“If man had created man he would be ashamed of his performance.” 

Mark Twain, Notebooks, later 19th century

Carmel got through to me that evening. 

“Tony has fixed the declaration, and your brilliant idea seems to be paying off. He’s spoken to the travel agent and McCormick has promised to get hold of a passenger who is flying to Romania, and he’ll arrange to carry it with him for you to collect. I’ll find out who it is and then you can meet him at your end.”

It sounded simple, and in fact it worked a treat. McCormick contacted his next client, a Welshman with, as far as I could understand it, an interest in TV aerial erection, who agreed to bring the declaration with him, and Bogdan and I set out to meet him the next afternoon.

The meeting was arranged at the Hotel Intercontinental in the centre of Bucharest,  and in the early afternoon we walked into the main lobby of a different world. A uniformed doorman looked suspiciously at us, since we were at that moment conspicuously underdressed, in T-shirts and jeans, while the flow of guests and visitors in and out of the hotel lobby appeared, certainly by Romanian standards, to be smart and well-heeled. However, adopting the now well-tested self-assured look, we simply breezed past him and made our way to the hotel room where we knew Mr Evans to be staying.

The hotel corridors were clean and carpeted, the woodwork was dust free, and we could have been in any European four-star hotel. Evans came straight to the door when we knocked, ushered us in and shut the door behind us, blocking out all sound from the hotel and revealing a thoroughly comfortable and well-appointed en suite room.

“Sit down,” he said, “and have a drink.”

A drink? What of?

“Anything you like,” he said, lifting the telephone. “Gin and tonic, whisky, Schweppes.”

Speaking in English, he asked the operator for room service and, within moments, a waiter came to the door to take his order. 

I shook my head in bewilderment. How come everything was on tap?

“Ah, well. This is a dollar hotel. Only dollars change hands here, and for a dollar, I can get anything.”

I muttered that I would appreciate a Coke, not having had one for what seemed like an eternity. Bogdan, too, asked for a ‘Pepsi’. 

While we were waiting for the drinks, Mr Evans told us that he had travelled to Romani, just like I had, with the intention of adopting a baby. His strategy, however, differed starkly from mine. I had no idea how this was being arranged, but he told us that someone was going to deliver a baby to him in the hotel. Gesturing towards his luggage, he said that he had an Aids testing kit with him which would be administered on the baby, and if he liked the look of the child and the Aids test was negative, he would be leaving immediately with the baby.

Just like that.

A number of thoughts raced through my head. Who was arranging this transaction? How could he hope to get through British border controls? Who was to administer the Aids test? Had he not heard that such tests on babies were, apparently, notoriously unreliable? Was he not going to see anything of Romania? Was he not to have any idea at all about the country that the baby was leaving? Did the baby have one or two parents? Was the child being taken from their home or from an orphanage? 

The questions tumbled into my head and rushed around my mind in such chaos that I found myself unable to articulate any of them. This extraordinary visit appeared to be hermetically sealed from the reality of this country. Evans had left the UK and arrived in this Western-style hotel with only the briefest of glimpses of the real Romania through his taxi window on the way from the airport. He would only venture out of his hotel room on checking out, would climb back into his taxi and then return to the UK. I felt utterly bewildered and it was clear, too, that Bogdan shared my surprise. At that moment, I felt a stirring of sympathy for the view that perhaps the removal of the child in such circumstances had a number of unsatisfactory undertones.

My thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door, and the waiter reappeared with the drinks, the Cokes for me and Bogdan, and a whisky on the rocks for Evans, who handed out the drinks to the two of us.

“Now, let me just dig out the envelope that I brought over for you,” he said, ferreting in a briefcase. Sure enough, he found and handed over a large foolscap envelope. A quick look inside reassured me that it was what I expected, a statutory declaration, signed by Carmel, witnessed, and with a further endorsement by a Notary Public. Good old Tony Coltman!

Bogdan and I made small talk for a moment but neither he nor I felt comfortable in that room, partly because of the stark contrast with the surrounding city and partly because of Evans’s remarkable tale, so we made our excuses and left.

On the way back to the car, I found it difficult to articulate my thoughts. 

“Well, at least we’ve got that statutory declaration, and we can go back to the town hall with it.”

“OK,” said Bogdan, seemingly deep in thought. I wondered what he made of the contrast which we had just encountered, but I kept my questions to myself. Life must have been confusing enough for Romanians without having to attempt to make head or tail of dollar hotels on the one hand and poverty on the other.

We had time enough to go back to his parents’ apartment, pick up my documents, and get back to the town hall, and within the hour, we found ourselves back in front of those double doors. Once more, they were ajar, and we entered, finding the scene completely unchanged from that which we had left a couple of days before. There were the two social workers, engaged in lively conversation across the room from their respective desks. No one else was in the room and indeed they appeared to have nothing else to do.

The one to whom Bogdan had spoken on the previous occasion looked over at us without offering any form of greeting. Bogdan went across the room and put the documents back on the table in front of her, together, this time, with the statutory declaration. She took only the briefest of moments to look at the documents and appeared to recognise them immediately. 

She started speaking to Bogdan with what looked uncomfortably like a leer on her face. She finished what she was saying with something of a laugh, and again sat back, folding her arms. 

For once, Bogdan appeared lost for words. He picked up the documents and put them all into the envelope holding the statutory declaration and turned to me.

“She says the law has changed. We’re too late. There will be no adoptions, now, until the new government is elected and a new President appointed and she says that she’s got no idea when that will be.”

