A Barrack Story

The barracks has always been an endless source of colorful and comic stories, of funny tales subsequently raised to the status of anecdotes… We heard them, we all keep hearing them and we transmit them to others. Who hasn't heard, for instance, the "pieces" attributed rightly or wrongly, to a famous colonel, the director of studies in a provincial military high school. The one with "soloists or not, let them all sing together" or the other one with "logarithms or not, let the students learn them by heart." The students were busy consulting their logarithm tables during a maths examination. The colonel, who was the director of studies, entered the classroom on an inspection and noticing that they were "making use of their books" while writing their exams, addressed the maths teacher, a civilian who was reading a magazine on the teacher's desk: "Kindly leave the magazine, teacher, don't you see your students are cheating?""They are not cheating, colonel… The books they are using are logarithm tables!" "So what? Logarithms or not, let the students learn them by heart!" Or the even better known story of the colonel's anger at the chemistry class: "How do you mean you don't have radium for the experiments? Call the storehouse officer immediately!" And then, to the officer who had arrived right away: "Go and get some ten kilos of radium from the market, lieutenant, and give five of them to the laboratory for the students' experiments!"How about the modernized version of the above? "You haven't got radium, you say! Let the warden go and get mine from my study for the moment and tomorrow we are going to buy one in installments for our school from downtown." I heard the next one myself while I was studying at a provincial school for officers in the reserve. We had been given some mittens, of the kind hewers use in winter. As, however, during the "mounted drill" our hands were frozen on the flat of the sword or on the horse's reins because the mittens were too thin, some of us who were better off laid ourselves out and managed to get some extra pairs from the storehouse. We then put on some two or three pairs at the same time and everything was OK. One day, however, the storehouse officer found us out and as he didn't want to punish us he summoned those who had been proved guilty of intercession and gave us the following speech: "Gentlemen! I have learnt that some of you have used reprehensible means - and I'll arrange for the warrant officer who did that to be punished, I'll take care of that, don't worry, I know you have taken some two or three extra pairs of gloves each. As I wish that, however, this is a school where equity reigns, as we are all here equals, I ask you – in no more than twenty-four hours – to give, you all who have taken two or more pairs of gloves, to give one pair to your companions who have only taken one, so that everybody has just one pair. Understood?" I have remembered this "personal" experience as well as the others, that I only heard of as I am going to tell another soldier's story which is as true as the others. This time the hero is a warrant officer in an infantry regiment in the Capital. A good soldier, a jack of all trades, skilled in everything. Something, however, he could not understand very well. Namely, the difference between nationality and religious faith, what could that be if it exists at all. One day his commander gave him the order to summon his soldiers and divide them in groups according to their different denominations, so that they can be sent to their respective churches. No sooner said than done. The whole company stood at attention, waiting in the barracks' courtyard. The warrant officer scratches his head under his cap, looks at his soldiers from one end to the other of the line and suddenly decidedly gives his order: "All Romanians three steps forward!" Tramp, tramp, tramp!… Three quarters of the company take three steps forward rhythmically. The warrant officer proudly considers them for a moment and then addresses the others: "Muslims, stand by. Catholics two steps forward and Jews one step behind." Tramp, tramp, tramp!… The few Turks in the company stand by, the Jews step back and more than half of the Romanians take two steps forward. The officer is puzzled by the confusion created by his last order. "Haven't you heard my order, you, morons? The Muslims stand by, the Jews remain where they are and I'd like to see all the Romanians standing here, right in front of me." Tramp, tramp, tramp! the Catholics' group quickly joins the "Romanians" and they stand in line in front of the officer. "Damn it! I see you are really stupid, you, bloody sons of bitches!… At attention! The Catholics, can you here me, bastards? All Catholics, one step forward1 Hear that? Forward, march!" Half of the Romanian line steps forward once again… The officer pushes back his cap. Sweat is streaming down his face. He's trying to keep calm once more. "Listen, folks, if you can't understand plain Romanian, just say it! Look at those Turks over there! They do understand plain Romanian! Don't laugh, the Jews, or I'll show you! As you were, everybody!" Everybody resumes their positions in the line. The Muslims have an indifferent look in their eyes. A short term Jewish conscript wearing glasses is smiling… The officers breathes in and yells: "At attention!… Listen to me, company! Open wide your ears and listen to me attentively! All the Romanians, that is all those who is Romanian and has sworn allegiance to God and country, one step forward… Understood? Forward, march!" The whole company, Muslims and Jews included, stand in line as a single man in front of the perplexed officer. He feels like dashing at them and knocking them down or swearing them or utterly annihilating them. As he is, however, a kind man, he realizes that they are not doing it on purpose. They are simply stupid and can't get it. Orders are orders, still, and the company have to go to their respective churches, according to their religious faith. "Company, at attention!" Suddenly, a thought blossoms in the officer's mind, that gradually changes into a satisfied smile.. "Count from the right…" "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven…" The officer waits patiently for the count to end. "Well then, listen to me, company!… from one to twenty you are Romanians and all goes to the church… From twenty to forty you are Catholic and goes to Saint Joseph's Church… From forty to sixty you are Jews and you all goes to the temple, the rest is Turks and stays here for the fatigue-duty as we don't have no mosque… Understood?"

by Tudor Muşatescu (1903-1970)