The Truancy, by Doina Ruști, in translation by James Brown

Art: Diary of a Teenage Girl

When the ten o’clock break ended, she took a last look at the stinking toilet bowl and cautiously pulled the door ajar. She couldn’t hear a thing; not even the cleaning lady’s rubber shoes. The water spilt during the break still glistened on the blue tiles, and someone had left their lipstick on a sink.

She had two maths classes, which she absolutely had to skip. The Whale always quizzed them in alphabetical order, and her turn was coming up now. So she had no choice: either she played truant, or she’d be called out to the blackboard and made a laughing stock before the whole class. So she’d hidden in the toilet, and was now planning on sneaking out into the schoolyard and from there to Cişmigiu Gardens. After maths, she had P.E., which didn’t matter anyway. The school day was over and the thought of that was as refreshing as a mouthful of Coke.

The corridor was deserted; ahead of her she could see the students’ entrance door opening slowly, and in the white light of morning a figure appeared that she would have recognized even enveloped in London fog, not just slightly blurred by the summer air. It was Dani. She could see how his fingers gripped the strap of his rucksack, while the soft soles of his sports shoes struck the spotted cement. Dani was now only a few metres away, exactly as she’d dreamed—just the two of them in a deserted corridor: he tall, striding forward, and she more determined than ever to not miss this opportunity.

As usual, he was going to pass by without a glance at her, looking straight ahead, towards the other end of the corridor, so she thickened her voice and said with a certain indifference:

‘Hi, Dani! Sorry… could you…?’

For an instant, he looked at her over his shoulder, as if he had no intention of stopping.

It was a bad start, but if he had stopped it would have been worse.

‘I really have to ask you something!’

She wasn’t even going to take any notice if the blood that, scared to death, was trying to burst out of her cheeks. She had to push ahead, without a plan, to ask him for something, anything, so that he would realize she was there, in front of him, in the silent corridor.

‘Actually, I’d like to ask you a couple of things, and I was wondering if you’d maybe have time at some point, one day.’

Dani finally stopped and look down at her, very carefully, as if he were out at the blackboard.

‘You’re in the ninth grade, in that classroom next to ours, aren’t you?’

‘Yes. I’m Monica, actually Moni. We’ve seen each other before on the corridor and I have been wanting to ask you for a long time now…’

‘Well, ask me!’ he interrupted, smiling in a tolerant but absent way, and Monica immediately understood that he was treating her like a girl from the ninth grade, not one you’d take seriously when you’re about to finish high school.

She felt as if the overheating of her blood was now coming out through her eyes, and two little muscles under her kneecaps had gone all soft.

‘I know you have to study for your baccalaureate and university entrance exam and that’s why it’s hard for me to… I’d like to ask you if you could explain some day to me a problem in …’

Monica had been going to invent something about maths, but the thought that she was just skipping a class with the Whale, who was Dani’s form teacher, made her switch tracks at the last moment.

‘A problem in philosophy,’ she said finally, and Dani burst out laughing.

He answered her, however, and as he talked the high windows filled with the summer sun: ‘Who told you I was interested in philosophy?’

He was looking at her now, and his fingers were moving rather restlessly as they gripped the cloth of his rucksack.

‘Look, if you want, there’s a lecture today at the University. Just where you enter the University building, there on Academy Street, if you’ve ever been before.’

Monica didn’t know, so Dani explained to her in more detail, and then said as he prepared to leave, ‘See you there at one thirty and, if you like, we can talk afterwards.’

For Monica, this was the turning point. She was so happy she had decided to skip school that she promised herself she’d do algebra equations all weekend, out of gratitude to the god of mathematics.

As she turned into the path, she realized she had no idea how she had got there. The whole road from school, and then from the entrance to Cişmigiu as far as the lime tree path had remained outside her brain, filled to the brim as it was with Dani’s words, which only now, gone over again and listened to in slow motion, in the warm, secret chamber behind her eyes, acquired their true value and started to shine. She had a date with Dani from the twelfth!

