Novel, "Prose" series, Cartea Românească, 2008, 488 pages
Translation rights sold to: Nymrod (Israel), Syrtes (France), Ediciones del Oriente y del Mediterraneo (Spain), Jelenkor (Hungary), ISBN Edizioni (Italy)
The beginning of the novel gives no hint of the explosion of events that are to follow : a party of children, accompanied by their teachers, board a train going to the seaside. Once the train sets off, however, things start to go haywire. The children, who initially display a surprising spirit of organisation, hijack the train, which no longer arrives at its destination, as it is brought to a halt by the revolt en route. The kids’ “revolution” organises resistance against the special forces called in from Bucharest. The impression of a conspiracy is created : the authorities hypothesise that the train has been hijacked by terrorists, or else by criminals. Eventually, the truth emerges, and the authorities will take advantage of a lull in the children’s vigilance in order to regain control. Dramas unfold, and the crusade does not end without victims...
In the struggle between children and the adult world, both sides err in equal measure. The children, in the recklessness of youth, are ignorant of the true scale of the conflict they have unleashed. In any case, the author guides us from the outset in this respect : the first demands of the rebels are that schools should be abolished and unlimited amounts of chocolate should be made available. On the other side, the adults prove incapable of understanding the way in which the children think, and they stand out for their extreme hypocrisy, as well as their compromises, which the children cannot accept. However, the story does not just depend upon the main action, with its reversal of perspectives, but is, in fact, the parable of a world adrift, a parable expertly constructed and perfectly sustained for the duration of the narrative.
For the children to conquer the train was by no means a mission that would be accomplished easily, which is why it had become imperative for the boys of class six to work out the soundest plan possible. However, before anything else, and given that any plan of action gets under way through nomination of a leader, Calman had, as a first measure to ensure the success of their mission, proposed that Casimir should be nominated chief of the gang of boys, a proposal that had been unanimously accepted ! Although his previous mission had resulted in total failure, the choice of Casimir was not at all accidental. As he regarded the lad dressed in sports kit and bruised by the blows he himself had administered under cover of darkness, Calman, whose olfactory sense for hunting out the aptitude for power had been honed early during underground life, realised that this boy possessed the mysterious aura of one predestined to lead – not that he himself didn’t have it ! But, like an animal that gets the scent of and studies its adversary for a long while, Calman had recognised in Casimir a presence that raised him above the rest, causing all of them to pay him heed. Of course, from the point of view of brute strength, Calman could have beaten him any day, but at that moment, his intuition was that he should cede power to him. Certainly, Casimir’s friends would not lift a finger for an outsider unless he told them to. As soon as he was acknowledged chief, Casimir began to share out the missions. In essence, his plan was very simple. They would pull the alarm cord, which would create the diversion required in order to confuse their adversaries, and while the mechanics were remedying the situation, Calman, together with Casimir, would slip into the locomotive. After the train was in motion, it would be the turn of the others to go into action. Octavian, together with Gabriel and Raul, would co-ordinate blocking off the teachers’ doors. Bogdan, having been named strategic co-ordinator (how much he could have done with a computer !) would remain in the compartment to maintain contact between them. They had exchanged telephone numbers. Calman had the mobile he’d stolen from Armand Pelaghia : he had taken advantage of the sports teacher’s inattention, and because, quite simply, he didn’t like his mug, he’d pinched it. He tapped in the number of Bogdan’s mobile, taken from his father at home, Bogdan saved it on his phone and then sent the beep to Calman’s phone. Tiberius’ role, if he wanted to get in on the act, was to establish contact with his class and the other school classes. Without much enthusiasm for what had been left in store for him, Tiberius accepted the mission more from the desire not to look like a coward in front of Sonia, knowing that this war game would inevitably bring down even more punishments from the teachers. In any case, he wasn’t thinking of getting mixed up in it, although at one point the tempting idea had crossed his mind that he too could get a gang together and, why not, show the lads from classes six and seven that he was harder than them ! Sonia also had a mission, to inform the girls to wait until the train had been taken over by the children, and then to relay to everyone else the message of the conquerors, Calman’s message.
