The Impossible Escape

Preface In April 1990, I handed over the volume The Silent Escape to the Secretariat of the French publishing house "La Découverte" in Paris. On September the 1st, the same year, the book was in the bookshops. It's my first book and I don't consider it "literature". I am not a writer. It's just the testimony of a woman convicted to twelve years of jail in a Stalinist trial. A retelling as accurate as allowed by the time elapsed. As I started to write down on paper only in 1973, some details effaced from my memory, but no artifice replaced the things forgotten. "The Silent Escape" speaks about my first eight years of detention. The years spent alone in a cell. Five years of investigations, the trial, the conviction and the first three years in prison. Three thousand days alone. I don't know why, in 1957, I had at last the right to be together with other political prisoners. I served the full time and I got out of prison on July 14th, 1961. With the end of my loneliness ended my silent escape. Why did I stop here? Why didn't I describe the life of the political female prisoners in a communist prison? My life among them? Between 1957 and 1961? Because… The climate of the communist decades was stifling. Incertitude, fears, arrests, trials, injustice, searches, convictions, secret files, intercepted phone calls, informers, false testimonies, denunciations, autobiographies… How many Romanian families can assert that they haven't suffered the amputation of a relative or of a friend? For a few months, a few years or forever? It was the time of black automobiles stopping in the middle of the night in front of the sleepy houses. The time of the bags packed in the contingency of an imminent or virtual arrest. The time of the investigations prolonged without cause and without a date. Of detentions without trials. Of trials without justice. Of ordered convictions. Trampled on, all of us. Thus, I looked upon my last years of detention as a "common" detention. Without a particular interest. I was but one of the many thousands of women crammed in all the prisons of the country. What good would it be to retell what was more or less known by all the Romanians? However, in Paris, some readers asked me why I didn't retell this second stage of my detention as well? I understood then that for the citizens of a free non-communist country, everything that appeared to me as common and unworthy of interest could become tragic and terrifying. But didn't Romania set off, in 1989, on the path towards justice? A difficult path, with slips and turns, but in a few years, the Romanian youth will live in a free country and they will have to know the tragic and terrifying life of their parents. We, those who escaped, the survivors of the prisons – we are all old today. It is not fair that death, taking us as well, one by one, should efface from the memory of history this inhuman age of our country. I hesitated, nevertheless, for a long time. The book of loneliness was a tough book. The prolonged inquiries, tortures, fear, an almost unbearable subject. A black book. Still, the retelling of life in common in a prison cannot be but the rendering of a larval life. A life resembling a bulk of days, somber hours, repeating themselves endlessly in the shadow of the stuffy cells, with flagging bodies, withered skin, ringed eyes. I had written a black book. Now, I had to strive to write a gray book. An ash book. I realized that this would be even harder to write than the first one. But, as I was picturing it, the memories dashed in. Difficult moments, serious or moving, hunted me to obsession. From depths of time, young voices could be heard, old voices as well, trembling and desperate, or full of enmity and sometimes calm and friendly. Vague laughter, quickly stifled – for they were forbidden – brought a flickering of light in the darkness of our grave. Long forgotten faces looked at me with fading eyes. For them, for all these anonymous women-martyrs, my companions and my friends, lest the sufferings born with dignity should be forgotten, for reviving them, at least between the pages of a book, I felt the need of writing. The Impossible Escape The Political Penitentiary for Women Miercurea-Ciuc 1957-1961 THE POLITICAL PENITENTIARY FOR WOMENMIERCUREA-CIUC1957-1961 I couldn't talk anymore. I couldn't utter a word. I couldn't control my voice. I was talking as deaf people might talk when they try the apprenticeship of speaking. A few days later, the women confessed that, in that first day of our meeting, they asked me all sorts of questions, but my answers were incomprehensible. I talked too hazily. Too precipitately… ***My first thought? The calendar. For eight years, I have been tearing down the page of my mental calendar. I repeat the date of the day several times. I imprint it upon my memory. In communist prisons calendars are forbidden. Also forbidden