In Whitman’s Name

by Ştefan Bolea

translation from Romanian by A.C. Clarke and Alina-Olimpia Miron [MTTLC]

 

Iancu threw his shopping bag into the musty space under the steeple of St. Michael’s Church, after which he shut the trap door behind him. It was a late spring morning and, from his standpoint, the young man could enjoy a splendid view of central Cluj: Bánffy1’s buildings arranged in a rectangle around the cathedral and the statue of Matei2. The University where Iancu had wasted four years in maths, not even graduating in it, was also quite visible. As usual, at this time, the city centre was packed with people, some anticipating the lunch break, others leaving work, most on various errands or others simply idlers. The 27-year-old, who was fully clad in black, with something of an ascetic’s – even a touch of Emo’s – bearing, clean-shaven and with a clear, decisive and expressive gaze, despite his mysterious appearance, thought a better mathematician would be able to capture the crowd’s toing-and-froing in an algorithm. He had studied the movement of the masses from various observatories, at different moments and in different climates and had observed that in statistical terms the climax, the propitious moment, kairos, would come in exactly 40 minutes, at 12.33. He had time. He connected his iPod to the mobile speakers and played the adagio from Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7; he hesitated between Karajan3’s version and Celibidache4’s before deciding in favour of the latter. It felt more poetic and it matched his sacrificial mood. He knelt and opened the prologue of Thus Spoke Zarathustra on the stand, next to which he placed two candles.

He focused for several moments on the candle light and his breathing, then, he started to read and muse on this Bible for the mad: Like thee must I go down… (I have to fall like a bomb on mankind)… All beings hitherto have created something beyond themselves: and ye want to be the ebb of that great tide, and would rather go back to the beast than surpass man? (Too much Darwin here, but if one takes a closer look at one’s “neighbours”, one sees either monkeys or snakes…He remembered the lines of a minor poet from Cluj which proved one could identify the monkey in oneself: “The mirror’s spat on you again, you toad…”) That moment Iancu’s thoughts strayed a bit, expressing mathematically what Nietzsche had divined: If one doesn’t add a plus to one’s plus, one goes straight to minus, not to zero… The moment one ceases one’s evolution, one’s already regressed…The god that grows no more turns into a monkey instantly…When did our death as a civilization set in? Maybe around Nietzsche’s time as world wars are no more than a mere shroud over an ailing Europe, maybe even before, when we started to kill our kings and invest in paysans, proletarians and other rubbish…Is God dead? But all of us have died, individually and culturally…People (“people?” he huffed ironically) worship only TV and money… He returned to Nietzsche’s scripture: Ye have made your way from the worm to man, and much within you is still worm… (Intestinal parasites that grub up the planet’s viscera)… Is your soul not poverty and pollution and wretched self-complacency?… (I’ve no other soul than my body, which I give unto you to stone, unless I come down on you, like a bird of prey)… What good is my happiness! It is poverty and pollution and wretched self-complacency… (Even so, I’ve long given up happiness, even in its modest form of repeated pleasure. Spit on your happiness if you want power!)…Where’s the lightning – to lick you with its tongue?

I am the lightning, Herr Nietzsche, I am Bayezid5, the most beautiful character in Romanian literature!

Iancu stopped reading, he had got his blood up and he needed full concentration. Bruckner’s Symphony had reached the passage of genius which is said to have been inserted by Bruckner when news of Wagner’s death reached him. The end of music, the end of mankind. But what comes after the end? Do we repeat the same drama or do we put the bomb backstage?

12.17 Iancu began to assemble the PSL6 rifle. 12.25. He changed the music: he put on Wagner’s Rienzi overture and put on next Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody (the piano version). 12.32 He blew out the candles and started to aim… In Iancu’s sights (from the window that looks out onto the statue and Diverta bookshop) were a few dozen people. Some targets were walking, but most of them were relaxing in the purest Romanian way (no job and no stress) on the benches in the concrete-paved square. What if I started with these fat slobs? Every time I wanted to sit on a bench and read, these obese, idle pigs wouldn’t give a rat’s ass to move just an inch. The first victims were a pensioner whose expression had frozen in a grimace and a homeless gypsy who left this world and sank into eternity with his hand stretched out, just as he had lived his life. By the time people realized the actual danger and started to panic (registering their mown down fellow men since the rifle had a silencer), the number of the victims had reached 17. Perhaps I’ll match Whitman: Score to beat 48. That’s what Iancu loved the most: that moment of uncertainty before the storm. That’s what he lived for: for the feeling the lightning triggered in him, the lightning that might spare you, but also hit you. He aimed at a mother with a child, desperately zigzagging with the pram. He intended to get a bullet into that pram too, but he changed his mind: I have to give her a chance for revenge. She’s living a hell of a life anyway. By the time the 30th or so victim of the massacre had been claimed, the square started to empty. A chaotic instinct, a sort of unconscious wisdom was guiding the few living passers-by to run for shelter. They didn’t know what had hit them yet, but, sensing their imminent death, they found unsuspected resources for saving themselves. Fortunately for Iancu, people were coming from other parts of the city, people who had no idea death had set a date not for Bagdad, but for the very ordinary Cluj. A policeman, who had demanded the traffic be stopped and, after having identified the sniper’s location and informed the police of the massacre via his walkie-talkie, was victim number 44. Iancu’s bullet hit him straight in the eye, but just like the messenger at the Marathon, his death had a purpose or some utility. Which cannot be said for the other 43 idiots… With a pelican’s instinct which eradicates the bad gene, with Amon’s (from Schindler’s List) cynicism, Iancu killed the ones that were moving or had been only slightly injured and were desperately trying to escape.

