late at night? Is this a pub or something?
Ghiţu, Alexandru’s bed neighbour, “the master of ceremonies”, chef and, in general, the soul of the whole group, stopped eating, his face grew white, as it happened whenever he got angry:
– Listen to me, man, would you like to be interrupted in the middle of your dinner?
– How dare you talk to me like this, you wenchy!
– It is you who are a wenchy, an old one!
Dinner was over that night. And so was sleep. That night nobody slept. Everyone was thinking about what was to come the next day, after the gipsy-like conflict between Ghiţu and doctor Marinescu.
Ghiţu was a kind-hearted boy. He was from Bihor. He had come to the sanatorium having the heel deeply infected, up to its porous bone - similar to Alexandru’s disease. The boy suffered from a medical error, made by doctors while having a surgery. While being anesthetized, he was injected an expired medicine in his spine, which led to an infection of the marrow and later to the interruption of his nerve communications and leg paralysis. Finally he died from a kidney disease, caused by his long lying in bed.
Doctor Marinescu wrote down the incident in the report. They discussed it during the daily meeting which was held in the manager’s office, attended by all the department heads, every morning.
Doctor Zia was upset, on the one hand, as the incident had happened in his department, on the other hand he was visibly absent-minded, as he may have imagined how things had happened. In his heart, he was on Ghiţu’s side. Doctor Zia came in the ward as soon as the meeting was over. His relations with doctor Marinescu were not known exactly, as both had the same position, since the latter was the head of another department, too. But those relations were supposed to be bad, since they were completely different as natures.
– Well, man, how could you make me look like stupid in front of all the sanatorium officials? Ghiţule, how could you behave like that?
– Doctor…, you see …
– What should I see? I agree with what you told Marinescu, but it was not you who should have told him that, and not at midnight! I cannot do anything to help you! A decision was made! They will expel you, and the rest of you will not be allowed to watch TV for an indefinite time. Come to your senses, people sleep at night, they do not party!
Ghiţu was expelled, but after a couple of months he came back and the entire incident was forgotten, and his position of ward leader grew stronger and stronger.
On his return, Ghiţu brought five one-liter bottles of pălincă for the doctor and a half-liter one for his colleagues. It was then that Alexandru drank palincă for the first time, a full shot, quite before the nurse came with the evening medicines. The woman noticed his red face and didn’t know what had happened to him. It was a great mistake of Ghiţu’s parents to give him five liters of palincă! Finally, the doctor had none of it. Naturally, whenever he uncorked another bottle – which he shared with the others – he swore that it was the last, and he was to give the others to the doctor.
Another night enjoyment was crossing over the partition, to the girls’ area. On the same floor, there were two wards for girls of the same age, who had their daily lessons in the boy wards. They shared the same balcony, being divided by the well-known partition, between boy and girl wards. Though that partition exceeded the balcony and went beyond the balustrade, it was easy to climb by the experienced boys, even with plaster over their hands, legs or even spines. They could have walked through the hall, as well, but they had to pass by the treatment room, whose door was always open, where the nurse on duty used to be.
Climbing the sanatorium stone wall and going out happened less frequently than climbing the partition. Actually, it wasn’t risky, because it could not cause a fall - as it was climbing the partition - but it could lead to disciplinary consequences, if they were caught. The sanatorium position was almost inviting to climb the wall! On one side, there was the Calatis Stadium, where the local football team, Marina Mangalia - which played in the C division - had their games; also, it was there that the finals of the Rounders National Championship were held, every year. All the fans in the sanatorium could watch the games for free, while sitting on the pretty wide stone wall, where they could sit as comfortably as on the benches in the arena. A beautiful park lay around the stadium, which was later reduced for building a hotel - the present Mangalia hotel - that was further equipped with treatment facilities for the employees of Siemens, the German company. On the other side, that is on the length direction of the yard, there was the beach, where it took little - they just had to feel water on feet - for crossing the separation railing that lay up to the sea, and they got to the public beach, and from the beach to the town there was no obstacle, anymore.
In order to get out, finding clothes was the most difficult, as in the sanatorium, like in every hospital, patients wore pyjamas, only. Those coming from richer families had always new, tidy and ironed pyjamas, sent by their family, but most of them wore the pyjamas provided by the sanatorium, having strings instead of buttons, as by tying the strings it was easier to keep them in good condition.
