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THIRTY THREE



“And think not you can direct the course of love, 

for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.”

Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet



With the help of the young woman at the Tarom office, we managed to secure our three places on the extra flight leaving on Sunday the 2nd September. It had seemed like a lifetime, but in reality the whole expedition, from start to finish, had taken only a little over six weeks. Had I not completed the home study before I set out, it would probably have taken about four months. Nonetheless, I was emotionally exhausted.


We now had a couple of days to kill. Neither of us wanted to sit around the apartment, and we knew that Dominic was being looked after, so Bogdan suggested some sightseeing.


“Really? My only experience looking around Bucharest is that any historical buildings or the like are all boarded up or falling down.”


“Which is why we’re going out into the country – into the Carpathians.”


So off we went, into what Bogdan told me were, in the winter months, snow fields where a rudimentary skiing resort had been constructed. And sure enough, after an hour or so, we pulled up at a ski lift which took us into pleasant rolling hills which, while bearing no comparison to the more sophisticated resorts in the mountains of France and Switzerland, provided a revitalising mixture of fresh air and calm. 


Bogdan was clearly pleased that I was experiencing another, rather less filthy, side to my visit. “I’m going to show you a castle. You have heard of Vlad the Impaler?”


In fact I hadn’t. Vampires, yes, and dark tales of goings on in the mountains of Moldavia, but nothing about Vlad.


“I’ve heard of Count Dracula, of course!”


“Maybe,” said Bogdan, “but that’s all fiction. This guy was real. And not nice. And we’ll see his castle.”


We drove through a number of villages, some almost medieval in their appearance, thatched roofs falling down, hungry-looking adults and children watching us with empty faces from dark doorways and verandas, until we pulled up at a particularly ugly oil refinery, which appeared to have been dumped for no good reason other than that there was room for it, in spectacular countryside, cheek by jowl with Vlad’s castle.


Obviously, Romania had no such thing as a planning policy, or if it did, someone had made, or had been paid to make, a spectacularly horrible decision to allow the monstrosity of the refinery to be built next to the castle of, it was alleged, a monster in his own right. 


I shook my head in despair, but joined Bogdan as we followed a good number of sightseers through the Impaler’s apartments and along his battlements, learning as we did so that in common with many medieval rulers, Vlad recognised that brute force was probably the best, if not the only, way to bring a community to order and to protect it against invaders. 


“He was not all bad, you see,” said Bogdan as he led me through the castle. “He fought off the Ottomans and he rebuilt the economy and made an example of anyone who stood in his way… by impaling them and leaving their bodies in very visible locations, to discourage dissent at home and invasion from abroad.”


The name Dracula wasn’t, it turned out, an invention – it was hijacked by a Victorian novelist whose name, Bram Stoker, I remembered. 


“Vlad’s father was ‘dracul’,” said Bogdan, “which actually means ‘dragon’.”


As long as we could avoid looking at the huge pipes and funnels of the refinery and ignore the smoke and dirt surrounding the complex, it was not difficult to immerse ourselves in the history of the place, even if we avoided images of torsos and heads stuck on pikes. And I could hardly imagine that the protector of this part of Europe was any more barbaric than the Tudors who were happy enough to hang, draw and quarter their victims in medieval England. And of course I knew that somewhere in Romania, if I had the time to search it out, there would be historical evidence of a civilisation which was certainly as old as England’s, fashioned from Roman times and influenced by Eastern migration from the Ottoman Empire, India and beyond.


But we had no time to investigate. We had to collect Dominic, say our goodbyes to Bogdan’s parents, and return to England. 


***


Another surprise awaited me as we embarked on our flight. We found ourselves on a BAC One-Eleven with English notices and comfortable seats. Bogdan grinned at me. 


“You know, your queen gave two or three of these to us.”


“Eh?”


“Sure. The evil Ceauşescu was entertained to a state visit to London and the UK government, probably jealous of French influence in our country, thought it would be a good idea to supply three of these jets at a knock-down price. Comfortable, isn’t it?”