are mirrors, watches, books, paper and pencils. Forks and knives, needles, scissors – forbidden. Still forbidden are the trees and the grass, the flowers and all fruits and vegetables except for potatoes, dried beans, carrots and pickled cabbage. Today my calendar reached October the 1st, 1957. I am not absolutely sure that I am not missing one or two days. Bisect years confuse me. But my cramped heart reminds me that today I will live the most important of all days spent in Miercurea-Ciuc penitentiary. I leave my bed feeling sorry. Despite the straw mattress that is so thin, despite the rough blanket, the bed is a delightful place. For seven hours on end, my worn-out body can rest in this bed. The painful legs can stretch. Eyes can close. All the things that were forbidden from 5 in the morning to 10 in the evening. For, during the seventeen hours of the day, the bed is forbidden. The bed and the sleep.Nevertheless, the regulation is merciful… It allows me to sit on the wooden bench, number 2 of the cell's inventory, number 1 being the bed. Number 3 – the peg. Number 4 – the water tub. Number 5, the barrel in which I wash myself and my clothes. Number 6 – the bucket, and number 7? There is no number seven. I am allowed both to stand and to walk. The cell is pretty big. Three times bigger than the cells from the investigation prisons. I have the privilege of occupying by myself a space normally meant for four women prisoners, and abnormally – if there is still a difference between the two terms – for eight or even more women prisoners. Therefore, I have enough room to make six or seven steps from the door to the window, turn around, make six or seven steps, reach the door again, turn around, and so on, for so many times and for so long as my feet will have the strength to bear the burden of my weary body. ***However, succeeding in mastering my anxiety, I managed yesterday to add two lines to the children's play I am working at right now. Unfortunately, I know I will never be able to finish it and I am sorry. Created in my head, with no paper or pencil, I know by heart over ten thousand lines. Four stories and several plays for children. In the last hours of the evening, when the brain stops thinking, I automatically unreel the Ariadne's thread of these lines, so as not to sink irreversibly in the thicket of my fatigue. So as to keep me going. So as to save my life. My concrete, measurable life. At the end of my unique path, I know that death is ineluctably waiting for me. In the first years of investigation I wished for it. I invoked it. I yearned for it. Death didn't want me. Now, I am trying mightily to skip it. I want to mislead them in their expectations. I want to live and get out of their prison. ***I pour a few cups of water from the tub in the wooden barrel. I take off my shirt, my trousers – military effects, made of thick white cloth. As I have no night-gown, I wear the same shirt at night as well. When it gets dirty, I wash it, hoping that it will get dry until the evening. Since the administration also gave me a skirt, a thick twilled cloth and a long cloak, if it doesn't dry, I sleep with the thick cloth on my skin. But it scrapes me and I fall asleep late. The water is cold. At Miercurea-Ciuc, the nights are chilly untimely. The cake of soap is black and hard. It doesn't make foam. Still, I rub myself as hard as I can with a square sackcloth. Stolen from a dust bin. Washing daily, on the entire body is part of the daily program that I have imposed on myself. I feel bound to respect it scrupulously for my sake. Everyday, I have to defeat the temptation of neglect. I feel the roughness of the cloth. The skin gets red. The blood runs more quickly. The spirit is enlivened. I know that a militiaman watches me through the peep hole. Although he hides, I heard his tiptoe steps in the morning silence. I heard when he opened the peep hole. But, for a long time, I have ceased to consider the investigators, public prosecutors, judges, commanders and the entire staff of the penitentiary as human beings. I cannot make any zoological comparison. Why should I hurt an innocent animal? ***I fought years on end to succeed in going beyond the bars of the window. Now I am fighting for going the opposite way. For feeling again as I felt in my former cell, in cell no. 11. I close my eyes and I see it in all details. And suddenly it seems to me that time has come back. That I am again in my former cell. I have felt the coldness of water on my skin. I feel the roughness of the cloth. I know it's my last day of loneliness. I am putting on my shirt right now. I slap the ridiculous trousers and the skirt. My skirt doesn't have a regular cut – the lap is slightly flared. Because I received the last two skirts of the lot. So tight were they, that they had to give them both to me together with a pair of scissors, a needle and thread. For two days, my idle