Monica sat down on the first bench she came to, and drank in for a moment the clear the sky over the lime trees in full leaf. And as she lit up a cigarette, without any of her usual precautions, she felt a great terror coming down upon her, an ominous and overpowering feeling of panic: what if they didn’t meet? He wouldn’t come; she wouldn’t see him; or even worse, she wouldn’t get there on time. She automatically checked her watch, it was twenty past ten. A good three hours still to go before one! It was impossible for her not to make it. What’s more, in this time she could spruce herself up a bit, or at least take a look in a mirror.

She was so overwhelmed that she didn’t even notice that someone had sat down beside her until she felt her cigarette being snatched from her fingers. By a completely bald shithead.

‘Can I take a drag, poppet?’

Monica jumped up and took off, while the caveman went on talking.

‘Where are you going, poppet? You upset?’ he crowed, and his words rose up to the treetops. ‘Stay here with daddy, and I’ll give you a thicker one!’

The man had utter contempt in his voice and no intention of stopping. ‘Smoking’s bad for your health,’ he yelled after Monica, ‘but my dick never killed anyone.’

Only when she got to the end of the path did she realize that there were quite a lot of people in the park, even some guys from her school, and she quickened her pace even more, as far as the boulevard and then farther, without making any more plans, miserable because of the scumbag’s words, which had seeped in through all her pores. Why the hell was she so affected by the words of a lowlife that she’d left behind a while ago, instead of concentrating on the big event of her life: the date with Dani?!

She went instinctively down toward the Town Hall and from there she took the side streets, until she came out at Unirii, and all along the way she tried to forget the Cişmigiu incident and to resume her thoughts from before. But a wish was slowly and painfully growing in the lining of her heart, to go back and crack open the head of the creep, slowly, from forehead to chin. She could even see herself forcing open the crack in his pumpkin head by moving a screwdriver from side to side, until he gave up the ghost on his knees before that bench in Cişmigiu.

When she entered the mall, she felt as if she had been she’d been wrung out and hung up to dry.

There weren’t a lot of people there, and the voices of OneRepublic could be heard drifting out of a shop. Monica took a deep breath and felt she was coming to life. Beside the banisters of the stairs a woman said something to her with a pleading look in her eyes. Because Monica hadn’t heard what the old dear wanted, she stopped and raised her eyebrows. But the woman was silent. She looked like her grandma.

‘Can I help you?’ she asked, more out of politeness than anything, and to her surprise, the woman smiled at her very humbly and said a bit more loudly, ‘I need some money, even just a little, to get myself a piece of bread.’

Oh come on! The only person she hadn’t paid her contribution to was this old biddy.

‘Really, granny? Have I got “sucker” written on my face?’

And still thinking what gall beggars had, she headed for the cosmetics department, straight towards the perfume testers and then on to make-up. She’d stink like nothing on earth, and Dani would realize that she was wearing perfume especially for him. She goggled at the jewellery, and at a shop with gag gifts and she felt again the time weighing on her.

It was ten to twelve. She went up the boulevard to the University, and a few minutes later she was already hanging around in front of the building. She’d got there too early and, as she was hungry as well, she counted her money and reckoned she could easily go into the Springtime on Academy Street. The crowds inside intimidated her so she was a bit flustered by the time she had squeezed through to the till. It was the first time she had been somewhere so crowded all on her own. She chose a salad, even if the smell of French fries made her mouth water. But what sort of fries would they be if they didn’t have garlic sauce? Better to limit herself to an honest mixed salad and a juice.

She dragged it out as much as she could and at one twenty she went through the door of the University.

The lecture hall looked imposing to her. There wasn’t much light, or rather, it was a light already licked by the tongue of the evening.

Suddenly she felt millions of stiff stalks growing all over her from head to toe, and she was convinced that Dani was looking at her. But she couldn’t guess where he was. She scanned the lecture theatre and noticed that there weren’t quite so many people there as she’d initially thought. A lot of them seemed to be students, rather thinly spread out in the cathedral-sized hall.

She hadn’t even decided where to sit, when the speaker appeared. He was a rather fat man with completely white hair, wearing a checked shirt.