And, mercifully, it was. The position of the engines was further back down the fuselage, and all we heard was the rushing of air over the wings and round the cabin.


Bogdan and I took it in turns to comfort Dominic on the flight. He was still not in the best shape, and was dreadfully bunged up. However, he slept most of the way to Heathrow and was still asleep as we negotiated our way through immigration. Thankfully, his entry clearance and Bogdan’s visa allowed us through without too much difficulty, although we had to spend some time waiting in an ante-room.


True to her word, my mother was waiting for us in a car, which brought a whole new meaning to the word ‘compact’. The three of us squeezed in, not an easy task, bearing in mind my mother’s size, and we made the journey back to Warwickshire in reasonable time, without any of us feeling too carsick. Thankfully, my mother’s health appeared to have been restored, and she, like us, was delighted to be able to deliver Dominic to his new home.


When we arrived, Carmel met us at the door and swooped on the hot little bundle in my arms. She was quite overwhelmed at the sight of him and disappeared upstairs to clean him up, cool him down, and put him to bed.


And suddenly, it was over. 


***


I was home with our son and a new chapter was opening. I had a statutory year to wait, I knew, before I could complete adoption proceedings in England, and I had, of course, to give notice to the local authority of my intention. So, the next day, I telephoned the local office and told them that I had arrived, that Dominic was in one piece, and that in a year’s time, I would be starting adoption proceedings.


The woman’s voice on the other end of the line was cold. 


“What did you call him just now?”


“Dominic.”


“But that’s not his real name and you cannot call him that.”


I felt like responding that I could call him what I liked, but I held my tongue. 


“Just make a note, please, that I’ve returned, that our son is with us, and I will be starting proceedings in 12 months’ time. I’m sure you will want to arrange for a social worker to call us, so please let us know and we can make an appointment.”


I rang off wondering why it was that we were meeting this level of response, even now. However, as it turned out, we were to be assigned a social worker, Pauline Hope, who could not have been more welcoming, and who delighted in Dominic’s progress every time she came to our home.


And that progress was remarkable. In three months, he outgrew three pairs of shoes, size by size, and his growth continued. I had, as David Rapley had asked, taken him to our surgery in the week immediately following our arrival, and he had announced that he was in the very bottom ‘centile’ of physical development. Six months later, he had progressed almost to the very top.


For the remainder of that year, however, and for the whole of the two years following, he could not talk. No one should be surprised: nobody had spoken to him for more than the first two years of his life. 


The back of his head, which had been completely flat when I found him, began to develop a curve and, little by little, he found it easier to walk and climb, although he found the steps up to even the most basic of children’s slides to be insurmountable, and I had to lift him up, rung by rung, much to the bemusement of other infants, younger and older, waiting their turns.


Within the month, Dominic was baptised. Family and friends joined us at St Peter’s Church in Leamington, and Father Frank Flynn, who was to hold Dominic in a special place in his heart, christened him. Bogdan was, as promised, one of his godparents and he stayed with us, sometimes travelling to London and other parts of the UK, for the next three months, almost as bewildered at the contrast between England and Romania as Dominic.


In the first week that we were back, and perhaps rather thoughtlessly, I took Bogdan shopping to my local Sainsbury’s supermarket. As I went about my weekly shop, I noticed that he had lagged behind. I found him in a nearby aisle, confronting a display of rice products. It seemed that the entire presentation extended for half the length of the building, accommodating rice from all parts of Asia, and rice products of every conceivable kind. Even the tinned rice puddings numbered at least half a dozen, some with chocolate, some with cinnamon, and others with fruit and different kinds of cream.


I sensed that he was not simply nonplussed but also quite distressed, remembering, as I did at that moment, his description of the queues in Bucharest which we had left only a week before. There was no way to comfort him.


