The Symbol

In the romantic revolutionary years after the communist take-over there was a custom to hoist a red flag or lay a red cloth over the presidium table at any meeting or session having a political character. It was a revolutionary symbol, an optimistic one, a symbol of the blood shed by those who had died for a better life for the people. This better life for the people has claimed a lot of human lives along history. It was like a fetish, no event could be organized without this symbol. On May 1 1946 we had red silk dresses tailored for us and white silk scarves with inscriptions in red silk on them, which read: "Long live the workers' democracy!" It's true that we hesitated for a while, thinking if "Long live the democratic working class!" wouldn't be better, but the seamstress was in a hurry and cut out our negotiations. Decked out like that, in red, we marched, the girls in our colony, in front of the entire file of our town and I think we meant a lot for our people, though I could not say what exactly that was. Enthusiasm does not need too much examination. Later the red cloth on the table was replaced by scarlet or blue velvet and then the custom was almost forgotten. The custom was extended, in a certain period, to social sciences exams. Then it was abandoned in these circumstances as well. Only two of our colleagues could be seen bringing a piece of red cloth at every exam. The oldest of them, who was a little old-fashioned anyway, could be expected to do that. But the younger one had not known the tradition. I was sure that he was just mechanically doing what he saw the other one do. One day I see both of them again, the older one with the red cloth under his arm, the younger following close. I suddenly can't resist the temptation of asking them what does that red cloth mean to them. To see at least if they know anything about the origin of the custom. I was dying to hear what they were going to say. So I stop them and ask the older one: "What are you doing with that cloth?" He stops and looks at me in amazement, he can hardly believe that I, of all people, have asked him that question. He seems to be pondering about what he is going to answer, what it would be better to say, it is clear that he has not thought of that for quite a while, or maybe he has never thought of that at all and finally he retorts, a little embarrassed, almost apologetic: "It has always been like that, ever since I remember…"Before I can say anything, the younger one who cannot remember anything of the kind but neither can he consider his boss's answer satisfactory turns to me and tries to clarify the situation: "It's for the dust, the room is so dusty…" That's what the symbol had become in his head. But I realized that many other things follow the same pattern. And I even remembered another story of a similar kind when, during a meeting in the outskirts of the capital a very young girl asks the secretary of the party organization: "Why do we celebrate the October Socialist Revolution on the 7th of November?" The secretary, taken by surprise and ignoring the details about the calendar, desperately improvises an answer to a question he had never asked himself: "You see, my young comrade, how shall I put it? Do you remember how it is when I summon you to the meeting on the first day of the month and you come only the next day, on the 2nd? That's what happened to Lenin: he summoned them for the Revolution in October and some of them only got there in November."

by Maria Marian (b. 1930)