The Birds Of The Sky

excerpts It was in 1985 when a young woman who had applied for an emigration visa to West Europe and was not granted it was looking for a master of Oriental practices to get strength and self-protection. She was afraid she might be arrested, and her intention was to acquire, through these practices, the mental power to resist the tough treatment in the communist jail. She was afraid of being abused, of brainwashing, of forcibly being put in an asylum for insane people; she wanted to fight all this back through the Asian secrets. She also wanted to recover her psychical balance, which had been shaken by frequent nerve-wrecking situations and reclusion pressure. So I found out about the prototype of the character called Tofana. It was the starting point of the novel entitled The Birds of the Sky.It is a novel of the psychic "demolitions" that occurred in parallel with the building demolitions taking place in Bucharest during the most stressing Romanian decade, the eighties. Large houses, small houses, historical monuments, churches – everything was being pulled down according to the "plan".Sandu Tariverde, a homeless person, had long been the clandestine lodger of the houses in Moşilor Road which were to be pulled down. I modeled Sandu Tariverde using a real prototype: a quite atypical wandering person, imprisoned in Jilava and Cula. The thoughtless destruction of the historical center of Bucharest was perceived through the eyes of this anti-hero of our times. A DEMOLITION AT NIGHT On the Dâmboviţa bank, Sandu Tariverde felt like teaching a history lesson. He says:"This town, Bucharest, was founded by Vlad the Impaler, nicknamed Dracula. Like the whole planet, our city lies under the sign of stakes and nerves. Dracula tuned us to the spirit of the world. But for him, we would have been only picturesque, not tragic as well. We would have been provincial and we would have lacked the tribute of blood. Dracula is the author of our capital city. And the unseen seal."I let Sandu Tariverde return to his church, smoke on the church veranda. I'm heading for my place, along the Dâmboviţa banks. I see the flocks of seagulls. They turned up all of a sudden, a few days ago: nobody could understand their presence here; some people said they foreshadowed even worse times. * Foreman Pavel turned up on the threshold of the church. He is perspiring, gasping, shaking. He says:"Don't speak so loud! Get ready to leave. Quickly!"He gives us instructions about how to get out without being seen by the Militia men."If they catch you, don't say a word about me!" says Pavel. "They doubled the guards, the lines of posts are on position now. They'll be demolishing tonight."A thrill shook my body. A sudden grief discharged in this place of sacrifice. Tomorrow this church will not be here any more. Tomorrow our soul will no longer pay for its ignorance.Sandu Tariverde is detached, absent-minded. Pavel starts to pick up feverishly Sandu's things. He stuffs everything into the blanket. Then he shakes Sandu in an attempt of waking him from his astral communication. He fails. Then he speaks to Valentin: "Help me, pick up everything, quickly!" The kid does not obey him; he mimics the superior detachment of his shabby adoptive father."Now we must be extremely careful," says Pavel in a scared voice when hearing voices outside. "Who on earth made me accommodate you in the church! Stand still, I'm going to see what the next move is and how to take you out of here. There's great danger. They are working now to block the streets."He went out, came back; he waves to us to come closer. We stealthily go out, close to Pavel. He breathes freely when he sees us outside the encircled area. He wipes off the sweat of terror, then vanishes.Sandu Tariverde deposits his luggage under a gate, in Zece Mese Street. He tells the kid to try and fix a bed for himself, to watch the luggage, to sleep.We start looking for a place wherefrom we can see everything. No chance! From all four cardinal points, Militia men are fretting and waving their cudgels.We can see the concentration of vehicles. It looks like an assault. Excavators, bulldozers, cranes. A few trucks are lined up, waiting to load the debris, the bricks. Other trucks and tractors block the ends of the street.I knew that the demolition of a church starts at sunset. They work at night, in the light of the headlamps and acetylene lamps."Move on, go to hell and vacate the place, don't stop!" shouts a Militia man when Sandu stares too long.They surround the church with a desert."What preparations! What a technical equipment! What mechanized teams!""Yes, old man," says Sandu, "the demolition of a church should be done quickly. Lest the crowds' reactions could get organized. People are impressed, but emotions are a bad stage director. People's first reaction is dumbfoundedness. Only after perplexity is over can organized reaction emerge. Or the demolition men work so fast that people's bewilderment can't go away."The first assault is given by a crane. We can see it