by Aurel Stănescu Avram (Romania)
Translated from Romanian by Monica Becheru
Edited by Robert Fenhagen
A few years ago, one of my bad habits usually happened right around noon, when Radu, my dump truck driver and I, used to escape to the beach that ran between the harbor lock and the Navodari camp. We would hide the car in the weeds that grew near the jetty, so that no one from work would notice. In truth, no one would have thought to question us in any event, as I was the boss. We’d sit and enjoy the sand, or on some days, just wander along the beach, with only fishermen and a few grey mullets to look at. The sand and water near-by where a perfect thing to help us relax in the middle of our day. Radu was years younger than I, and was considered a good looking man, who came from the area of Bucovina. I, also, considered myself young at heart anyway, and decent looking guy, so we were not afraid to embarrass ourselves by bringing our bathing suits along in case we wished to swim. This summer was hot as usual, with the nights short, but with a breeze blowing, no one complained. Things seemed beautiful– my life was good.
I owned my company; I had a wife and daughter, who I was crazy about, and all was well on that hot summer day. That day, I decided to put on my bathing suit, as did Radu, and we stepped onto the nearly deserted beach (usually, there were people all around, but today, hardly anyone, (which I was very happy about.)
I watched a fisherman, and suddenly, it was as if the beautiful beach were being invaded by the most unimaginable creatures, which were crawling from the water—many with deformities– prominences and cavities in their faces and bodies; they were hydrocephalous children from the Navodari camp nearby. Their eyes mirrored a world seen differently than ours, and, it made me feel bad; I averted my eyes. As if there were an automatic empathy and gratitude that these deformed children inspired, my mind immediately turned to my lovely wife and beautiful daughter. They were a source of joy for me.
The remarkable thing about those thoughts was that they were gone in an instant as two young women also swam in from the water. They were dressed in twin bikinis, and, for a moment, I was dumbfounded at my reaction. My entire world was instantly changed–it was as if my previous life, my wife, my child, my work, none of it mattered. These two girls were lovely, and it was as if my memory had been wiped clean, and was ready for a new chapter to be written on it. They walked to where Radu and I were standing, and one of them asked, “Where are you from?”
We explained that we were local men, and they went on to explain that they came from one of the mountain areas, and were in love with the water and beach. They were young and beautiful, and we sat all on the warm sand, loving the day, loving the beach, and loving each other’s company. I was delighted to see that the girl, who was now sitting nearest to me, had gray-blue eyes like mine, and it was wonderful to gaze into them. In an odd way, it was a re-birth for me. “We work with the camp—we’re medical assistants, so we do need to be sure to return with the kids, so that they can have their lunch,” one said, but we were happy that they wanted to spend what time that they had, with us. I was disappointed by the revelation, but was strangely pleased that here were two lovely, young girls, who exhibited both youthful desires, but adult responsibilities. The combination was intoxicating. Radu and I had not drunk a drop, but I felt high none the less. The girl, who had eyes like mine, suddenly inquired if I was feeling alright. I blushed and told her I had no idea of what was the matter, but I felt light-headed, and not well at all. As if to compensate for their temporary lapse from dealing with pain and disfigurement, she ran to their things and brought back a sphygmometer to take my blood pressure. She prodded, and tapped me, and before long, not only did I have a clean bill of health, but we shared a physical intimacy that, for me, was wonderful.
She told me that it was their fourth day at the camp, and had been relived that no one seemed to have noticed them, and was so happy to have discovered the beach, and particularly, us.
They were bored and lonely, but also keenly aware that it was better for the children not to be under the stares of too many beach goers, so, coming across Radu and I, had been the perfect anecdote to their stay here, with the horribly disabled children as playmates. We were locals, but we were men.
One of the girls—the one with the same colored eyes as mine—seemed a bit more empathetic to their charges.
I liked her empathy, but I also like that she seemed to pay closer attention to me. After all, she had declared me healthy, after touching and prodding me, without abandon!
I felt like a young man in love for the first time. It was both a terrible feeling of guilt and an exhilaratingly freeing one.
As the iron machines of my company and her patients faded from our consciousness, we played in the water, laughing and splashing; Radu and the other girl were off somewhere. My gray and blue–eyed girl, and I, were alone on the edge of the world!
“This feels so odd, but I feel so free, so happy, with you,” she confessed, as she came up from swimming underwater. I felt exactly the same.
“Can it be healthy to have such strong feelings after such a short time?” she asked me seriously. I told her I did not know, but whatever we were feeling was the way it should be. Later, she would climb onto my shoulders after I had made sure that the footing was safe, and laughing hysterically, jump into the water. It was wonderful there on the edge of the world. Soon, Radu and his girl returned and joined us, but it was not much longer after that when we trudged ashore, dripping and laughing. “Oh, look at the time!” my girl yelled as she trotted back from getting her watch. We spent a bit longer walking together, holding hands, and feeling the heat that was rising between us; our attraction to each other was very strong. As I look back on these episode years later, I remember feeling that I should have been feeling guiltier, but I hadn’t, and, now, for reasons that only the human heart can explain, I still don’t. I had experienced a time, that up to that moment, had been lost to me, and there is something intrinsically right about experiencing something that is pure, and young.
At that moment in time, I loved that medical assistant, and I loved being alive. The children ran, crawled, or, made their way in any way that they could back to the camp for lunch, in any way that they could. Naturally, the girls helped them, but let them help themselves, also. Radu and I said our good-byes to the girls, and they trotted off, back to the children.
My girl turned briefly, waved, and blew me a kiss– smiling brightly, happily, and excitedly, as only a young woman can. Much later that day, after Radu and I had long returned to the company, he excitedly came to my office door. “Boss, the girls are here, and they are looking beautiful!” My papers were a mess, my hair was a mess, my nerves were a mess, but I hurried out with him in order to live chapter Two.