“To say that man is made up of strength and weakness, of insight and blindness, of pettiness and grandeur, is not to draw up an indictment against him: it is to define him.”

Diderot, Addition aux Pensées philosophiques, c.1762

Early next morning, I found Bogdan chatting to Mircea at reception. He greeted me like an old friend.

“Let’s go, Tony. We have someone to find!”

In fact, as we climbed into his father’s car, neither of us had much idea where we might find her. Bogdan had the address which the factory official had given to him, but it was in a sector of Bucharest which he knew little about. 

“Tell you what,” I said. “I remember being completely lost in a town in England some years ago and, after driving in circles for a while, I decided to pay a taxi driver to lead me to the address.”

“That sounds a great idea,” said Bogdan. I had already shown him some of my ‘provisions’ as we were motoring to Stanesti. “Give me a packet of Kent, and when we find a taxi, we’ll do just that.”

We did, finally, find a taxi in the city centre, parked up against the kerb, and Bogdan got out and spent a few moments talking to the driver, showing him the address that we needed to find. I could see the driver through his back window, nodding his head and appearing to be comparatively enthusiastic, particularly when I saw Bogdan hand him the cigarettes.

Moments later, Bogdan returned to our car and our two vehicles set off in convoy.

“The taxi driver knows the area. He says it’s well known for smuggling and other not entirely honest dealings. He’s not too sure of the exact address but he said that he’ll get us into what he called ‘Kent Road’. That’s where they smuggle the cigarettes, you know,” he said, smiling.

Fifteen minutes later, the taxi pulled to the side and the driver beckoned Bogdan to his window once more. More discussions took place before the taxi drove away with a cheerful wave from the driver.

Bogdan came back to our car. “He thinks it’s just a bit further down here, and gave me some rough directions. I reckon that when I get closer, there’s bound to be someone I can ask.”

We drove slowly into narrower streets, until Bogdan found a passer-by. There was a very brief conversation, and after a few words and some pointing down the street, the man scurried away.

“You know,” said Bogdan, grinning, “ I believe he thought I might be Securitate!”

“What, in a blue car?!” We laughed.

I looked him up and down. Sure enough, he was wearing a particularly clean T-shirt,  some foreign-looking jeans and a modern-looking pair of trainers. If he wasn’t quite a mirror image of the men I saw in Bacau, there was still a flavour of individuality, and  I supposed that anyone who was not particularly keen to have a brush with authority might, in this fragile climate, be suspicious of anybody who appeared self-possessed and in freshly laundered clothes.

“Anyway,” he continued, “I’ve been given the exact address. I suggest we park up just round the corner, and I’ll go and do some investigating. You’d better stay in the car. You look pretty out of place, here, and anyway, I don’t want anyone taking the wheels off!”

I was happy enough with that, and a few moments later, Bogdan parked and left me in the car. 

He was gone, in fact, for close on half an hour. When he returned, he said nothing, and kept his face impassive until we had driven a few blocks away. Then he parked up again and turned to me with a smile.

“I found her. She wasn’t particularly happy to see me but when I showed her the birth certificate and told her what we were after, she made it clear that she would co-operate with us. She wasn’t happy because she has at least three other children, possibly four. I think she is married and I think, too, that she doesn’t want her family to know of the child which she had put in the orphanage. So she wants to be sure of my discretion and she has promised to do everything necessary to ensure that you can adopt him.”

The pendulum had swung back. We had found the mother and she had, at least verbally, given her consent to the adoption. Now we had to embark on the formalities.

I explained to Bogdan that I had a checklist which, following the instructions of the Marriotts, I had set out as clearly as possible, showing stage by stage what I needed to do. First and foremost I needed the translated copy of my home study report and its accompanying documents, all of which I had handed over to Lily when I had first arrived in Bucharest. 

Lily worked, I told him, in what she called the Notary’s office, and by now she would have had my documents prepared.

“I know where that is,” he said. “We’ll go there now.”

So, without hesitation, he drove us both back to the city centre and parked close to a large circular-looking office building which we entered through large imposing doors.