rotating now its arm out of our sight. It dismantles the huge cross on the top of the dome. A noose-shaped cable is thrown to pull out the cross; it tugs it. They tear out the cross. The crane lever is rotating. We look at the cross whirled in the air. Then we can't see anything but I infer from the roar we hear that the cross is thrown onto a truck. In the complete quiet and clearness of the air. Short, distance-muffled orders. I hear a thundering noise. I stretch my neck."Don't make any hope: you'll never see how a church is being demolished. Everything is well-guarded. If you are too curious, they will make use of their cudgels. If you are too daring, they will use their cuffs on you. Nobody is allowed to see, nobody is allowed to make any comment, to grumble. Everything happens in the dark, with gritting teeth. You will see just a cloud of dust when the walls tumble. You will find out the rest later, from the workers. Tomorrow morning you will see an empty place here, plowed and raked."But we obstinately stay in place. We go around, look for a breach in the military blockade.The people of the city stop, overcrowding the narrow streets, gather in groups. Militia men turn up from nowhere, also in groups. They disperse the crowds. A citizen who fights back is immediately surrounded by Militia men. A voice shouts: "Antichrists!" And another one: "I won't leave, I won't!" We hear a blow, a groan, a muffled scream, the door of a car slamming, the engine roaring. Everything occurs rapidly, feverishly. Any delay, any postponement would give the collective reaction time to get organized. The vehicle, probably a van, disappears. A precise action, toughness, intimidation.A woman is cursing. She is immobilized at once: the curse is a sign that the bewilderment is dissipating and it is replaced by an organized reaction. The Militia officer blows his whistle. Another one speaks into his walkie-talkie. I don't know what happens next, most probably they captured her. In only one hour I saw two persons arrested. I had heard that when St. Vineri church was demolished, around 150 persons were arrested. Any opposition, even if just sketched, was sentenced. It's a kind of state of siege. In this case, nobody talks, nobody issues an arrest warrant. Rapid and tough to prevent the extension of the nervous fire. Three days later all the persons arrested at St. Vineri church were released, with no consequences: no indicting documents, no charges, no guilt or moral damage compensations. As if they were told: "It's over, we don't know you, you don't know us." We are changing our place now so that we can have a better perspective. We see nothing but the dust, though, we hear nothing but the vehicles rattling. Finally, we get to a street where we can have an acceptable view."Move on!" Militia men shout as soon as they see us.Their terror is as big as ours. "Two terrors can result in a clash!" says Tariverde."Keep moving!" they shout upon seeing two or three people in group. They are scared. But those people have no warlike intentions, they don't think of revolting. They are inhibited, timorous. We walk in the dark. A flashlight blinds us. Securitate officers in civilian clothes come to bar the way.The groups of lookers gather again at a greater distance where the Militia men cannot reach them. People are psychically blocked, hit deep down in their souls, in their roots. Even if they were not believers, they had grown with the belief that the church is stronger than man. And the collapse of something stronger than man terrifies man, makes him feel like a grain of dust blown away by the wind.Romanians were christianized very early, during the first apostolic wave. St. Andrew, one of Christ's apostles, had the mission of christianizing the Pontic margins of the Roman Empire. We were the Pontus margins. Christian tradition is very strong here, our whole structure, down to the marrowbone, is imbued with it. That is why the destruction of the holy house produces a paralyzing grief.Another thundering noise is heard – a smashed wall. Circular searchlights and clouds of dust. Sandu says:"I think they started to pull down the walls."They work with well-trained teams, experienced in demolitions. They have ebonite helmets, rubber gloves. Militaries, firemen, stuntmen. Soldiers are a vital force in all kinds of work: agriculture, demolitions, building the palaces belonging to the man with a beige cap. But for the blind executive, threatened by the military court, but for the trooper disciplined through law and uniform, the dictatorship could not perform this action of tearing faith out of its paleo-Christian roots.The stuntmen climb up the ruins. They tie cables around the walls. They come down and shout: "Ready!" Tractors and fan-light openers are set in motion. The cables are stretched. The wall breaks, the balance collapses. God's House, founded by a king, history and religion altogether, the last two walls fall down."Jesus Christ!" shouted a woman nearby. She is sobbing. Somebody lights a candle.It was not the first