Monica hurried into a row, pushed by someone who wanted to sit down. She was still adjusting to the seat, when the philosopher started talking. He had an annoying voice, like a choked engine, and the words seemed to be linked together, glued together, in fact, and hard to follow. He was saying something about a book of his and from his tone it was clear that it would never even have entered his head that there could be someone in that large hall who hadn’t read it.

Five minutes in and Monica was already bored, and thinking of the amount of time she still had to listen to the asphyxiated old chap made a disgusting venom rise up from the bottom of her stomach to her mouth. She turned her head and looked around the hall again, then over the heads of the people in front. Dani was definitely not there. What if she’d happened on another lecture? For a moment she let herself be overwhelmed by panic but the next instant she calmed down, as she read again the poster behind the speaker.

She took a deep breath, heroically determined to stick it out to the end, and a ray of summer sunlight hit her directly in the face. Between the tops of the lime trees she could see the sky and she could feel someone pulling her cigarette from under the pressure of her forefinger. She was so surprised by the world’s new appearance that she didn’t even think about the disgusting bald lowlife who’d nicked her cigarette. How the hell had she got here and where had the lecture hall gone?

Monica stood up and looked around, to check that she was in Cişmigiu, and while that toerag talked filth at her, she took off at a run down the path, this time not sparing the time to notice who was around and who’d heard what he’d said, because she felt as if an invisible mouth had swallowed her.

In an instant, the landscape changed again. She was in the mall, in front of the old biddy who was saying with her honeyed voice ‘I need some money, even just a little, to get myself a piece of bread.’ She could see her clearly, even better than the first time, because she also noticed her platform sandals.  She didn’t leave immediately, as she had done the first time, but instinctively decided to stay there rooted to the spot, as if that way she could stop the flow that had ripped her from the lecture hall.

But before she could finish that thought, a mist came down over her head for a second, and the next she was sitting at a table in Springtime. She was eating her salad in no hurry and sipping her juice through the green straw, while her eyes quickly scanned over the faces of the others, very trendy people, she thought, probably students, in any case wearing gear that she couldn’t take her eyes off, trousers with tons of zippers, designer blouses, hair dos, glasses. Right in front of her were two guys, but she didn’t have time to study them as she found herself back in the hall where the speaker was sullenly speaking the same sticky words she’d heard before. You’d think he’d been forced to give the lecture.

It was a long sentence, which Monica had heard before and which she would hear again and again, as the only reality of this small world that she had sped through.

And not once or twice but perhaps thousands upon thousands of times, until she knew it by heart, word for word, first as a condemned prisoner, then getting annoyed, protesting, or going up to the lectern to shut the moron’s mouth. But he continued to say the same words, as if her gestures and insistence just hadn’t registered on him.

Monica went like a whirlwind through the four compartments, from the scumbag in Cişmigiu to the old beggar in the mall, then through Springtime and finally to the lecture hall.

For a long while she couldn’t get herself together, and just felt tossed from one place to the next. Then, by willpower, she learned to use to best advantage the limited time she spent in each of the four places. She had timed it and she knew that one full tour, from Cişmigiu to the lecture, took a quarter of an hour. Each stop took roughly four minutes, a short time, but she forced herself to make use of every detail, because each time she planned her movements, trying not to repeat any, to discover the hidden nooks and crannies or to guess the reason for each happening. It was just like in Groundhog Day or tons of other movies, of which Monica had seen a few and, thinking about them, she clung to the belief that at some point she would be able to stop the madness and get out of the whirlwind unscathed.

Her first thought had been that the old woman at the mall was the key to the problem. She should have given her money, shown pity, like in fairytales, where some helpless creature always appears. And, for all her conviction that the old dear at the mall was nothing but a fraud, she tried everything she could think of to win her over. At the first opportunity, she went through all her pockets and gave her everything she had. But nothing happened. The woman was still there, with her look of an old charlatan out to get money for another drink. Monica kissed her, showed all her good will, then, losing her patience, shoved her or turned her back on her immediately, trying to see other people, do anything that crossed her mind, good or bad, from messing up the shelves in stores to making the most beautiful declarations that a mind chased through four worlds could come up with.

