Investigation Among Minors

excerpts THREE KM. FROM A., A BEND IN THE ROAD… N. R. 6 (National Road 6) goes exactly through the centre of the small town of A. Three kilometers from the railway gate, after going over the railway tracks which unite this part of the country with Bucharest (distance: 88 km.), the road makes a sudden turn. To the left there is a long metal fence with a tall gate, which is permanently closed. On the 18th of November 1965, a Skoda with the letters BC on its number plate stops short before the gate. The driver honks familiarly and the warrant officer on duty steps out of his booth, chewing (time: 15: 10). He opens the gate and mumbles: "You're late again…" "The roads were iced over," the driver explains after lowering his window. "I left Bacau at 4 a.m." The Skoda pulls over at the main entrance. The driver and his companion step out. Nine boys appear from behind them. Three are very young. All take out grey blankets, dust them, and the movement brightens them up, or perhaps just warms them up. There are about twenty steps to the office door reading "Incoming." A narrow corridor (a few additional steps for the young). The clerk behind the desk, a young man, is surprised: "What have you done?" "Stealing!" the smallest of them answers, a blond snub-nosed boy. "But," he continues, "are they going to beat us here?" "Who's been selling you doughnuts?" "An older boy. I was with him at the police in Bacau. He's been here before. He said the older boys throw a blanket over you on the first night and beat you up, to teach you a lesson… what about postcards, will you give us any?" "If you pay'em." "I have forty bani. But listen, mister, will you let me go to Roshu?" "What's this Roshu?" "An orphanage, like this one." "Mr. Know-it-all you are, are you?" "My sister's there. But mister, will you let us go home?" "If you behave and get good marks you get to go home too, in the holidays." "But mister, summers and winters too?" "Both." The snub-nosed blond boy makes a quick sign towards other two boys. SENTENCED TO LIFE The building towers over the city. Small reward. It's two stories high and, with the huge park surrounding it, it actually seems to be placed in the woods. Classrooms, the cantina, dorms, all are quite clean. Water nevertheless must be carried in buckets to the upper floors (100 meters of missing pipe stand between them and 'civilization'). There have been solemn promises to repair it, and for a long time too, but, unfortunately, no one realizes how urgent it is for these 389 kids to be at home here, or, at least, to feel like home. Anyway, the kids are honestly happy with things as they are, and if they aren't completely happy they sometimes run out into town, tasting the pleasure of escape. Out of 389 kids, only the parents of 89 have both died, and it is therefore normal, in all respects, that they should be here (because there's no one who would take care of them, although they still have some relatives); 157 are either orphaned with one surviving parent or born out of wedlock; 143 children are here because the state has decided that their physical, moral and intellectual development is threatened within the family, exactly where the case should be precisely the opposite. Victor Vajoga, Mihai Teodoru and Stefan Dancea have apparently ended up in this establishment, in Piatra Neamtz, for different reasons: the first two "because their physical, moral and intellectual development is threatened within the family," and the last because he is born out of wedlock and… the parents of all three are still alive. They met here. They can't exactly remember their first day out in town: it may have been that Sunday afternoon wandering around the market, or in attics with their flashlights, or at construction sites, for there are many buildings under construction in Piatra and there isn't anything more attractive to them than to wander through such sites, to rummage through bricks and debris to find… the things you can find in there! They live in the same dorm. Often, at night, one of them asks another: "Are you sleeping?" "I'm not." "What are you doing?" "I'm awake." It's warm in the bedroom, some are snoring softly, childish even in their sleep. Victor remembers home: he has a sister, Nadia, one year older than he, and a brother in the 9th grade. How they pushed and shoved and played at bed time when they were small boys! And the laughter! Mother tried to make them stop: "Quiet, dad is tired!" Dad snored in his sleep, in a special way, like he was laughing, only the laughter would turn into a moan in the end. Victor used to think that maybe his foot hurt even in his sleep, because Ioan Vajoga had worked in a mine when young, had had an accident there, and now he dragged his right foot when walking, and every autumn and winter he would complain about pains in his foot. They had a house in Gheraesti back then, but an earthquake destroyed it. They moved to Bacau. Here it was a woman, Victoria Ciobanu, who destroyed their home, a woman with thick lips, who