“I never wonder to see men wicked, but I often wonder to see them not ashamed.”

Swift, Thoughts on Various Subjects, 1711

Zoitsanu displayed no emotion. She gestured to me to put the child back on the ground and leave him. I put him down on the baked earth as gently as possible and watched him stumble slowly away. He fell down almost immediately but picked himself up without too much difficulty as I looked back, following Zoitsanu through the doorway.

“On doit encore visiter le bureau,” she said, looking extremely miserable at the prospect of coming face-to-face with the social worker again. Still, that appeared to be obligatory, and so we returned to the office where we were confronted once more.

The social worker could not speak French, and everything then had to be conducted through Zoitsanu, who appeared to be something of a reluctant interpreter.

I knew that I needed the consent of the parents if I was to progress to the next stage, and I asked Zoitsanu to find out what the social worker knew of the child’s mother and father.

The social worker regarded me coldly, while Zoitsanu stumbled through her interpreting. It appeared that the child’s father was unknown. The social worker did, however, know the whereabouts of the mother.

Did I have a lawyer, the social worker demanded, with a look of disdain on her face. Certainly, I looked something of a sight, my hitherto clean T-shirt now stained with infant urine, and my trousers scuffed and dirty from my kneeling in the backyard. 

“Non,” I replied to Zoitsanu. “Je suis avocat moi-même.”

She raised her eyebrows momentarily, whether from surprise or disbelief, and imparted my declaration to the social worker, who made it plain that that was not the response that she was expecting, nor one that she liked very much.

I had, of course, been warned about the probability of corrupt lawyers and the passing of money, and I sensed that the social worker was herself perfectly prepared to accept a bribe and indeed probably expected it. However, she would be getting nothing from me, and any sort of referral fee or the like to a dubious lawyer was clearly out of the question. I was obviously not a welcome prospect.

She spoke once more to Zoitsanu, whose halting translation provided me with an outline, albeit reluctant, of the next steps which were to be taken. Today was Thursday, and, the social worker asserted, she would ensure that the mother would come to the orphanage on the following Monday and would sign the necessary forms of consent to enable me to adopt the child.

Zoitsanu assured me that there would be no problem and ushered me out of the office, looking mightily relieved that the meeting was over.

I thanked the social worker over my shoulder as we left, but received no response. I wondered if I should hand over some of the comforts which I had brought from England next time I saw her, in an endeavour to secure her co-operation. There was no one I could ask but I decided to have something in reserve for the following Monday when I was to return.

Back once more in the heat of midday, I decided that the best thing I could do would be to go back to the hotel and clean up, and report to my mother as to what had happened. But no sooner did I get to the entrance than I found the Americans’ interpreter standing by the far gate, smoking and looking thoroughly upset. I went across to him.

“You know,” he said immediately, “I left this country five years ago, and it was in a pretty god-awful state then. Now look at it. I had absolutely no idea what I had let myself in for when I agreed to come over with those Americans. I have never seen children so badly treated and I am ashamed of Romania. The sooner I can get back to the States, the better.”

“What did those women think they were doing?” I asked. 

“Do you know,” he said, “I’m not sure that even they know. I guess that they thought they might take pictures of a cuddly little baby or two, and choose one to take back to America with them. Now it’s wake-up time. I’m Romanian and even I wasn’t ready for what we’ve seen here today, so I can’t imagine what is going through their minds.”

“Well,” I said, “the director claimed that no children at all are available for adoption from this orphanage, although, to be frank, I don’t believe him. I sense that children may well be available but only on payment of money. It wouldn’t make sense otherwise. Why take me and those two women around the orphanage if no children would be made available?”

He sucked on his cigarette. “I’m not going back in. It’s a dreadful place and it makes me feel ill just to look at the children and to see the state that they are kept in. And the smell!” He pulled a face to emphasise his disgust.

“That’s exactly why I’m here,” I said. “Television pictures in England, and presumably round the world, have shown the state of these places, and I know that I’m not alone in my attempt to get one or more children out of here. In fact, my local social services have approved my attempts to take two children back to England and somehow I must find another.”

He said nothing, looking into the middle distance.

