house of happy

Life adventures in prose and verse. Explorations of places, people and words. Stories and fun.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Ionaseni, North-East Romania, Summer 1990

I arrive at the place you discovered driving through the countryside, that heart rending horror, Ionaseni. Beautiful faded home of an ancient line of Moldavian aristocrats, now in exile. In their place, 107 children with severe mental and physical disabilities. No doctor, two nurses, no educator, three cooks, a few harrassed carers. A lot of pain, a lot of unnecessary torment and death.

I walk towards it in the glare of summer, it shines like a cursed castle, a sunny circle of hell. I am chased by a cow and arrive without breath, belt or expectation. I find you.

You introduce me? Perhaps you say 'This is Mona'. People look puzzled – to a Romanian, the 'oo' of your name is only a larger 'O'. To them, you are also Mona. You, the double of me even in the 'o' department. But to them, today, only Mona. Mona and Mona, both in green surgical robes donated by some British hospital.

We bend over twisted children, covered in tears and excrement. We sit on rough blankets outside, under the whispering canopy of trees, next to a gaggle of innocents with shaved heads and bed sores.

You organise, I soothe. When you don't have a word ready, in my language, you say it in yours and throw me a sideways glance. I find the word, you smile.

Florin locks himself inside a toilet and I, 21, no experience in working with disabled people or psychiatric flare ups, find myself in front of the peeling door, talking to him, saying all sorts of crazy stuff until he comes out to have a look at me. His eyes are green, sunk into his forehead like mountain lakes. Breathtaking, the eyes of this clouded child. I take his hand and out we walk – you beam, I feel that – for the first time in my life – I'm doing something worthwhile, something outside a book.

It's evening now, everyone in bed. 'Where's my bed?' I ask. 'Here', you say genially, waving at the dusty cornices and creaking stairs. Like sleeping in a haunted castle.

'Here' – it turns out – is a tiny room they use for medical treatments and minor surgery. A medicine cupboard (ancient), a cupboard for sheets and blankets (musty), sink (cracked), chair and desk (shabby), curtains (gray), a crooked lamp over a metal table (cold and narrow).

The metal table IS the bed. Bed for two, I realise. You throw some blankets on it, a rolled up T-shirt for a pillow. This should be interesting. The night is full of crickets.

We brush each other's teeth in the cracked sink, over Euthymol smiles. Then we climb onto the metal nest, and lie there on our sides, chest to chest, Mona and Mona, Siamese twins returned to their original embrace. The rusting moon above our beginnings mingles our breath into a silver thread and seals the wound.


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