by Ion Buzu (Republica Moldova)
Translation from Romanian: Maria Jastrzebska and Mircea Filimon, MTTLC student
pentru versiunea română click aici
It was during that time when I was doing extramural studies at the university and I very rarely went in. I only had classes two weeks a term – a couple of hours each – and five days of exams. Other than that, I had no reason or obligation to get up, say around 7:40 a.m., like I’d done for 13 years while I was in high school. I was telling myself I had to do something, at least invent a small purpose, something that would somehow work, something other than the shower over the toilet to get me out of the house. I felt I was starting to rot away bit by bit. I was seeing very few people. Everyone I knew had got into college and had their own motivation. I was left with my bed and the internet.
I got the idea of sitting in the library and reading the authors I had always had in my mind. They were Deleuze, Foucault, Jung, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer… It was an enthusiastic idea, I mean getting up in the morning and getting on the bus just to read Nietzsche. But each time I fell asleep at the reading table and woke up twitching in pain, then fell asleep again. For two or three hours I was in agony, between sleeping and waking. I couldn’t lay my head on the table because they would have kicked me out, but I’d sleep chin in hand, then with my head on one side and then with it bent forward. I’d wake up with terrible pain in my face, neck and forehead as if someone had hit me on the head. The others in the reading room kept staring at me whenever I was startled awake.
I couldn’t afford to spend much on food so I used to buy cheap sweets from the nearest supermarket and put two apples in my pocket. That was pretty much my food for the day. Sometimes when I only had fare money in my pockets, the two apples and an air of detachment were enough. I’d go out of the reading room to eat, but sometimes I’d think about pushing aside all the books in front of me, neatly arranging the two apples, taking a knife out of my coat pocket and cutting the apples in eight slices each, then eating them slowly with my eyes closed.
This library life lasted for about three months, even longer. I’d always get the most complex books from the philosophy section. I kept expecting one of the librarians to tell me I was one of the few guys who read such difficult books or even that they had never seen anyone even touch them, that they admired me and would like to know me, communicate with me, ask me why I kept coming there daily and reading books that were not understood by most people. But those obnoxious women would chat away the entire day disturbing my readings and my painful sleep, not even allowing me to eat my two apples as I’d imagined.
In that same period I felt every ounce of willpower I had being crushed, dead even at the muscle, or whatever organ it’s born from. My will lay rotten inside me. That Engine that had once made me go to this or that shop, to that building, to pick up that mug or perform any action, now proved to be but a measly illusion which had lasted for 13 years, during which I’d learnt nothing other than learning for school. Once I refused to be a cog in the Engine I’d become completely useless.
Nothing happened during that time. Absolutely nothing. And this lasted for weeks, months on end. I’d reached the point where I didn’t see the purpose of holidays or even days-off in general. I felt that randomness was the origin of everything. I was always waiting, for the sound of the phone or a text message from someone. Yet only the people from Orange kept bugging me with their options and stupid announcements. I kept waiting for someone to come in and check if I was still alive, still good for anything, if my conscience was functioning enough for me to go out or go to the toilet, if I still remembered there was an ‘outside’.
I was thinking about my classmates who’d be laughing their heads off about me saying something like: ‘Look what’s become of him. He used to be a straight A student, even a genius with his way complex way of thinking and solving other people’s papers when they asked him to. He even solved a couple of exercises for me at break. I thought he’d end up studying engineering or whatever, something that would take him further in life, but look at him now…’
It was during the time when I took two pills. I had no idea what they were for or why I’d swallowed them, but I had to try something new and I felt that a different substance was entering my body, so something new was going to happen. I was feeling strange, I wanted to look for other pills and take them. Any kind of pills I could find in the drawers, maybe I’d feel other strange new sensations. But I fell asleep at my table without knowing whether I would wake up. In fact, I even set myself a challenge on the table: ‘Can these two unknown pills knock me out? Will swallowing them be the last thing I do? We’ll see tomorrow.’ And before I lost touch with reality, I had a thought; I don’t have the slightest idea where it came from. The thought was that it was time to get my life back on track.
It was 11:34 a.m. I woke up at my reading table. I got up, the lamp was on, there was a mug on the floor. It wasn’t broken. I stood up, put the kettle on and tried to remember why I’d woken up at the table, how I fell asleep there and what was with the headache and especially the stomach ache. Then an image of the red pills flashed before my eyes. Oh yeah, that’s right, the challenge. The two unknown pills I’d swallowed. Hmm, it seemed they hadn’t succeeded though. Damn, they hadn’t managed to knock anything out; just as useless as me. Then the thought: to get my life back on track.
