Where are you going? To the eye of the cyclone.
I spent a strange, thick and tense period with Dora, but let me start from the beginning, from the Friday morning on the 10 May. I could not sleep all night, as I had not the previous nights. I stopped taking sleeping pills because they brought me no ease, but only a bigger blunt fatigue, and it felt more natural not to sleep but to sail through nightmares. On Thursday evening I felt some tremor, a horrible inner cold. I lied in a tub full of hot water and my teeth chattered. On Friday I got up to make some coffee and I saw my father awake too. The map of Europe is spread on the table. And I realize that dad had realized I could not bear it anymore, that I was at the end of my physical power, therefore any other power as well. So, I told him: “Dad, I’m going to get the kid in front of the school, and you find a car”. Then dad got a bit upset, aunt Nola pushed him remining him that our neighbor was a taxi driver and he was awake from dawn anyway. Then I took a bag, packed in it only the documents and some talismans of my own. At that moment I even didn’t know exactly which child went to school in the morning, and which one in the afternoon, so I could never take both of them from school. And when they were not at school, they would not allow us to see each other. All three of us were afraid. For days, weeks, months. No, no, no, I won’t talk about it. If Nina had been in the school in the morning then, I would have taken her. It was an impossible break, to take only one kid and tell yourself just like that, one by one, I’ll return them home. Now, looking back, I’m sorry that Nina was not in the morning shift. He would’ve returned Dora himself in less than two days, she is like that, my brave wild kid. But, it wasn’t the case.
I give my dad the bag with the passports and I tell him to provide transport and wait for me at half past eight in front of the Fountain. And off I go, but I return at the last moment, I open the cupboard where we had kept mother’s stuff for years, those that we had not given away, those that we had kept for whatever reason. There, an old brown bag. An old-fashioned one. I take it as hypnotized. Then I take the key and I open the family safe from which I take my mom’s ring with three red rubies, I put it on my finger and then I leave. Dad and Nola look at me without any words. Nola kisses me at the door and wishes me all the best. And off I go. At the bus station, I realize that I have no money in my wallet, but I decide not to return because I have a ticker for multiple ride. I come to the school an hour earlier. It is quiet in Zemun, a beautiful summer morning, the city slowly awakes. I sit on the bench in front of the restaurant across from the Clinic and I wait. The time passes impossibly slow. Finally, the first students who woke up early come, and then a whole river of children, only my Dora is gone. She will appear last, at one minute to eight. I stand by the tree in the park behind the school. She yells Mama! And she rejoices. I spread my palm where I have that lead seahorse, our secret agreed sign that we leave when I show it her. I shake with fear and who knows what else. My fear is transferred to her, I take her hand and silently, as her teeth chatter, she loudly keeps on repeating Our Father, which I don’t know if I know. Instead of going to the closest bus station, the two of us, completely paralyzed with fear, make an incredible trip though the Zemun park, by the church and high school, along some streets back to the same bus station from which we had been only some twenty meters away. We enter a bus, we exit at the station just after Merkator, and here we are in front of the Fountain. Five minutes later, dad arrives with a car: a red 101 and some young guy, the driver. We leave in silence. I am quiet. Dora is quiet, only dad, excited gives the young guy some abstract explanation of this sudden trip, which I can clearly see upsets the young guy a lot as I catch his suspicious gaze in the rearview mirror, more and more. Something is not clear and obviously he doesn’t like something. Whether real or not, I’ll never know, but some twenty kilometers later, his car starts to cough and jump and in the end, it completely stops. Near Banatsko Novo Selo. Somehow, we return to the centre of the village. Yes, I didn’t tell you, we are going towards Romani, Timisoara, from where I thought of flying to Amsterdam. We reach the village, soaked, dad says there is no other option but to return. In the village we reach the House of Culture. From the speaker we can hear Blue moon you saw me standing alone…, and that gives me some new strength, fully convinced that we’ll contonue somehow. In front of the House of Culture, a group of people. I ask them if there was a taxi in teh village, there was none, they told me, but a kind guy tells me that he was just on his way to Vrsac to his father-in-law, and that taxi drivers from Vrsac drive to Timisoara without any problems. We enetered his car, dad, Dora and I and we reached Vrsac. He left us at the taxi station, he would not take any money for the drive – a broad smile, he wished us a happy journey, he kissed Dora. I approach the firts avialble taxi driver and we leave for Temisoara with him. I tell dad to return to Belgrade, but his face is so desperate that I understand that I can not just leave him here. We contonue, all three of us. Around noon, we reacched