wasn't even beautiful, and who also lived in Bacau, on Prelungirea Bradului Street at number 145. Victor's dad had not come home for over two years, and no one had questioned him. ("With me, it was enough to run away from school – Victor Vajoga complains, simplifying – and look what happened to me"). Ioan Vajoga had returned home some two times, but this Victoria would come at night and throw pebbles at their window. The father would go out to see what it was and then again wouldn't come back for half or a whole year. Their mother worked at "Proletarul" in shifts. When she worked night shifts (Victor and Nadia had school in the morning), they would be on their own the whole afternoon. That was why she had sent Nadia to Roshu, for fear she would become a tramp if she went on going out until midnight. She had sent him off to Piatra too, and promised she would come visit, she would write letters and send gifts. He received nothing. Victor wrote to her as he could: "Dear mum, please send a letter to me. And please come to see me, dear dear mum. You said you'd send money and many times you said you'd come to see me. If you come, I won't run away from here anymore." So the director had complained to his mum about him running away? And in one corner of the letter: "Was on duty last night/ Saw a plane in flight/ On its wing this message, too:/ Mother, mother, I miss you." His mother only sent him one letter and an old photo of him, Nadia and their mother in the park, in Bacau. Victor put it in a drawer, among books, notebooks and early the next day he went in the orchard, behind the building and started to cry, without knowing why; snow was melting then and he put some straws, sticks, and a newspaper on the ground and played. The only moments of true relaxation were their 'expeditions' in town (for, in spite of their young age, they had already gathered a heavy luggage of memories and troubles). In the beginning their escapades were wholly innocent: they would walk around looking at shop windows, gathered beer bottles stoppers, hung around the block where the Germans lived (technicians who worked at Savinesti), and picked up all sorts of packaging – from cigarettes, sweets, and cans. At the building site Dancea found a Turkish pistol (what a fuss with the Police afterwards, they had to go all three of them, show the exact spot where the ancient pistol had been found, give statements). Once they got drunk in the park, with beer they had bought with Teodoru`s money; they drank like brothers and then couldn't walk so they went to sleep there, in the park, on the grass. Some other time they found a house with a complete ground floor, but with its first floor destroyed. You could easily climb down a rope from above there, like at the circus, and enter the man's house, otherwise locked. Victor offered to do this. He tied a rope around a pillar and let himself slide downwards… the man wasn't at home. But they didn't find much they could take, either; they didn't find any money, so they took a bag of empty bottles, to sell them. Once, on the 1st of May they escaped from the hostel and went and saw the parade, then they walked around and came to a "Ferometal" shop. Displayed in the window there were some pocket knives that had attracted their attention long before. Victor found the solution: Mihai and Stefan would sit down on the pavement, on an old newspaper, Victor found some metal bars for them and told them to hit with them against the ground, pretending to be playing. When the noise was at the highest, he broke the window with a stone. He stuck his hand in, took the pocket knives and then they ran. It wasn't the first time Victor Vajoga broke a window with a stone, and not unintentionally. Once, because of a window – or so he had been told – he hadn't been promoted to the next grade. He had, after all, broken a window and inflicted a head injury on one of his classmates. He had been playing with the boy. The boy had first been playing with a girl Victor liked. That's when Victor picked up two stones: one in each hand. He aimed perfectly: he broke the window and injured his classmate. He confessed to regretting the incident with the window, but wouldn't say the same about the boy. All these school years jumble up together in his head, forming a soft and suffocating substance. He had turned ten but had only graduated first elementary class. Normally, he would have had to be in the fifth grade now. Victor Vajoga can play theatre quite well, pretend he doesn't care; he can keep the secret even from his best friends, Mihai and Stefan. His school troubles date back to the time he was still in Bacau: in the first grade he wasn't a bad pupil, he would learn fast, both good things and bad ones. It was in school that he stole for the first time in his life. He had stolen a watch. To be more exact: he had stolen it off teacher Pasare's wrist. All the other children had left the classroom, only he got the crazy idea to hide under a desk to wait for Nadia, his sister, who picked him up from