I decided to wake up the next day at 6:30 a.m. When I woke up, I suddenly got a vile headache and told myself ‘Man, I understand you want to get your life back on track, whatever that means, but this is too much. Waking up out of the blue at 6:30, after months of getting up at 10 or 11, slow down!’ I splashed some water on my face, but the horrible headache didn’t stop. It was still dark outside and I told myself that I had rarely seen that part of the day at 6:40 a.m. In fact, I only remember waking up about 5 times at that kind of hour the whole year. I decided to go to the sociological survey company where I’d done some work a while before. I got some questionnaires for a survey I was going to carry out in a really ugly, far away town called Nisporeni.
So there I was in the Nisporeni district centre where I’d been before. I said to myself ‘Yeah, there’s the city hall, there’s the secondary school. There’s the bar I went to in desperation, cursing this lousy town with no street indexes, not even an old one written in Cyrillic.’ I went in and wanted to drink some hard liquor to give me courage, but there were these guys who started asking me where I was from, what I was looking for round there, in case I might be hustling in their district centre, what the deal was with the blue coat I was wearing, why blue; I got pissed off and left. Well, now I can say that I know the places to avoid there, that I can get away almost unscathed. You’d be surprised how easily those places see guys like me coming and thinking we might make it without being diddled that day.
Well, I set off with 15 questionnaires in my bag, each of them 20 pages long, full of ridiculous questions that would make even me laugh if someone asked me them. I’d have sent the interviewer packing if he’d wanted to fill out a questionnaire like that with me, but fortunately or unfortunately, I was the interviewer. I said to myself ‘I wish you a ton of luck, man, the one who chose to get his life back on track in this way’. The questions were about the level of crime in the community, the level of personal security, how the justice system does its job. Questions like: have you had your car, motorcycle, bicycle, livestock, or things from your house stolen; have you been physically, sexually or verbally assaulted; have you been threatened, with or without a weapon, have you reported it to the police, why…
I wandered around the muddy roads in the cold for more than two hours without finding one person to do a questionnaire with. What the hell! Where are all you guys? Where are you hiding? Huh? It seemed the villagers had made a pact so none of them would come out and agree to do a questionnaire. Probably after my last visit, the villagers had said something like ‘Hey guys, listen up. If you see a short humpbacked boy, dressed in a blue jacket with a bag hanging on his right shoulder running around aimlessly as if he got lost and has no clue what he’s doing here, make sure you don’t cross his path! No, no, don’t even try that. And if he slowly approaches any of you and starts talking in a weird way, send him packing with one of those lines, you know the sort’.
And they’re right, all day I was screaming in my mind ‘What am I doing here? How did I end up back in this stinky Nisporeni? I promised myself that I would never set foot here again. Never ever!’ But finally I found it. It was sitting there well hidden. Yes, it turned up, I finally found it. The doorbell. It was hanging on a gate. Ah, dear doorbell, you can’t imagine how much I love you. I got close to it and touched it really gently and rrring, rrring. A woman in her mid-forties came out. I started yapping ‘My name is Ion Buzu. I’m taking part in a survey launched by the Soros Foundation regarding the levels of felony in the Republic of Moldova, the level of personal security and how satisfied you are with the activity of the judicial and police bodies…’ And I started reading the questions. I asked her what she thought about the behaviour of judges and she said that she’d never dealt with them so she couldn’t answer.
‘Well, in your opinion, how do you think they’re doing their job?’
‘I don’t know, I’ve never dealt with one.’
‘But do you have an opinion about this?’
‘I don’t know, I’m going inside, my food is getting burnt. Enough of this!’
And she locked the door.
Well, it was 1 p.m. and I’d done only one questionnaire out of 15. Everywhere I saw chains and giant locks hanging on gates, as if to spite me, shouting ‘Nah, you loser, in your face!’
