The Speechless Speech

The lesson we learned in the Soviet Union, was that it could be worse.  The question we asked ourselves, was, did we want to spend the rest of our lives expecting worse and worse?  We were approaching thirty. How old was it too old to start all over again?

In the eighty’s life in Bucharest became surreal. The Ceausescu personality cult  reached an all time high and so was the poverty and lack of human rights for ordinary Romanian citizens.

Typically, about half an hour before  President Ceausescu’s scheduled  car ride on Balcescu Boulevard, blue militia jeeps were posted at all cross streets on his route.  The militiamen lined the streets, one posted every few yards.  They were well-trained, their vulture-like eyes scanned the crowds who tried to get a glimpse of Ceausescu or his wife. Ceausescu’s convoy of eight bullet-proof cars sped by towards the building of the Communist Party committee.  His drive on the boulevard took less than a few minutes.  Then, the militiamen jumped in the jeeps, the passers-by  moved on, everything became normal again. On the surface it looked peaceful, simple, but in my heart there was a storm ready to explode!  In my heart nothing was calm, or happy or even hopeful.

On top of everything else, the Holidays were almost there. New Year’s was the hardest for me.  Too many memories, too much pressure, and the resolutions I had to make and the disappointment I never kept them…

New Year’s Eve was a mandatory celebration, and the superstition was that the way one started the New Year’s was an indication of how the entire year was going to be.

Cristian signed us up for a New Year’s party organized by the factory where he worked at one of Bucharest’s night clubs.

We arrived around 10:00 PM and the hostess suggested we kept our coats on, as the heat was off.

“We are saving, comrades, you understand, orders from…” and  she  winked looking upwards, meaning orders from higher ups.

She showed us to a long table covered with a red plastic clothes. Several of Cristian’s co-workers were already there.

“What would you like to drink?” the waiter asked.

“How about some wine,” my husband suggested. I nodded yes. Wine sounded fine, after all it was a party and we paid a lot.

“Sorry, we only serve  wine at mid-night, for the toast, but I could bring you Pepsi, water or… buttermilk.”

We opted for Pepsi and he brought two plastic glasses filled to the brim with sweet flat, luke warm Pepsi.  I sipped and the taste reminded me of cough-syrup.

At 11:00 PM dinner was served, buffet style, meaning we stood in a long line watching the food disappear on the plates of those smarter than us, who stood in line earlier, before they even brought the food to be served.  When we made it to the front of the line, there was some mashed potatoes and green beans left, but no sarmale (stuffed cabbage) and no ham, both traditional Romanian dishes.

We danced a slow dance.  It felt good to feel his cheek against mine, to hear his heart beat and his hands on my shoulders.  His hands were warm. How did he keep his hands warm when everything around was so cold…  They say it’s not healthy to dance on a full stomach, so, in that way, we were lucky and light, yet I was still hungry.

The music stopped abruptly in the middle of the song.

“Comrades, comrades! It’s 11:55! Let’s take our seats and get ready to  listen to Comrade Ceausescu’s speech!”

Everyone walked slowly to the long table and a waiter was already pouring the promised wine for the New Year’s toast!

“Waiter, waiter! You poured more in his glass! Is he bribing you, you pig?” a customer shouted at the waiter.

The waiter ignored him and kept pouring  quickly, so everyone had a full glass  for the toast.

Two men carried a small television set on the stage and turned it on.  We saw Ceausescu’s face close up, in front of the Romanian flag.  He was already speaking but we heard nothing.  One of the men turned the volume up.  Still silence.  People started to speak to one another.

“Comrades! Silence! Have a little respect for the President!”

Everyone stopped talking and we all looked at the television set again.  I  looked around in the semi-darkness and wondered if the men in leather coats were writing down the names of the disrespectful …and if I were among them.

Ceausescu’s lips kept moving, but we still could not hear anything.  A third man, in a leather coat stepped up the stage. We guessed he was the expert. He looked in the back of the television set, made sure it was plugged in. Nothing! The man shook the set.

It was now 12:30 AM. Ceausescu’s lips were still moving…

Then, with  unexpected  speed  and  passion the expert kicked the set  with his foot as hard as he could!  He was red in the face and as he was getting ready to kick again, we heard Ceausescu’s voice:

“Comrades, you are lucky to live in a prosperous country and this is just the beginning! My wife, Elena and I wish you a Happy New year 1981! Good night.”

Then Ceausescu disappeared and the television set was moved off the stage.

In May of 1981 I defected from Romania.

Too much prosperity, too much happiness… too many lies! Almost thirty years old, was not that old to start  my life all over again, to fly out of the cage of communism!

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