In an increasingly disunited and confused European Union, the peasant seems to me to be the only certainty, because he has never been of interest to anyone.
The peasant is not a denomination, he has neither wants nor at least an identity. Nobody offers him a job because he has no qualifications. And no high-ranking relatives. He’s slow, he barely gets by, he’s always duped by corrupted politicians during elections. The doctor comes to his village once a year or not at all. He is a kind of nobody, with no position, no medical or rest leave. He has never heard of holidays at the beach or in the mountains. If his house or patch of ground collapses during an earthquake, flood, or drought, no one will give him compensation. Good riddance. He doesn’t start his work at nine in the morning with a coffee. Nor does he take his lunch at twelve o’clock or French leave by fifteen hundred, so that at seventeen sharp, after a well-deserved nap, he can go out for a walk, a beer, and ten mititei.
The peasant wakes up in the middle of the night, caters to his animals, and hurries empty-stomached to his field, where the sun beats down on his head until sunset. Then, hunger-stricken, he takes a break, swallows a lump of polenta with an onion broken in his fist, and a piece of curd from a shabby towel, as the sweat dries on his rough shirt.
Strange as it may seem, the peasant always learns to adapt on the fly to poverty and wants, always yoked to the plow with his companion, the ox.
The peasant looks his best in poetry, in paintings, lying on the raw grass, or in Romanian, Ukrainian or Belarusian folklore, even more so than a king seated comfortably in the affairs of the country, whispering lies at the table.
A fragment from the novella Teodora, The Irretrievable
Teodora descends the steps of the courthouse, overwhelmed by worries and needs. She has eaten nothing else than a piece of bread, but she’s not hungry. The sun blazes over the hot asphalt. It’s past noon. Time seems to have stopped. She reaches a refreshment kiosk. Her mouth is dry and she is thirsty. She asks the saleswoman for a cup of water, but the woman only laughs ‒ she has only soda. The burning sun and the thirst torment her. Undoing the bag, she counts her money. Not enough to buy the bread, tomatoes, and cucumbers she wanted. It went all to the lawyer, so as not to lose the trial. All that’s left is barely enough for the way back. “What if she stopped in Brezoi, where her daughter is married. Borrow some money. She would drink a soda. How much does it cost? Three thousand the bottle. So much!”
She is about to go, but thirst doesn’t let her go. Untying the bag, she pulls out a crumpled five thousand note and smoothens it, her eyes fastened on the colored bottles. How cold is the water in her well! And how good! It’s not like she will die of thirst until Brezoi. She puts the note back and sits on the sidewalk, waiting for a car to pass. Tries to forget about her thirst. It is way too hot and the sun burns overhead. No cars stop and the feeling of thirst will not leave her alone.
Someone stops by the kiosk and buys a bottle, drinking with gusto until the last drop. This is nothing to joke about, she is so thirsty it hurts. Untying the bag, she takes out the five thousand note and stands up, walking toward the saleswoman. Halfway she changes her mind. “Spoiled water. Too expensive.”
A car appears. She waves down and the Dacia stops.
“Where to?” the driver asks.
“To Brezoi, if you like.”
“Sir, I’ve about to die of thirst in Ramnic, what a scorcher!”
The one behind the wheel doesn’t answer. Smiling wryly, he hands her a half-full bottle. She can’t believe her eyes and drinks in gulps, water trickling down her chin and neck. What does it matter? The water is hot, but it’s water. Relieved, she takes a deep breath. Her only joy today.
“God bless you, sir!” the woman thanks.
“You’re welcome,” he replies. “Where are you heading to in Brezoi?”
“To the factory, I have a girl there. I’m going to see her. Where are you going?” she asks curiously.
“Well, same place,” the man smiles slyly.
“What a stroke of luck The sun and the thirst had almost gotten me.”
They’re both silent. The distance is covered quickly, mile after mile. Near Gura Lotrului, the car turns left on the road to Voineasa and stops, parking in front of the factory in Brezoi. The woman takes out her five thousand note.
“Take it all, you’ve been good to me! Even quenched my thirst! God bless you!”
“Take what!?” he asks irritably.
“The money, sir!” Teodora answers. “Take it all!”
“Are you kidding me?” the driver adds, somewhat annoyed.
“God forbid! What do you mean?” she asks puzzled.
“You’re kidding. That’s not the price.”
“Oh, don’t be shy! You deserve it!” she says reassuringly. “I don’t want change.”
“What do I deserve, lady, five thousand?!
“Wait a moment! Do you mean this is too little? I pay three thousand for the bus ticket. I gave you five.”
“Little, too little” the driver does not relent.
“And how much do you want?”
“If we look at the mileage, twenty-five thousand.”
“Listen, lady! I’m a taxi ride. You asked me to take you to Brezoi, I took you. Now hand over the money! You don’t play games with me!” he warns her.
“Why didn’t you say so from the beginning? I wouldn’t have got in.”
“What do you mean you didn’t know? Are you blind? Can’t you see where you’re going in?”
“Believe me, I’m telling you the truth, I didn’t see! But I still have another five thousand in my bag. Take it and go with God and leave me alone! You town people would hang me out to dry.”
The taxi driver turns and starts towards Ramnicu Valcea, cursing these paupers from the villages putting on airs of townspeople.