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TWENTY NINE



“The lunatic’s visions of horror are all drawn from the material of daily fact.”

William James, Varieties of Religious Experience, 1902



On this Sunday afternoon, I flew into Bucharest with a slightly different payload. I still had my rucksack, full once more with cartons of Kent, bars of soap, toothpaste, and even washing-up liquid for Bogdan’s parents, and some perfume for his mother. And a selection of bath plugs. But now, in addition, I had clothing for Dominic, day and nightwear, chosen by Carmel, a pushchair, and umpteen packets of disposable nappies. Those which Dominic didn’t need I would leave with the orphanage.


Once through the perfunctory check by Customs, I found my way to the arrivals hall, where Bogdan was waiting for me. We hugged and got straight into his car and drove to his parents apartment.


“They are away for the next few days and the apartment is ours. But first of all, tomorrow, we will go to the British embassy and tie up the remaining details.”


“Splendid idea,” I said, as we made our way into Bucharest. The airport, the road and the surroundings had not changed one bit, but my spirits were soaring.


Bogdan looked at me mischievously. “By the way, you should be congratulated.”


“Eh? What for?”


“You’re a father.”


Initially I didn’t grasp what he was saying.


“Wake up. The adoption went through on Friday. I’ve got all the papers at home, and next week we’ll have Lily translate them and have them notarised. Dominic’s mother has 15 days in which to appeal, if she were to change her mind, but she has already signed a form relinquishing that right. So it’s all complete. You have officially adopted Dominic, at least in Romanian law.”


I didn’t know what to say. To begin with I had intentionally kept Bogdan’s endeavours off my radar, because I didn’t dare hope that in all the chaos, he would succeed in what effectively was the most logical way out. Latterly, in all the confusion caused by the Department of Health’s obduracy, I had actually forgotten about his own endeavours.


“That,” I said, “is fantastic. Get out of teeth and get into law!”


“Nah, it was nothing. I picked the mother up from her home, as arranged, we got into court, and it took less than an hour. I’m not sure who was most relieved, me or her.”


Dominic was now officially my son. I knew that the UK would not recognise the adoption – Romania was not on the list of recognised countries for the purpose of international adoption – but this was a great step forward. What I still had to do was to complete adoption proceedings in England. And of course, before that I needed to get him out of Romania.


***


Next morning, at what we judged to be a reasonable hour, we put a call through to the embassy switchboard.


“This is the British embassy,” intoned a recorded voice. “Today is a bank holiday in United Kingdom, and the embassy is shut.”


I looked at the telephone in exasperation. A bank holiday of all things. I wondered whether Her Britannic Majesty’s staff also observed Romanian public holidays, but realised that protest or fury was quite pointless. Nothing could be done and we would have to cool our heels for the next 24 hours.


“Tell you what,” said Bogdan, “I need to buy some milk and I have heard that there has been a delivery to Sector 2.”


I asked him what he meant. I had already seen that there seemed to be no such things as dairies in the city. Now, as he told me where we were going, I realised that milk was almost impossible to get hold of, and if there was a delivery from a country farm or dairy, word would get around, and families from across the city would rush to the distribution point.


“Come with me in the car and you’ll see what I mean.”


We drove across the city to an uninspiring area, where we came to crowd of people, some of whom were heading away, carrying what looked like large quart bottles of milk. Bogdan jumped out of the car, telling me to stay put, and he would get hold of some himself. And after a few minutes, he emerged with four of the bottles, placing them carefully on the back seat.


“What are you going to do with them?” I asked. “They are too big to go into your parents’ ice box.”


“I know. And many of these people you see simply don’t have a fridge or ice box anyway.”


“So how are they going to keep the milk fresh?”


“They can’t, and neither can I, so as soon as we get home, we boil it, and it keeps for longer.”


He looked at me. “It’s a different world, isn’t it? Look at those queues. The one over there is a queue for meat. There is no meat in the shop but they will have heard that a delivery is expected today or tomorrow. It’s the same with bread. People queue for yesterday’s bread and come away with stale loaves, but it’s better than nothing.”


He was not trying to be dramatic and clearly wasn’t looking for sympathy, but I was profoundly shocked nonetheless that this once-proud nation had been ground down to such a state.


We drove back to the city centre and dropped off the adoption papers with Lily, who promised to have them translated and notarised by Wednesday, before returning to his parents’ apartment in silence, trying to work out what to do with the rest of the day.


One thing we had to do. Given the amount of walking I had been doing in the summer heat, I had opted to wear sandals, which were now falling to pieces. One important strap had come away from the sole and the shoe was in danger of disintegrating altogether.


“We’ll go to a shoemaker,” Bogdan announced. 


And within a few blocks of the apartment, he led me to a narrow doorway without any apparent identification and which seemed little different from the photographer’s shop which we had visited on our expedition with Dominic. But inside we found two elderly gentlemen surrounded by the usual detritus which is found in cobblers’ shops around the world.


I took off my sandal and offered it to one of them, who turned it over, tutting and smiling as he did so. The two of them shared their opinions with Bogdan.


“They’re saying that this is rubbish. Look at the workmanship. The strap has come apart because it is only glued to the sole rather than stitched. This would never happen in Romania,” he said, grinning. “Shoes are stitched and made of leather, and they last.”


I didn’t think it would be diplomatic to explain to our cobbler friends that shoes in the UK are invariably not expected, at least in the more fashionable outlets, to last for more than a season, whereupon they would be replaced with something in the current vogue.


I was now without one shoe, but we were assured that repairs would be carried out while we waited, so Bogdan and I sat outside the shop, trying to avoid the dirtier part of the footpath, catching up on our recent endeavours.

 

We talked about the adoption, his transmission of my faxes to the judge in the law courts, his parents’ help and their daily visits to Orphanage Number One.


“You know, one or more of us have been back to that terrible place every day since you left. My parents have managed to get hold of baby food or yoghurt and have tried to tempt Dominic to eat something other than that bottle which he’s forced to take.”


I didn’t deserve their generosity and tried, weakly, to express my gratitude.


“Don’t worry. I told you we would succeed. You have been my brother in this and so Dominic is my nephew.”


“No,” I said, “Dominic will be your godson.”


We ducked back in to the shoemakers’ den after a respectable wait, and I was handed my newly stitched sandal in exchange for just 30 lei. After offering my profuse thanks, the two of us went back to the apartment, drank coffee and talked some more until eventually it was time for bed. 


“Tomorrow, back to the embassy!” he said. 


I couldn’t wait.

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