May 20, 1981 was our 12th wedding anniversary and we were thousands of miles apart from each other. Our plan was to call Cristian on our anniversary, tell him I loved him and will fight for him to join me, but I wasn’t going back to Romania. He was supposed to act surprised at the news of my defection, shocked, even to try and persuade me to go back. We both knew the script, it was a good act. His, was to stick to his safe story: He knew nothing of my horrible traitor intentions, but he loved me and had no choice but to join me in the free world. As thousands of other families divided by the desire to be free, he was going to condemn me for a while and then we’d follow the process and request family reunification in the free world. Before my departure, as we planned, we thought he might be fired and I left him enough money to survive the pressures of the security and be able to live if he had no job. My mother, from beyond the grave, was still helping us, as I handed my husband her savings of a lifetime…
When we rehersed it seemed easy, but the time had come when I had to do it for real, and I wasn’t so sure anymore…
I went to the same Telephone House in Frankfurt from where I called my friends in the U.S. about the sponsorship. This time I had a lot of coins. I dialed our number in Romania and he answered on a 2-nd ring. I said Happy 12th Anniversary and he said he loved and missed me. We were both waiting and I knew it was my turn to break the “news” of my defection, and I couldn’t speak up. Time was moving in slow motion and I with it. I kept putting coins in the telephone slot expecting a voice to come out of me and tell him what he already knew, but I had forgotten my part and started to cry.
“Are you crying?” Cristian asked. This was not in the script, but the slight aggravation in his voice made me remember what I had to say: “I am not coming back, I want to be free, would you follow me?” Oh, I sounded so fake, like in a high school play!
Our conversation was cut off abruptly, and I heard the sound of nothingness shouting in my ear. At least I remembered some of my script, at least now my decision was taped on the Romanian Security equipment that monitored our lives, our breathing, every step we took.
I dragged myself in my attic room and I hid under the covers. It was only Noon and I wanted to sleep forever!
Think! Think! I ordered my brain… How much money did I have left? How many days until my plane to the U.S.? I could only take one step at a time, never jumping or I break my neck…
I opened my luggage and mindlessly rearranged my things. I counted the marks again and again, but no matter how many times I counted I was still short three days! Did people sleep in the streets in Frankfurt? Where? Where did they go to the bathroom if they did… Mindlessly I kept rearranging my things in that one-piece luggage I carried with me from Romania. At the bottom of it I saw my round-trip ticket Bucharest-Germany-Bucharest, which I bought so that it looked as a pleasure trip. I chose an attractive itinerary, and the train was already paid from Frankfurt to Bonn, to Koln, then Munich and then back to Bucharest. My math was simple, it was more expensive and I didn’t have enough money to wait in the Bed and Breakfast, but I could take the train and use it as my temporary hotel. Travel all the way to Munich and instead of continuing on to Bucharest return to Frankfurt and board the plane to the United States.
The bathrooms came to my mind again. They sure had bathrooms on their imaculate trains. Yes, this was a better choice than sleeping in the streets of Frnakfurt. If I was a passenger on a train no one could arrest me, but if I looked homeless, which looked uncivilized, the German Police would probably arrest me. I chased the thought away as quickly as I could and decided for the train option. I called the Consulate to let them know I was going to travel for a few days before my scheduled departure.I told them my itinerary. It was important, I thought, for someone to know what I was doing, just in case someone kidnapped me, or murdered me, in which case I wouldn’t have known or cared about who knew.
I expected Bonn, the capital of Germany, the first stop on my itinerary, to have the same neurotic feel as Frankfurt, but instead, I was greeted my red and white geraniums, spotless streets and friendly pedestrians.
During my stay in Frankfurt, as one who didn’t speak the language, I observed the people to get a feel of Germany. I had heard stories about how reserved most were and how difficult it was to even be invited to dinner in someone’s house.
While in Frankfurt, I witnessed demonstrations, mostly young people wearing T-shirts which said “No Future”. I didn’t know if it was about a personal no future, or the Earth had no future, but then I understood many demonstrations were anti-American, against too many consumer goods, the use of plastic… just about everything which was American. What seemed odd was that when the demonstrations were over, these same people would go to McDonald’s and grab a can of coke. The duality of the process was confusing for someone coming from a country where the goal was sameness.
In Germany, at least, even if I didn’t speak the language, I developed a theory about various categories. For instance, one group were the older Germans who looked orderly and confident, they looked like members of the same large family in which each member played a well-defined role. However they all had certain common features, for example they ran on schedule, were organized and in unison with one another, like the parts of a perfectly designed engine.
The second group were the rebellious young generation. Unlike their parents, they wear shabby clothes, looked disorderly and often had direct confruntations with the German Police. They seemed to care little, as they were demonstrating for principles I didn’t understand. I only knew the language of their fleshless bodies and angry eyes.
I noticed a third, large category, who were not Germans. These were the immigrants, just like me. They seem to be everywhere, in parks, in the streets, in the train stations. Some looked disoriented and sad, but others looked dignified and confident. Some looked hungry, and some well fed. Did some have jobs and a good education, and some didn’t? What was the secret of the happy emigrants, I’d never know because I never learned German and I could let my imagination go wild. For me, Germany was a stop on my way to freedom, I was just an observer, not a participant.
On the train to Koln,, in the same compartment, a tall man with short brown hair and thick glasses sat across from me. He placed his bicycle outside the compartment in a specially designed place. We looked at each other but he said nothing and I was too tired to talk, so I closed my eyes and fell asleep.
I was awaken by someone touching my shoulder:
“Miss, where do you get off? Downtown Koln is next, and I thought I’d let you know.”