But at least she couldn’t complain about monotony.  Every moment had its surprises, because each time she discovered something new. For example, although the scumbag in Cişmigiu continued to say the same nauseating words, he couldn’t get up from the bench! He stayed in the same position, nailed to the spot. As soon as she got to that bit, she threw a punch at the idiot’s head, while he continued to say his line giving no indication that anything had bothered him. Then, she noticed that there were some white flowers next to the bench. Sometimes, she ignored the bald guy and just took off in various directions, so that after a while she came to know that in those four minutes she could get to the bridge over the lake or to two of the park gates. In the same way, during the lecture, she could walk around the hall and stare at various individuals, who, although they didn’t speak, would signal for her to be quiet or at least allow themselves to be examined.

In this life divided into four-minute intervals, Monica noticed with surprise that the philosopher was slightly changed. There seemed to be something wrong with his physiognomy, as if he’d got scrunched up, had shrunk in the wash, or was about to fall asleep. Even his voice seemed more gooey and more bored.

As she continued to study these small changes, which she kept thinking about even after leaving the lecture hall, leaning against the trunk of a lime tree in Cişmigiu, or looking at the jewellery under the glass of the display cases in the mall, it came to her as a revelation that the chubby man who was mumbling on about happiness was looking the worse for wear. His cheeks had drooped a bit and his eyes had got smaller because quite simply he was ageing. This discovery unlocked the old shivery feeling that she hadn’t felt in a long while and that had remained hidden in her memories, now quite remote, about the meeting with Dani in the deserted corridor.

Monica looked for a full four minutes at the beggar in the mall and realized that she too no longer looked the way she had on the first day. The knowing little smirk had gone. It was the lecturer who was the most marked by the passage of time, but everyone was showing their age. Even the toerag, whom Monica had stopped looking at for some time now, had deep furrows in his brow, like a great thinker.

Electrified by a sinister sense of foreboding, at the first opportunity she ran to a mirror in the mall. Her intuition was projected onto the silvery glass without sparing her feeling. Nothing of what she knew she was could be seen anymore. She couldn’t say she was displeased by what she saw, but it was altogether someone else, a face smooth as a balloon, with a rather hungry look.

For a while, she lived only for the next chance to get to that mirror in the mall, to put on makeup at top speed in those four minutes, only for it to lose all its effect immediately afterwards anyway. She never entered an episode with what she had acquired in another. She kept starting again, with the resources she had had at fifteen, when she had landed in that cursed lecture hall or when she had lit up that wretched cigarette in Cişmigiu. She didn’t even know when and why she had stepped onto this iron-toothed carousel.

Overwhelmed by the uselessness of life, she hardly even noticed what happened to others. So the death of the philosopher took her by surprise. He had barely stepped in when he collapsed with his forehead on the desk. Someone ran to examine him close up, and someone else called the ambulance. The excitement of these amazing changes left her speechless, so that she almost didn’t realize when she had passed into Cişmigiu.

The death of the lecturer made his world disappear too, and Monica’s life was reduced to just three entrances: into the park, into the mall, and into the fast-food restaurant.

She now had the impression that time was passing slowly. The dirtbag on the bench finished his line, and she was still walking by the side of the lake. Under a willow, some guys from her school were playing backgammon. She had noticed them a long time ago, on her first day in Cişmigiu, but she hadn’t spotted them since then. She lit a cigarette and, when she’d got to the middle of it, she slowly passed into the mall. The beggar was pretty run down and Monica understood that she didn’t have long to go either. She let her say her piece, then she said with a certain compassion:

‘I think you’re going to die, and that this world will pass away with you!’

The old woman didn’t answer, but to Monica it seemed that there was a vague trace of regret in her eyes.

From the mall, she passed into the fast-food restaurant, which no longer seemed so crowded. In front of her were the familiar guys eating pizza, who also seemed more mature, with stronger shoulders and more assertive gazes.

She looked at her watch and realized that she had stayed quite a while, but she scarcely had time to think about that change, because straight away she was back in Cişmigiu.

For a while, she divided her quarter of an hour between Springtime and Cişmigiu. The dirtbag was more and more decrepit, and Monica supposed that he too would soon disappear.

