Mittwoch, 28. Dezember 2016

The Scooter


Foto: D.D.



I don’t know why it had entered my head that I had to go and see the church in Cioropina, a village in the south, on the Argeș valley, spreading on both sides of the highway. I was six or seven back then and it was summer. I could not walk on foot, it was too far, but I had a new scooter, which my father had just bought from Bucharest, where he used to go on business now and then. Yet I did not feel like venturing to Cioropina on my new scooter, as I did not know the way and I was afraid of finding myself wandering through some god-forsaken places and running into trouble. And maybe I would have waited a few years until I grew up, so that my father could buy me a bike and I could have learned the way better, if one of the boys from Blendea’s infamous family, whose name I cannot remember, although this is of no importance, looking wistfully at my new scooter, had not convinced me that he would guide me himself in that pious pilgrimage to the above-mentioned village, where he happened to have some relatives, his paternal grandparents, it seems. I knew this boy by sight as I always saw him pass on our street, ruffled and dirty, and knew that he was repeating the year. Blendea’s boy was the spitting image of the Blendea family, but this I was going to find out later. He asked me for one leu so that he would buy a package of Nationals, he said they were for his grandfather in Cioropina, and warned me not to say a word about our planned trip to my parents, while setting up a meeting for the following morning, down the street, after my father left for work. I was to make sure that nobody would see me leave home, and if I could not keep my mouth shut, he was not going to take me with him and I was not going to see that big beautiful Church, full of painted saints, in Cioropina. He started to walk towards the soda water shop, where they also sold cigarettes, and I stayed on the doorstep, until Blendea’s boy disappeared from my view and I was seized by a certain perplexity, wondering whether I had given him one leu for nothing. The night might have seemed long thinking of the expedition next day and I might have dreamt of scooters and painted churches with one thousand one saints, who deserved the effort of being closely seen and of the leu I had given to Blendea’s boy. Luckily, the dawn broke soon, my father jumped on his wreck of a Russian bicycle and rode to work. I crept outside too, on my new scooter, which was still smelling of fresh paint and started on my way in the other direction. I sped up down the hill, as if I was being chased by demons, rising clouds of dust behind me. Blendea’s boy was true to his word: he was waiting for me bandy-legged, near the soda water shop, smoking a cigarette. ‘Come on, we’re late! Why did it take you so long?’ he started scolding me even from afar, then threw away the cigarette butt in a ditch, jumped on the scooter in front of me, clutched tight at the handle bars and told me to step on it, as the afternoon was approaching. He was standing with both feet on my scooter, while I used only one, with the other pedaling. Luckily the highway was paved with asphalt and although Blendea’s boy had a wrong position and hampered my pedaling, blocking my view, the scooter was driving like an inspection trolley on the railway.
We drove out of our village without my noticing it, we rushed through Cioacele and I have no idea how we got to Cioropina. Yet somehow we had made it. We stopped near the church, which was not a princely cathedral and did not even resemble the Dorobanți church on the hill, run-down, but full of saints and ancient things. Curious, I got off the scooter and went to contemplate the place where the people in Cioropina worshipped God. Blendea’s boy, not at all willing to see the church more closely as I was, with a slight air of boredom, stayed behind on the margin of the highway, clutching at the handles without a word. He had fulfilled his promise by bringing me here and nothing concerned him anymore. I went round the church, counting the saints painted on the walls, but I was not very impressed. At least, not as much as I had expected. The church in my village was bigger and it seemed more beautiful.
It was about noon. While I was still contemplating the church walls, trying to weigh the worth of the painted saints, the rattle of some wheels made me turn my head and I saw Blendea’s boy just as he was riding away on my scooter. Until I was able to utter a word, to ask him what he was doing and where he was going, he had already crossed the highway and went through the gate of his grandparents’ house together with my scooter, closing the gate tight behind him. I stood motionless for some moments, as I did not expect this and I could not understand what was happening. Until then I had had about seven scooters, which I had ruined, yet none of them happened to be taken by somebody, so it had not crossed my mind that something like this would be possible. When I recovered my senses, I thought that Blendea’s boy would come out to give me my scooter back or he would invite me to his grandparents’ house for lunch. A vain hope, as the wretched Blendea’s boy was not coming out. After entering his grandparents’ place, he abandoned my scooter in the middle of the yard, like a kind of trophy and he stood by air with a provocative air, as if saying: “I am now home and this scooter belongs to me”.