He spoke English! The young tall man with thick glasses spoke English! By then I knew there was something about me, a tell tell sign so obvious, everyone knew I was not German.
“Thank you,” I said and jumped of my seat to grab my luggage. He pushed me gently and took it down.
“How long are you staying in Koln?” he asked. “It’s a lovely town, I hope you stay long enough to see the cathedrals and you have friends to show you around.”
I examined him with some interest, now that he was asking me questions which clearly required answers. Should I lie, should I just not answer… he seemed nice.
“Just for the day,” I answered. “I am not from here, I am going to America and have a few days to sightsee Germany, no one is showing me around, I’ll manage on my own.”
He got off in Koln too and we walked side by side in silence. I went outside the train station and as I was waiting for the light to change and cross the street he said:
“I am Johannes, what’s your name? If you would like, I could show you the cathedrals. I have nothing better to do, I was on my way to see my parents, 20 km outside Koln.”
I looked at him as the light changed and we didn’t cross the street. Why would he take time to show me the town? Strange, I thought, and said out loud:
“Why would you do that, you don’t even know me!”
“Nobody knows anybody at the beginning, but if you tell me your name and where are you…”
Oh, no, I wasn’t to tell him my name or where I was headed next. What, did he think I was stupid! May be he was a mass murderer or something.
“No thank you,” I said and this time crossed the street.
He followed me. I stopped, he stopped and smiled:
“You must think it’s strange I’m following you like this, but frankly, you look like you need help.”
Now, that was a good pick up line! Like he cared…
“I study medicine in Bonn” he continued, “I could tell you’re tired … and dehydrated.”
So now, he was a doctor, student, or whatever and I was supposed to be scarred and go with him. Well I wasn’t that stupid!
“Sorry Johannes, but I ..”
“Don’t trust me?” he interrupted.
“Right, it is strange.”
“Oh, you don’t understand,” he said, “God meant for us to help one another not be indifferent! I can tell you need help, let me show you around and tell you about our group which does work in third world countries, helping natives understand technology.”
Okay, that explained it all, he was on a Godly mission to save me… It all made sense, but I proceeded with caution. I accepted for him to show me the cathedrals and after a few hours he asked what hotel I was staying at, so he could drop me off there.
“I didn’t book a hotel, I was going to jump on the train and continue my journey.”
“You’re too tired to travel, would you come to my parents house and you could rest there, take a shower, eat?”
Tempting… what if he murdered me? I felt so sticky and tired, I considered the proposition.
“Okay, let’s call your parents and ask first,” I accepted.
We went to a public phone and he dialed a number. They spoke in German and he explained something about me.
What could he have possibly told his parents? I wondered. … that he was about to bring home a dirty young Romanian woman he met on the train? And what kind of strange family was that to let him bring me into their home? I could have been a thief, a murderess!
“Talk to my mother,” he said and handed me the phone.
She had a soft voice and spoke English with a heavy German accent. She assured me if Johannes thought I needed help, their home was opened to me and his friends.”
I was stunned, after less than five hours of knowing him I was elevated to a “friend”.
Over the years, every time I thought back of how I accepted to go with Johannes and stay with his family I wonder how could I have been so trusting or foolish. If my children would do anything remotely similar, I’d be mortified. However, as surreal as it seemed, it happened. I went with Johannes, the perfect stranger to his parents house.
They had a large, beautiful home and gave me the guest room. Johannes was, as he told me, a student at the medical school. His father was a college professor and his mother an economist.
That evening, after we ate and I took a shower, Johannes took me to the headquarters of his organization, called One World. He showed me albums of pictures taken in the Jungles of Brazil. He told me about their work to end hunger and how bananas were the cheapest most nutritious fruits in Germany and they put together a play showing all the work it took to bring the bananas to Germany. The picture I’d remember forever was taken in the Jungle of Brazil; Two naked tribe members listening to a radio. They looked stunned and scared, and I wondered how could one explain centuries of civilization to a forgotten part of the world. What did they think, hearing voices coming out of an inanimate object. Perhaps they thought it was the voice of God.
In that moment, starring at the picture, I understood that I was part of Johannes’ mission to save the Planet, to make it One World. I didn’t care I was a project. I was relieved. This option was far superior to that of being murdered.
The following day was Sunday, St. Martin’s Day, and we all went to a Cathedral to pray and celebrate. The place was so crowded, I could not see the Priest, but his powerful voice came at me from everywhere. At the end, we all held hands and prayed in German. The words didn’t matter, but the unknown hands holding mine felt strong and reassuring. For a moment my heart could speak the language of love and friendship. I didn’t feel the presence of God, but I felt cared for and accepted. It crossed my mind that there wasn’t a God, but God manifested in many good people. What if God is not an outside entity who rewards and punishes but it’s spread in each of us, in people who do good. May be Johannes was an Angel! I will never know for sure, but what I did know was that I left behind the little town South of Koln and I carried with me the gift of Johannes and his parents.
At last, my wait was over. I was on the plane to America. The last passanger boarded the plane and the doors closed at last. The plane took off and I felt slightly dizzy. I looked outside and soon the green fields became dots, the buildings disappeared. I saw blue sky everywhere, except for a few fluffy white clouds.
“Angels live behind clouds,” My grandmother told me once.
I looked at the clouds and hoped the Angels would reveal themselves to me but they didn’t.
The Angels that I knew were in Germany, in a small town, South of Koln.
Then the plane flew into darkness, and there were start all around us.
“Each child is born with her own star”, we believed in Romania.
I looked outside: So many stars. Which one was mine? Was it big, was it bright, was it beautiful?
It didn’t matter, now I knew the Angels were protecting me. I fell asleep happy.