In summer it was simple. Being dressed in bathing suits, it was much easier for them to make themselves lost among the tourists who were crossing the beach between Mangalia Sud and the new resort, Saturn, which had been built on the other side of the sanatorium. That was a part of a group of resorts - actually, it had miraculously arisen on the place where the Comorova forest had been before – and all of them had names of planets and the local people called them Mangalia Nord. Nobody knows why, but the most recently built resort got the name of Cap Aurora, so that at the beginning, it was not very successful among the tourists coming from the countryside, as when seeing the resort name written in capital letters on the advertisement, they avoided it, saying that they were sick of C. A. P. - which was the abbreviation of the Agricultural Production Cooperative.
The clothes issue was more difficult to solve during the dull season. There was a time, for one or more years when, both for men and for women, a sort of many-coloured-vertically-striped trousers, similar to pyjamas, were in trend. Most patients bought such trousers, as they could be worn both in the sanatorium and out, as well. That fashion was very popular on the seaside! What a pity it’s gone!
Very many times, patients went out under almost insane conditions. We can imagine how one of the doctors felt, when he met one of his patients - whom he had recently operated - in the bar on the last floor of the new hotel Diana, in Saturn. The patient was in plaster down to the waist and he should have lied in bed, only. But he had made articulations for his plaster, by partly destroying it in the underarm area, had put on the fancy striped trousers and had left for the bar.
That hospital-school combination, in association with a certain circumstance, made Alexandru take displeasure against Chemistry. For some years, it happened that Chemistry be scheduled right after the long break, when they were usually given the treatment. At that time he was given very many local infiltrations. They consisted of injections that were given on the place the disease was located, by means of some very long needles, which were suitable for exploring all the diseased zone and the prescribed medicine was injected in the right place. During all his hospital stay, he was given so many injections that he got used to them, that’s why, when it came about the simple, intramuscular injections, he was not afraid, anymore. For being given the night injections, he didn’t even bother to get up. But the local infiltrations were extremely painful and he was not very happy to bear them. The association between his treatment and his Chemistry lessons - scheduled right after that - created in his subconsciousness a dislike for the subject. That dislike was to grow later, when “tovaraşa” (the Romanian for “woman comrade”, a name used to designate Ceauşescu’s wife) – a person whom the Romanians completely disagreed with, put her name on this subject, to the great despair of some outstanding chemists, whom Alexandru met later, and who kept asking why she had opted for Chemistry, when, as a matter of fact, she could have opted for any other field.
Spending such a long time with a lot of boys who had come from different classes, from all over the country, of different nationalities meant a real school of life. They permanently had arguments; very many times, they lasted for the whole night.
He had just arrived in the central pavilion, where he was with the children of his age, namely in the ward for the seventh class. The spiritual leader of the class was Galeş, a smart but rather lazy boy. Alexandru used to read the schoolbooks for the seventh class rather out of monotony than out of real interest, which proved of good omen following the happy incident with teacher Câşlaru.
In such a close world, like Alexandru’s ward, the classification criteria came from absolutely accidental events. One criterion was the school situation, where he had began to make himself distinguished by means of the special circumstances in which he had succeeded in not repeating the seventh class. Another criterion was the geographic area they came from. Those coming from the great cities and, first of all, those from Bucharest had a high score. Here, he had a low score! He was the trailer! His skin was dark, and he was named “the gipsy”, from the very beginning!
An essential criterion was the size and content of the parcels they got from home, as well as the money their parents sent them.
Here, he had a low score, too, because he seldom got parcels from home, and there were fruits inside only, which had gone bad on the way, reaching him already altered, so that he would have preferred not to get them at all; and for the money, he got about fifty lei per year, which was only for buying school requisites.
The rank of the favourite football team was another solid criterion. Here his score was good, as F.C. Argeş, his favourite team had very good times, right then, it even won the championship, once. Moreover, it had a good evolution in the international games. A nucleus of footballers gathered around Dobrin represented the national football team basis.