The day she spent a full quarter of an hour in Springtime for the first time, she knew she was rid for ever of the words that had poisoned her first happiness.

At long last, she could now change her order. In several episodes, she ran to buy a kebab with French fries and garlic, and sometimes she even managed to finish her meal before she found herself in front of a salad again.

Apart from the fact that every action had to be completed within the hallowed quarter of an hour, her life had changed radically. She now had so much time that she got bored, gawking at people or inspecting the various rooms of the establishment. She couldn’t go outside. In the glass door, there was an invisible bouncer, who shoved her back mercilessly.

Sometimes she thought about what she could do if once she left Springtime, and the invisible tail of an infernal animal would gently stroke her cheek.

In the restaurant’s toilet, there was a large mirror, in which she examined her wrinkles and wondered how much longer she had left to live. It seemed to her that twenty years had passed over her. Anyway, she now looked like her mum, except she was still dressed in the same clothes that she had worn on the fatal day of her meeting with Dani. They had grown together with her and in spite of the passage of time that had left its marks on her flesh, the clothes looked brand new. in the pocket of her jacket, she still had her packet of cigarettes and her yellow lighter.

Monica would sometimes remain rooted to the spot, for one-quarter of an hour after another, so that she hardly felt the dividing line between her fragments of time. In this last location, there was no main character. She hadn’t talked to anyone there on that first day. Consequently, she could hardly hope that some exhausted individual would take away her prison with his own passing. She had the feeling that this anonymous place was to be her tomb.

She sat down at the table of the pizza eaters, who were by now two grown men. She tried to chat with nearly everyone, including the security guard who dozed on a chair by the entrance to the toilet. He was the oldest character in this last scene and it occurred to her that maybe, miraculously, he might be the master of the space and her liberator.

Sometimes, she looked at the people passing on Academy Street, always indifferent, never stopping or responding to her friendly signals. Only occasionally would someone spread their fingers in the air, as if responding to a stupid child. And, of course, everything flowed in the same quarter of an hour, the same, without surprises, so that she ended up knowing how many people passed by the door, what they were wearing, and in what order they appeared.

Once she went into the manager’s office. She had been there before and knew that there wasn’t much to see because the room was dominated by a large desk, with an open laptop on top of it. The walls were completely bare; there wasn’t even a coat hanger in that room; and in the drawers of the desk there was nothing but papers: tables, registers, and bills. On top of one pile lay a CD.

She idly moved the cursor over the three folders, which were balance sheet, payments, and leonard, and decided on the last. Inside was an unnamed MPEG. She tapped lightly with her forefinger on the austere touchpad, and a virtual screen opened on the desktop. In two seconds the screen filled with the image of a shop – first the shelves, which were so familiar to her, and then the video camera swept the corridor on which there were rows of shelves and displays, even going under the stairs, on whose bannisters the old beggar woman was leaning. Monica looked at her tenderly as if at a cherished memory. It was absurd that she should go soft at the sight of the old biddy, especially after she had been so happy to be rid of her. And yet she felt as if she had found a lost family member. This thought attached itself to her parents’ memory and a tear erupted from the corner of her eye.

Then the film flickered hazily and the growling philosopher appeared. It was back at the beginning when he was still in full strength. The eye of the film scanned the hall, and then suddenly came upon the bald head of the bastard in Cişmigiu, the sight of whom made her instantly nauseous.

Monica spent her time walking among the tables or looking into the street through the glass door, but every few quarter-hours she would run to the manager’s office and watch the movie about her departed times. It had become her little pleasure, although there was nothing new there. Even the words of her lowlife admirer, with his shaven head and face like broken tarmac, made her smile, just as the speaker’s interminable sentence now seemed to her to hide a secret clue that might eventually point to the unravelling of the happening that had made her a prisoner.

And as she searched the film, stopping it at certain images, she made a discovery that immediately filled her so simplistically amputated life. In the lecture hall, where the same minutes she had learned by heart had passed over her so many times, at one point, the door opened. It wasn’t something that would attract attention, just a detail at the edge of the screen full of listening heads. Through the slightly open door, for a fraction of a second, a new face, a latecomer appeared, and it was Dani.