I couldn’t stand looking at houses on the streets. I headed for the blocks of flats. ‘There’ll be more doorbells over there. I’ll fall in love with them, right? Over there I won’t see the chains and giant locks laughing in my face.’ But shortly, the doorbells proved illusory, mocking even. Seeing all the locks on gates I realised that most of the statistics were a lie. The representative population, meaning the sample selected for the survey either wasn’t at home, didn’t have the time or wasn’t there. So all that was left were the pensioners, the unemployed, the depressed, the ones on vacation. The figures for which I had crawled to and fro trying to find people to answer my questions were not worth the paper they were written on.
Finally, I reached the blocks of flats, entered a building, pushed and rrring. A guy with his mouth full came out, chewing some kind of food, with sauce dripping down his chin and said ‘Whatcha want?’ I started yapping again ‘I represent the company of sociological surveys which at the request of…’ He stopped chewing, stared at me and at the same time looked in confusion at my feet, he looked me up and down, blinked a couple of times, looked at the papers with questions I was holding in my hands, blinked then said ‘Get outta here and leave me alone!’ He went back inside and slammed the door behind him.
I had to take down all the rejections and the reasons for them. And then came more and more rejections and the sound of doors slamming. Lines like: ‘I don’t have time.’ ‘I don’t want to.’ ‘It’s not worth it, you’re wasting your time.’ ‘What? Nah, no way, can’t you see I got nothing to do with that.’ ‘I don’t understand anything you’re saying.’ ‘Right, I understand, get lost.’ became the only things I heard in the following 2 hours. I gave up on jotting them down because they were becoming boring and didn’t even make me laugh anymore. I even wanted to sit down somewhere and start crying because I was a sucker and what’s more I’d got up at 6:30 a.m. I just wanted to get the hell out, back on the minivan, get home, look for all sorts of pills again, swallow them and fall asleep.
I rang another doorbell and a man in a brown shirt answered. I started with my introduction and he said ‘Well come on in, it’s not nice to stand outside. Take a seat, I’m sure you’re tired and your feet are killing you.’ I said to myself in utter confusion ‘What is this? I’m still in Nisporeni. Why did he agree to answer? It’s not right, there’s something suspicious about this man.’ So I started reading the questions.
‘Do you have a gun?’
‘Yes, of course I do. A shotgun. I’ll show it to you right away.’
‘No, no, you don’t have to. Please, let’s continue the interview…’ and I saw the thick handle, the trigger, the barrel, the drop of sweat falling from my forehead onto my hand, I saw my leg shaking and my chest moving up and down faster and faster.
‘Here it is. It’s a pretty good shotgun. Look at the permit as well, it’s all legal. Write there in your papers that it’s all legal. Write.’
‘Aha, thank you very much, I’m writing.’
I was already half paralysed with fear, the guy could have been half nuts. You never know. I mean, he welcomed me into his home and he was willing to answer my ridiculous questions. I’d be surprised if he weren’t half nuts.
At the end, I asked for his name and he walked over to his safe, where he had taken the gun from. He unlocked it using the key. Shit! I said to myself ‘Maybe the guy is more than half nuts, now he’s taking out the gun and bam! My brains will be decorating his apartment. You never know how or to whom you can prove useful. I never saw myself decorating apartments, especially in this unusual way. The guy could possibly be like me. Nice, decent, lucid, kind, bearable, but in the end he’d go completely crazy and deform my skull. Then he’d take a seat, light a cigarette, look at the window, at the blood on the floor, smoke, check what brand of cigarette he’s holding in his hand, smoke, look carefully at the lighter, look out the window at the children playing and singing stuff they learnt in primary school, get up and say ‘What happened?’ But the gentleman took out his ID and handed it to me
‘Here. I don’t want to give any false information, write down everything you need.’
Then I got up myself, thanked him and he said
‘Here, I don’t have time to make you a coffee, but take some apples. You can pop one in your mouth on the way. I know you’re hungry and it’s hard on you.’
‘Thank you very much.’
‘Thank you for stopping by and talking to me. It was a real pleasure. People don’t really drop by my apartment; the doorbell hasn’t rung in quite some time. I thought it had stopped working. That’s why I dallied a bit when you rang, I didn’t understand what that buzzing was.’
‘Well, I understand, I know the feeling. I’m glad as well. Maybe I’ll stop by next time too.’
‘All the best.’
I was going down the stairs thinking that he was like me. The guy was really lonely. I admired him. Maybe he’s the kind of guy who’s more than half nuts, like me. I kept looking at the apples he had given me and couldn’t stop being amazed.