opportunity of that kind I was a witness of. It was not the first distress. I happened to be present during the final episode of the demolition of St. Vineri church. The news about the demolition spread quickly and people started flowing in. there, at St. Vineri church, there may have been the utmost bewilderment of the crowds. Nobody could believe that the church, an emotional landmark of Bucharest, would be reduced to nothing. Nobody could believe that the hell-like pitch-darkness of the tyrant would go that far. The crowds gathered there raised their hands to the sky and wept, people were arrested, guards were doubled. I also saw part of the Olteni church demolition works. It was located in Văcăreşti Road, in the vicinity of my house. The news about the church demolition also spread as fast as lightning, as if people had communicated on cordless phones, and thousands of people living in Văcăreşti district gathered there as if it were a funeral service. On both occasions, I experienced the feeling of stupor. And so do I now. People are petrified: layers of faith, built up by tradition, boiled under a lid sealed by fear. These armed platoons, this mechanization of destruction. The ancestral fear of the Romanians in front of those who had no God. The church had been our guide for centuries and now the guide was murdered.Sandu Tariverde an I keep moving around; we have covered the perimeter guarded by the Militia forces. We are looking for a good place to see.The collapsed walls are now huge heaps of debris. The firemen's vehicles were set in motion to water the debris and dissipate the clouds of dust. Next came the shovels, pick axes, excavators and they started tossing large piles of historical debris and blessed bricks into the trucks.For a while we could see nothing but the line of trucks full of fragments of walls. In the light of the headlamps it reminded of Vietnamese war scenes, scenes of guilt.We are not allowed to stop and watch. The Militia men turn up, on and on, and drive us away. I do not show any resistance. Neither does Sandu, but as he moves slowly, he takes a lot of blows over his hands.Sandu yelps and takes to his heels. He swears at them and consoles himself with the Romanian principle:"Good it wasn't worse. They could have arrested us! It would have been a pity for you: you don't know how good they are at beating people!"I see him rubbing his right hand. He can hardly move it. He says:"I think there is something wrong with my hand. A bone, a tendon, something must have broken."At 2:00 a.m. I went home, telling him I would return at dawn."You'll find me here," says Sandu Tariverde.When I came back at dawn, I could not believe my eyes: the ground was completely emptied. They had ploughed and raked the place where the church had stood.Lots of disconcerted people.The heavy vehicles, the demolition teams had gone. A funeral silence, interrupted now and then by whispers, by short criticizing murmurs. "It's unbelievable," a man said, "how a thick, solid walled church, saved from Tartars and wars, could be razed in only one night!"There were few Militia men. The four or five of them who were fretting around seemed to be a symbolical presence as compared to the platoons present there a few hours before. They were watching the place, defending the empty place against the invasion of the devout people. But their vigilance was no longer brutal. It was like after an execution: embarrassment and sighs of relief. Their watch is formal now. They won't arrest anybody, even if there are people who grumble or pray. They leave them alone. The psychology of the state of siege has come to an end.People gather in groups and talk.Some of them light candles and put them on the ground where the church formerly stood.The Militia officer picks up the candles, threatens the people, says:"Stop instigating, comrades. It is wrong."Women were crossing themselves."As if they came to my funerals!" says Sandu Tariverde.I knew that after the earthquake of 1977 there occurred a sudden awakening of faith in Bucharest. Terrified, victims of the disaster, people turned their face to heaven. Churches were full of people again. When hurt, man seeks strength in the deepest strength he has ever sensed.This morning I notice the same effect. Deeply hurt, the faith burst out of the ancestral crater. It is now like a capital liturgy of agony.An old gentleman whispers to me: "As a body, He was not; as life, He fought like an angel." Then he points up.Another man slunk along and placed a little candle on the empty, freshly raked ground. The Militia man throws it away but another candle replaces it in no time. Candles were burnt there, on the moist ground, for a long time.Sandu kept his wounded hand to his chest; it was swollen and bruised."Let's go," he says, "I have to find my things."He found them under the gate where he had left them. But he did not find the kid. The tenant of the house nearby said that the soldiers patrolling in the area had grabbed him and taken him away in a van.

by Vasile Andru (b. 1942)