hands cut and sewed the skirt affectionately. Putting the thread in the needle, twisting the end of the thread to make a knot. Thrusting the needle in the cloth. Surfacing it back, three millimeters ahead. Turning three millimeters back. Thrusting the needle again, this time surfacing it six millimeters ahead and three back again, and six ahead again… Continuing carefully. Scrupulously. So that the seam should look like a civilized seam. A sewing machine seam. Our dauntless executioners are so right! Giving us something to work, a pleasant, natural work for women, would have meant to reduce our sufferance to half. But our sufferance is nourishment for their hatred. They noticed that sewing a skirt is enough to change the implacable passage of time. Its flight doesn't cease, on the contrary. Its wings fly twice as fast in those moments of oblivion. After two blessed days of sewing the skirt, time set off again with its limping steps. Actually, I was never idle. I worked and I still work from morning to evening, and sometimes I work at night as well. But only mentally. It's a hard work. Painful. As if I constantly and willingly thrust an auger in my mind. The auger twirls and digs deep and, with crumbs of brain, drops of blood and tears, I endeavor to create – what an irony! – children stories. Today, analyzing my state of mind then, I believe that I invented the stories solely for myself. For reviving the child I had been once, so long ago. It helped me to forget the present. I was trying to make that child smile and laugh.Writing is never an easy task. But starting "to write", with no training, no experience, no plan, is even harder. It means testing your will beyond its possibilities. With the impediment of never seeing your words, never hearing them. Of not hearing the rhythm of sentences, of lines, for I was not even allowed to speak loudly in my cell. Work and fatigue… Experiments… Deceptions… With the satisfaction of some combinations of much sought-for words. How restful it was to concentrate on three millimeters of cloth and a needlepoint. A question seems justified to me here. What were Harry Brauner and Lena Constante doing in the Pătrăşcanu trial? The answer is simple and plain. We had nothing to do with that trial. Everything is due to the ill-fated hazard. After the war, Harry Brauner was very keen on saving the material of the former "Folklore Archives" belonging to the Romanian Composers Society. Constantin Brăiloiu had left for Switzerland. The wax cylinders had been hid in a village near Bucharest. "The Royal Foundations for Villages" had taken over the archive and the materials. However, "The Royal Foundations" had been done away with, as well. Harry Brauner appealed then to Lucreţiu Pătrăşcanu. Thanks to the latter's good will, Harry Brauner got premises and a subsidy for setting up "The Folklore Institute" in 1946. After Harry Brauner's arrest in January 1950, the communist state took over the institute and dated its existence from the day of the take-over. Just in passing, Harry Brauner's paternity of the institute hasn't been officially acknowledged as yet. This is how history is written.About the same time, Elena Pătrăşcanu, a minister's wife, scene-painter, was working at setting up a puppet show in the capital. After a friendly contest, she entrusted me the management of the puppet studio. The date of the theatre's foundation was also forged. Lucreţiu Pătrăşcanu and his wife were arrested in 1948. The same day, I was kidnapped in the middle of the street. After six months of inquiry I was released. Nothing dubious in my purely artistic activity. The minister and his wife were taken to their forced place of residence in Snagov. Nevertheless, in 1948, a friend of the minister had been arrested before us –Herbert Zilber, economist and underground communist. He had been convicted in 1932 of espionage for the Soviet Union. Herbert Zilber was not released. In his volume about dialectical monarchy, published by Humanitas publishing house – post-mortem, in 1991 – under the penname Andrei Şerbulescu, he relates the role imposed on him – or the role he assumed – in the Pătrăşcanu trial. Knowing all of us well, he invented a vaguely plausible scenario about the "criminal" activities of his good "friend". In this black novel, he bestowed upon Harry Brauner and myself the role of spies. In 1950 I am arrested again. This time Harry Brauner is also arrested. The Pătrăşcanus are brought to Bucharest and our inquiry begins, an inquiry that will end only in 1953 with Pătrăşcanu's assassination and our sentencing, among others.Herbert Zilber dies in 1978. Only after reading the book did I finally understand the investigators' frenzy and the purpose of the tortures. They wanted us to accept the roles of spies ascribed to us in the scenario. In the memoirs that were published, written with the sharpest cunning, he tries to exculpate