Then it seemed like the gods were smiling on me and the rejections took a break. There would be some young couple who’d say ‘Ok, sure, I have the time it takes.’ I went into their kitchen and did the questionnaire with the guy. I reached the question about whether he had been sexually assaulted, but I didn’t say sexually. I said physically and he said yes. He thought I meant had he been beaten up, but I wrote down sexually assaulted.
‘How many persons were there involved?’
‘Where did the incident take place?’
‘In front of the building.’
‘Have you reported it to the police?’
‘It wasn’t serious.’
‘Aha, I understand. Thank you.’
And I left.
There were a couple of elderly people who had the goodwill to invite me inside, even turn off the TV and turn down the stove. I had done 8 questionnaires in total and I was already late for the minivan. I started running, but I got kind of lost through the building. I ran and ran… Shit! More buildings. I ran in a different direction. ‘I don’t understand why there are bushes here, and yes, of course, even more buildings. Wait a minute dude, what’s going on here? Where’s the road?’ I looked at the time and it was 5:06 p.m. ‘Is the minivan at 5 or 5:30? Oh, please let it be at 5:30, otherwise I’m screwed.’ Nisporeni was 80 km from Chişinău and all I had in my pocket was 24 lei for the fare. Who would have crawled 80 km from Chişinău just to pick me up? I kept spinning around those buildings when I ran into a man hands in pocket, whistling.
I asked him:
‘Excuse me, how can I get to the city hall?’
‘Make a left and go straight ahead, then left again and straight ahead.’
‘Thank you’ I shouted to him as I was running.
I was already breathing heavily and I had a pain on the side. When I was in Year 12 we named the organs the ones on the left side and the ones on the right side. Well, I had a pain on the left side. But hey, what do you want from me? It was already 5:15 and I wasn’t even sure if the last minivan was at 5:30. So I reached the train station, I saw the minivan – it hadn’t started its engine yet. I was saved, again. Waaait. It was 5:25. I rested for 2 minutes to catch my breath then I said to myself I needed to find a restroom or some trees or at least a collapsing wall… anything. It was a two hour ride and Jesus, I’d been holding it in all day long. And I’d kept sipping from the coffee I’d poured myself in a Pepsi bottle. Hmm, no wonder the locals despised me. They were probably thinking ‘Look at that little bastard, drinking Pepsi and I’m drinking tap water. I mean, I answer his questions and he keeps on drinking Pepsi on my account. He gets money for the questionnaires he’s doing with me and I’m still drinking plain tap water? Nah, forget it!’
In the minivan I opened my bag and saw the apples. I took one and bit on it. The apple of a loner, who kept his shotgun in a safe next to his ID and drivers’ license, almost nuts, just like me.
‘Right. 1,2,3,4,5,6…16. Done. Here we go’ said the driver and turned on some wedding folk music.
The next day at 6:30 a.m. I had my eyes open, or at least I was trying to keep them open.
Anyway, I had to do the other 7 questionnaires. But I felt a chill go down my spine. All those rejections. All those people who weren’t home. Really, Nisporeni had good immunity against interviewers. How could I fight that? I didn’t know whether to get out of bed or drop it. Still, I got out and headed for the train station. Eventually I made it to Nisporeni after I’d seen three fire-engines in my village. In the evening I found out that someone might have set fire to the House of Culture. Ah well, when I reached Nisporeni I headed in a different direction and walked and walked and walked. Not a single house. Not a single house without the lock on, nothing. I kept walking and walking and searching, praying for someone to come up. I walked like that for more than three hours and I had nothing to do. I kept saying to myself ‘God, what is going on? What is this place? Where’s everybody? Have they made a pact to hide? Have they managed to let everyone know in one night? Or maybe I’m backward, a guy with a special mental disease that has yet to be discovered. Maybe I should hand myself in to the authorities so they can study my rare case of learning difficulty.’ And it happened. A boy slightly taller than me came out; he was looking down. I explained to him who I was, what I was doing and what I needed him to answer. He opened the door, took a few steps back and looking down, said in really low voice ‘Come in!’
I started asking him the questions:
He was looking down. He waited for about 30 seconds and without looking up said ‘20’.
And he kept looking down. Staring at something or just looking.
‘Do you think the crime level in your town has risen, remained the same or dropped?’
He was looking down and sometimes he would move his head slowly, without looking up.
‘Remained the same.’ he said.
He waited for about half a minute after every question. Was he semi autistic? He answered with difficulty and only looked down.