I crossed the street and stood before the closed gate. Blendea’s boy was standing next to the scooter, like a guardian, and was looking at me without budging, with the gaze of a Sphinx, under the afternoon sun which was burning both of us. He was looking straight into my eyes, without saying a word. The yard and his grandparents’ house seemed deserted and I waited in vain to see any of them coming out. I did not dare enter that foreign yard, for fear that a dog would jump at me or something else would happen, and after a few minutes of hopeless waiting, I started to shout at the top of my lungs. Blendea’s boy did not react in any way. He stood his ground. Whether he had premeditated his theft or not, one could see that he meant to cling to my scooter and did not want to give it back. Instead, on the previously deserted alley a group of women appeared, some young, some older, who had heard me crying. They gathered round me and asked what had happened to me. Among sobs I told them my story, pointing to Blendea’s boy and my scooter behind the fence. The women appeared deeply impressed by what had happened and one of them, older and more robust, started to swear at Blendea’s boy on account of his cheating, which was apparently not far from his esteemed grandparents either, and then all the women urged him in one voice to give me my scooter back. But the cheat who had swindled me continued to stay behind the closed gate and he had no intention of admitting to his cheat and giving the scooter back. No threat managed to make him step back. Then the robust woman went to her house and came back with her son. A boy that was older and stronger than Blendea’s. He first tried to enter the gate in order to bring back the scooter, but as the gate had been locked he had to jump over the fence. Once on the other side he took the scooter from where it had been thrown, without Blendea’s boy trying to resist him, he went out triumphantly with it through the gate with it and returned it to me, looking to see if Blendea’s boy had damaged it.
I could go back home now, but the women showed their concern and did not let me go back alone, for fear that Blendea’s boy would meet me at the village end and steal the scooter a second time. In Cioropina he was notorious for his bad deeds. They asked the boy who had recovered my scooter to see me off home and we started immediately. When we went out of the village, at a bend in the road, he showed me some back gardens from where Blendea’s boy could have cut my way and told me about his old deeds, well-known to the villagers. We passed by the accursed place without anything happening to us, as Blendea’s boy did not show himself or want to show himself; maybe he was spying on us hidden somewhere, when we went on the highway behind the gardens, but gave it up seeing that I was not alone.
This small history has several endings.
The son of the woman in Cioropina brought me back safe and sound and went back to his village on foot, without asking for anything in return. Of course I kept silent about everything in front of my parents, otherwise they wouldn’t have allowed me to ride my scooter for a long time. A few months passed since that event and life was carrying me forward, when, one day, I met my rescuer again, passing through our village in a cart. We recognized each other as if we had parted the day before, we stopped and talked like two good old friends. Afterwards I did not see him again, yet the event that made me know and appreciate him stayed in my memory.
Twenty or so years passed since then. One day, when I had come on a visit in the village, I found out that Blendea’s boy had just died in a serious accident. He had crashed into a tree with a stolen motorbike at 100 km per hour. The constable had found out first about the accident and went to his parents’ home to give them the sad news. When he saw the policeman on his doorstep, old Blendea, imagining that his son had committed another theft or started a new scandal in the village, without letting the law officer speak first, is rumoured to have welcomed him with this legendary parental enquiry:
Has my son screwed it up again?! … Beat him up, beat him up!...
The law officer, looking askance at him, shut him up with the following reply:
How can I beat him up, you blockhead, he’s dead.”
From my scooter, Blendea’s boy had shifted to motorbikes. He never got to vehicles, though.





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