I smuggle. I gather my illicit wares daily, without even noticing. This very morning, when I awoke, I felt them smothering me. Aggressive voices were quarrelling somewhere, among giant cars, whose gauges went way beyond the street’s means and beyond everybody’s patience. People were missing buses while splattering their pants with mud and what was left of the melting snow. I notice that cabs have changed charges again, little price adjustments just to collect money from the drivers who needed their taxi-meters set up to date. I’m sure they don’t hand out receipts for that. But I’m letting my mind wander again – I pull my thoughts together and get ready. I have a plane to catch.
It took me four hours to get to Bucharest, the road through Predeal, Busteni, Sinaia, being too narrow for all of us stretching our bodies like a massive snake between Brasov and Bucharest. I wondered about how the car bears up, I wondered how the driver endures the ride – I forgot to wonder about myself. Driving into town, we waited another forty-five minutes on the delightful bridge. The sky was a little more appealing than the urban scenery, but just a little… I could see the airport. It would have been a 5 minutes walk, but I belonged to this system, I was in this car, in this automatic sequence, that was butting into Bucharest, as if we were all jamming up into the eye of a needle.
Baneasa Airport is minute, the queues are dreadful. Suffocating. I’m smiling to myself, but my countenance is inert. Years of practicing. Next to me, a tall, elegant man with mustache approaches me with a habitual voice: “Let’s stop the pushing and settle this, who goes first?” I didn’t give a damn about his voice. He looked like a college teacher, talked like anybody else though. It wouldn’t surprise me if, indeed, he was a teacher. I asked him to step forward with the same irritated voice. I was making room for him in the most grotesque manner. If I had offered myself a place this way, I wouldn’t have accepted it. He stepped forward. I’m lucky I have a small luggage, so I sneaked through easily and got to the waiting area.
I smuggle. You wonder how I made it over the border? My stuff is illegal. Invisible, but palpable. It may please or disgust, or provoke delirium and power outbreaks. I don’t smuggle my goods in my baggage, don’t hide them beneath my clothes, don’t shove them into my anus, nor do I swallow them to throw up at destination. My contraband is just like a cloud of smoke in my soul. I don’t intend to take it to some mobster from the West, nor do I charge criminals from Moldova or Ukraine, from the Obor market or from some corner in Lipscani. I am not a convict, no, don’t get me wrong: I am a Romanian citizen.
Having passed security, I’m casting a suspicious glance around me and I start condemning and judging: “That one works in Italy – it’s their fault ”…“Those people speak Spanish, they’ve forgotten their mother tongue…” My smuggling emerges in the duty-free area. I bring distrust over the border. My soul is still echoing this morning’s street fight and the unbearable noise from last night. I sway in the rhythm of the holes in the road I endured again for four hours and my voice mirrors the trash I saw on the way, by the forest.
I’m inside the plane now. I remember booking a cheap flight and I’m studying the impeccable cabin with skepticism. The sanitized calculated space, the perfect geometry, the illusive lights, the air-conditioning, the far too friendly crew – everything seems suspicious. “They’re robots”, I’m thinking. “They’d be stamped by routine where I come from”. I’m struggling to evaluate the price-quality ratio… something’s wrong. I was expecting torn tapestry and hostile stewardesses at this price.
Having arrived, I try to walk straight. In the absence of holes in the sidewalk, the Eustachian Tube thinks I’m joking. I feel I’m starving so I enter a store where I’m greeted with a smile. I was anticipating an exhausted, spiteful, bored look, nearly annoyed that I dared to get hungry during its shift. I speak loudly, almost yelling, remaining on guard in the case of a dispute. Receiving my change and thanks, I myself reveal my gratitude and leave disappointed and confused, having had no conflict in the store.
How did I even pass the border with these filthy wares upon me? I’m a reprehensible smuggler. I hold the sadness and the doubt within me, embedded in the flawed pavement from back home. I retain the suspicious glance and the high pitch, the ugliness and the lack of moral hygiene, the straight face and a trail of a polite smile, the mockery from home – for those who want to contract these. The juvenile lethargy, the social ease and the distrust in “affiliations” hide like thousands of drug packages in my deepest corners. I could share my stuff with anyone. I just ponder how many crave it…
I smuggle with clutter, mould and negligence – for those who want me to. It is what we all thought we needed: a deformed cultural mimicry lost somewhere on the way to find a universal meaning, forsaking any leftovers of domestic spirituality.
I look around and, before entering the house, I say to myself: “Bad business, no one is going to buy these.
Text by Flavius-Alexandru Ardelean
Translation from Romanian by Dona-Maria Gitana Sandu