“That accursed Calman !” said nana Angelica from the Ferentari slum quarter of Bucharest, gnashing her teeth. No one else except that fiendish whelp would have dared to steal her grass pipe ! It was upon him that the lots had fallen and there was no spell now that could extract him from the cogs that had once more set the invisible wheel of the world in motion. When the sorceress asked her niece Gillyflower to bring her one of those special cigarettes, quality stuff, supplied by the Baron, the girl had hastened to carry out the old woman’s wishes and, having lit the cigarette between her lips, she had had a toke on it herself, before passing it to the sorceress. That was what the old woman liked the most : the fact that the effects of the drug started to appear within minutes. The visions that set in during the stage that immediately followed, that of oneiric ecstasy, had on countless occasions helped her to attain a full understanding of things, leading her disembodied spirit on journeys that revealed the destinies of the people who sought her aid as sorceress. Among the objects in the room, their form and solidity powerfully altered due to sensorial acuity exacerbated by the cigarette smoke, the sorceress was seeking Calman. She saw his bloodstained cap, which elongated and distorted, beneath her gaze, acquiring the slithering mobility of a snake. It vanished behind the clothes cupboard, out of which the gypsy woman’s floral skirts, having detached themselves from their hangers, began to float through the air in a dizzying dance, incited by an eerie music, or merely by the imperceptible undulations of the snake that wound through the silks. Images from her distant childhood came suddenly into her mind and, above all, the sky, the sky in all its guises, the sky which the little girl of two had glimpsed through a split in the canopy of the wagon. There could be heard the vague echoes of her father cursing between his teeth, bridling the horses as they struggled through the potholes on the road, a summer rain, with thunder and lightning, the little girl’s fear, alone in the wagon, the living flame from the sky striking the canvas canopy, igniting it like a torch beneath her frightened gaze, gypsies around the campfire at the edge of the village, the singed odour of fried fat, the onion sizzling on the iron pan above the fire and, at a certain distance from the camp, Tudoritza battling all the demons of that flatland village which had loomed in their nomad way. The little girl saw them gushing up from the fire, keening, vanishing and reappearing in other guises, now as a he-goat with a melt as big as a cow’s udder, then as a slobbering dog’s head, a draggled black cat, or a she-goat with brazen looks, hanging around the one who chased her away, enticing her and threatening her, and Tudoritza was making the sign of the cross at them, making them vanish with all her might and then asking for brandy, brandy ! Dancing around the fire, brandy, brandy ! Kindling the desires of the men, brandy, brandy ! The knives glinting, brandy, brandy ! The blood flowing, brandy, brandy ! The demons’ revenge, brandy, brandy ! The militia. Deportation. Tudoritza, the queen’s sorceress, the enemy of the people, had plotted to bewitch the people. The sorceress must die. The Party is not afraid of witchcraft. No ! Better still, off to the Canal with her ! Let her toil, the idle devil ! They’ve got used to begging and stealing, the tribe of devils, the idle gypsies, let them find out the meaning of toil, sweat, and how daily bread is earned ! The Canal ! Mud in the mouth, on the skin, in the boots, in the ringpiece, in the gruel, mud, Tudoritza battling devils, devils with two legs, two arms and the threat of the gun, battling the curses and above all the inexhaustible repertoire of derision. The photo ! The only photo of her mother she still had, a photo sent from the Canal, a group of people, with shovels and picks amid huge mounds of earth and a blinding light, as if the sun had suddenly insisted on being in the picture, her mother crouching on all fours, separate from the group, the shadow of her who had danced around the fire, now dying, brandy, brandy ! She had never seen her again, but that photo awoke visions in her, the earth, the mud in the mouth, on the skin, in the boots, in the ringpiece, in the gruel ! And in the mind of nana Angelica the powerful vapours of the drug were perturbing notions of space and time, turning past, present and future into a single reality, as if the spirit of the sorceress had suddenly acquired the capacity to gaze simultaneously into all the mirrors that scintillated at the threshold between times. The knives glint, brandy, brandy ! Gillyflower dancing with a diamond ring in her navel ! The money rustling ! Calman laughing, laughing ! Children ! Children ! Brandy ! Brandy ! The knives glint ! The mirrors, the sun amid the mounds of earth ! Brandy, brandy ! The beatitude and the other woman arising, leaving the body as if going from a room, more nimble, more lively, as if her flesh had not suffered the ravages of rheumatism, insensible to the cartilage in her legs, dancing ! Brandy ! Brandy ! In a room in a block of flats, the floral dresses are dancing, the cupboard, the fleshly integument of the old gypsy woman, to whom the irresistible force of the drug brings new life, the woman who is returning into a body, the sorceress, stretches out a hand to the old woman’s raiment of clothes and flesh and pulls her by the shoulder. “No ! Go away ! Mangy cur !” shouts nana Angelica. “It’s me who lives here !” But the woman pays no attention to nana’s protests. Brandy ! Brandy ! And Gillyflower holds out the glass to her.
A pupil in class six of Comprehensive School no. 10, but hailing from another reality known only to him, a student
of Hogwarts School, Dennis was obliged, by virtue of the latter quality, to abide by the wizardry regulations established for students in the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Under-Age Sorcery, 1875, Paragraph C, which, in the spirit of Section 13 of the International Confederation of Warlocks’ Statute of Secrecy, treated as a grave offence any magic activity detected in the world of the Muggles. For the above-mentioned reason, the young sorcerer had preferred to save his magic powers for later and taken refuge in the girls’ compartment. But when Sonia had come back from the boys, with news of their plan to conquer the train, Dennis had decided to assist them in his capacity as fellow pupil. And, without sharing the thought with anyone else, he said to himself that now was the moment for Dennis Potter to go into action and prove his sorcerer’s abilities, acquired after clandestinely frequenting the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. But first of all, the little wizard had to find out whom he would have to fight and who was hiding beneath the image and likeness of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.
In common parlance, the collocation organised crime refers to that which, according to the nomenclature of the Ministry of Administration and Internal Affairs, constitutes any illegal activity such as arms smuggling, drug trafficking or people trafficking, while the detection and annihilation of such activities constitutes the fundamental task of the Department for the Combat of Organised Crime and Narcotics and, implicitly, of Officer Nikifor Luca. But organised crime is not a symbol or a metaphor for something which cannot be named outright, although the expression of abstract and cruel intangibility from which it draws its strength has involuntarily aroused metaphor-creating impulses in the collective imagination. Organised crime nevertheless has names and these names have been uttered countless times in press exposés. In the end, thanks to diligent investigations and police attention, some of these names even got as far as to be uttered in the morning meeting of the main co-ordinators of operation Green Light. The list of those specially invited for police detention had been distributed to the detachments of masked special forces. The latter, on the signal to launch the first stage of the war against the criminal underworld, had left police headquarters, accompanied, with professional enthusiasm, by the film crew authorised to follow the rapid intervention squads in action. In his turn, Officer Nikifor Luca had been given, as well as the orders to prepare, the name his soul had been waiting for more tensely than for a bride on wedding night : Marcel Mitrake, alias the Baron. For the time being, his squad were left behind at the station, since the action Nikifor Luca was going to lead was scheduled for the second phase of the operation. And if the officer’s deduction was correct, this would not be launched until nightfall and would target night birds, as well as the criminal organisation around them, an organisation run by the Baron !
Translated by Alistair Ian Blyth