Inside, there was chaos. Or at least, that is how it seemed to me. There was the inevitable melee of people all clutching documents and all striving to get in front of each other. The din was quite extraordinary. Men were shouting, and women appeared to be screaming and, had I not known better, I would have imagined that there was some sort of medical crisis. The scene could have sprung from a picture by Hieronymus Bosch. Bogdan, however, seemed quite unmoved by our surroundings and was faintly amused when I protested that it was quite an extraordinary way to behave.

“Romanians are temperamental people,” he said. “No one worries about shouting and screaming – it’s all part of the act. All we need to do,” he gestured towards one of the two doors at the rear of the room “is to quietly go through here and speak to the Notary.”

And sure enough, without further ado, he led me around the scrum and eased us both through the door and into an oasis of quiet. He shut the door behind us, leaving the hubbub muted but not entirely cut off, and led me through an empty office and through another side door, into what appeared to be a secretaries’ enclave.

There were two knee-hole desks in this small room, with an ancient typewriter on each. A dumpy middle-aged woman was behind one of them, with a small dog at her feet. Behind the other was Lily, who appeared to recognise me straight away and who smiled a greeting.

“I’ve got your papers here,” she said, immediately. “I’m just finishing off this last page and you can take them with you.”

Bogdan and I sat down on some chairs at the side of the room while I looked around. The facilities that these secretaries had to work with were pretty primitive. The paper they were using was desperately rough and thin. Neither of the women had any sort of India rubber or alteration fluid, and it appeared that if they did make a mistake, they had to scratch the letter or the word off the page with a razor blade. The typewriters appeared to be large, clumsy antiques which must have taken a considerable effort to operate. The exercise was obviously not one which could be completed at speed.

While we sat there, the dumpy woman decided that she would give us the benefit of her opinion of the children in the orphanages and the whole issue of adoption.

“You’re wasting your time adopting a child from these places. They are full of gypsies who are thieves and vagabonds. They will never be any good and you will be taking a criminal into your house.”

I sat silently for a moment, digesting her diatribe. Here was a different kind of unpleasantness which both distressed and angered me.

“Madam,” I finally retorted across the room, “let us assume that your pessimistic commentary is accurate and that no sooner is a child brought out of one of these disgusting places in your country, but he begins to commit criminal acts. We have places for criminals in my country. They’re called prisons. And I can assure you that the conditions in our prisons are a thousand times better than the conditions in your orphanages. I would be doing him a favour. 

“Oh, and no doubt you treat this delightful-looking dog better, too, than the way in which your government is treating these children.”

Her chubby face darkened with fury. I had spoken slowly enough to ensure that she would be able to digest every word that I had said and translate it in her nasty little mind. 

Mercifully, Lily had finished her translation, and she hurriedly passed the papers to Bogdan, who sensed the beginning of a confrontation. He ushered me out of the office, back into the main office in which, now, some sort of official was sitting. He turned out to be the Notary Public, perhaps one of a number.

Bogdan and I went across and sat opposite him and proffered my paperwork, both the original, in English, and the translation, now handed over by Lily. Bogdan spoke rapidly to the Notary who glanced through the papers and then began stamping them.

It seems to be a curious feature of Eastern Europe that a great deal is made of rubber stamps. Any opportunity seems to be taken to stamp a document, the assumption being that the more stamps, seals or marks of an official-looking nature, the more valid or important the document must be.

Certainly, the Notary was well practised in the art of stamping, and he went about his task with gusto, the banging of the stamp on the pad and then the paperwork merging into the monotonous regularity of a Gatling gun. Within a short time, every page had a series of purple stamps of different sizes, and the Notary finally sat back, pleased with his handiwork. Bogdan handed over a number of hundred lei notes, we gathered up our documents and, leaving the office, pushed our way through the throng to the outside world. Once more, the tumult was deafening and disorganised.

“We call that ‘Bedlam’,” I said as we emerged into the street.

“You don’t say. We call it normal!”


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