Having located his position (and they had no trouble in making a highly accurate identification since the young man didn’t spare any bullets), the Special Operation Forces thought the best means of action would be to take him out by precise, sniper shots. Major Stanciu was in charge of the operation. It was difficult to go through the church as the terrorist might have accomplices. Besides, he didn’t look like a guy one could negotiate with, otherwise he wouldn’t have been continually firing. The problem for the military was the bad visibility: the sun was shining in their direction and, worse, the terrorist didn’t seem a rookie and he hid well after each shot. They had to get closer and get a perfect shot! They didn’t want to destroy the church as it was from the 13th century or something! While the major was analysing the situation, three of his best snipers had taken their position on the roof of some blocks near the university. They were approximately half a kilometre away from the terrorist’s location. On command, the three men fired 4-5 times. Silence ensued and the major felt that the horrible day was drawing to an end. He said to himself: “What the fuck? He killed more than at the revolution!” Suddenly, three consecutive shots were fired from the church steeple. He had lost the connection with the three snipers. “This is black magic…” Iancu’s untrustworthy smile answered him from the astral plane: terrorist – SOF, 47-0. The major yelled into his walkie-talkie: “Get closer with the helicopters, to see who you’re shooting at! Riddle his ass!” Two helicopters overflew the space around the steeple, the soldiers ready to discharge their rifles into the evil terrorist’s head. The pilot of the first helicopter was a sure victim (48-0), the helicopter falling right on King Matias’s recently restored head. The soldiers from the second helicopter emptied their cartridges into the open window where the bullets were coming from. What the pilot of the second helicopter saw made him freeze: Major, the rifle is shooting all by itself…

The second pilot managed to save his helicopter, slipping out of range for the terrorist or his rifle. The major was yelling into the walkie-talkie: I don’t give a shit about the building – don’t care if he’s connected to the gun with some device, or if he’s a robot, ghost or alien…Get the rockets on him! Only this way were the SOF able to halt the score at 1-49 (as one of the passengers in the helicopter had been shot dead), the price to pay having been the steeple of St. Michael’s Cathedral which now looked like its sister in Dresden, though a tad more presentable.

Three days later, a service was held in Matei Square in memory of the 49 victims. Ironically, the organizers had chosen Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7, though this was in Karajan’s version. Not much was found out about the sniper, but the fact that he had killed more people in Cluj than those killed at the revolution made him famous all over the globe. A celebrity made even darker by the YouTube clip, filmed from the helicopter, of a semiautomatic rifle shooting by itself straight at the camera.

 

 

 

 

NOTES

 

1 Bánffy – Bánffy Castle is a baroque building of the 18th century in Cluj-Napoca, designed by the German architect Johann Eberhard Blaumann. It was built between 1774 and 1775. The first owner of the palace was the Hungarian duke György Bánffy (1746–1822), the governor of Transylvania.

2 Matei (Matthias Corvinus) – (23 February 1443 – 6 April 1490) was King of Hungary (as Matthias I) and Croatia from 1458, at the age of 14 until his death.

3 Karajan, Herbert von – (5 April 1908 – 16 July 1989) was an Austrian orchestra and opera conductor.

4 Celibidache, Sergiu – (11 July [O.S. 28 June] 1912 – 14 August 1996) was a Romanian conductor, composer, and teacher.

5 Bayezid (Bayezid II) – (3 December, 1447 –26 May, 1512) was the oldest son and successor of Mehmed II, ruling as Sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1481 to 1512. During his reign, Bayezid II consolidated the Ottoman Empire.

6 PSL rifle – (Romanian: Puşcă Semiautomată cu Lunetă, scoped semi-automatic rifle) is a Romanian military designated marksman rifle.

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