When grandfather’s severed head rolled along the ground, dozens of sparrows that had been bathing in the dust scattered in fright. It was actually quite warm for the beginning of May.
I was eleven, grandfather seventy-four. An industrial accident, as they call the moment when a large piece of wood comes flying and smashes your head. I didn’t call it anything. All I know is that it then first crossed my mind I had to leave.
The journey to the hospital with grandfather’s head stuck tightly to his neck, the funeral, they all completely passed me by. All I remember about the funeral is the cakes and that there was a huge number of people, hundreds, and they all had something to tell me and comforted me as if I were the deceased. I know that on one night of the vigil I was left alone with the coffin and grandfather in it and I was expecting him to sit up, I was wetting myself in fear, but I kept expecting him to sit up and say: that’s enough fooling around, come on, we’ve got work to do! But he did not get up and they threw him into a grave, but I knew he was not alone, I knew that he had God with him. My grandfather was a religious man and that was what reassured me as to everything to do with his death.
The next day, I went out into the courtyard of the block of flats. I wanted to play with somebody, but I didn’t have a single friend. We had recently moved to the town, and I was not very adaptable by nature. Adaptation meant succeeding in making enough influential friends to escape with my life, but I got on with wild animals better than I did with people. A few lads were making paper darts, playing cops and robbers. They didn’t let me play with them. From the house I stole an old electronic clock which I knew wouldn’t be missed and in exchange for it they made me five paper darts and gave me a piece of pipe. Sucker, they called me, but for me those paper darts were more important than that clock, whose disappearance could have earned me a beating. I played by myself and I was happy. Those darts lasted me almost a month; I loved them most of all.
When we went back to the Valley, to tidy up after grandfather’s death, I played with the darts in the orchard and I asked myself why we had to move to the town. Once, when the older boys from the village school beat me up, grandfather had come to the classroom the next day with an axe. True, it was more amusing than anything else, especially since Mr Cucuruz had cowered under his desk, but it had an effect. Now, there was nobody to come and save me with an axe.
I live next to a church, but last night I found myself in a mansard at the table with the devil. I was laughing at the devil’s jokes and agreeing with him even when I didn’t think he was right, I was humble and servile and the devil really liked me a lot. Then he invited me to his house to introduce me to his daughter. On the way we had to cross a field strewn with the carcasses of huge hens. If you touch them you gain strength, and those heads there at the edge of the field, some of them heal you, some of them make you ill, so he told me. The devil’s house had three rooms. In the kitchen the devil’s daughter and aunt were knitting. I sat on a chair opposite them and drank tea. We looked at each other from beneath our eyelashes. The devil’s daughter was shy and devilishly beautiful. Then, many enemies arrived and they were on the verge of doing in the devil, but I went out in front of the house, sword in hand, and I fought them and I saved the devil for the sake of the girl. Then, we went for a drive in a Dacia and at one point we passed my house and I pointed it out to them: this is where I live, but the car was travelling fast and when they looked they saw the church.
At the age of eleven your hormones start to seethe and I was very much in love with Anca, the neighbours’ girl, the sister of my friend Adi. At the age of seven I asked Adi what a girl’s thingy looked like, because he used to get bathed with Anca in the trough, and he told me it looked like a pea pod. That answer didn’t satisfy me very much and at the age of nine, when I was going home from the village school with Adi and another two boys and a girl, we talked and at a bend in the country road they dragged the girl into the woods and pulled down her panties to get a better look. I didn’t have the courage to go with them, I was ashamed, very ashamed, and I stood in the road to keep watch. Then I asked them what it looked like. Like a pea pod covered in poo, they told me and nor did that satisfy me very much. Then my conscience, my shame, betrayed me, I couldn’t sleep at night, I knew I had done something wrong and I was tormented and I kept writhing inwardly until I told my mother and all of us boys then got the worst beating of our childhood, the wounds healed, but I still didn’t know what a girl’s thingy looked like.
At the age of eleven, after my grandfather’s death, I used to go to the country less often, but I was still in love with Anca and I knew that now, after my grandfather’s death, I had to become a man, to know what that thingy looked like. I was alone with Anca in her house and I wanted to kiss her and to see, that is, to make myself a man. At first I asked her, she didn’t want to, then we played, we tussled a little and I tried to go too far, she took a knife off the table and cut my hand. I still have the scar. Then, five or six years later, a lad came from America and he asked Anca’s mother for her hand in marriage. There was a big party in the Valley and the next day they climbed in a car and went away over the Ocean. It was the last time I saw Anca and one of the saddest days in my life. I was grown up by then, I knew what a girl’s thingy looked like, although I had never seen one in the flesh, and Anca and her magic thingy had gone to America.
I quickly had to find a crew for my pirate ship. In a few days I was leaving for America. In Constanta I found a few native Romanians, trusty seamen, who also looked good with a dagger, but they were not enough. Somebody told me that in a bodega I would find a few available Frenchmen. What was I to do? I needed a full crew, even if they weren’t the best. If they were Frenchmen, then so be it. Then the devil told me to take his daughter with us. She would make sure that the Frenchmen didn’t mutiny and she would be very, very docile, he told me. It was a chilly autumn day and the wind was in our faces, blowing our greasy locks of hair.
Grandfather had died a good few months ago and I had been completely unable to adapt to the fourth grade at the school in town. At the beginning of winter I received a savage beating from seven lads in the second grade, assisted by a girl from the fifth grade. The whole school was laughing at me: I was the one who got beaten up by Snow White and seven dwarfs. I started bringing apples and sandwiches for a bully in the eighth grade and for a while things calmed down. In the breaks there were big snowball fights. I don’t know why, but I became obsessed with a girl in the seventh grade and threw snowballs at her head with unsuspected dexterity. One day, the girl caught me as I was leaving P.E. and cornered me in an out-of-the-way corridor that led to the school greenhouse. I was expecting her to give me a few punches, but instead she pressed me up against the wall and kissed me passionately. She had big breasts for a girl in the seventh grade and she was pushing me against the wall with them. Her kiss was wet and sticky and with her hands she was pulling my hands towards her thighs and breast. Then she suddenly pulled away and fled. It took me a few minutes to come to my senses. The next day the whole school knew that that girl from the seventh grade had got her period in maths. I hadn’t told anybody what had happened, but I kept looking around me in fright, in a way I was convinced that what had happened to her was my fault, like that time in the woods, and that I would be punished.
Translated by Alistair Ian Blyth