I chanced my arm. “I don’t suppose you would be very kind and take me to another of the orphanages here to see whether or not I can find another child? I’ve been given the address of Orphanage Number Two, and that is my obvious next port of call.”

He looked at me doubtfully. He appeared to weigh up the alternatives. Stay outside or go back into that ghastly building. And if he was to stay outside, maybe he could give me a lift. After a moment, he dropped his cigarette and ground it out in the dust. 

“I’ll tell you what. I’ll drive you to the second orphanage and drop you outside. But please don’t ask me to go in.”

“Deal,” I said. “That really is very kind of you.”

His car was parked on the road outside, and despite his absence from Bucharest for the last five years or so, it didn’t take more than a few minutes for him to find his bearings and then to find Orphanage Number Two, which appeared to be the other side of the city.

We drove to a run-down area, with a good number of demolished buildings. And there, at the end of what appeared to be a cul-de-sac, I saw high rickety gates, fashioned out of chicken wire, affording access down a dusty roadway to what was obviously my destination.

My Romanian/American helper dropped me on the main road and said that he really would rather not go anywhere near the orphanage.

“I hope you understand,” he said. “This has been a really upsetting experience for me and I want to avoid repeating it.”

I thanked him and shook his hand warmly. “You’ve been very kind,” I said, “and without you, I certainly wouldn’t have been able to find my way here easily or even at all.”

He wished me luck and drove in a wide circle, back in the direction from which we’d come, leaving me standing on the corner, wondering what on earth I was in for next.

What I did know from my meeting with Liz and the others at Hotel Lido was that the director of Orphanage Number Two was a woman who either spoke French or even possibly was French, so I picked up my now empty rucksack and walked into the grounds of the orphanage.

I realised that I had never asked the name of my helper. 


The contrast with Orphanage Number One was marked. All around me, the ground seemed dark, almost black, the flattened earth of the area almost indistinguishable from the tarred surface of the road. As I walked down the road, I found myself between high chicken-wire fences, approaching what seemed to be a long, raised single-storey wooden building with a veranda along the length of one side. As I got closer, I could see a small group of nurses, perhaps four or five of them, sitting talking and looking over at children who were playing on ground on the other side of the chicken wire. Just like the backyard of Orphanage Number One, there were no facilities and little grass. The ground was dusty and beaten flat, and the children appeared to have nothing to play with save for the occasional tree stump. The ones I could see were doing little more than wandering aimlessly around or sitting on the ground.

I went up to the veranda and was about to announce myself in French when the nearest nurse to me spoke up. 

“Hello,” she said, “can I help you?”

“Hey,” I replied, “you’re English!”

“Well, no, actually, I’m from Aberdeen,” she said, “but don’t worry.”

I explained that I had rather hoped that I could see the director, having come away from Orphanage Number One and keen to continue to establish whether or not I could adopt another child.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “but the director is on holiday, and won’t be back for a couple of weeks.”

She came down the steps of the veranda and joined me as I looked around the barren surroundings.

“I and my friends have taken time off from our summer vacations to come and help here,” she said. “And as you can see, the orphanages are in something of a state.”

“To be honest,” I said, “I really didn’t know what to expect, but it’s all pretty shocking. And that’s why I’m here with my mother, endeavouring to adopt a couple of children.”

As we walked, she told me that I wouldn’t be successful in seeking any children from this particular orphanage but that I should be happy for these kids. 

“Look,” she said, “I can tell you where each of the children you see on that playground is going.” As she pointed, she told me of their various destinations.

“That one is going to Germany. That little girl is off to Israel. That child to Canada. That one to South Africa…”

She paused, looking quizzically at me, for I was only half listening to her. I was watching a little boy who had fallen flat on his face and who had quite clearly hurt himself. But as I watched, he was picking himself up and wiping down his already dirty clothes.

I could not quite put my finger on it, but something was wrong.

She followed my gaze. After a moment, she said “You’re wondering why he isn’t crying, aren’t you?”

I nodded.

“Crying, you know, is a natural reflex of an infant who is seeking comfort. But these children have long since learned not to cry. They learn from a very early age that crying simply wastes energy.”

“So they don’t cry?” I said weakly.

“That’s right,” she said. She looked me over. 

“Because…” she said softly, as if to emphasise her words,

“… nobody comes.” 


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