school every day. The teacher had remained in the classroom, at the teacher's desk. When he heard her crying, he poked his head out. The teacher held her head on one hand and was crying. The other hand hung loosely. The watch was on this free hand. Victor crept out from under the desk, approached the desk and took the watch from her wrist. They easily found out who had taken it, afterwards, because he didn't even hide it; a classmate saw Victor wearing the watch and snitched on him. "THIEVES" FALL ASLEEP ON THE JOB They usually escaped from their boarding school through the back of the building. They could have done so through the front, too, because the porter, old Mr. Vrabie, was quite old, but they climbed down the drain pipe, took a shortcut through the orchard to finally come to the road. That was the case in daylight. At nighttime they would spy on old Mr. Vrabie until he fell asleep, and then they would haughtily go through the main gate. The porter had a bitch, Dorina, but Victor knew his way with dogs from back home; when he was seven years old and he would leave home for school, about a dozen dogs would be waiting for him outside the door. ("All stray dogs in the neighborhood loved him – Victor's mum remembers even today – and you know how animals are never wrong about people.") One night though something happened with Dorina, and she started barking at them – there were only two of them, Victor and Mihai – and old Mr. Vrabie took his salt riffle and shot at them, but missed, because they were smart enough to run in zigzag. Dorina followed them to town, barking all the way. There was a sales booth there, with refreshments. Another boy they didn't know kept walking around and inspecting the place, or maybe he just wanted to take a piss. The two boys stopped and watched, the other boy left, and so Victor said they might as well try their luck with the cakes and syrups if the boy didn't. Victor pulled out a rotten wood board he had noticed earlier that day (and we may infer from this that at least one of them had had the idea at least once before, that day), squeezed in, leaving Mihai outside on watch, and, having found the cakes, started eating away. It had been cold outside, he had suddenly found warmth inside, and there was that sweet smell in the air too, like flowers. He fell asleep. Knocking, Mihai woke him up. "What's taking you so long in there?" "Leave me alone…" "Come on, get out of there for God's sake." Victor came out carrying a paper bag full of cakes and bonbons. Dorina was still there, no longer barking, but keeping an eye on them.   "After searching the apartment of the minor T. Mihai from Bacau, situated on Miron Costin St. at no. 7, we have found the following: The minor is ten years old, a third-grade pupil who rarely goes to school and is not altogether an excellent pupil. He is the independent type, a vagrant who steals and has anti-social behavior at home and in society. Physically, he is well built for his age, and has no physical or mental disabilities. His parents, Dumitru and Maria Teodoru, are divorced. After the divorce, the mother has been given custody of him and his brothers. Because she has not taken good care of her children, having neglected them and left them unsupervised, she was declared unfit to be a mother. All minors are now living in an orphanage, with the mother contributing financially for their upbringing. The single mother works as a caretaker in Bacau. She lives in a clean rented apartment. From the information gathered so far we have concluded that his parents have not committed felonies and are healthy. The minor's father was a drunkard, often causing scandals, neglecting his family, while the mother is a quiet woman and a good housekeeper. The minor Mihai Teodoru ran away from the orphanage to return to his mother, but was unkind to her and to others around him; he often leaves home to become a vagrant again, he often steals. The mother has tried to teach him to behave, but he has continued with his unruly behavior, and has been in the end apprehended by the police. We have informed the mother about the boy's behavior, with which she was already familiar and which she no longer could change. We believe the minor should be turned over to a rehabilitation facility, where he can learn to work and lead an honest life." (Report drawn by the Authority for Orphans – Bacau) "The minor's behavior: unruly;Intellectual development: mediocre;Parents' moral standards: unknown;Whether daily family relations show that the parents' moral standards are low: unknown;Notices given to parents relating to the minor's behavior, steps took by these to address the problem (specify individual steps), results of steps taken: unknown;The minor displays anti-social behavior, runs away from home to live as a vagrant, steals. Being prone to committing felonies, it is necessary that he be placed in the care of a rehabilitation facility." (Social investigation file drawn by the Prosecutor's office, Piatra Neamtz) Tineretului, 1967

by Mihai Stoian