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THIRTY



“If someone tells you he is going to make ‘a realistic decision’, you immediately understand that he has resolved to do something bad.”

Mary McCarthy, On the Contrary, 1962



Next morning we made our way once more to the embassy, past the harassed police guard, this time to the main consulate door, up steps flanked by reinforced windows. I had to speak through a security flap. Could I speak to Kirsty Rowe? The desk clerk looked doubtful.


“I simply want to confirm that she has received entry clearance from the Home Office,” I said. “I won’t keep her long, since, as far as I understand it, all the formalities have now been completed.”


With obvious reluctance and a good deal of loud buzzes of the kind heard in TV serials featuring American prisons, the main door swung open, and I was allowed in and shown to the Vice Consul’s office.


I sat down opposite her, observing her distinct lack of enthusiasm for our meeting. 


“I’ve returned, because I have been assured that the Home Office will have telexed you at the end of last week confirming that entry clearance has been given.”


“I’m afraid you’re wrong,” she said. “We have received a telex but it does not give you permission to enter the United Kingdom.”


I was aghast. “That can’t be right. I was assured by Mike Lyne that the necessary formalities had been undertaken between the Department of Health and the Home Office, and that Home Office entry clearance was to be transmitted to you immediately.”


“I’m sorry,” she said, without looking sorry at all, “but I’m telling you what we have received, which is the opposite of what you are suggesting.”


“Surely you can contact the Home Office and find out what on earth has gone wrong?”


“I’m not sure that that’s our function,” she said, “but I’ll see what enquiries can be made. I have other things to do, but I suggest that you give me the rest of the day, and ring me at five o’clock this evening, and maybe I’ll have some news for you.”


I was clearly getting nowhere, so, confused and not a little fed up, I left her and re-joined Bogdan in the hall. We left the building before I dared speak, lest I was heard saying something out of place.


“I don’t believe this. Rowe insists that entry clearance has been denied. That simply isn’t true, but until this evening, no one is going to contact London and I’m stuck.”


“Maybe not. Why don’t we ask your lawyer in England to ask what’s going on?”


How were we going to do that, I wondered. Then I remembered Tony Coltman’s telex machine. “Let’s get a telex off to him, and ask him to apply his boot to the Home Office backside.”


Bogdan knew immediately where to go. In the middle of the city was a telex office, and in my rucksack was the currency of the day – Kent cigarettes. We sat in his father’s car close to a squat building which appeared to be festooned with wires coming out of the roof. There was a crowd of people milling around the entrance, each one intent on shoving their way inside holding a piece of paper carrying a message for transmission abroad. 


Bogdan seemed to know what was ahead, and appeared unconcerned by the scene. He found a scrap of paper and together we composed a message, in English, for Tony. 

As usual, Bogdan was not at all fazed by the crowd. He fished out a 200 carton of Kent, winked at me, and disappeared. 


I wondered how long we would have to wait, given the confusion, but after twenty minutes, he was back, clutching the carbon of the message which had been successfully transmitted.


In the customary upper case lettering which these cumbersome machines utilised, the message read:


‘PLEASE TELEPHONE HOME OFFICE IN LONDON, NUMBER 081-686-0333, DEPARTMENT B2, ASK FOR MIKE LYNE OR HIS ASSISTANT. YOU MUST TELL HIM THAT ON THURSDAY 23 AUGUST THE HOME OFFICE TELEPHONED ME AND ASSURED ME AND INSISTED THAT ENTRY CLEARANCE HAD BEEN GIVEN AND A TELEX WAS THAT DAY TO BE SENT TO BUCHAREST. TODAY, TUESDAY, THE EMBASSY INSIST THAT NO SUCH TELEX OR CLEARANCE HAS BEEN RECEIVED. CAN MR LYNE OR HIS DEPUTY IF HE IS ON LEAVE (I SPOKE TO A MRS MCLUSKEY) PLEASE TELEX AGAIN TO BUCHAREST EMBASSY WITH THE CLEARANCE?’


“I think it’s time to get Dominic a passport while we wait. I have a cousin who works in the main passport office. Let’s go see him.”


Of course, I knew that the orphanage would have been under strict instructions not to release any child until approval had been given by the embassy, and I imagined that the passport office would be subject to the same restriction. I voiced my doubts to Bogdan.


“Remember the window!” said Bogdan. “We’ll go and buy some vodka at the dollar shop, and you’ll see how quickly this will be sorted out.”


We drove to the shop which I’d heard so much about and, sure enough, all sorts of commodities were laid out in a large display which had all the appearance of a cross between a cash-and-carry warehouse and a duty-free outlet. Bogdan used some of my dollars to buy a large bottle of vodka, remembering as he did so to get hold of a paper bag to hide it in. Then on to a nondescript building which he assured me housed the passport office. 


Parking the car, he took another carton of Kent and squeezed it into the paper bag with the vodka bottle and, with a cheery wave, disappeared inside the door. I could see myself being drawn further into this unhappy world of black marketing and bribery, but at that moment, bearing in mind the need to get Dominic out and the apparent indifference of both the Romanians and the British to his plight, I felt that I simply had to use every opportunity to get to the front of the queue.


He was out within the hour, with a brand-new Romanian passport, sporting Dominic’s photograph and his new name, George Dominic Lissant Cleary. The fact that the passport was, according to Bogdan, endorsed with the caveat that it was for one use only, making it effectively a one-way document, didn’t bother me. We were so close to the finishing tape that I felt that I could reach out and touch it.


***


Back at his parent’s apartment, I struggled to remain patient. The clock seemed to move agonisingly slowly past 4.30, and then equally slowly towards the time that I should ring the embassy. Bogdan fussed about and turned on the radio, once more tuning into a popular music station.


And once more, there was Elton John wailing about sacrifice. 


The minute hand moved slowly. 


More echoing words about a baby …


Another minute


… something about different worlds reverberated around the hi-fi …


More seconds passed.


Elton insisting that he was just passing through … 


Quite catchy under other circumstances. 


The hand moved towards the vertical. I picked up the phone at two minutes to five and dialled the embassy, motioning Bogdan to turn off the radio.


“This is a British embassy,” intoned a female voice, “but I’m afraid…”


I interrupted her. “I have been asked by the Vice Consul to telephone her at five o’clock.”


“That’s not possible, I’m afraid, because, as I was saying, the embassy closes at 5pm.”


“That may be so, but I assure you, the Vice Consul made a particular point of asking me to telephone at 5pm.” I gave her my name.


The minute hand reached 5pm precisely.


“Look, can I suggest that you speak to the Vice Consul, who I am sure will be prepared to speak to me, since it was she who told to ring at this time.”


“I will speak to her and come back to you.”


There was a click and the line went silent. 


The minute hand passed through one, two and then three minutes past five. Another click, and the telephonist was back on the line.


“I have spoken to the Vice Consul and she is not prepared to speak to you.”


“But this is impossible. I rang at the time she told me to.”


“I’m sorry but I cannot argue with you. The embassy closes at five and there is nothing more I can do to help you. The office reopens at 10am tomorrow.”


“You can tell the Vice Consul, from me that—”


But the line was already dead.

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