himself through a mixture of half-truths and shameless lies. Only a reader who is not at all acquainted with the manipulation and misinforming of the party and Security bodies could take his arguments seriously. ***Over the years that I spent in detention, searching for tough or harmonious words, weaving them, welding them, giving them a meaning and a rhythm had become a necessity for me. My life span was not completely wasted. The utmost concentration required by devising my stories in verse brought me oblivion and relief. I realized then sadly that I would not be able to find the climate necessary to my work, among the poor cell-women. Torn away from their families, habits, deprived of manual work, with no trace of culture, their prison days were spent in pathetic lamentations and useless babbling.I had succeeded in escaping solitary confinement. I wonder: could I escape from them too? How could I slink among bars of talking flesh? I am surrounded by their breaths. I hear snoring here, heart-breaking sighs. I deeply feel pity for them. How could I dare to despise their feelings of regret and their vain hopes? Do I know that I will not be able to live among them, lost in my solitary reveries? Three thousand torturing days behind me. They haven't defeated me. From today onward, I am compelled to live near them the days that separate me from freedom. Let's live them as well as we can. All I have to do is get to know them. To start making friends. I am but one of the women-prisoners of cell no. 6, now. I had worked in the countryside for a long time. During the research for the social monographs supervised by Prof. Dimitrie Gusti. I was still a student in Fine Arts when I started the research for the spiritual manifestations of peasant culture. Our team was in charge of fine art creations: costumes, cloths, embroideries, pottery, furniture and all household objects, functional objects adorned with an instinctive need of beauty. We were living – teachers and students – in the villagers' houses. Sharing the family life, we had the duty of making friends with our hosts. And while the householders might not have needed us, we, the researchers, badly needed their goodwill. I, for instance, could gather the information our research depended on only from my host and other women's hosts. Only they could open their bottom drawers in front of me trustfully. Only they could give me detailed explanations about the different pieces of clothing and the working techniques. Those years I was still very young. And being very young, I was still enthusiastic. I was in love with the traditional life of the village. There still exists today, in some isolated regions, the magic of the former villages. But then, in that tender past, the village was a social unit, durably built up on the roots of ancestral traditions. Customs and unwritten laws. Both of us, I and my husband, remained deeply attached to the peasant society our entire life. To its customs and its folklore. After 1968, we finally received the passports that opened our way to the West. Both in Paris and in Switzerland, we were often asked why we, former political prisoners in our country, having the right thus, to get political asylum – home and pension – didn't choose freedom. Our answer was always the same. We can easily part with Bucharest, but never with the land and with the villages. We had met each other, Harry Brauner and I, in a village, while we were working on a monograph. I wonder in how many we worked together! How many kilometers of roads did we walk together, with rucksacks on our backs? Just like an archaeologist, sensing behind the layers of land the vestiges of the past, he would passionately dig up into the hearts and memory of the peasants. He revived hundreds of songs of love, joy, sadness or mutiny, engraved with the diamond point on the wax cylinders of the primitive "Edison" spring apparatus. Demonstrating the vital involvement of music in the whole life cycle of the villagers, as a unique way of expressing the inexpressible. However, between the peasants living in their ancestral environment and the uprooted peasant women thrown brutally in the penitentiary, the difference was huge. What kind of relationships could one start with these prisoners with dead hands, each of them from a different part of the country, now doomed to live between four walls, idle and, for days on end, always facing the others. *** The next day, as usual, at five o'clock, the waking up. But for the first time, I see fourteen women waking up at the same time with me. For the first time I have to get down from a bed superposed over another. I watch the others. A real circus. A sort of acrobatic gymnastics. I imitate them cautiously. In a few days, I will be able to get down, just as they do, automatically. After they clap on the skirts, the women stand in queue on the "corner". Two days before, learning