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THIRTY TWO



“We can’t form our children on our own concepts; we must take them and love them as God gives them to us.”

Goethe, Hermann and Dorothea, 1797



Dominic fell ill within hours of his release. 


We took him, first, to the park to give him his first taste of freedom and his first sight of greenery. I put him gently on the ground and he staggered slowly up the path, away from us.


“He’s just like that singer,” joked Bogdan.


“Which singer is that?”


“You know, the one who jerks his arms around and sways in front of the microphone.”


“You mean Joe Cocker.”


“Absolutely. Look at poor Dom, he can’t stand up without swaying about, let alone walk properly. And you know, I guess that he has a touch of rickets, because he’s had almost no sunlight through his life, and you can see from the shape of his legs that they haven’t been growing entirely normally.”


We watched him as he moved around gingerly, taking in, as far as he could, the strange new world to which he had been suddenly introduced. 


We didn’t want to tire him out, and so we fetched the pushchair and wheeled him around the park for a while before taking him back to the apartment for a rest. I undressed him and put him in a baby-grow and a dry nappy, and then laid him down to rest. Bogdan and I sat next door talking quietly, when suddenly there was a thump from the bedroom.


I hurried in and found Dominic on the floor, looking bewildered. Foolishly, I had forgotten that all the children in the orphanage rocked, some violently, as they lay in their cots, and he was no exception. He had, literally, rocked himself off the bed, and was now lying on the floor, having fallen, probably painfully, but not having made a sound as he hit the floor. 


Indeed, he had not made a sound ever since we had taken him from the orphanage, and it was to be some time before he made any sort of pleasurable or distressed sound in his new life.


After packing him securely back on the bed with pillows and cushions on either side of him, we left him to rest a little more, and went back in to see him after an hour. And that was when we noticed that he didn’t look well. He was running a high temperature, and his nose was discharging torrents of green mucus. Worse, his neck was swelling up, and his face appeared puffy. After another hour, the glands on his neck had swollen to such an extent that he appeared to be doing a passable impression of a frog.


“I guess that the orphanage has been a barrier to all sorts of common infections,” said Bogdan. “He probably hasn’t got any immunity against all the things that you and I are breathing in every day.”


“But he seems to be in a lot of pain, and he’s running a very high temperature. Is there nothing we can do for him?”


“He needs penicillin,” said Bogdan. “I think the best thing I can do is to get hold of some and then find a syringe and I will inject him.”


Seeing the doubt on my face, he added, “Don’t worry. Part of my dental training included administering intravenous drugs and anaesthetics, so I’ll not kill him. The only problem we have is getting the right kind of penicillin, and the right size of needle. You stay here with him, and I’ll go and see what I can find.”


So, while Bogdan went into the city to find medical supplies, I stayed with Dominic, gently rocking him in my arms while he lay, sweating profusely and wriggling from time to time in distress. He was finding it difficult to breathe, and I had to constantly clear the mucus away from his nose.


After a couple of hours, Bogdan returned with something which looked very much like a veterinary syringe and a packet of powder which he assured me could be diluted into a penicillin solution. 


He set about his task quietly and efficiently and I shut my eyes while he injected Dominic with his potion. Again, there was no sound from the infant, who now looked even smaller than when I had first found him, and certainly more fragile.


“We still have things to do,” said Bogdan, “and we can’t carry Dominic round Bucharest while we do them when he is in this state.”


I couldn’t have  agreed more but I wondered what we were going to do to avoid one of us staying in the apartment all day.


“No problem. I have a cousin who has been a midwife. She is retired now, and a widow, and she lives across town, but I am sure that she will care for him while we finish our business.”


Not being entirely sure how we would be received, I bundled Dominic up in some blankets, took a supply of nappies and a couple of baby-grows, and we drove across the city in the hope of finding respite for our little boy.


As it turned out, Bogdan’s cousin didn’t have to be asked twice. A plump middle-aged lady greeted us with a beaming smile, took one look at the overheated scrap of humanity I was holding and swept him up into her arms. Bogdan translated for her.


“She says that it will be absolutely no problem. She will love to look after him for us and she’ll feed him up with soup and other goodies, and in a couple of days he will be a different child.” 


I was so relieved I kissed her, to her great embarrassment, but she again reassured us both in Romanian and shooed us away.


We still had work to do. We needed a visa and we needed to arrange travel back to England and, of course, we had to arrange a flight for three of us. Before I had left for England the first time Bogdan had asked whether I minded allowing him to accompany us. I had reassured him that he needn’t have asked – I was intending to ask him that same question.


