[ Chapter 1.1 is here. ]
21 October 2023
Those who run the road of despair are driven by an unquenchable thirst for vengeance. It does not lead to freedom, regardless of any undeserved and fleeting victories that chance throws to us like a clean bone is thrown to dogs. That road runs to dead ends: slavery, self-deceit and defeat.
On the road of despair, never can there be enough. Nor peace. Neither forgiveness nor thanksgiving will fly from our heart or lips when we run that unfortunate and much traveled highway. But if thanks, praise and forgiveness never fly from our hearts and lips, neither will they fly to perch upon new blessings, new tomorrows and hope’s renewal.
On the road of despair, we only take possession of lesser treasures by force, deceit and theft: knick knacks, kitsch and all the other counterfeits of joy, love, and peaceful heart. But thieves, they never enjoy the hospitalities afforded to honored and cherished guests: generosity, kindness and love – among other good things.
“I’d like to hear about your trip and how things are going in Bucovina,” said Noah Roman as he passed pan bread to Zach.
Zach looked out on Cismigiu Park from the roof terrace of the Monte Carlo atrium. The buildings looked reasonably well. Almost like it was. It was healing for Zach to see it so.
Noah was the mayor of Cismigiu. With great diplomacy, clever tactics, and charisma, he had held the neighborhoods around Cismigiu together through the collapse.
The man had an impressive head, a bold Roman nose, thick-curly, black hair, and thick brows. Noah looked like a Senator of old Rome or an Italian aristocrat. But like Napoleon, he was shorter than most men.
He also wore a patch over his right eye. Noah had lost it during the food riots a year earlier. He was shot in the face with a rubber bullet while trying to speak to riot leaders. Friendly fire. Or so they say.
A member of the Labor Party and a Ministry Secretary to the Food and Drug Ministry, he was considered too soft, too loud, and confused about his allegiances. His allegiance was to the Labor Party, not to workers – as he was often reminded by party leaders.
His colleagues at the Food and Drug Ministry also believed he was confused about the mission of the ministry. In the opinion of the Minister, their ministry had nothing to do with the cost of food or it’s quality. Their mission was to ensure that food was properly taxed and licensed.
Noah didn’t agree, but he didn’t make waves either. He helped where he could do good – quietly and patiently. Where he couldn’t do good, he let it into God’s hands with prayer.
The man enjoyed life. He enjoyed people. He celebrated both. Often. With a bottle of wine.
Zach took the pan bread, thanked Noah, and started to eat it. It had corn and greasy bits of meat. It needed salt.
“The road was long. It took us seven days to get here…
I used to drive it in six hours. Before the radar traps, five,” Zach explained and they both laughed.
We cleared the road from Roman to here. We moved abandoned cars off the road. And cars with the dead. We didn’t see that many people.”
“You mean survivors?” Noah asked.
“We avoided trouble as much as we could,” Zach answered. “We didn’t go knocking on doors. We made as few stops as possible. Villages, towns and cities were dead quiet.”
“And where are you from, Zach?” Noah asked.
Three cracks of an AK resounded in the park.
Noah and Zach went down to see what was going on. Halfway down the steps, they were met by a man. He hurriedly told Noah that there was an argument at the trucks. Zach raced down the steps and headed to the trucks parked on Bulevardul Schitu Magureanu.
As Zach got to the trucks, he saw a stand-off: Lumi stood with seven men with shotguns and three pikemen with spear points ready. Around them were 12 soldiers with AKs aimed at Zach’s people.
“ZACH! They want to see what’s in the freight trucks. I told them no. So they came back with 12 armed soldiers and told me to move aside,” Lumi explained.
“I fired off three warning shots.”
Zach put his sunglasses on.
“Three snipers in the building across the street. Second and third floor windows and on the roof,” texted Lumi.
Max has the one on the second floor in her sights. Grace has a lock on the third floor. I’ll take out the one on the roof.
“If this goes bad, we’re dead,” texted Zach. “Wait and see.”
Noah arrived and asked what was going on. One of the soldiers lowered his rifle, came over to Noah and whispered in Noah’s ear.
“Soldiers, lower your rifles!”
The soldiers lowered their rifles.
“I’m sorry…um,” Noah began.
“Zach,” Zach replied.
“I’m sorry Zach. I had no knowledge of this. This is a misunderstanding,” explained Noah.
“The Captain of the Guard ordered them to search the trucks without consulting me. As you can understand, we are all concerned about our safety.”
“The Captain demanded an inventory list,” texted Lumi.
“Come and see the trucks, Noah,” said Zach. “These are not Trojan horses.”
“Open up the trucks,” ordered Zach.
Noah slid between the narrow aisle between the loads and found no hiding soldiers. He came out with a big smile.
“You have wine!” Noah beamed.
“300 liters of the wine, 300 kgs of salt and 300 kgs of honey is yours. It’s payment for your hospitality and your protection of my people,” said Zach.