His initial position was far from being favourable, but it was always strengthened, first of all by his good school results, then by his financial situation, as he earned money by giving lessons to the medical personnel’s children, who were preparing themselves for the admission exam to high school, also by the efficient trade with the actors’ and singers’ autographs, which he had got by means of a tenacious correspondence.
There was something else he learnt there, and that was: in life, it is not only ascension that is important, but also staying on top, after reaching it. Under certain circumstances, some colleagues – either depending on them or not – had become a part of the hierarchy in ward and in class, too.
Galeş - with no contribution from his nickname - became “Galeş, the donkey” after the Romanian lesson, when they heard about a short tale called Măgarul galeş (the Romanian for The lingering donkey) written by a Romanian author whom they studied during that school year.
From the famous poem of George Cosbuc Three (Sons), oh, Lord, and All of Them - Lenghen, Vişan and Mitu became “Three, Lord, and all of them” due to their friendship, associated with the lack of interest in the lessons, though initially they had been hardworking.
Bools had impressed everybody, at the beginning, as he came to the class with a big notebook, which each teacher thought to be for their subjects. Everybody was disappointed to find out that Bools used the same notebook for all subjects, and his notes were a mix-up where he could not understand anything, anymore.
Bârlea made a fool of himself when he became famous by trying to pull out the two extra teeth of Ion - a mental disordered boy - who shared the same ward with them, but did not take lessons, and had a tooth disorder consisting of double front teeth. Not only was Bârlea unable to pull out Ion’s teeth, but he also tortured poor Ion!
It was in that ward - which was a small community – that Alexandru realized that it was good to avoid the situations which might place him in an unfavourable position; he also realized that if he couldn’t do good things, it was equally important that he shouldn’t harm people! That happened when he started to be concerned about his image.
Up to the eighth class, there were separate classes for boys and for girls, which led to more freedom in their language. From the ninth class, as that was a co-educational class, an extra restriction was applied, namely about the language the students used. Of course, from time to time they blurted out some strong language. Luckily, they had good examples to teach them lessons!
One day, for example, during a break, comrade Paraipan, the sanatorium intendant, in charge with the administrative problems, was in their class. He was a very important person. Cristi Petrescu blurted out a curse. Instantly, the important “comrade” felt it was his duty to draw his attention:
– Fuck it, boy! Speak nicely! Can’t you see that there is girls around?!
A general laughter started, to which the girls contributed, punishing the intruder. Unfortunately, he could not understand that it was him they were laughing at.
The discussions they used to have in the ward covered a large array of topics. During one of the frequent arguments the representatives of different zones of Romania “congratulated” one another.
Those coming from Oltenia were full of themselves, but their self-confidence was balanced by their modest performance.
The Transylvanians, Moza the leader - a future history teacher - and Ghiţu were very persistent in “arguments”, and, when they were not very convincing, the latter slapped their opponents.
The Moldavians, by their representatives, Amariei and Adomniţei were the target of all the fun but, with great humour, they were able to get out of trouble.
The Wallachians, like Drumea and Alexandru, were more self-possessed.
Those from the Dobruja, like Costin and Liviu, being the hosts, were the object of all the others’ criticism, as reference was often made to the Dobruja symbol, the donkey, also named the „desert camel”.
That topic, in a joking tone, was also discussed during the history lessons, with teacher Iancu - a very nice man - who fired the conflict by the ideas he asserted.
Moza, to Adomniţei, his bed neighbour:
– You, big head, can’t you see you have left your wet shovel (he was speaking about about Adomniţei’s hand) on my notebook? You got it wet. Why don’t you take notes? It’s easier to sleep, ha?
– You, flap-eared, you can not appreciate the true values. I’m not sleeping, but thinking.
– The hell, thinking! What are you thinking about? Sleeping! What the hell can a big head like yours think about?
It was an allusion to the fact that Adomniţei often opened the ward doors hitting them by his head, and after that the doors were damaged rather than his head.
– Why are you getting your claws into the Moldavians, Amariei abruptly intervened, as he was pretty proud. Most of the Romanian culture representatives are Moldavians. Why weren’t Eminescu, Sadoveanu, Creangă, Enescu and many others born in Ardeal?