Timisoara. Thirty-three degrees. Dust. Everything is hot. Dry throats.A Romanian taxi driver explained to us where the closest tourist agency was. There I found out that there had been no flights from Timisoara for months, that the airport was closed and that I could go to Bucharest or Arad, where Pannonia Express, the train to Budapest was leaving, and from there I could fly to Amsterdam. I thank them and I return to the car to think. The taxi driver from Vrsac tells me that he comes to Romania regularly, that Ceausescu is dead but everything else is alive, that you should not hang around unless you are a tourist or in a group or you know somebody local, and that if he were in my shoes, he would go to Budapest rather than deeper in this madness. And so I decide – straight to Budapest. So, first to Arad. But my guy from Vrsac tells me that taking into consideration that he is now a taxi driver in a foreign country, I should better take a Romanian taxi to Arad. I somehow dislike that, I am scared to be without him, and he finds me a solution with a Romanian colleague driver who would go in front of us for 20 German marks and we would follow him. First, we leave to Temisoara railway station, so that I buy tickets for Arad-Budapest train. However, there I found out that foreigners can only buy tickets at one place in the city, and not at the station. The Romanian taxi goes first, and we follow it. Here we are at that place. I enter, marble gall, marble pillars, a counter on the first floor, as high as my nose. I hop to see the clerk. I answer a number of questions: who I am, what I do, why I am in Romania, why I go to Hungary. The tickets are written by hand, for hours, slowly. I pay with German marks, and I start to feel a new kind of fear, paranoia; I feel uncertain, as if I am guilty of something. The clerk, ice cold, no smile, finally hands me the two tickets. I leave for Arad. Works on the road, everything is slow, nobody dares to say anything, a lot of police. Strange. The only support is the yellow Dacia in front of us, with the Romanian taxi driver who waves and smiles friendly from time to time. We arrive to Arad around two hours before the train leaves. The station is in the centre of the city, but the tax driver tells us how he took us the longer way. Later, at the restaurant, I would find out that he is an English language teacher, that he has a wife, a ballerina who works in a show factory, and a seven-year old daughter, that they live hard in Romania, but he would say all of this in a beautiful, fluent English, with a smile, a proof that life finds its way well and gracefully even where it is destroyed. He tells us that he took us to the station following a longer way, but also along beautiful streets, through a line of neglected Ugric beauties, between the tree lines with some golden, cinnamon color. Not a single unlocked toilet at Arad station, in the restaurant, you won’t believe me, nothing but vodka in a cardboard package, like a children’s juice, with a straw! There is no water, because there are no glasses. Some kid sold us several cans of Coca-Cola. We sat down. I feel the Romanian taxi driver is ashamed and embarrassed. I told him that I would always remember his birth city for its beautiful long street that we passed. He laughs and feels a bit better. Leaving, he kisses Dora’s and my hand. So, our Vrsac taxi driver, whose name I forgot to ask and dad leave us at platform numbe one, because we don’t know how late the train will be and both taxi drivers want to go back home. I look at dad, I see his fear and I don’t know how to calm him down. The taxi driver will return him to Vrsac, he promises me that, since it would already be nighttime when they arrive, he would stay at his place and the next day he would take the bus to Belgrade. “By the time you’re home”, I tell him, “we’ll already be in Amsterdam, don’t warry and take care”. And so, Dora and I remain alone, confused and scared, I admit. We must not fall asleep in the train, the taxi driver from Vrsac warned us, because the thieves would take your shoes from your feet in that train. Pannonia Express, Bucharest – Budapest – Prague, at the moment is the most dangerous train in Europe. Then from nowhere a middle-aged married couple showed up next to us, with at least twenty leather suitcases and many packages of books. I approach them and I ask them if they speak English and if they would mind if Dora and I join them. They speak English because they’re Americans, they don’t mind that we join them. I say, apologizing, that I am a bit scared, and the man, spreading his arms and smiling, said: “You? Well the angel is above you!” It turned out that they were both missionaries from a church that doesn’t have a church because they don’t believe in a church, but in the goodness of people, and that they’d been coming to Romania for years, each time for couple of months; it turned out that although they were going to Prague, we shared the same compartment. Her name is Nadezda, she is Polish Jew by origin. At the Romanian-Hungarian border they took Dora’s and my passport and they were gone for one and a half hour. One and a half hour! I can not describe my fear. I still don’t know what I was so afraid of, there was something in that country, something awful in the wat they treat you, or it was all in my head. What was the court document that the children belonged to me that 1995, when human life had no price!
