Doina Ruști

The checkered shirt and 10 other episodes from Bucharest (Cămașa în carouri și alte 10 întâmplări din București)

The checkered shirt and 10 other episodes from Bucharest (Cămașa în carouri și alte 10 întâmplări din București) - Doina Ruști
Polirom Publishing, 2010 (Romanian)

Cristian

She had seen him from the other side of the street, long legs like scythes and his shadow projected on the grey wall of University, squeezing through the crowd and had run towards him, shouting over the flow of cars racing their engines to the maximum: Cristiaaan!

They agreed to meet at the corner of the street in front of the library. That’s where he was heading but Madi hadn’t had the patience, as she wanted him to know she had seen him from across the street. She hadn’t paid any attention, of course, she had just sprung towards him, electrified by the unexpected recognition of the tall silhouette and the head wrapped in a cherry-coloured piece of cloth, an image that instantaneously melted her soul just like the first time she had seen him, threading his way along the dark wall in Club A.

Under the clear sky of May, the intersection at University Square was vibrating of engines packed in bright, colourful carcasses, and among them, was quickly advancing the black car, just like the black cat, like the black kid. A car, the size of an elephant, stealthily entered the cross of the road, while the slippery sounds were wafting over the boulevard- 8 fresh and slender sounds like ice cream cups. Madi had freed them from her lungs as she was watching the cherry-coloured bandana advancing above all the other heads, also hurrying to creep along the grey wall. She had called his name and carried on hoping that he would turn his head, even after she realized the front of the black car had hit her as if she were a rubber skittle. The news of her death passed as swift as lightning through her head while his name kept floating towards the cherry-coloured spot. For a fleeting moment, Madi saw the sky, but tried, once again, to look about for the tall and hasty silhouette, wishing with a death longing that her scream would catch up with him. And as her body, spectacularly lifted in the air, was directed to the dusty asphalt, the eight willowy and cheerful sounds were moving away above the cars, tenderly coiling around the cables along the street, internet, television, electricity or phone wires, unseen roads, suffocated by thousands of passengers, each with his own goal, a goal which was as clear as the one of the eight chained and foamy sounds resembling some spots of light enthusiastic about their freedom.

Cristian arrived at the library on time and kept waiting for Madi among the bookshelves, reading indiscriminately the backs of the books: The History of the Ancient Egypt, The Sins of the Modern Man, Living to Tell the Tale, dictionaries, guide books, literature, white, red, orange book backs; and when he had realized she wasn’t coming, he had beeped her and then called. Her mobile phone was hidden at the base of the escalator, and only when it rang the second time, had Saridon seen it and quickly shuffled it out of sight, in the pocket of his baggy trousers and ran away to get rid of the commodity fallen out of the blue. Therefore, only in the evening did Cristian find about Madi’s death. For months, he kept thinking of how he could have saved her, imagining various ways in which he could have stopped her on the other side of the street. Madi was part of his soul and Cristian’s life had suddenly dried like a raisin in the sun without her. Cristian endured the flying seconds going forward, forsaken among people, apathetic and in low spirits, alone in a world ready to offer him some advice, to sympathize with him or to give him a push because he had no purpose under the sun.

His sorrow lasted a few years, after which, imperceptibly matured, became a docile and sullen man. His parents pulled all the strings they could so that he would seize the good opportunity for a position with Consumer’s Protection Office. He wasn’t an inspector or any other person with heavy responsibilities upon his shoulders, he was just a translator. He was in charge of the labels on the food products. Life was comfortable. Cristian was a good-natured man, he spoke little and seemed pretty careful with himself, because his mother spent a lot of time so that his clothes would be clean, ironed and neatly arranged on his chair every morning, clothes that Cristian didn’t even look at. He had given up buying brand name T-shirts or fashionable trainers long time ago. He just wore whatever his mother gave him. And once trapped in this routine, life was smoothly unfolding among shapeless thoughts, not even his nourishing thoughts, as they used to be, but a pile of tainted scraps.

And one day, as he was senselessly wandering through life, he fell in love. She was a woman who dragged him out of his lair with her way of looking at him as a cutting edge scientific innovation.

Cristian got married, had children, struggled to settle them down, went to a lot of infinite trouble to book good tickets for holidays, didn't spare any effort to buy nice furniture, a fridge, a TV set, and then a large plasma. Years have passed, paved with minor satisfactions, ideals mostly related to his children’s achievements. His youth was something he could hardly call to his mind and Madi’s death was just a remote spot engraved on the humid sky with translucent clouds.

Until one day. One evening more precisely.

He was sitting in front of the TV, in his armchair, watching Midsomer Murders and from time to time his wife. She was cuddled under the old blanket wearing her eyeglasses and he felt safe knowing her by his side. He was peeking at her as if she were an old and dear suitcase. Then he had been completely absorbed into the plot of the film: the character advancing through a forest, followed by the murderer lurking in the shadows. It was silence and extreme tension. Cristian was trying to anticipate the next move when suddenly, through the open window, the wandering eight sounds rushed into the room. They were slippery and translucent, like ice crystals, rolling one after the other on the small carpet in front of the armchair, and his name took shape embodied in a well known voice: Cristiaaan!

He saw the penultimate sound vibrating and multiplying and he instantaneously felt connected with the shadow of another time. The eight sonorous impulses, descended from nowhere, were part of his name and life drops so unsubstantially materialized under his own eyes, between the armchair and the television set. He glanced at his wife and quickly understood that she was witnessing the same spectacle too, bewildered and shivering by the slender sounds which seemed to dance on the soft carpet. The noise stopped but the eight sounds kept moving, rising in the air like blades of dandelion. They were floating in a rustle under the man’s nose, stiff in his armchair, luminous bundles coming from the dying soul of a woman in love.

Cristian slowly got up following the tinkling gale and the gleam of the spiral waters, without any thoughts in his mind, with no plans and no precautions he stepped into the hallway and then opened the bathroom door and stood for a moment, struck by the blinding light

He fumbled outside and then he began to see the pavement swarming with people and happiness filled his soul. It was summer, and in the blue sky above him, white and thin clouds were passing from time to time. There was the University in front of him. The eight sprightly sounds were moving away, tightly packed, coloured in shades of red and green by the light which was passing through.. They were heading above the boulevard, over the cars, and he was following them on the glazed pavement fearing not to lose them. On the other side of the street a girl was waving at him. She was ready to go through the flow of cars when he raised his both hands frightened. Something distant and sorrowful, an old fear had raised from his depths like a zip. She stopped all of a sudden, confused by his gesture, broadly smiling under the black fringe and she decided to change her direction making him a sign to go upwards.

Cristian looked for the shimmering sounds for a while, but realized they had melted in the hot air of May. He turned around in an attempt of following the girl on the other side, but suddenly he felt his soul filled with the happiness of being free.

He felt the need to smoke a cigarette seated on the cement curbstone, to wander the streets and to feel the callow smell of other people in his nostrils.

(trad. Madi Andrei)