I thanked him, he nodded and replied in a low voice, still looking down:
‘You’re welcome, have a safe trip.’
He turned around and walked slowly as if measuring the distance with the soles of his feet; as if in slow motion.
I went to another block of flats and rang a doorbell. A woman came out and said:
‘No, no, we can’t answer this kind of questions. We don’t do that crime stuff, no. Try across the hall.’
I ring at the apartment across the hall and this 26ish year old boy answered and said:
‘I’m sorry, I don’t have time. I’m eating now and after that I’m going to work. Try across the hall (the apartment of the woman before). The people over there have loads of time. Sorry.’
I went into a different building, rang a doorbell and a guy yawing comes out. I told him that I was doing a survey requested by the Soros Foundation and all of that. He yawned and said:
‘No, I… I don’t know about that stuff. I thought you wanted something to eat. See, I’m holding one leu in my hand. But questionnaires, no… Oh, yeah, in this building there’s no one else. There’s a man above, just like me, I don’t think he’s going to answer either, so…’
But there were others who shrugged their shoulders and said ‘Fine, if it’s only for 10 minutes. Go ahead, shoot.’ How I loved those people, but I couldn’t say the same thing about them as well because they kept nodding and saying ‘I thought you said only 10 minutes and I’ve already been standing in front of you for 25. Man, that bible of yours is big.’
I entered the hallway of a girl who lived with her mother. I asked her reading off the piece of paper if she’d been threatened. She said yes.
‘With or without a gun?’
‘With a gun.’
She signalled me to talk in a lower voice so her mother wouldn’t hear. I came closer to her. She said he hadn’t threatened her that seriously; he just waved the gun in front of her. He was an ex-boyfriend. I finished the questionnaire and got out.
I rang another doorbell and a fat gypsy woman came out. She started cursing me. A man came and calmed her. I heard from inside: ‘Send that idiot away, can’t you see he’s making you stupid?!’ The man answered: ‘Shut up, get back inside and shut up ’cause he’s interesting to me.’
I asked him what penalty he thought a young man who had never stolen anything in his life should suffer if he did steal something, like a colour TV.
‘Well, community work. No, not prison. It’s too harsh.’
I asked another question:
‘Have you ever been sexually assaulted?’
‘I wish. No, I’m stuck with… you saw who and I’ve never had the pleasure of being sexually assaulted…’
I finished the questionnaire and looked for another apartment.
Finally, it was 4:25 p.m. A little old man opens the door. He was about my height, bald and smiley. He invited me inside. ‘Take a seat there, yes, on the armchair. There you go, yes.’
He gave me his phone number from the outset. I had to take the phone number of all the respondents so that the people from the office could check if I had indeed talked to them and not forged the questionnaires. I started asking him about felonies:
‘Do you think the level of felonies has risen in the past 5 years?’
‘Look here, I’ve served in the German army. I even have a medal; I can show it to you. And now Igor is in Italy. Yes, Italy, I’m left all alone except for a man I don’t even know that well sitting all day in his pyjamas at my place. But Igor hasn’t visited in a long time; he sends some money from time to time. Igor – my son.’
‘Yes, but about the felonies, what do you think? Has the level risen or not?’
‘I can tell you I’ve served in the German army, but now I’ve started drinking. I’m a drunk, I pass daily by that bar on the corner. Do you see it? Well, I get something to drink over there every day and I feel good.’
He coughed and said:
‘I apologise, but you understand, I drink and I apologise.’
He smiled and coughed again. I asked another question:
‘Do you have a bicycle in your household?’
‘Yes, I do. I’ll show it to you right away. I have two grandkids as well, Vasea and Anişoara. I’ll show them to you right away. I ride my bicycle to go get my booze.’
He took me to a parlour and showed me some photos.
‘Here are my grandkids. Look, there I am when I had hair. Look, there’s the bicycle, ha ha ha.’
We were both smiling. He kept coughing, apologising and reminding me that he drank and that he had served in the German army. But he was a drunk, he didn’t do much and he felt good that way. I shook his hand and thanked him. I went out, almost happy, almost surprised. ‘I don’t know, it seems that the only decent people around here are the wacky ones’ I said to myself.
I ran again for the minivan, scared I was running in the wrong direction. But I made it to the train station. I pissed against a crumbling wall again and felt a sort of release I’d missed for a long time.