about my moving from the cell, I invoked, with a feeling of embarrassment, the problem of natural necessities. Yesterday, I somehow grew calmer. The bucket, placed in a corner, was hidden by a blanket that was hanging on two neighboring beds. But if the blanket hid us from sight, it couldn't damp certain sounds, which actually, only I could hear, for, so common were they to the other women, that they didn't even notice them. Yesterday, despite the urgent need, I hesitated for a long time before facing this public toilet. For, yesterday, I was in the highlights, and the silence that might have followed my short absence terrified me. When I finally decided, I sneaked almost desperately behind the "screen".Here, a new obstacle. The bucket had a diameter of around forty centimeters. Shall I sit on the wooden edge, around four centimeters broad? How could I not think of the multitude of women that had sat on the bucket for so many times before me? But it wasn't easy to keep your balance without touching the wood. I realize that the details of the bucket might seem extremely uncivil. But how can I suggest the filth of our lives, at least by a few paragraphs in a book, without mentioning the smell that spread around in waves at that time of morning throng? Then? Then, nothing. We had no toilet paper. To replace it, the women had put down, near the bucket, a water basin and a small bottle, coming from some medicine. I had been warned. Each of us was allowed only one small bottle of water to wash above the tub. Because of the lack of water and so as not to overflow the bucket. For, if the water tub was almost empty, the bucket was almost full. After a mockery wash, they used a square piece of cloth, the refuse of some ragged undercloth. Naturally, every woman had her patch, but none of them could explain to me why the small cloth was named "logic". It was funny to hear an old peasant woman saying to another one: "Mary, your 'logic' is down!" Or better: "Cati, don't you think it's high time you washed your 'logic'?"Unfortunately, despite all the water and the soap, the 'logic' became more and more gray and unpleasant at sight. They hung it on the bed-leg and never, at any of their searches, with all their delight in making us angry with helplessness, did the militiamen dare to touch it in order to confiscate it. Later on, relying on their disgust, I successfully concealed a needle in the small selvage of a patch sullied with floor dust. A false 'logic'. *** Now the women are taking out the basins from under the beds. They string them on the benches. They poor in each of them some water. Extremely little, as they have to be thrifty. In my cell, I washed from head to toes daily. I had a trough and a pail of water just for me. Here, only six basins. They belonged to those who had been to Mislea, where home parcels were allowed. At Miercurea-Ciuc, parcels are forbidden. The owners of the basins have the privilege of being the first. I notice – curiously and somehow worried – their way of proceeding. I ask them to let me be the last. I give myself the time to make a decision. I realize that they hardly wash themselves. The young ones take off their shirt, keeping the trousers and the skirt on. They wash their hands and cheeks and very superficially, their arms and breasts. They wipe themselves, put on their skirts, and that's it. The old ones do not take them off. They only wash their hands and cheeks. In my opinion, they do this for respecting an unwritten law of the village inculcated in their minds for ages. Heritage of an immemorial knowledge of what is right and what is wrong. A custom that requires them to touch food only with purified hands, eyes and mouth.And the rest? The small "body care"? Dede, head of our room, whose bed is under mine, explains to me: the little water in the bottle is enough to them. Some of them are afraid of catching a cold. What shall I do? Because of them, I have already consented at giving up my mental work. Will I be forced to give up a hygienic habit maintained up to now for fear of vexing them? So much the worse for them if I shock them, and so much the worse for me if I disappoint them. After I have rubbed myself up to the waist, I take the basin and go behind the "screen". On coming out, I pretend not to notice their surprised faces. But there is nothing critical in their surprise. On the contrary. It seems natural to them that I, after eight years of solitude, should have some bizarre habits. I believe all of them were proud that their cell had been chosen to receive the black sheep, the solitary prisoner. They didn't realize that the choice made by our almighty master – the Ministry of Internal Affairs – was rather an insult to them. Indubitably, after they had decided that my testimony was of no danger anymore, instead of moving me according to my sentence, to the "high treason" cell, by a last act of