He and I turned on our heels and left that room, watched by the two women. I almost imagined that I could hear them sniggering as we shut the doors behind us.

“What on earth are we going to do now?” For once, Bogdan was asking me for advice.

I needed to think. What, indeed, were we to do?

“Why don’t we go to the parliament building and find out whether she is telling the truth?” I said. “After all, up until now, it appears that the president has had to sign off all international adoptions, so where better to ask?”

In fact, parliament was within walking distance, and so we walked through to the large square in front of the parliament, past the sentries who were standing at attention at equidistant points, fully armed and no doubt most uncomfortable in the heat, facing outwards, gazing over the heads of the passers by.

Despite the presence of armed guards, we were not challenged in any way as we walked into the main entrance of the building. Within moments, we found our way to an inner chamber where, remarkably, I found myself facing a high-ranking official who spoke perfect English. Whether he was a councillor, the mayor or a member of parliament in the strictest term, was neither clear nor relevant for, of course, I reflected, there had been no elections. But he did, in any event, appear to be someone who had exercised authority in the aftermath of the execution of Ceauşescu. 

I recounted the now familiar mantra to him, and told him of the latest obstacle which had been presented to us at the town hall.

“The social worker was right up to a point,” he replied, in flawless English. “It’s not that the law has changed, it’s more that parliament has now dissolved, and it is not possible to nominate or identify a President who has the authority to sign any papers to release a child from the country. After Ceauşescu was removed, it was generally agreed that parliament should sit for six months as some form of interim government, but that six months is now up. We have to hold elections before we can properly call ourselves a law-making body and before we can identify a President to complete the adoption process. In fact, it may all change anyway, because we really need legislation to deal with these things.”

He was polite but matter of fact, and it was perfectly clear that there was nothing more to be said. On the face of it, we were completely stuck.

What now? Bogdan and I retreated, the two of us feeling pretty bruised by these latest developments. We pondered what other avenues we might follow – surely the country would not grind to a halt just because parliament had dissolved? 

“So, we won’t get any help from either a mayor or a President, but that always seemed a bit dodgy to me in the first place. Why don’t we take some legal advice from the horse’s mouth?”

“What’s this about a horse?”

“When we say ‘the horse’s mouth’, we mean getting information from the original source – heaven knows where the saying comes from, but there it is.”

“You don’t say.”

“Yup, I do say,” I said with a grin, “so let’s find a real lawyer.”

“A real lawyer?”

“I mean, let’s go find a judge.”

And we retraced our steps to his car. 


Bogdan drove to the central courts, a large building in dark stone, full of gargoyles and turrets, set behind a pattern of tree-lined streets on which we found a parking space. Perhaps European law courts are all the same, but I confess that there was a passing resemblance to the Royal Courts on the Strand in London, and I felt almost at home. 

We walked through wide hallways and the ever-present bustle of legal activity and we were directed, ultimately, to a corridor on to which a series of doors opened, with nameplates on each. Bogdan found his way to one, which he said was a district judge.

The door was open, and we entered a comparatively cramped room, dominated by a large desk and several filing cabinets. Behind the desk, in shirt sleeves, attending to paperwork with an impressively large fountain pen, was a white-haired well-fed-looking man who greeted us with a cheerful smile. Bogdan introduced us in Romanian and then I asked him if he spoke French.

He said he did but that his language skills were comparatively rusty. Once I explained that mine were no better, the two of us relaxed into a conversation about the comparison between the English and Romanian legal codes, the status of judge and the appeals procedures. 

“But why, particularly, have you come to see me?” he asked

I explained that we were facing some difficulty with the adoption process, because parliament had dissolved.

He nodded. “That’s right, and until elections are held and we have a properly functioning parliament, law-making will stand still.”

But what about the law of adoption, I asked. The idea that a child is found, the mayor approves, and the President signs off the adoption certificate seemed, at the least, to be artificial.

“That’s perfectly true,” he said. “And since there are going to be a lot of these adoptions, we need a proper law of adoption, not just to satisfy ourselves, but to satisfy the countries where the children go.”

I asked him what influence the judges would bring to bear on any adoption reform.

“Quite a lot,” he said. “You can imagine that parliament is likely to be faced with an enormous number of laws which must be made following the departure of dear Ceauşescu. So any help they can get from judges is likely to be very important. But we don’t have any committees or other organisation that can advise the judges while we try to advise parliament.”

I wondered if he might appreciate an outline of the law in England. I was anxious not to appear patronising, but I thought that perhaps a working model of adoption law in England might form the basis of discussions by the judges in Romania.

To my surprise, he jumped at the idea. 

“Okay,” I said, without knowing quite where it would take us, “I’ll get hold of a copy of our most recent Adoption Act and I will fax it over to Bogdan, here, and he’ll pass it on to you.”

He said he would look forward to it and he rose from his seat and shook us both warmly by the hand, wishing us a cheery ‘au revoir’.

As we made our way out of the complex and back to the car, I said to Bogdan, “We may have an ally there. I think that even if parliament isn’t functioning for the time being, there must be a way of carrying out a legal adoption, and if we can, that judge may well be a useful gatekeeper.”

“I think you’re right. If you can get hold of that Act of Parliament and get it to me, I’ll get it to him and hopefully he’ll help us.”

Certainly, we had suffered two backward steps, but maybe, just maybe, this was one step forward once more.


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