We also have things to trade. We need antibiotics, ammunition, and, hopefully, friendship.
“We won’t stay too long. We won’t eat your food. We need to care for our injured. We need to bury our dead…”
Tears streamed down Zach’s face. Noah saw Zach’s tears and understood.
“I graciously accept your handsome gifts, your peace, and your friendship,” Noah replied.
“Sugar and salt is better than gold here. And wine, wine is the currency of diplomacy and contentment.”
Today, we will bury your fallen. Together! I will dig with you. We are brothers now.
This is your home.
For where you bury your dead, that is where your heart shall dwell – all your days and nights.
You will share our food with us. Our homes. Our hearts. Together, we stand against despair.”
Noah held out his hand in peace to Zach and they shook hands.
“Soldiers, henceforth, your duty is to protect the property of our new friends. Even against our own people. You will take orders from only me and the blonde… what’s your name?
“Lumi,” replied Lumi.
“You will take orders from only me and Lumi. Do you understand my instructions, soldiers?” ordered Noah.
“Sir, yes, sir,” the soldiers replied in one loud voice.
Lumi smiled. She wanted to cry, but she couldn’t allow herself to show a thread of weakness. This is the first fight in a long time that wasn’t solved by killing.
“Stand down,” Lumi texted to Max and Grace.
Lumi had the pikemen unload the wine, salt and honey. They gave it over to the soldiers and the soldiers took the goods to Monte Carlo.
“Feed and befriend the soldiers. Win them over with love, generosity and kindness,” Zach texted to Lumi.
Our cause is righteous, good and just.
Overcome their fears and suspicions.
For fear and suspicion is an enemy that grows large and ferocious…
in the shadows of rumor and plots.
Today, God’s hand protects us.
Were it otherwise, we would have died here and now.
Tomorrow, however, is a new day.
Yet tomorrow asks us today, whether it shall be a blessing or a curse.
“Da, sefu,” texted Lumi.
In the church on the northside of Cismigiu Park, Daniel and Eree prepared the four bodies for burial. They washed the blood and dirt from the bodies with holy water.
They wrapped them in white sheets and sewed them closed with red yarn. On the chest of each wrapped body, they wrote with a Sharpie permanent marker. They wrote the name of the dead, the date, and the same message: “Died Doing The Work of God.”
Lumi, Max and Grace prepared coliva from barley, wheat berries, walnuts, sunflower seeds, raisins, cinnamon, and sugar. They cooked it near the trucks with firewood brought by the soldiers under Lumi’s new command.
Two graves were dug behind the statues in the Rotunda of Writers. Henry was laid neatly next to Vincenzo – two foreigners that had become brothers in a foreign land. Dana and George – Zach’s only son – were laid together behind the statue of Mihai Eminescu. They were two unfortunate, young lovers without a future.
There were many tears from the members of the caravan. Their hearts had not become stones.
“Sa-i fie tarana usoara!” They said to each other. Roughly translated: “May the earth weigh lightly on your coffin.”
They were joined by Noah and the 12 Council Members of Cismigiu. They drank afinata together – a strong drink made from blueberries, sugar, and alcohol.
Zach’s thoughts rolled quietly like tumbleweed across a rocky, cold desert night.
George would never go to college. He would never marry and have children. There would be no wedding party and baptisms. The three barrels of palinka that Zach had buried underground 18 years ago would not be served to George’s guests.
There would be no grandchildren to spoil. No one to teach the ways of landcraft, animal husbandry, and nature – all the things that he had learned from his grandfather. There would be no laughter and squeals of grand children. There would be no finger holes in the pies and cakes set out to cool.
George would not build a house on the land of his grandfathers. George would not even have a proper funeral: no vigil in their home, no candles and no casket.
Zach’s wife would never speak to him – if Zach would see Georgina again.
Georgina would slap his face when she heard the news from him. She’d cry for a month. And she would never speak again with Zach.
George would never stumble home drunk again, thought Zach as salty tears fell from his eyes.
Sam Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come was playing on Zach’s headset.
It’s been to hard living, but I’m afraid to die…
Zach let out a loud cry and fell to his knees. He cried hard. Desperate sounds escaped his quivering lips. Daniel and Eree lifted him up; they held him as the Priest finished the blessing.
Zach would cry by George’s grave for three days. Daniel and Eree stayed by his side those long days and nights. Around Zach, they lay a thick circle of salt.
Because when a man’s heart is broken like that – evil comes to him with gifts of fury and madness. It tempts that broken man with vengeance and hatred. But a circle of salt will hold evil off. Evil can not cross over to do God-awful work. Not even the devil himself.
Daniel and Eree kept a fire going through the nights, wrapped Zach in a blanket, and forced him to take a little water or hot soup on occasion. They prayed for Zach and George’s soul.
Daniel and Eree had also lost sons and daughters on the road to Bucharest. Their graves were dug in Urziceni. There they were laid to rest. In a strange village. Far from their home.
