NextPrevious





TWENTY TWO



“We humans are such limited creatures – how is it that there are so few limits when it comes to human suffering?”

Pierre Marivaux, La Vie de Marianne, 1731–41



At some stage we were going to have to obtain some sort of history of our little boy and an up-to-date medical report. For the report, the Department of Health insisted upon the completion of a pro forma provided by BAAF, the British Agencies for Adopting and Fostering. The trouble was, I had no history and I had no idea either who would complete the medical report.


“Let’s go back to the orphanage,” Bogdan suggested. “Maybe the director will give us some clue as to who we ask and where we find things.”


“OK,” I said. “That seems a pretty good start.”


So we drove back to the orphanage and, instead of presenting ourselves either to the social worker or the babushka, we went straight to the director’s office. 


Today, neither of his two shapely secretaries seemed to be around, so we knocked and went straight in to his drawing room. Once again, he recognised me – who couldn’t? I was running out of T-shirts, and I looked no smarter than I had when I first met him. 


Bogdan introduced himself in Romanian and the two spoke for a moment while I observed that that the young man whom I had seen on my previous visit was again with Ursuliano. The attention of both men was on Bogdan, so I looked a little more carefully at this other man. He, even more than Bogdan, had a look about him. I realised immediately what it was – it was sinister. However, he smiled at me when Bogdan had finished, and both he and Ursuliano professed that they were pleased to see us both. Uncertain whether or not the other man spoke French, I felt that it would be more polite to let Bogdan do all the talking in Romanian, since I knew that he would keep me fully up to speed either then or later. 


He was asking Ursuliano a number of questions and it appeared that Ursuliano was struggling to find answers. Eventually, he took out a pad and wrote down an address and handed it to Bogdan, who folded it up, rose from his seat and wished both men a cheerful “Revedere.”


He took me by the arm and ushered me out, wrinkling his nose at the smell as we went. When we had got out of the building, he said “You know, Tony, I don’t think that Ursuliano is a medical doctor – or even a doctor of any sort.”


“Funny, that,” I said, “I don’t either.” And I told him about Ursuliano’s behaviour with the skin medication. 


“And that other chap,” said Bogdan, “I’m a bit wary of him myself.”


He fell silent for a moment, before continuing. “I can tell you that there have been stories that Ceauşescu would take the fitter inmates from these places and recruit them as Securitate.”


“Seriously?” 


I had heard that children would be bought by various means and Sadovici told me that children were actively sold to the French. But as Securitate?


“Think about it. You want blind obedience to the state, and you want to produce people who have no compunction about carrying out their orders, and no conscience or pity for the victims. What can be more ideal than taking a child who has no parents and no attachments and substituting the state?”


Was this paranoia or might it be true? Certainly, I had  my doubts about the man whom I had now twice seen talking to Ursuliano and, of course, I and Bogdan both had our doubts about Ursuliano himself. Still, it wasn’t our business. For the moment, anyway, Ursuliano appeared to be co-operative, and whatever the identity of the other man, he had not interfered. And of course, there wouldn’t be any problem with attachment if Bogdan was right.


“What was the address he gave you?”


“Ah, yes,” said Bogdan, getting back to our task. “There is a doctor who visits the orphanage, and she will complete a medical on George’s current presentation. We can come back later this week when she’ll be here. You can give me that form and I’ll have Lily translate it, and when the doctor has completed it, we’ll have it translated back again.


“But, as for historical medical records, they are not kept at the orphanage, and he has told me where we can find them. I don’t imagine that there will be very much, but at least we can find out whether there is a record of his state of health when he was born. We can drive there now.”


And off we went, Bogdan driving without complaint to a facility on the outskirts of the city. It had all the appearance of a large, purpose-built hospital, constructed, perhaps, in the late 19th century. And on the afternoon that we appeared, it was almost deserted. The main reception desk was manned by a bored-looking clerk, who gave Bogdan directions through a maze of corridors and stairwells, until we finally found ourselves at the end of one wing on the third floor. There was nobody about but, undeterred, Bogdan strode to the door at the end of the corridor and knocked.