“Of course you must come to England and you must stay with us, meet Carmel, and come to Dominic’s christening, where you will be formally appointed his godfather.”


I had remembered the mournful signs outside the British embassy, announcing that no Romanian could visit England without a sponsorship letter and I had remembered to write such a letter in between the telephone calls to the Department of Health while I kicked my heels in England.


“Don’t worry about sponsorship,” I had said. “I will get the necessary letter to the British embassy so that you can obtain the necessary visa.” And that, at least, had worked according to plan, courtesy of the fax machine, and on one of his visits to the embassy, Bogdan had obtained the necessary entry permit. 


Things were gradually falling into place. Bogdan had his visa but we still needed formal entry clearance on Dominic’s passport and, of course, plane tickets.


We decided to make the embassy our next port of call and we walked back to the now familiar building, through the gate, and to the consulate door. Once again, I asked for the Vice Consul, and once again I was greeted by the impersonal stares of the security personnel at the window. 


“Look,” I said, “in order to save time, would you be kind enough to give this passport to Miss Rowe and ask her, simply, to endorse it with the necessary clearance or visa so that I can take the child home with me?”


I handed the passport through the grille in the window. The response was electrifying. Within moments, Kirsty Rowe appeared in the doorway. It was quite plain that she was beside herself with anger.


“You have no right to do this,” she said, barely controlling herself.


“I don’t understand. This is the child’s passport and I’m asking you to confirm, on this document, that he has permission to enter the United Kingdom.”


“You had no right to get this passport until formal entry clearance had been confirmed by me.”


“I hope we’re not going through that again,” I said. “We both know that entry clearance has been given by the Home Office.”


“But you have totally ignored the necessary procedural steps,” she insisted. 


“I think you’ll find that I have not had the greatest of co-operation from your end. But in any event, this discussion is otiose. Last week, I completed the necessary formalities within Romanian law, and I have formally adopted the child. I’m not sure, now, that you can actually stop me travelling to the United Kingdom with him, given my knowledge of the eventual Home Office recognition of my right to entry. It would, however, be of great assistance and avoid complication if you would be kind enough to place the necessary stamp or seal or whatever is needed, on this passport.”


Her dissatisfaction was tangible. Without inviting me in, she told me to wait where I was, on the steps of the consulate. Moments later, she returned, and thrust the passport at me. 


“I’ve stamped it,” she snapped before turning her back and disappearing back into the building.


I resisted the temptation to thumb my nose in her direction, and instead waved a cheery goodbye to the security clerks at the window, and Bogdan and I walked jauntily out of the grounds. 


“Just one thing left,” I said. “Tickets.”


Still on foot, we found our way to the same Tarom office which I had visited in my attempts to find passage for my mother back to England. 


“This is going to be a problem. The last time I came here, there was such a crowd and such a noise that I gave up.”


“Ah, yes, but you’re forgetting the window thing,” Bogdan said, smiling.


And sure enough, no sooner did we get into the smoky and again overcrowded booking hall than he executed a smart right turn and walked through a door set into the wall at one end of the hall, and into a series of offices bisected by a narrow hallway.


Like most Romanians, he had never been allowed to leave the country before then, but he acted as if air travel was second nature to him. Knocking at the doorway of a small cubicle, we found a young woman with perhaps rather too much make-up and rather less than adequate upper clothing, and, smiling broadly at her, Bogdan spoke at length in Romanian.


She made something of a show of deep uncertainty and tried to appear doubtful while she looked at some schedules on her desk, frowning with concentration as she muttered from time to time in response to Bogdan’s initial questions.


He turned to me and whispered, “She has told me that all the flights out of Bucharest are booked solid, but that the demand is such that Tarom are thinking of putting an extra flight on this Sunday and if they do, we can have three seats if the necessary arrangements can be made.”


He and I knew very well what ‘necessary arrangements’ meant. He reached into my rucksack and very swiftly passed a 200-cigarette carton of Kent to the young woman, who, with a remarkable sleight of hand, managed to get them out of sight so quickly that despite my proximity to the transfer, I might never have seen it happen. 


Her frown disappeared and she smiled at us both. She busied herself with a list which she had found on top of a pile of paperwork on her desk and began scribbling on some sort of manifest while addressing Bogdan, who I realised was giving her our names and Dominic’s details.


“She assures me that there will be an extra flight and that we are now booked onto it. She would appreciate it if we paid in dollars.”


I was ready for that one and decided not to protest. It was not as if we were being overcharged, but I sensed that the transfer of funds into the airline account would very probably be in lei. Nonetheless, what did I care? As long as Dominic was fit to travel, all the necessary arrangements were now in place.

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