The Homecoming

by Matei Bîtea [Romania]

Translation from Romanian by Wendy Stein & Mirona Palas [MTTLC student]

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The young man with a red backpack has two big packages in his hands and cannot get on the train. The stairs to the cabin are blocked. There is a huge crowd of mothers, fathers, grandparents, brothers, sisters and friends pushing against each other as they attempt to board the train.. The military oath will be taken, and a new generation will become the hopeful protector.


With great difficulty the young man pushes his way through the crowd as his haversack bumps against people.  He arrives at the engine car. The mechanic is holding his head out the window and is enjoying the show on the platform. The young man, with hopes he will get a place in the cabin, tries to bribe him. The engine driver begins to laugh. The young man crosses the railway tracks and goes to the last car. He changes his mind, guessing the uselessness of the effort and goes to the waiting room. With his head heavy with effort, he looks only ahead of his feet.


He feels a hand grabbing his arm, shaking him strongly, and hears a loud voice shouting in his ears: ‘Wait! What are you carrying, what have you stolen?’ The young man sees the zip of his jeans jacket almost popping. He screams: ‘What are you doing, man, you are tearing up my clothes’ Then he looks up. In front of him is a chubby militiaman. Two steps ahead of him is a soldier with a gun on his shoulder. The Master Sergeant smelling of Carpati cigarettes drew his face close to the young man’s. ‘Come with me, you bandit!’ The bandit does not understand a thing, he sees the train moving and taking away the crowd ‘Come on!’ The young man seems obviously confused, and so the Master Sergeant makes him understand something else, a machine gun stock in his back, between the ribs. Only then, feeling the pain in his back, does he move his legs and his feet, seeing the people on the platform watching him with surprise and scorn.



Only the fat one enters the traffic superintendent’s office.  The soldier remains at the door. It’s not cold in the room, the heat comes out from the baked clay from near the engine driver’s office. The latter one talks on the phone. The Master Sergeant makes a sign. To cut the phone call short and get out. The Master Sergeant has red cheeks, obviously he has warmed up. He hangs his helmet on the rail and sits down on a chair.


‘Unpack! Everything!’


‘All right, but why? What have I done?!’


The militiaman stands up and with unsuspected speed he draws closer to him and slaps the young man. ‘Are you glossing?’ The slap left marks of sweat. The bandit loses his courage, the Master Sergeant changes his mind now and asks for his papers. ‘Your name?’ He shouts, although he has the ID card opened in front of him. ‘Gheorghe Dincotet’, is the answer. ‘Which one is the surname and which one the first name?’ The young man smiles. ‘What’s written on it?’ The fat man feels that the boy is pulling his leg. He swings his hand once again, but the victim bends and the slap hits the air. Gheorghe laughs, and within a moment, the other hand hits him, the ID card’s cover scratches his cheek. The militiaman laughs as well: ‘You think you’re smart, don’t you?’


‘How dare you hit me?’


‘Want to see how?’ Another slap.


‘Unpack everything you’ve got! Right here, on the floor.’ The young man does exactly as told, the train has gone and there is plenty of time until the next one arrives. He unpacks slowly, careful not to dirty his clothes and other stuff he’s got. From time to time he must answer questions. ‘What’s this? Have you got any papers for that?’ No, he hasn’t, he won’t keep sales slips for pants, vests and underpants. He gets slapped one more time for insolence. Now is the time for packages. Tablets black round boxes, pincers and other things pop out. The militiaman looks surprised at these items.


‘And what are these?’


‘My stuff. I take pictures.’


Where does he have them from? From the store, where else?! ‘Any sale slips?’


The Master Sergeant sits down again at the traffic superintendent’s desk. He skims the papers he took from Gheorghe. He stands up and carefully looks at everything spread at his feet. He bends over and grabs something longish.


‘But what about this one?’


‘It’s a tripod for the magnifier.’


