“The world wants to be deceived.”

Sebastian Brant, Ship of Fools, 1494

Having to wait out the balance of Sunday was an ordeal. There was nowhere to go other than the hotel, since I could not bear the sight of happy families in the park. I wandered into the city centre and found a state tourist office, which I assumed might give me some ideas as to what I might see in Bucharest, but it appeared that sightseeing was out of the question – the city had clearly only recently shaken off the ordeal of revolution, and the one clerk at the run-down desk in the office was unable to offer any suggestions as to what might be seen or how.

She offered me a set of postcards displaying various monuments from better days and asked me whether I had any loose change on money from England, since she was collecting coins from all over the world. 

To her delight, I was able to hand over a few coins which I found in my pocket while she apologised for the state of the city in general and her office in particular. There were no brochures, maps, or even posters on display which might tempt the visitor to a day trip around Bucharest or the neighbouring countryside. The outlook was as gloomy as the windows of her office were dirty, so I trudged back to the hotel, deep in thought as to what the coming week would hold for me.

So, I mused to myself, I had found a child who was not, as I first feared, obviously disabled, although he was very clearly dreadfully behind in his development. But I felt an immediate attachment to him. I would get him out of that place and nothing, I felt, would stop me. 

Had I known of the obstacles ahead, I might not have been so confident.

For the time being, however, my confidence levels had risen slightly, and when I returned to the reception desk in the hotel, I was not unduly anxious when I heard Mircea’s news.

“I am really sorry,” he said, in his precise way. “My friend at the embassy finally replied. He can’t really help you, because he’s too busy.”

“Well, don’t worry,” I said. “By chance, I have found an interpreter who has promised to meet me tomorrow and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that she will come up trumps.”

We spent the next few minutes defining what I meant by fingers and trumps, to his great delight. 

“This will be really good for me when I go to England,” he said. “Maybe you will come and see me at the hotel?”

“But look,” he continued. “I have another friend, who I know has just left university, and he should now be on vacation. His name is Bogdan Simionescu, and he lives in Bucharest with his parents. Here is his telephone number – give him a call and see whether he is free.”

On the now well tested and tried principle of one step forward and two steps back, I decided that it might be a very good idea to have a first reserve, so I asked Mircea to make the call and put me through. Once more back in the cubicle, I picked up the phone and was put through to a voice with a marked American accent.

Bogdan spoke perfect English. I explained that his name had been given to me by Mircea, and that it had been suggested that he might be able to act as interpreter for me.

“Sure,” said Bogdan. “Absolutely no problem. I’m on vacation now and I have nothing planned.”

“But,” I replied, “I’ve already arranged an interpreter for a meeting tomorrow and, as far as I know, she is going to make herself available and will help me.”


“But having said that, I have never met this woman before, and neither of us know what is up ahead and it may be that she will only be available for this one meeting.”

“Look,” he replied, “Mircea has given you my number. I’ve got nothing planned for the next couple of weeks. If you need my help, just give me a call.”

It was so strange, meeting these extremes of hostility and generosity in this bewildering country. Still, this was not the time to question my good fortune. I thanked him profusely and rang off.

Back in my room, after another unappetising meal of tomatoes and ham to which the waitress had been good enough to add a few chips, I tried to sleep. Downstairs, there seemed to be something of a party going on, but there wasn’t quite the din that I had overheard at Hotel Lido, perhaps because the merrymakers were not quite so well-heeled. I turned on the television set in an attempt to pass the time. The black-and-white screen flickered, offering me a picture in two segments – at the top, about three inches of screen revealed the bottom portion of the picture, and the remaining ten inches or so of the screen portrayed what was in fact the top part and bulk of the picture.

The plot was impossible to follow, save that there were a number of camels, a lot of sand, and some murderous-looking tribesmen  – the poor sound track was in French, and the Romanian subtitles were, given the faulty screen, superimposed at the top rather than the bottom of the picture. I had caught the last part of the feature, and as the credits rolled, the distinctive voice of Barbara Dixon pealed out, singing ‘Caravan’. In English. I couldn’t have made it up if I had tried.

Given that the programme which followed appeared to be some sort of news feature in Romanian, and that, on this crazy screen, the newsreader’s forehead appeared under his chin, I searched for any other channel which might be broadcasting. 

If it was, any thought of reception was beyond the capacity of this particular set, so I switched off and tried to get some sleep.


Next morning, I was awake early. At 6am I was up, fretting, unable to relax. I picked at my statutory bread roll, and sipped the tea, alone still in the surreal dining room.

I guessed that the social worker would probably put in an appearance at about 10am, and it would be a waste of time getting to the orphanage before 9am. I had arranged to meet Beatrice at 9.30am, so I made my way there, on foot, partly to pass the time, and partly to clear my head. 


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