***


We still had to endure thoughtlessness, sometimes from the most unexpected quarters. When, much later, we introduced him to the nursery reception class of his primary school, the headmistress took Carmel on one side. 


“Some of the parents,” she said, “are concerned that we satisfy them that Dominic has not got Aids.”


While Carmel treated that announcement with contempt, it was still a deeply wounding suggestion. But we were to find, as the years passed, that behaviour of that nature would not be confined to adults who should know better. 


We elected to pay for independent, that is, private, schooling, assuming that the large classes in the state sector would be too difficult for Dominic to cope with. However, any hope that children of families with sufficient means to embark on similar endeavours would somehow not descend to bullying was shattered within a short time of enrolment at school. As years passed, Dominic was subjected to behaviour of which his classmates and their parents should have been ashamed.


And the adoption process itself, which should have concluded with an enjoyable celebration, took place in a way which took me straight back to my experiences in Romania.


The adoption hearing was listed for 10am on the second Monday in September 1991 at Warwick County Court. Carmel, Dominic and I, accompanied by Pauline Hope, attended at the court, in our Sunday best, cameras at the ready, prepared for the celebration hearing. There in good time, we found our way to the court lists and saw our names, but at the appointed time, we were not called. Nor were we called at 10.30, nor 11. Instead, we waited in a large hall, as the end of the morning approached, mingling with the morning’s defendants awaiting trial or sentence in the Crown Court. 


The crowd of litigants ebbed and flowed around us while we sat, awaiting the pleasure of the judge.


Then, at a little after noon, our names were called and we were ushered into the court of His Honour Judge Gosling, who didn’t appear best pleased that his list was being interrupted by an adoption celebration.


We sat down at the side of the court, in the jury seats, while Dominic wandered around the room, pulling papers off the benches in front of him. The judge frowned, looking at the paperwork.


“What is this?” he demanded.


“It’s an application to complete the adoption process, and today should be the celebration hearing. Your Honour might note that, in fact, this is the second adoption, because I adopted my son in Romania just over a year ago.”


“That’s as may be, but the papers in front of me are all in a foreign language.”


“No, I think you’ll find that every one of them is translated.”


The judge paused and shuffled through the papers again.


“But how do I know that the translation is accurate?”


“Because it has been notarised.”


“What does that mean?”


Oh, come on. Surely he was just being bloody-minded. How could any lawyer not know? Carmel looked at me enquiringly. Pauline was herself clearly very uncomfortable and fiddled with her camera which was to have recorded this special occasion.


I looked back at the judge. “It means that it has been certified by a Notary Public, an office of which you might have heard.”


Another pause while he made heavy weather of understanding the nature of the application, picking up and then discarding the papers in front of him. 


Then, “And do I have a social enquiry report?”


“Do you mean from this country or from Romania?”


“I mean from Romania.”


“No,” I said, “you don’t. Nor will you get one, given the state of social services in that country. You do, however, have all the paperwork from this country and the advice of social services in Warwickshire.”


There was another pause. The silence was broken only by the occasional paper or pencil tumbling from the benches in the well of the court as Dominic continued his rounds.


“But…” I finally continued after the silence became even more uncomfortable, feeling both exasperated and concerned that the process was again stalling; perhaps, I thought to myself, I ought to find a different judge, “… I think it is best that I ask you for an adjournment of these proceedings.”


More silence. Then, with a sigh, the judge put the papers down.


“Oh, very well,” he said, without a trace of humour, “I might as well make the adoption order. There is no need for an adjournment.”


And that was that. Pauline was so put out that she completely forgot to take any photographs outside the court building. Neither of us thought it appropriate to ask the judge if he would pose with us inside the court, a tradition which is followed in every adoption celebration hearing throughout the land. 


But at least the process was over. Dominic had no idea what had been going on and would be unlikely to remember it. I felt momentarily ashamed of the court process.


I looked around as we emerged from the historic court building. The three of us, finally recognised as a family by English law. 


Now it was time to seek out a brother or sister for our son.

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