‘Tell that to the marines! It’s stolen from the technical department, I’ve seen this before! Do you think that if you transferred yourself, you can take the whole factory with you?’ He looks at the object one more time, holds it in his hand, stretches it and seems to have understood.


‘Pack up!’


Gheorghe is glad now. He cannot pack his things as they had been packed before; it seems that not one item has its old place in the backpack. Finally everything is repacked.  Standing, he waits to receive the papers. The militiaman is quiet and lights a cigarette. He looks at Dincotet.


‘Everything stays with me, I have to check the theft!’


‘What theft? Call the factory and ask them if I stole something from them!’


‘Don’t play the smart aleck with me! Who am I to find on Saturday? I’ll find out on Monday.’


‘And what will I do for two nights?! There’s no room left in the youth hostel!’


‘You’ll do just fine!’


Then, as if touched, the Master Sergeant wants to know when the next train to Bucharest will depart. His job is in the train station, he surely knows the schedule and that there are no trains leaving until the following morning. ‘Come to me before I get out of the shift, and we’ll talk then!’


Gheorghe leaves. He buys cigarettes from the store and walks on the platform. Tired, he takes refuge in the waiting room and finds a free seat next to an old lady and a drunkard.. He tries to fall asleep. The soldier who hit him comes at midnight. He smiles at Dincotet and checks all those sleeping on the benches. He wakens them only to tell them to take their feet off the chairs. After he leaves, everything returns to how it had been.


When he is called, Gheorghe goes to the Traffic Management office. The Master Sergeant is not there, so he looks for him on the platform. He is not there. The fat militiaman is at the booking office, just ending a conversation with a peasant. He sees the detained and gives him a smile. Timidly, Dincotet comes closer. He has another strategy.


‘You know, I apologize for my behavior last night. I regret what happened. I would like to receive my papers back, because on Tuesday I have to attend my new job. If you like, keep the luggage for investigation.’


The Master Sergeant does not say a word and keeps puffing. He says: ‘You engineers, are big sly dogs! You think you’re very smart, but you haven’t got a clue how to behave with people!’ He is silent again, Gheorghe does not say a word. He waits for the militiaman’s decision. The man in the uniform is probably waiting for a request. Eventually he hears: ‘I kindly ask you to give me my papers back!’


‘Come back on Monday, we’ll get in touch with the Inspectorate.’ The young man leaves. Angrily, he kicks a paper on the ground, as if it was a football. He buys a ticket for the next train. He hardly waits for 5 minutes before getting on the train. He gets off at the next town, arrives in a park, finds a bench and waits until the evening. He freezes to death and he is hungry but he does not move. He probably thinks of what he did wrong and what he has to do.


Then he is struck by an idea. Happily, he stands up and leaves for the train station. He could shout for joy.  He gets on the next train and arrives at the station from where he left that morning. He sits down in his old place, next to other drunkards.


Unshaven and with dark rings around his eyes he presents himself at the rail militiaman’s office. Surprise, surprise! He has not shown up today, he’s gone on a mission. The Master Sergeant listens to the explanations. He knows, the colleagues from the night shift have already told him.


Gheorghe was prepared, he takes out a 50-Lei bill, leaves it on the young militiaman’s desk. The latter one looks at it. Dincotet takes another one out, another 50 Lei, and puts the bill next to the other one. ‘Please give me my luggage back, so I can go home!’ The Major speaks in a low and soft voiced tone. ‘Oh, dear, you shouldn’t have!’ With delicate gestures he hides the bill under a notepad. He takes the papers out of a drawer. He gets up and opens a door. With large gestures he shows him where the backpack and the packages are.


The young man rushes to the booking office. Like never before, he leaves a tip. The train has arrived. It’s an accommodation train, but it does not matter anymore, it will take him where he is supposed to go. Gheorghe leans on the compartment window. The city where he made his internship is left behind him, splashed in the late autumn’s sun.


The Homecoming

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