We encourage each other to go down to the hospital gate. I am suffering from a kind of frenzy, an aimless energy, something akin to a young animal in whose psychical makeup the word FREEDOM functions like nuclear fission. We are free. FREE. Henceforth everything becomes possible. We are no longer satisfied with the television. Things are beginning to repeat themselves, the battles have to end, we have to organise, put in place a democratic government to take over the running of the country, but it looks like it is going to be very hard. There is still fighting, but it is not clear against whom. The news is both encouraging and confused. The answer won’t come from here. I can feel somebody very important emerging from my own skin and breaking into a run. We ought to be somewhere else, we ought to be somewhere else and doing something! We have to do something with this freedom, which we have suddenly been lumbered with and which torments us! We have to go and find out what is happening! Who is firing? When will the fighting stop? What is going to happen next? What is this democratic government they are talking about and who is going to form it? What the hell is going to happen next? What should we do after this? Better that we find out now! And who the fuck are those terrorists? No, it’s obvious, we have to do something...
But the only thing we can do now is go down to the gate. We can’t go farther than the hospital gate – even if we are free now, we are still soldiers. At least as far as the gate, it’s still something.
As we are coming out of the hospital through the emergency room, Moise tells me he can picture my bonce being holed by a sniper. I tell him he’s an oaf and that he’ll stop being an oaf when he shows me a terrorist, or a Securitate man, or whoever, shooting at people from a tree. I am caught in an upsurge of courage, it is almost lunchtime and there is nothing much happening in Caracal, everybody is sitting in front of the television, the town is experiencing its Christmas Eve in a state of unexpected euphoria. There is a street in front of the hospital, which, with a little goodwill, might be named a boulevard. There are moments when it is deserted and moments when people pass by manifesting their euphoria. They are all living the moment with the utmost intensity and when they see our radiant faces, they loudly chant: Ole, ole, ole, Ceausescu’s gone away! On some of the cars there are flags out of which the communist insignia has been cut, leaving a hole in the middle. I even saw a flag like that on a military truck.
“See any snipers?”
I won’t stake my life that the Securitate hasn’t got dozens of assassins hidden throughout the town, but I feel that if I don’t climb the fence I’ll explode. At least let me do that much! We lie with our bellies pivoting on the cement fence, trying to see what is happening in the street.
Somebody from the hospital shouts at us to get down and go back inside immediately. It’s one of the older nurses from our floor; she takes care of us.
“You’ll come to grief. You’ll catch a cold.”
“Yes, ma,” says Moise, who like me is experiencing a sudden upsurge of courage (especially now that we’re convinced that catching a cold is the worst danger) and starts to laugh.
He approaches slowly with a limp rucksack on his back. He approaches like a man who doesn’t have a care, he approaches as if he knows something nobody else knows, and so has no reason to hurry. At first, I get the feeling that it just appears that way to me. But when he crosses the street between two cars and comes directly over to us I realise I am mistaken. It is none other than Cristian, with his air of being a bona fide wise guy, with his sidling gait: you never know whether he is coming or going until he turns up right in front of you.
“Look at your faces!” he calls from a few metres away. “Especially you,” he says, looking at me, and begins to laugh. “I’d been expecting you to be as dead as a doornail by now. That night you had a face like a burst sausage.”
He tells us that there was right old ding-dong at the base. What do you mean?
“I mean, they couldn’t decide whether it would be with Ceausescu or without him –”
“When was that? After we left? That means the Army had information –”
“Not right away. They started the day before yesterday. Of course they had information.”
“On the twenty-first?”
“I think so. What’s the date today? Or else, I don’t know exactly... yesterday, the day before, it’s like it’s all the same day –”
“And how did they react?” asks Moise.
“Like hell! They had us man the cannons; we froze our balls off the whole night. They told us there was a risk of an attack by air, that the radars had picked up an invasion of helicopters or something like that. There’s a bridge over the Olt at Stoenesti... You know where? Anyway, there’s a rise in the road, because the bridge is higher, at the level of the dyke... There were cars crossing it the whole night, you could see the headlights as they climbed, and those nutcases were trying to convince us they were helicopters attacking the base...”
We didn’t miss anything. However absurd and ridiculous it might sound, what Cristian is telling us is true. I can almost see Lieutenant Stancu being capable of firing those huge cannons at some rusty Dacia clandestinely transporting agricultural produce, maybe a pig slaughtered for Christmas, under the cover of darkness, contraband food for a few families of Romanians.
“He was blind drunk –”
“The battery commander, you say... What’s his name?”
“Apostol. He went out onto the parade ground with every portrait of Ceausescu he could lay his hands on and burned them... Cornea and Stancu were trying to haul him back inside, so that we wouldn’t see him... They almost came to blows.”
“On the twenty-second?”
“No, I think it was on the twenty-third. What day is it today? Or was it the twenty-second? I don’t know any more. Yesterday. Yesterday? Or the day before... No, it was the day before. There wasn’t even roll call.”
“What about you, can you believe that it’s happening? They announced that they’ve captured Ceausescu.”
“How come they let you off the base?”
“I’m the courier. I’ve got orders to collect the correspondence.”
“The correspondence?” I ask.
“I’m running some errands for the commandant.”
“Which is it, correspondence or errands? What errands?” asks Moise.
“Some... call them personal matters... what the fuck is up with you anyway? What the hell have they been doing to you in this hospital?”
In the end he promises us that he will drop by to tell us what else has been happening on the base, if he comes into town again in the next few days. He’s confident; he doesn’t seem frightened by the danger everybody is talking about.
“Aren’t you afraid to walk around like this?”
“Yes, I am,” he answers and turns his back on us. He walks away, laughing: “Foreign terrorists in Caracal? Have you been drinking moonshine? I think that lot have done something to you in hospital... You look like two terrorists.”
He might be right. Maybe we should go back inside the hospital, lest the revolutionary guards arrest us.
But the tranquillity is interrupted; there are a couple of moments of agitation. Two ambulances hurtle through the gates towards the emergency room at intervals of ten minutes. A civilian has had a heart attack, probably overwhelmed by the excitement. And a soldier has been injured, it looks like he is wounded, but they tell us that it’s not an external incident. Moise wants to know what that means. What’s that supposed to be, an incident that wasn’t external? It does sound really strange. A nurse tells us that it’s nothing serious, a gunshot wound to the foot, but it’s not grave. It looks like he shot himself. Why did he do that?
I climb the stairs to our floor. The television has been moved into the dining room, so that we’ll have more space. Yes, Ceausescu is somewhere in Tirgoviste, at a military base. They keep talking about attacks and about savage fighting in Bucharest against an invisible enemy... The news bulletins are contradictory. The enemy is either Securitate troops, who refuse to accept that Ceausescu has been deposed, or groups of foreign terrorists, mercenaries hired by the dictator. They have special arms and munitions, they also say, rifles with telescopic sights and bullets that can easily pierce a soldier’s helmet. They’ve also got sophisticated electronic equipment with which to create diversions. There is also talk of bloody incidents; a squad of soldiers was massacred near Otopeni. They were on their way to defend the airport. Defend it against whom? It’s not clear, the agitated newsreader doesn’t have very much information, it seems that they had been informed there was going to be an attack against the airport. All the soldiers deployed there were killed. Killed by whom? Good God... All of them? It could have been us...
Translated by Alistair Ian Blyth