cautiousness, they chose as my inmates some almost illiterate peasant women. The next days I realized that it would be a big disappointment if I behaved like everyone else. A woman who has been kept in a secret cell for eight years would be abnormal if she behaved normally. This is what my inmates believed. ***Friendship is, of course, a hand in need. However, in cell no. 6, as in all cells I passed through until my release, I found a lot of "friendships", but no "friend". I admit regretfully that in my heart, besides my family and Harry, there was little room left. The women around stirred in me, as I have said before, an immense pity and sympathy, but honestly speaking, nothing else. They didn't alleviate my sufferance. The exchange hoped-for didn't take place. I got close to them. I listened to their stories, I told them stories in my turn. Through the postal network they took part, safe from danger, in the life of the entire penitentiary. They learned about the rare news from outside. But I never did anything out of a drive towards self-sacrifice. Out of spiritual noblesse or Christian love for my neighbor. I did no such thing. I had an urgent need to compensate for my mental work, so I decided to do everything that might have been useful to them and to myself. For, I owed them gratitude. Even if they didn't soothe my loss of freedom, even if my loneliness was but slightly attenuated, I was aware that, as they were, the women were of great help to me. They reduced to half the seventeen hours of each day. How? A day of prison is always endless. But it passes more quickly when you measure it in hours, not in minutes. During my first days of loneliness, each of the 1020 minutes of a day that I had to live crushed me under their burden. Cleaning the body and the cell, the meals, the "programs" and the walk filled only two hours at most. One hundred twenty minutes. Only despair and hunger were left to fill the rest of my day. In time, I resorted to the help of poetry. But I couldn't work more than ten hours daily. Six hundred minutes. The five hundred minutes that I had to bear until falling asleep seemed endless. As if the mechanism of a clock, set at five in the morning was breaking down bit by bit, as if it rotated slower and slower, prolonging the lapse of each minute more and more. Around eight o'clock in the evening, I couldn't feel the earth beneath my feet. I was choking. Only the militiawoman's knock on the door, announcing bedtime, brought me to a conscious life again. Here, in a cell, with so many women around me, constantly harassed by their presence, paying attention to them, an hour was no more than an hour and sometimes even less. The distress and despair, the throttling of secluded life didn't stretch on the entire day span anymore. There was only the time of a conglomerate of dismay that was left. *** In 1952, I had been moved in the second basement of the party's premises. Again, a dead time in the inquiry. As far as I could find out after the release, the Internal Affairs minister, Teohari Georgescu, declared that the trial was impossible to stage. They were, probably, busy with devising a new technique, a more refined one, for torturing our conscience. I was in a state of utmost discouragement. The physical weakness, an outcome of a diet scientifically devised to keep me on the line between life and death, was increasing. A kind of numbness seized both my body and my spirit. By any means, I had to react. I started by doing some gym exercises. The result was unexpected. The blood set to work somehow awoke me from my prostration and my faith in the supremacy of the spirit completely freed from the bodily needs got then a flouting rebuke. For a few moments, I felt hope reviving. Thus, the substantial blood…Nevertheless, I could not give up my faith in the primacy of the spirit. In exchange, I decided to do gym exercises daily, for a few minutes. For the first time in five years, after changing the cell, I had disobeyed my decision and I was sorry. So, one morning, after I washed myself, I declared that I would resume my gym routine. Nuţi, Böji, the two fiancées and Dorina wanted to join me. We took off our skirts and, dressed in shirts and shorts, we started the session. The five beginners stringed in front of me. All the others sat on benches to make room. The show began. Each exercise only five times at the beginning, for fear of muscular fever. In the inert gloominess of the cell, the novelty was well received. The gymnasts were young and except for Dorina, who was rather stumpy, they had nice bodies. The audience watched with delight and participated with advice, criticisms and jokes. Unfortunately, they were laughing too loudly. The peep hole rattled. The door opened and the militiawoman intervened. She forbade us to continue. The next day, at awakening time, the head of our room asked the commandant if the regulation