Monica looked at the film several times, examined the image and, with a crushed heart, wept for several quarter-hours. Dani came in precisely a second before she descended into the Cişmigiu episode. How come she hadn’t noticed him all this time? And even if she had noticed him, what could she have done? She wouldn’t have had time even to call his name. While he slipped in through the door of the lecture theatre, she was flying toward Cişmigiu.

Seeing Dani again brought back to her their meeting in the school corridor and, along with it, the numerous small desires that were stuck into each fibre of her flesh. She even relived the embarrassing rebellion of her blood, and from the way the pizza eaters, who had now reached the starting age of the stinker in Cişmigiu, were looking at her, she realized that she was blushing.

She got off the chair and headed for the door. The same people she had come to know in detail were passing on Academy Street. A muffled chuckle came from behind and Monica instantly knew that someone was laughing at her. She didn’t remember ever hearing that laugh before. She half turned and looked straight at the pizza eaters, who were pretending to be extremely preoccupied, although there was an air of irony floating about them that was confirmed by the playful look in the corners of the two men’s eyes. They looked about fifty years old now, and for an instant Monica remembered them young, at the beginning of her adventure, and thought to herself that she too had let herself go in the meantime. She was loath to go to the bathroom mirror, especially since in a second she would be sitting again at her usual chair anyway, where the quarter of an hour of Springtime started.

She leaned with all her weight on one shoulder, resigned to this thought, and the glass of the door vibrated a few times. This was something new too, but she didn’t have time to analyze the distant hum of the glass because the next moment she was on the pavement.

Monica stood motionless, still looking at the two men eating pizza at a table in the restaurant, not even daring to lift her eyes to look at the people passing by her shoulder. The summer air was heaped with smells whose unseen weave she had forgotten, especially the dust and petrol smell of the Bucharest streets. Finally, she lifted her gaze and was struck by the completely unknown figure of a passer-by. She was in front of Springtime but the people going to and fro on Academy Street were different from those in her quarter of an hour penance.

She took her first steps without haste, almost creeping, but by the time she turned the corner into Queen Elizabeth Boulevard, she was already walking like someone in a hurry. She cast her eye at the Pizza Hut window and was amazed to see herself: taller, fatter, older, but in the same jeans, same jacket, and with her little rucksack on her shoulder, just as she had left school. She looked like a pensioner on a tour of Europe. And all of a sudden a terrible anxiety took her in its iron grip. Where could she go? What would she tell her parents? What if perhaps they had died … in the meantime?

She was breathless from walking fast, and the feeling of freedom weakened her knees from time to time. She crossed at Casa Armatei and walked in a veil of sadness all the way to Cişmigiu. The park hummed faintly; between the green bushes she could see the crests of the water jets from the sprinklers. If she went through Cişmigiu she would be at the back gate of the school in five minutes, and from there it would take her exactly ten minutes to get home. And yet she didn’t dare to go in. A prudent thought told her to stay away from her old prison.

She continued on her way, measuring the pavement with firm steps. Her eyes licked the school façade, and then she turned and went in through the student entrance. The yard was exactly as she remembered it, shadowed on one side by the high wall that separated it from Cişmigiu. Through the open door, she could see the corridor where she had talked for the first time with Dani. An impulse like a raging wind pushed her in. Surely she could look around? To breathe in the smell of sports shoes and hastily mopped cement!

When she entered the poisoned light of the corridor, the bell was just ringing for a break, and students were already pouring out of several classrooms. An alarm sounded vaguely in her blood, which was alerted and chased in all directions. The toilet where she had once hidden was still there, with its blue tiles, in which she got the impression that she saw her face as it had been then, bent down and on the lookout. Just a few steps further on was Dani’s former classroom, and on the doorplate of the one next door was written in black letters: ‘Class 10 A’.

Monica stopped next to a window, with her eyes trained on the door as it opened slowly. First she saw the register, then, bit by bit, the bulky figure of the Whale. She felt a scarf of ice tighten around her neck and then immediately breathed a sigh of relief at the thought that, aged as she was, she wouldn’t recognize her.

