Every time I return to Tara Lovistei an unspeakable joy floods my heart. Every time the overwhelming nature takes my breath away. After I let the strong air clear my lungs and gaze into space, a boundless sadness shakes my soul. Can our ancestors still be proud of our generation today? Every time, it does not add up.
Excerpt from the novella Homecoming, The Irretrievable
“May your work be blessed, good people,” a strong woman voice resounds clearly from the road.
We all turn in the direction of the voice. It’s Floricu’s Mia, as the villagers call her, also a former classmate, now an unlucky widow, with a lot of children on her head. Her husband perished in the forest, when a fir tree fell on him, leaving her to cater for all the hungry mouths.
I invite her to the yard. She refuses me politely, clinging to the gutters of the fence. Even a model would envy her figure. In spite of four decades of life and many troubles, Mia is beautiful. Her shady, black eyes with long lashes gaze at us from over the fence with dignity. I keep wondering how the women of the mountains can keep their youth in the relentless flow of the years, on the endless block of time. Glad to meet her, I reach out my hand over the fence and feel her small rough palm squeezing mine manly. I ask her like when we were kids.
“How are you, Mio?”
“Well, good and bad! Whatever poor God gives us! …” the mountain woman whispers sadly.
Her thoughts fly somewhere far away, probably to the whirlwind of her troubles that seem to increase over time. Suddenly, she gets serious and pierces me with a look I can’t resist. She grips the tip of the gutters in her small, quick hands as if she wanted her pain to pass into their wood.
“Mr. Misu,” the peasant woman bursts out, “Mr. Vladut doesn’t know me anymore? I’d like to have a word with him.”
I look at her embarrassed. It bothers me that she calls me Mister. She is asking for my help and I have to give it.
“Vladut! Vladut!” I call him as if he were a child.
He listens to me and comes to the fence, greeting Mia between swallows. We’re all silent. But soon the woman decides to talk it over.
“Mr. Vladut … I got in trouble …”
I’m about to leave, but Mia won’t let me. She wants me to listen as well. I obey, what else can I do. Vladut can’t speak. His mouth is full, chewing hard like a ruminant’s. But he listens.
“Two years ago,” the woman hisses with a deep sigh, “Nise got me with child. He swore blind he had come to me only to help me dress and feed the children. You have no idea, Mr. Vladut, what one more pair of working hands can mean for so many sprogs. I was a fool to believe him. After a while, I received him in my bed as well. Now he doesn’t recognize his child, as if I didn’t have enough of them.”
“The constitution, sister, states in article twenty-three, paragraph two, that the state protects marriage and the family, and defends the interests of the mother and the child” Vladut expounds, licking his fingers.
“That’s what I said, poor me! Let Nise pay the child’s pension, ‘cause it’s been more than a year since I’ve been feeding him alone. And I’m poor, Mr. Vladut!”
“If you speak, then I can’t speak, Mio! Shut up, listen and learn!” he scowls, trying to put her down. “According to Dogaru, the economic function of the family finds its expression in the community of goods and in the legal obligation of providing for, which imposes on the incumbent a heavy and difficult task …”
The lawyer takes a strategic break to see the effect of his words. I smile in the corner of my mouth. Mia tries in vain to understand the meaning of his words. Satisfied with himself, Vladut continues:
“The precarious situation, the need to live of the creditor, is above the difficulty and weight of the debtor’s task.”
“It’s not true, Mr. Vladut!” the peasant woman interrupts him angrily. “You’re wrong here! Dr. Rabescu also knows that Nise is not debile, he is fine, as fit as fiddle. The only thing is he doesn’t want to give me the money.”
The man of the law stops suddenly, red with anger.
“Say, woman,” Vladut cries angrily, “did you call me here to teach you what to do or you only intend to quarrel with me?”
“I beg you not to get upset, Mr. Vladut!” Mia softens her voice. “You are an enlightened man! I thought maybe you could teach me what to do. Cause I’m a poor stupid woman.”
“All right, but don’t interrupt me again,” our former schoolmate rebukes her. “You should know that when providing for is not done most naturally, the creditor goes to court. The court may order that the obligation be performed either in kind or in goods, in the form of a pension.”
“Well, that’s what I also told him, Mr. Vladut!” the woman jumps. “Nise, don’t you have your house for yourself alone and a herd of two hundred sheep? You do! Aren’t you putting money aside? That’s your business, you good-for-nothing man! But give your own child a piece of cheese or some telemea. When you cut up a sheep, you can give us something as well. Can’t you see we don’t have any? What do you think, Mr. Vladut? He didn’t even notice me … Then I got really upset. You good-for-nothing man, I told him. You can take me to bed, but not raise a baby? You vermin …
I look back and forth, sometimes at Mia, sometimes at Vladut, who gets red again, swelling his neck like an irritated cobra, ready to attack. I am at a loss, feeling sorry both for the woman pouring her heart out and for the lawyer’s nerves, which she’s getting on without meaning to. Looking for a way out, I go for some more pork rind, which I offer lavishly to them both. Mia refuses again. Vladut tears a piece with his teeth, munching it with gusto. He doesn’t seem so annoyed anymore. The widow waits patiently, as the pork rind works wonders. The lawman resumes the conversation calmly, refraining from scolding the woman this time.
“Even in the Roman Code, there are generalities regarding the providing for the heirs. However, it is relevant that the concubine is also entitled to a pension, if she can prove the man’s guilt, his using deceptive means to determine the woman to live with him in cohabitation, without the woman being at fault.”
From time to time, the lawyer stops for another piece of pork rind, which he eagerly gnaws. Then he resumes his advocacy with even more aplomb. Mia struggles to penetrate the secrets of the words spoken so easily by the fierce Vladut, which she cannot understand at all. She suspects her escape lies somewhere in the vortex of his teachings, but how to cling to it without upsetting the lawyer?! Now, the man speaks again, advocating passionately on the legal obligation of providing for and cohabitation. He is so proud and captivated by the pompous oratory that he fails to see her inability to understand him. Nor how the meaning of his words is beyond the confused mind and the petrified face of the woman.
After some time, I myself lose the logic of Vladut’s words, which are pouring continuously with specialized terms and expressions, and paragraphs of the penal Code. Like in a bad dream, I hear him talk about “the legal obligation of providing for, which is not assessable and not assignable, cannot be opposed by way of compensation, does not transmit succession due to death, and is, in principle, reciprocal, without being solidaric, and what has been performed is not subject to repetition.”
To stop the lawyer, I hand him a large piece of pork rind. This silences him for a while. Near the fence fence, Mia frets, her head dizzy from the many laws. She would like to leave, but something incomprehensible holds her back, her hands still clutching the gutters of the aged fence. My folks are almost done cutting up the pig. Vladut labors at the big piece of rind I brought him. Peace and tranquility seem to take over my father’s yard, when suddenly Mia asks in a soft but determined voice.
“Mr. Vladut, but what do you teach me to do?”
Surprised by the woman’s question, the lawyer rolls his eyes, gliding softly in the snow. I hurry to help and remove pieces of rind from his half-open mouth. The man is breathing normally, I can relax. I rub his face with a little snow and wait for him to recover. Beyond the fence, the woman looks calmly at the whole scene, without uttering a single word. She doesn’t seem impressed that the lawman has lost consciousness.
Suddenly she takes a decision, heads for the gate, and enters our yard.
“No kidding, folks! Bring quickly […]”