Dog Days In The Neighborhood

Two neighbors are greeting each other on the alley in front of my block. One of them is complaining that he can't stand the heat and he looks as red as a boiled lobster. "We can't even get out of the house, Sir! We're taking care of our little one too, our granddaughter, and we take her out only in the morning, at about seven o'clock, and in the evening, after the heat's gone. See? God's punishing us: he sends us fire. To your health and I wish you a lot of cool! And open your air-conditioning. Don't stay like this, in the heat!" The man is rushing towards the entrance of the block, since it's shady inside. Many people are trying to cool down around the IORLake. Children and grown-ups are walking around the pool, which is full of crow silk. The sun is setting behind the new blocks of flats, which have already emerged in front of the old ones, built during Ceausescu's time (because, during the democratic mandate of our much beloved sector mayor, they managed the remarkable performance of making the communist blocks even denser). A big-bellied guy is bathing among empty PET bottles and little islands of crow silk. He is up to his neck under the water of the pool and, once in a while, he is taking water in the hollow of his hand and is slowly pouring it over his bald head. He is happy. A bit further from him, a flock of wild ducks is dabbling in the water. A heavy stench is reeking out from under the bridge, on which the tram passes. Some middle-aged red-skinned couples are lying on the grass, among bushes, abandoned to the last rays of a sun of the same color. A new boating center has been opened near the bridge. Green and blue kayaks are launched from a small dock. The oars are rippling through the green soup of the pool. The wreck of the ship used as a restaurant in the past is silently getting rusty next to it. On the other side of the bridge, another shipwreck, a wooden one, on which it writes Titanic, is rotting on the shore together with the surrounding Holsten beer banners. There had been a restaurant there too, but they closed it down at the same time with the terrace nearby, on the shore, probably according to the following rule: a shipwreck is more interesting than a pub. The terrace has been moved a bit further and here people are drinking beer, eating popcorn and watching a football match on a big screen. A 65-ish woman is moving on roller-skates wearing an orange T-shirt, on which it writes Sexy, exactly where her breasts are. Two old men in shorts and sandals are having a heated debate, exchanging impressions of very distant places – some exotic islands, as I can figure out. They are people without hang-ups, as we can find in the West. Where are the pensioners from the days of old, who used to wait in line?… The lake is dirtier than ever and a big white rectangular object is floating in the middle of it. It seems to be a fridge, but it looks more like a melamine cupboard, because how could a fridge float? A kid is swimming towards it from the "pensioners' island", but he changes his direction halfway. Sweaty joggers are running around the lake in a rhythm suited to the temperature of over 30 degrees Celsius, which one still can feel even after the sunset. I remember that, in a hot summer before 1989, I saw from the tram the entire lake full of people. They were staying in the water like hippos. A playground has been built near the Maramures-style wooden church. On the football field of no more than fifty meters length, no less than twenty five street urchins are cramming in a heated football match. They are running all in a heap, from one side to another, to where the ball is taking them. There are some older ones among them, who are fourteen or fifteen. One of these is roaring at the others. When fouls happen, he selects the taker of the free kick. While he is running, he is speaking on the mobile phone too: now he is hitting the ball, now he is retorting… Somewhere on the hill next to the football field, a queue for ice-cream has formed. Cones of pistachio, vanilla, berries, mint or chocolate ice-cream. The vendor's movements seem slowed down by the heat. She needs to weigh them and she does it only after she adds the topping – chocolate, cocoa or whipped cream. One cone can cost more than five lei. It has gotten dark already and no noise can be heard coming from the football field. The children have left. Only a father and his son are still shooting the ball at the gate. The white ball is sometimes glittering in the light of a distant streetlamp. Another hot Sunday has ended… Dilema veche, 21-27 August 2008 Translated by Monica Manolachi

by Andrei Manolescu