All state affairs – police, customs – were conducted by women. Frowning, with their lips pressed together, cold. They would take out all foreigners from the train, except Dora and myself. After this first relief, first relaxation. Then we were followed by hunger, cold and thirst all day. Antonio, our kind young fellow passenger, a Romanian, opened his bag, and as a gentleman, as they know in Romania, make the two of us the most delicious sandwiches, in a white napkin, and lemonade. Dora still considers the Romanian sandwiches the best in the world. Dora played with the lead sea horse, which she then dropped and we all looked through the compartment, but it had disappeared. At that moment it was an unusual and good sign.
We arrived in Budapest around nine in the evening and it was here, at the main railway station in Budapest that we started to hug each other, to kiss and jump with happiness. It was here that we knew we had made it. I thought if I should call the Vardis, whose address I had received from the good Nebojsa, but I did not feel like telling the whole story. At that time, we were approached by a taxi driver, a Hungarian one this time, who also spoke fluent English and he asked if we needed transportation. Transportation? I say and I laugh with happiness and relief. We need transportation, shower, dinner, place to stay overnight and plane tickets to Amsterdam. He went to his car, returned with a mobile phone, spoke something to somebody in a completely not understandable Hungarian. Less than an hour later, Dora and I had a shower at a pension one kilometer from the airport. There was a full platter with Hungarian specialties on the table and a jug full of homemade sour cherry juice. Before that, the taxi driver had taken us to the airport where we bought tickets for the first morning flight to Amsterdam, Malev, because they were, as he confirmed to us, thirty percent cheaper than KLM. That night, hugging, next to each other as two shell halves, Dora and I started the hard, slow way of returning our mutual trust. Everything was mixed up in my small child – her attitude to herself, her lack of trust in herself, her lack of trust in me. Now, three months later, I measure where we are. Dora thinks that she is a bad girl less and less, less and less that she is stupid, ugly, disobedient. Many things have come out of her, many things are yet to come out. Six months without me, in a house where nobody had really loved her, except, normally, Nina, and they could only do this when they would be alone and felt miserable, they would get close to each other and cry. Dora was tortured by everybody as they wanted, the children in her school did not like her, and her teacher would regularly yell at her: “What does your mother think? Will she finally hand over the documents?” For six months everything that used to be her world was systematically questioned, for six months she lived in a lie, in stress, in the pathology behind the closed civil doors of the nice people, all of this left traces. But my Dora was made of firm, good material. Her love for truth and love for justice, not mater how shattered for her to survive, have not been demolished and she has become more and more herself and it was not only her trust in herself or in me that was restored, but also her trust in justice, in truth, no matter how pathetic it might sound. It is really hard with her, she is simply a complicated kid, but once back in her world, her child’s world, it is much easier. We spent our summer in Amsterdam – we went somewhere every day, to the park, to the Zandvoort sea, to the pool, to the movies, to the Royal Museum which Dora loved more than everything and where she was never bored. And that is how we slowly approached 20 September and the first school day.
When I arrived at Schiphol with Dora, where our friends had waited for us, all happy and smiling, when I passed through that glass door, hand in hand with Dora, I started to cry out loud, at that moment, not before, I felt an emptiness in my left hand that did not hold Nina’s. I am still made of glass, wounded, exhausted, tired to my bone. I don’t feel like writing about myself. I sleep when I can, I have no insomnia problem, I feel that I could sleep for a year without waking up, I am so tired. I wait to bring Nina back. The psychologist told me that I had to wait for her to call me and ask me to come for her, that she was older and that she was capable of making that decision now that she was twelve. That I could not take her now as her father had taken her away, without me knowing and wanting, unless I wanted to repeat his crime. I am waiting, and I keep quiet about this waiting, I don’t tell anybody about this waiting. If I live to see this, yes, there is strength inside me, I will survive everything.
Amsterdam, August 1996