The teacher passed her by without even glancing at her, and, a few slim figures scattered beside the open classroom door. Monica stood leaning on the edge of the window a bit longer to gather strength before heading off, but her eyes ran over the stinking fibre of the parquet, the chipped edge of a desk, and the irregular fluttering of the net curtains. To her great surprise, she discovered that they were the same curtains, and then the doorway was filled with students, who seemed undecided if they wanted to go in or out of the classroom. She cast a fleeting glance at them, like a nail driven into the body of a magnet. In the door, there was a face that looked familiar and so peaceful that it seemed to have been wiped of all emotion. It took Monica a good few seconds to realize who it was. The melancholy eyes, the reserved smile, and the hair moulded to the shape of the head seemed inappropriate accessories on a face she knew like the back of her hand, her own face.

She stood up straight and took a couple of steps towards the girl, who was still her, her hair cut, serene and a bit bland, but still her, as she had been before she had met Dani. When she got close enough, she stretched out her palm towards the tense shoulder. Not the touch so much as the mutual recognition came like an acid rain that closed in on them violently so that each knew that she alone mattered. Into the mind dazed by the quarter of an hour prison, as into the brainwashed by the pressure of a summer day, the entire flow crept at the same time, with all its great events and with its details lost in the folds of a happening of a year before.

And the new Monica went back to the day in which she had decided to skip maths, when luck had brought Dani into her path and when the living world had ended.

After the meeting at the University, her life had been turned completely upside down. She hadn’t even had a chance to feel the magic taste of that event. A dirty old shitbag had embittered her soul. The trip to the mall and then the stop at Springtime had exhausted her so that, by the time she reached the lecture hall, she was left only with a vague trace of the enthusiasm she had felt initially. She sat tensely for five minutes, and then the door to the lecture theatre opened discreetly and Dani entered.

She jumped to her feet. She hadn’t planned anything; she just stood up, just like that. He stood there rather confused, right by the door frame, and then his eyes found her and in the same vague and hazy instant, she saw him melt slowly, like an ice-cream collapsing over the cone. Monica gave a short scream, not the way one does when facing a danger, but a pathetic and distressing scream, like a threatened turkey, so that all heads turned in her direction. The speaker himself was scared into silence.

By the time Monica got to the door, others had got out of their chairs as well.

Now she recalled how she had bent over him and touched his face. Two trails of blood, like two match heads, were trickling out of one of his nostrils. She wanted to call out his name but all that she could get out was the same yell, piercing at first and then chattering, while he slid to the floor lost and gone. Monica took his head in her hands and, because she didn’t know what to do, sat down beside him, bending over him so that she could clearly see the movement of his eyelids and the hairs growing on his chin. Someone handed her a tissue, and she dabbed at the blood under his nose. A drop sparkled in the corner of his mouth, and she would have liked to wipe that away too. But she didn’t have the courage to touch his lips. From hiding places among his twisted locks and from the top of his head came waves of heat that passed from his inert body directly into her own blood, which was under attack from all directions.

And it was then that contact was lost. Not between him and her, but between her two beings. Her restless, floating side jumped under the greedy wheel of a quarter of an hour. While the other, worldly one, continued on her way without hesitating and especially without some of her cherished memories. She went home, continued to go to school, and filled a whole notebook with algebra exercises. Only one person was erased from her memory, and that was Dani.

Standing in front of the 10 A classroom, with her eyes illuminated by the window in the corridor, Monica remembered all the apathy of the last months, in which she hadn’t been able to find her place or even a single point of interest. Right after the ambulance had disappeared into the chaos of the boulevard, taking with it Dani’s helpless body, she had gone home and cut her hair, scaring her dad, who joked, not unkindly:

‘What’s the matter, eh, pet? Why have you cut your hair like that? You look like a Nazi soldier in a Russian movie!’

But his remark evaporated without making the slightest impression on a numbed and quasi-amnesic brain.