forbade gymnastics. The commandant had to admit this flaw of the regulation. Those who had drafted it forgot to forbid gymnastics. So, can we do ten minutes of gym exercises daily? Yes, the commandant said, but on one condition: no talks, no laughter, not the slightest sound. We went on, thus, with whispered verbal directions, with stifled laughter and without the slightest sound. How infinite can the stupidity of stupid people be! *** Retelling briefly the past life of women in the cell, I have pictured our present life too lively. But the women who, in their free life, had loved or hated, had helped or had betrayed, had laughed and had cried at their ease, and who, except for Crăciuna, had eaten to their hearts' content, were they the same as those I looked at then? Those I saw stringed on the benches of the cell in gray uniforms, for gray were their faces and their thoughts as well?Up on the mountain, proudly dressed in a long white gown, her waist tied in the wrapping of the motley girdle, the woman who, at the first sunrays, came out on the threshold on the pen, had this woman anything in common with the prisoner Cati from cell no. 6 of Miercurea-Ciuc penitentiary? Arms crossed, round back, dizzy look staring at the floor planks, Cati and all the rest look like some piles of striped rags, hiding inanimate chumps. Gray is also the cell, the light, the women, gray is everything around me. Their faces don't look tormented. They do not look miserable. They look worse: unfeeling, stone still, they look like the ghosts of some women who lived many years ago, and very long ago, they died…Cell no. 6 is nothing but a miserable cemetery, where death playing tricks on people replaced the white shrouds of the dead with some white and gray-striped uniforms, much more proletarian.For, death spins the ring dance… *** Indeed, a macabre dance takes place in the cell, and a wave of madness envelops everybody. While all women, young and old, spin at the signal given by one of them, each raises her right hand, takes off the bonnet, puts it on her left neighbor's head, who, in her turn, had taken off the bonnet in order to put it on the left neighbor's head, and all of them took off their bonnets and put them on their left neighbor's head and the game goes on, faster, hands pick up bonnets, drop them on the neighbor's head, faster and faster, they receive new bonnets, pick them up even faster, slap them on the neighbor's head who takes them off, project them farther, the hair gets undone, the plaits wind, the locks loosen, I receive a bonnet, catch it quickly, I throw it and I feel myself dragged in the general craze, I pick up the bonnet that slapped my head and pop! On Dede's head, Dede on Cati's, Cati… STOP! At the beginning, one of us is bareheaded. She receives the first bonnet. When the head of the game suddenly stops the ring game, one of us will be bareheaded. She gives a pledge and the game is resumed. Seizing the afternoon quarter of an hour opportunity when the militiawomen loosen their watch, perhaps because they are writing their reports or because they are tired, the women play "the game of bonnets". The bonnet of all the prisoners in the world. I watch them during the game. Dede's mimicry says plainly that the game seems ridiculous, unworthy of her, but she accepts, out of solidarity, to level herself down. Auntie Yuhaz strives hard to keep her jaunty rows of flash going. The young ones are really having a good time. Cenuşe looks like a hippopotamus in disguise. Vlădescu gambols. She feels young, beautiful and naughty. She is always forgetting that it's been twenty years since her rural vamp success vanished with no trace. She chose as her victim the old warehouse man. The only decent man in the penitentiary. Vlădescu casts a scowling look at him, with meaningful smiles. One day, when he entered the cell to help the militiawoman carry the clean sheets, Vlădescu came up in front of him, gripped her skirt with both hands, raised it slowly above the wry legs, raised it even higher above the bony knees, and, showing the holes in the stockings, through which her wrinkled skin appeared, and mincing gracefully, she asked him for a pair of stockings. The game is resumed. Two more pledges. Again, hands rise, the bonnets change their owners, the ring dance spins, when suddenly Nuţi stops, with a finger on her lips. We stumble and freeze. Indeed! Steps on the staircase.  *** July 14th, 1961In the morning, together with the coffee, the militiawoman brought to me the good news. "You are leaving today." Noticing that she doesn't thou and thee me anymore, I had the courage of asking her to give my bread to my inmates. I sat on the bed, my suitcase near me. I put on the skirt and the blouse. A skirt and a blouse extremely worn out. The overcoat was almost new. I had already put it on, so as to be ready for leaving. It hid the shabby skirt and the off-color blouse. But it was a shiny day. I realized that the clean overcoat could hide neither my shaggy hair hanging loosely and uneven, nor my ringed eyes or my bare feet in a pair of shoes out of which only two strips of leather were left. So, why suffer from heat? I took off the overcoat and put it in my suitcase. The passengers will consider me a beggar. Actually, was I anybody different? ***I was waiting… My last waiting. My last penitentiary anxiety. And the door opened and a militiaman brought me to an office and a young man gave me a sheet of paper to sign and delivered my release certificate and announced me that I would be taken to the railway station and I would receive a train ticket to Bucharest there and I asked him to give me the equivalent of a phone token and I explained to him that since I had no news from home for such a long time, I didn't even know where to head in Bucharest and that I couldn't walk long because of my sore feet, much less carry my bag, and that I was therefore forced to phone. I also told him that on my arrest I had carried a bag with some money and a golden watch and that I didn't find them in my suitcase, but I didn't claim any of those objects back, I was only asking for the price of a phone coin. He answered very politely with a refusal, as polite as my request. He expressed his true regret, but he was bound to turn down my request. He had, however, the kindness to give me a piece of advice. Arriving in Bucharest, I should ask anybody for 25 bani, the price of the coin, at the railway station… Hence, beg. What else could a beggar do? *** I had often fantasized about the first cigarette that I would smoke on my release and here I was, with not even the change for a phone coin. Promising start of a free life. Strange thing. I hadn't been a real smoker. A cigarette now and then, especially when I was among smokers. However, during the long years of prison I had yearned for cigarettes and now, more than ever, I wished for nothing but a cigarette. The young man stood up. He had to take me to the commandant, he said. I knew, from what the other women had told me, that the last drudgery imposed on us at the release was meeting the commandant. I had considered that very morning how to behave if, upon leaving, he should hold out his hand. Shall I answer with the same gesture? Shall I shake hands with the hand that had signed hundreds of punishment reports? Hundreds of days of hunger? No. I will pretend not to see the hand held out. But the commander was cautious. Or despising. He only warned me with threats that I was totally forbidden to talk about my detention. Nowhere, never, with nobody. Shall I, thus, bury twelve years of my life in oblivion? Then, he said: "You are free!" and showed me the door.A militiawoman gave me a parcel wrapped in paper. She said: "cold food for the trip." She took me out in the big yard that I had seen when I had my X-ray examination. In the yard, an open truck. In the truck, six very young soldiers. A militiaman told me to get on the truck. I was, again, scared. "Where do you want to take me?" "To the railway station. Don't be afraid. You won't be able to get there with your suitcase. We will take you!" He helped me to get on. On the two lateral benches, the soldiers. Between the benches, I, sitting on a box. As in a mirror, I saw my reflection on the face and in the eyes of the soldiers. They looked at me in terrified surprise. Marga told me in Bucharest that the women, receiving my piece of bread, understood that I was leaving that very day. They, nevertheless, watched the yard through the blinds of the window. Unfortunately, in sight was precisely the truck. Seeing me on a truck full of soldiers, all the information about the forced residence checked out and they were very upset. But, the following day "The Little One" released them from worries. She confirmed the fact that I had gone home.I didn't see anything of the town I was passing through and in which I had lived six years behind bars. My heart was so cramped that I could hardly breathe. I only remember the front of the penitentiary, when the truck started moving. From all the top windows, how was I to know which were the ones of our cell? ***It was merely a very modest railway station. The town couldn't be seen, for the railway building hid it. Ahead of me, beyond the few rows of tracks, glowing under the hot sun of this day, the 14th of July, there stretched a vast lawn, specked with green trees. After handing me the ticket, the militiaman told me to stay on the platform. The train was to arrive. The two of us knew each other no longer. He went to the other end of the platform. The soldiers were there, too. I realized that they didn't send such a large troop for me. They were waiting for a new lot of prisoners. It was my first moment of freedom. On the 14th of July, the national holiday of France. My holiday until death.