– I have to take this guy more philosophically, said Moza. He has principles. You, ass, he kept on, have you ever seen a corn field in all your life? Have you seen that some are smooth, all plants look the same, they are strong, beautiful, and others are full of weeds, looking miserable, but from place to place, in the middle of the field, one corn car is tall, as it sucked the sap of all the others?!
– All the others are the Moldavians.
Amariei stayed silent. On that very moment he could not find an answer. Even Alexandru was surprised by the comparison made by Moza. He was to remember it later on, in those times of deep communist crisis, when the soya substitutes had gained a leading position in the Romanians’ conscience. He was on the train, going by a soya field, where here and there he could see few sunflowers, looking like accidentally planted there. He could hear a conversation:
– What is this field suggesting you? One of the passengers asked.
– Nothing special. Just a green field.
– Your sense of observation is not very keen. For me, it suggests the “Sunflower and soya oil”. I guess that it shows the proportion of the two ingredients in a bottle of oil.
The truth is that soya oil, soya salami and soya meat had entered our lives. Even though soya was produced in the whole world, in Romania people made connections between those substitutes and the general wretched poverty of that time, which compromised the ingredient, and those products were the symbol of the low living standard.
Time was passing and Alexandru’s generation was getting close to the twelfth class, which was the maximum the local school could provide. Doctor Zia was more and more reconciliatory, which is how he showed respect to the older students. It was his common sense that led to a respected position in the sanatorium. He talked to them about different important problems related to his department’s, or the sanatorium’s affairs. Together, they commented on certain decisions. He had even given them the permission to place a bottle of beer in the medicine fridge, from time to time. One day they could hear a “thunder” on the hall. It was doctor Zia, and he was upset.
– Răboj, come to me.
Răboj was the interface between the doctor and the others. He was the one with whom the doctor always started the discussion.
At such a signal, Răboj - having his both hips ankylosed - jumped in such a way that he suddenly stood on his feet, since his hip articulations, in association with haste, made him look like a lead toy - which always finds its balance, whatever the motion.
He hastily reached the doctor.
– Yep, boss, what’s up?
– Fuck it! I gave you permission to place a bottle of beer in the fridge – on Sunday, only – and you filled the fridge with beer bottles.
– It is not us who did it, boss! Saying that, they were heading towards the ward where the argument which the doctor usually began with Răboj, then switched to the others.
Finally, it was proved that the beer belonged to a nurse, to whom the doctor never said no, as she never said no to him, either. But the scandal was for show, for us.
– Fuck it!! I have to agree with that idiot who says that I have no knowledge of what happens neither in the sanatorium, nor in my department.
“That idiot” was comrade Plopeanu, the lift man - a member of the party committee of the sanatorium, whom the doctor often had conflicts with.
The lift man always insisted to politically instruct the doctor, who did not lead a life that was according to what the lift man had learnt from “Mars’s work”, which he swore he had entirely read.
Once, the doctor even surprised him while he was pretending to read, holding the newspaper upside down and since then the former had doubts about the latter’s ability to read. It wouldn’t have been a surprise to find out that the lift man could not read, as the doctor had demonstrated that a stretcher carrier (a nice boy who died in an ambulance accident) could not write and read, though he had a turner diploma and tractor driving licence.
The “philosophic” arguments of the lift man came to their climax when Andrei, a Philosophy student, checked in the hospital. The latter was continuously bothered by lots of arguments about “Mars’s work”, and found out from the insistent self-educated man that the Decameron was written by Marx, too. Plopeanu kept chasing Andrei, followed him everywhere, he would have been capable of taking the latter up and down by lift forever, just to be noticed in Andrei’s company, since it would have been - in Plopeanu’s opinion - a confirmation of his “philosophic level”.
Andrei became a university professor, Moza - a history teacher, Amariei – a businessman and all the others – who survived – graduated from different faculties.