Daniel and Eree had grieved for three days by the graves of their children. Zach had watched over them, prayed for them, and prayed for the souls of their children.
The soldiers had learned from Lumi that the sergeants at arms had been taken out.
Good news travels faster.
On the night of the funeral, a hundred candles were lit in the windows of occupied apartments across the neighborhoods of Cismigiu. The humble, flickering lights were a sign of hope; a memorial for the fallen, and a prayer for those injured.
Lumi learned that the sergeants of arms had been a terror since the first days of the disaster. The motorcycle gangs had been relentless in their round ups of slaves, food and other resources. They were relentless also in their murdering and cruelty.
They dragged bound, screaming victims behind their motorcycles so their cries could be heard through the streets.
When a family would be discovered, the family would be taken from their apartment. Mother and father would be executed by baseball bats and axes in front of the children. The children would be baptized into the gang with their parents blood and then the children would be taken away as slaves.
There were rumors that very small and disabled children were used as feed for their rat farms.
Rat farms were common place in the new Bucharest. Rat meat was the secret ingredient of their pan bread and soup. The furs were being made into hats and boots for winter. Lumi would learn that they had 12 rat farms in the Cismigiu neighborhoods.
The rats at Cismigiu, however, fed mostly on the carrion of the dead, carrion worms, rotten food, card board, leather, and trash. They were fed other things too but that was unspeakable.
The soldiers also told Lumi that Cismigiu had three cat farms – but herding cats was tricky business.
Lumi wondered why they hadn’t tried to get out of Bucharest if things had gotten so bad.
Remus, one of the soldiers, thought that was a stupid question.
“Why should we leave? This is our home. The worst had passed. Things are going to get better,” he told Lumi with a tone of excitement, confidence and authority.
The United Nations will send peace-keeping troops and humanitarian aid. That’s what they said when the city was falling. They rode through the streets in their humvees and tanks. They told us on loud speakers that they would be coming back to restore peace and security.
The U.N. forces left us with canned meats, beans, rice, coffee, tea, and chocolate for a month. It must have been more than a few tons. They made twenty four of these drops across the city. They also told us to stay in our homes where it is safe.
The Romanian government also made food drop offs about a month later. They also told us to stay put. That we shouldn’t leave Bucharest because it was dangerous outside of the city. That armed terrorists had seized villages across the country and our soldiers were fighting them and winning back our villages with the help of UN ground forces.
Outside our walled neighborhood, military trucks dropped off 100s of kgs of corn meal, flour, wheat berries, potatoes, sugar, salt, and sunflower oil.
On loudspeakers, the President himself told us that they were working with the UN to coordinate a relief effort that included doctors and disaster recovery teams.
Remus paused for a minute and then remembered something else:
The President told us that the worst was over. He told us that things were going to get better.
He also told us that whoever stays in a property will own that property. For those who were paying the bank for their apartment or house, the property will be owned free and clear. Mortgages would be forgotten.
For those who occupied an apartment or house, that apartment or house would belong to them if they could prove that they occupied that apartment or house for six months. People only need ten witnesses to prove their claim.
The same goes for cars. If you have ten witnesses, the car is yours. Past ownership doesn’t matter. And so, Lumi, yes… my future is bright!
As soon as peace and security is restored, the government will open offices to receive the claims.
Remus smiled and gave a high five to one of his comrades.
I’m going to own an apartment by Cismigiu Park! That’s something I could never even dream about. I thought that the best thing that could happen to me is that my mother would die and I get her crummy two room apartment in Pantelimon. But now I’m going to have a six room apartment in Cismigiu! It’s an apartment in a vila built by a General!
“Why would I give that up?” asked Remus. He nodded his head and continued.
I was a math teacher. I didn’t make much, but I educated children. They are the only hope we can have. Children. But no one respects teachers. No one thinks a teacher should be paid well. Regardless of society’s poor opinion of my sacrifice, I taught the children. But not even my wife respected me.
Five years ago, my wife, Florentina, left me for a blogger because he made three times as much money as I did. He also had a three room apartment in Militari and a second hand BMW. Flori made me feel like a creep. Like a loser. Like a nobody.
Now I will show Flori who is the better man. I will show her how I was destined for big things. I even have a BMW Hybrid X6! It’s parked in a garage on Stirbei Voda for safe keeping.
She’ll come begging on her knees. Flori will come back to me and I’ll laugh and I’ll spit in her face.
I can’t wait to see Flori’s pitiful expression. I can’t wait to make her understand that all along she’s the creep, the loser, and the nobody.
“What if she’s dead?” asked Lumi.
Sam Cooke, A Change Is Gonna Come
The next chapter section (1.9) is [here]. Enjoy!
Your feedback (comment) means much to me.
26 April 2011
Copyright 2011 by Stan Faryna. All Rights Reserved.