A Morning Without Abu Ghraib

Dedicated to "Ol' Eugen" Hang on, ol' man: they caught once a 450-kilo sheatfish! It was nine meters long! They used a sheep for bait! There'd been ducks and geese disappearing from the Danube, but when it took away two children…That's what Ol' Man was telling me last Saturday morning, a little after a quarter past six, while passing me the teaspoon with sugar for my coffee. Then I told myself that a day begun with such stories was in no way going to be an ordinary one. With faint remorse (and the help of a guy who had just milked the cows) I had woken Ol' Man up – we had arranged the previous evening to start the day at the pond, rods in hand; now, his eyes were red and he had a light headache – the lemonade he had drunk a few hours before had been too acid. Under the lime trees in front of the manor house, by the tables, a jackdaw chick, wounded God knows how, was wriggling. Take it away, ol' man, said Eugen to the man who had just taken the milk to the kitchen, this one even the dogs won't eat, its flesh is sour! Over the Danube, butter on toasted rye, a vapor was hovering; from the Bulgarian shore, one could hear the echo of fishermen fishing with a clonc, a kind of large mug for hitting the water: its sound irritates the sheatfish from the depths and makes it plunge for the bait hanging from the boat.These Bulgarians are taking big risks – either they'll be arrested by their police if they get caught, 'cause what they're doing is forbidden, or the sheatfish will break their arms, if it's a big one that jumps at the hand holding the clonc!Excited by so many new things I had learned at the beginning of that day, I tapped the table wood with the cup of coffee and said, C'mon, ol' man, the fish is waiting in the pond! Eugen took the earthworm pail, I took the maize-flour worm box, we got in the car, climbed the road from the Danube to city hall, and turned to Severin. Behind, toward the Bistret, not very high, the sun was burning in the sky.In the next few hours we were going to catch palm-big crucian carps and smaller perch. The rest was peace. I could describe the two small ponds with a tree weir between them, hidden behind a hill, but the reader would hardly be able to visualize the place. I could mention the soft rustle of the reeds through which the morning wind was blowing gently, or the stubbornness of the water snake that made for the fish box four times, and four times did Ol' Man hit its muzzle with a stick. I could at least suggest the taste of cold beer at 7 a.m., and the smell of fingers with which – in this order – I took the cigarette to my mouth, took the fish with a shiny belly off the hook at the end of the taut, vibrating line, and replaced it with a yellowish worm and reddish earthworm. I could describe Paulica, the pond guard – his body was puny and sun-burnt, his hair was incredibly black, he was walking barefoot, and under the unshaven cheek you could see two teeth in the mouth that had been cursing a donkey that had run away from his yard, which he had found in the neighboring graveyard); I thought he was a thirty-something peasant who had grown old prematurely, but when I cautiously quizzed him, I found out he was a green peasant aged 62.My headache's gone, Ol' man, Eugen assured me while he was fixing the cork up the line; then he turned his head to the old poplar behind and said, Tomorrow I'm gonna shoot ya all, bitches! – and the crows treated him with the same indifference and the same noise. Speaking about which, mind you, from spring till autumn, the crows from Cetate spend the night in the poplars on the Romanian bank, and in daytime they cross over to Bulgaria, because the Bulgarians' farmlands are closer. These days, I've been carrying in my bag three American magazines, all about the Abu Ghraib prison, about the American-Arab image war on websites, and similar hot stuff. I didn't open them. Paulica said, When I ain't got nothing to do, I get sleepy and go to bed. I almost never got to sleep – this is a sign that there were loads of things to do on the Danube shore. We left the pond toward lunchtime, and when Eugen said, Paulica, my ol' man, take these cigarettes, have a chat with them, I suddenly had the revelation that the world is beautiful – not only at Cetate, but in general. As for the nine-meter sheatfish story, I didn't believe it; but I was very, very tempted to do so. from Dilema veche, 18-24 June, 2004

by Adrian Cioroianu