During the summer holidays between the ninth and tenth classes, which Alexandru spent at Mangalia, he didn’t make the mistake of going home, and met Vera, to whom he nourished a great love. It happened when he had read almost all the great love novels and had become very sensitive about this topic. Vera had suffered once from a bone disease and had come to the sanatorium for a helio-marine treatment, during the holidays, only. She was one year older than him and was a student in an educational high school, in Bucharest. She was a fair-haired girl, and had a serene beauty, which made her look like a fairy and was extremely well-read. It was a beautiful love at first sight, and lasted longer than three years and has forever stayed in his heart as his first love. During all that time, he alternated school between Mangalia and Găieşti, permanently writing letters to Vera and meeting her in Bucharest, from time to time. At a certain moment, the idea of breaking up with Vera meant suicide, as he strongly believed that love is the shortest distance between life and death. It was the destiny that prevented them from being together forever. He couldn’t wait to finish high school, and to go to university in Bucharest, to be with Vera, but she graduated from the educational high school and was sent somewhere far from Bucharest, and there was no chance of changing the facts. Associated with Alexandru’s very busy first two college years, due to his the health problems, the circumstance led to the two’s slowly becoming distant from each other and the beautiful first love became memory!
As for his school progress, during the tenth class, things went very well, especially when it was about Physics, where after he successfully won the school and county contests, he qualified for the national Physics Olympiad, which was to be held in Bucharest. His Physics teacher – Mr. Herman Farkaş - was an enthusiast and had graduated from the Physics faculty in Cluj. That teacher gave the students very many extra lessons for them to be well prepared for contests. More than that, he showed an elder-brother-attitude to the students. Inside the sanatorium, there was a continuous flow of students - coming and leaving, according to their medical progress - and of teachers, who were looking to finally find a job in a normal high school, but not in a hospital. They usually moved to the high school in Mangalia. Teacher Herman Farkaş was Alexandru’s fifth Physics teacher during that school year.
The Olympiad contest, on county level, held at Mircea cel Bătrân High School in Constanţa at that time was somewhat unusual, as one of the contestants came by ambulance and he finished the test within half of the legal time. Yet, Alexandru’s lack of experience made him make some mistakes; nevertheless he was part of the winners’ lot who was to represent Constanţa County during the national contest.
However, he was not able to participate in the national contest, as a relative amelioration of his condition made him move to the High School in Găieşti, during the spring holidays of the tenth class. That high school had no contestants in the national Physics Olympiad of that year, and nobody got involved in the organization required by such a contest - all the more so as Alexandru would have represented another high school and another county in it, and those were the high school and county where he had qualified for the national contest. During that year, the representative of Constanţa County won the national contest and the international Physics Olympiad, too.
At Găieşti, he studied in a normal high school, enjoying a long tradition, and had as teachers Mr. Şerban Cioculescu and Vladimir Streinu, among others. Alexandru was the fourth in his family who studied there. Maria, Nina and Ionel had already graduated from the same high school.
The first change – which was an inconvenient – was that he had lessons in the afternoon, and he had the first two lessons at the time when he was sleeping, during the previous years, while being in the sanatorium. Then, during the lessons he sat on a chair, at his desk instead of lying in bed. Those sudden changes of time and space, though they led to normality, made him have a pronounced somnolence mood for a while, which made him easily distinguished by the teachers, all the more so as he sat in the first desk, which was right in front of the teacher’s desk, as it was the only free seat. The subjects they studied at those times were mainly Romanian and French. Beside the low marks he got, he got a bad reputation in the two teachers’ minds, as well. The next year, he had to fight a lot in order to improve his school situation, and studied during the whole school year at Găieşti, and had no acclimatization problems anymore. That improvement was also determined by his exceptional performance at Mathematics and Physics, where he had no competitors of his level neither in his class, nor in the other eleventh classes of the high school.
The one whom he got closest to was the Mathematics teacher, Ilie, a very good teacher, who was to later become the high school principal. Very many generations of students were taught by him, and he did not teach them Mathematics only, but he also taught them how to think logically. He was extremely humorous. During a baccalaureate exam, before the chairman of the commission arrived, he suggested to the students that, in case they didn’t know the subject on the test paper drawn, they should change it quickly. Costică, one of the weakest students at Mathematics, kept changing test papers, one after another. Actually, he wouldn’t have been satisfied with any of them. The teacher’s reaction was in his humorous style:
– Keep trying, Costică! There is one paper containing the multiplication table for nine! I made it especially for you.
Costică is a great businessman today.
For the twelfth class, Alexandru did not study at Găieşti, as his medical problems got serious, and he was forced to go back to Mangalia, where he later graduated from high school and started being concerned about whether his condition will allow him to attend university or not.
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