After some moments, an irritable female voice answered from inside the door. Bogdan whispered to me that this was a doctor who Ursuliano said was in charge of administration of all the city orphanages and who, he now imagined, until that moment, might have been taking an afternoon nap. He knocked again. Silence. He looked at me. “Don’t worry, I’m not giving up.” 


He knocked again, louder and longer.


This time, grumbling from behind the door, footsteps and finally, the handle rattled and the door flew open, revealing a dishevelled and very cross-looking woman in a white coat.


I didn’t need to translate her immediate outburst. Her body language and her angry words were pretty plain. Bogdan looked at her calmly and spoke to her at some length, in Romanian.


The scowl never left her face, but when he had finished, she turned back into her office and beckoned him to follow. I remained outside, listening to their conversation as she moved around the office and opened and shut a number of drawers. 


It was perfectly plain that she continued to complain and grumble about being disturbed, while Bogdan managed to remain calm throughout. Eventually, when they both reappeared, I couldn’t restrain myself any longer. 


I went up to her, forcing a smile on my lips. She looked at me with something bordering on contempt. 


“Madam, I anticipate that you call yourself a doctor. I have to congratulate you on your ability to show such compassion and care for the children who have been put in such wonderful surroundings. Angels and archangels must look on you with envy and admiration. Your attitude humbles me and I am privileged to have come into your presence.”


There was a snort from behind her, as Bogdan tried, unsuccessfully, to hide his amusement. The woman turned to him and said something while he struggled to compose his features.


“She is asking whether or not you are actually being polite because she senses that you might not be,” he said, doing his best to control himself. 


“Tell her what you like. She can go to hell, where she belongs,” I said over my shoulder, moving back down the corridor.


We left her, with her mouth hanging open, while Bogdan overtook me and led me out of the building. “Don’t worry, we’ve got at least something.”


He showed me a sheet of paper which, at first glance, didn’t tell me very much. “What is it?”


“It’s a record of the boy’s APGAR scores when he was born.” I had no idea what he was talking about, but he went on “That, at least, is something, and shows that it was a healthy birth. That nasty woman also told me that all the other records, such as they are, will be with the social worker, in her office… less, of course, the birth certificate!”


We got back in the car. “What now?”


“Well,” I said, “I’m not entirely sure how this works, but had we not been in Bucharest, we would have been thinking of finding the local mayor.”


Bogdan pondered this for a moment. “I think that it might be a good idea to go to the head office of the social services department, to see whether they have any suggestions.” He threw the car into gear. “And for that, we go to the city hall.”


***


Back, then, to the city hall, somewhere in the middle of Bucharest. We found ourselves driving along wide streets, following the course of the river Danube. Had the buildings and the streets been in better repair, this part of the city would have looked handsome, if not beautiful, but our attention was devoted to avoiding some enormous potholes which, had Bogdan not been keeping his eyes on the road, would have caused serious damage to the car’s suspension and possibly even pulled off one or two wheels. 


“Look over there,” he said, pointing to an enormous building at the end of a wide,  almost triumphal avenue. Its size was matched only by its ugliness, and it was totally out of place, not that I could imagine where its place might better be. It also appeared to be partly unfinished. The only description I could think of, as I looked at it, was that it had all the appearance of an enormous multi-storey car park crossed with a gigantic electricity substation, the only difference being that small windows lined every one of the twenty or so floors. 


“That,” said Bogdan, “is the presidential palace, on which that madman, Ceauşescu, spared no expense. Inside, there is marble and gold. Outside, there is poverty and filth. No one can be surprised that we got rid of him.” 


He paused, and we drove on in silence. 


After a while he said, almost to himself  “Do you know that we were probably the only country in the Eastern bloc to use force of arms to get rid of this dictator?”


That hadn’t struck me before but, on reflection, I supposed he was right, at least up to that moment. However, neither of us was in much mood for a history lesson, since we were now entering uncharted waters.

Close

This is a web preview of the "Nobody Comes: The True Story of the Rescue of a Child From a Romanian Orphanage" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App