Then, day by day, she entered the classroom quiet and indifferent. She had no complaints and she didn’t feel besieged by desires. There was nothing that could move her. In one break, she now remembered, in the summer light that had broken in through the window, a tall, cheerful boy had opened the classroom door; it was Dani.

‘Is there any Monica in your class?’ he’d asked as he scanned the faces turned towards him.

‘Depends who’s asking,’ one of the girls tried to joke, but several fingers were already pointing towards her, as she sat glumly, resting her chin on her hands.

‘Oh, it’s you! I didn’t even recognize you,’ said Dani, as he headed for her row.

But she didn’t answer him. He seemed a trivial apparition, not worth the slightest effort, like getting up to greet him or going out into the corridor. Dani stopped by her desk and said, a bit awkwardly, ‘I’m sorry about that business at the University.’

And as Monica kept looking at him blankly, he added, as if wishing to explain, ‘I probably scared you to death… just when you wanted to ask me something or other, remember?’

And that was the real problem: Monica couldn’t remember anything, not even that she had been to the University. She vaguely knew that she had tried to skip class and that she had wandered the streets, but she had no idea which streets she had been on. And she wasn’t even much bothered about this obscure, amnesic episode in her existence, which now was now running on smoothly like a ball of butter spread on freshly toasted bread. Without emotions and without any disturbing thoughts.

‘I’ve no idea who you are,’ she said, looking up at him, with her eyes comfortably buried behind her eyelids.

‘Weren’t you at the University when I took ill?’

Monica made a face as if to say ‘no way’, and then, finally lifting her chin from between her palms, she added with some eloquence, ‘I think you’re mistaking me for another girl!’

That had been all. They hadn’t even met again in school, especially since the baccalaureate was drawing near and the twelve graders had melted away without a trace.

And, remembering this short, stupid meeting, while she still stood in the classroom doorway, Monica was at last filled with that vital syrup that wrecked her well-ordered plans and made all her blood vessels sprout wings. In the desert territory, which for a whole year had been untouched by the breath of life, the sound of flowing blood could at last be heard. It was only her impulsive side that loved Dani, the side driven to consume itself, her aged being, in which lived all the urges and the serpentine motions of a desire hard to control.

When the break ended, and the clang of the bell fell again over the classrooms, Monica picked up her rucksack and was off almost at a run. She hadn’t even got past Dani’s former classroom when she heard the Whale’s heavy voice: ‘Where do you think you’re going, young lady? Not thinking of skipping class, I hope?’

Monica looked up and the Whale started in surprise. Between the restless eyelashes there shone a new, devilish look. The teacher stopped and examined her sideways, almost curious to hear the response of the girl, who smiled and said in an almost confidential tone, ‘You had an outstanding student last year: Dani.’

The Whale lowered her voice too and offered a warm and open ‘yes’.

‘Do you know what’s happened to him?’

‘What’s happened?’ the Whale asked, alarmed.

And because Monica was waiting with the same drunken eyes, she answered with a certain indifference, ‘He’s a student at the University.’

While the teacher was still reflecting, bemused, on her question, Monica was already heading away to the exit, straight into the fluttering wings of the summer day, determined to cross the Cişmigiu Garden, to take the boulevard head on, and to go into the University building, even if what was waiting at the end of the journey might be a new quarter of an hour with its diamond teeth.

Doina Ruști’s writing has been translated into several languages, covering a wide variety of topics, most of which are published by Polirom. Some of her novels are: The Ghost at the Mill (2008), awarded the Prize for Prose of The Romanian Writers’ Union, Zogru (2006), republished in Top10+ Collection, and, Lizoanca at the Age of 11 (2009), awarded The “Ion Creangă” Prize of The Romanian Academy. She lives in Bucharest, where she works as a professor and script writer.

James Christian Brown, originally from Scotland, has lived in Romania since 1993. His recent translations from Romanian to English include the collection of short stories Small Changes in Attitude by Răzvan Petrescu, (University of Plymouth Press, 2011), the play Mihaela, The Tiger of Our Town by Gianina Cărbunariu (in PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art, XXXVIII:2, 2016: 89-111), and the volume of philosophical lectures About the World We Live In by Alexandru Dragomir (Springer, 2017).

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