I wonder if nature always plays the same game
(Einstein) Of course I was coming from sleep, how else is a day supposed to start? However, I didn't know much about the world I was coming from. On the other hand, the world I had landed in should have been very familiar to me – and it wasn't. From the very first moment of wakefulness, there were small signs of uncertainty. The clock on the nightstand was no longer there, and I didn't understand why the light coming through the semitransparent curtains, however weak, didn't enable me to guess what time it was. I could only assume it was a cloudy day, like most days in our region even in midsummer, because of the neighboring river and its delta. I jumped out of bed with the typical concern of the clerk who thinks he's late for work and, besides, hasn't got a clock near at hand. I went into the hallway separating the bedroom from the dining room and, about halfway, I groped for the knob of the bathroom door. I found myself in the chilly, airless kitchen full of blended smells: frying, rancidness, accidental fermentation, cigarette smoke impregnating the walls. On the table and oven – dirty dishes, filled ashtrays, cups smeared with coffee grounds, dry orange peelings. The scene was not entirely foreign to me, it was my common way of life I could say, but I had intended to go to the bathroom! If I came out of the bedroom and along the hallway, the bathroom door was always on the left, and the kitchen door on the right. Or did I use to come from the dining room, and the image behind my automatism was now reversed? After all, I thought, I have been living in this apartment for only three months – since April, to be more exact. The one I had before was not very different from this one, except maybe in its position with respect to the cardinal points, or minor distinctions in the use of some rooms. I inferred that my sensation was absolutely normal for someone who had woken up at an hour other than the usual, and I entered the bathroom with determination.I was certain I wouldn't have enough time to shave. But the face I saw in the mirror was slightly puffed up, with dark rings around the eyes, unmistakably stamped by bad sleep. It needed a good shave to bring it up to date
. The cold water felt good, but also brought back the impression that I was seeing unfamiliar objects all around me: some were fairly similar to what I knew, yet a bit different. Was I having, all of a sudden, a more acute perception of images I saw every day without paying them too much attention, or were those images different indeed? The shaving foam bowl was big and red, whereas I expected it to be greenish and somewhat smaller. Yellowish salts had been crusting up on the washbasin, in an abstract pattern I had never noticed before. The metal bolts that fastened the mirror on to the wall seemed to have rusted overnight. I dashed out of the bathroom, regretting I had no time to shave my face, make it more mine
, and thus restore the rest of the image to its known condition.I went through the hallway back to the bedroom, and the automatism of morning movements played a hoax on me again. I was, of course, in the dining room, but this was not the worst of it. On the couch, by the bookcase, I found a sleeping woman. I went closer, and I recognized her: my colleague Zoia, a museologist like myself and another thirty boys and girls from the Museum of Archeology and Natural Sciences of the Delta. I am an absent-minded person, but I don't like to drink, and I have never had such a bad hangover as to forget in the morning what I had done the night before. I thought maybe this rather unpleasant fact finally came to pass. There was one thing I didn't understand, though – if I had invited Zoia to my place (as had happened more than once before), and if we had spent the evening chattering, smoking, drinking coffee and aspersing our work-mates in my less than clean kitchen, why hadn't we gone to sleep to the same bed after that? Maybe we had quarreled, but in that case why didn't she go home, after all she lived in the next building? I think I shrugged, as if confronted by somebody asking an impossible question. That somebody was not there, of course, so my exculpation convinced no one. I left all those trifles hover in their mist (or in the mist filling my head – for the first time beset with a real hangover), and scurried back to the bedroom to dress. I knew I was late for work, and time – as always in such cases – flew at a much greater speed, at an unbidden, irritating speed. While I was getting dressed, I cast another glance, less distracted than usual, at the walls, the furniture, the things around me. In the light that seemed to grow imperceptibly, it wasn't hard to discover all kinds of signs, cracks in the paint on the walls, new nuances and shapes of objects manufactured in series. I thought, maybe this is how any stranger is supposed to see these objects, anyone who doesn't see them every day; I must have seen them myself in that light, when I bought them and put them in my bedroom: the impression given by a foreign object you are going to grow accustomed to, and forget little by little – an impression I was reading from end to beginning, on that seedy morning. Something like a sentence translated from Latin into Romanian by someone who, not knowing how to make the due changes of syntax, had left the translated words in their Latin spots.How alien must one be or become to the world he inhabits day by day, to experience such a sensation? I wondered. I got ensnared in the game at once. As I was closing the elevator door, I was prepared to read out in German the number three
painted on its back. I even said "drei
", and the next second I saw the eight
painted on the door. Somebody must have played with yellow paint, changing the three into an eight. An innocuous joke I included in my game: I uttered "acht
" and pressed the lowest button, then turned to the mirror and reexamined my unshaven face that looked older thus. I wished to hum a happy song to liven up my morale, but I couldn't think of any. Then it looked like the elevator was too slow and still going down, although it should have reached the ground floor already. I blamed the new sensation on my haste, and my fear of being late and exchanging nasty words with the director of the museum."Our institution is one of the most important to the culture of our region, to its fame, which crossed the borders of the country," director Gingea usually says when he catches you coming late. In summer, thousands come to visit our museum. They get on coaches in their sea resorts and arrive here after having breakfast at a motel on the highway. They speed through the eighteen halls of the museum, then rush onto the steamboats that will carry them all day long through channels and muddy pools, amongst islets and driftwood. Up till lunch-time they still try to capture pelicans or egrets on film, with their cameras without telescopic lenses, while the guides reassure them that only in the afternoon will they get to the heart of the delta, where thousands of birds are awaiting them. But their lunch, consisting of seven courses of fish and dessert, is soaked in white wine, vodka, beer and whisky. The torpor that strikes them after that, upon leaving the restaurant on the islet, makes them crowd in the steamboat bar, where they order strong coffees and forget about snipes, cormorants, herons and pewits, then drowse in shady spots on the deck. On my way, I wonder how all these images they almost get acquainted with in just one day appear to them – our museum, the delta, the restaurant on the islet. Do they look strange or familiar? Then, crossing the street to the museum, I hear myself say in French, "C'est un nid de cigogne!
" Indeed, by the museum entrance, atop the old acacia tree that was left standing alone after the terrible storm last summer, there is a stork's nest. How strange to this place must one be to notice all the details of the acacia and the big nest on top of it, and exclaim, "C'est un nid de cigogne!
"?About ten coaches had already pulled in the museum parking lot. All of them modern, with mercury windows that looked smoky if seen from the outside, but enabled crystal-clear vision when looking from the inside; all had air conditioning and TVs, were judiciously designed and painted in tasteful colors: in brief, they hardly resembled the coaches of the local travel agency. Such a coach stationed amid the bunch of old vehicles once used to draw all the other drivers, who would inspect it with curiosity and envy, ask technical details from its driver, then set about prehistoric jokes and dull recollections. All ten or eleven coaches were now as beautiful as ever, but nobody was hanging around them. I repeated the word coach
in my thought, while elbowing my way through tourists of various nationalities awaiting their turn to enter the museum. Now I knew I was late and expected Gingea's bulgy mug looking daggers at me, for starters. By the entrance, however, stood only my colleague Zaharia, who was taking a group of tourists in and lashing out with uncommon violence at the woman who sold tickets. Seeing me, he yelled in the same furious tone:"Where have you been, you son of a bitch? Take a group and move into the goddamn museum! Now!"I put my forefinger to my lips to hush him. His hysterics could bring in the director. While the group of tourists was following me to the first hall of the museum, I tried to remember the French for ticalos
, the Romanian word for bastard. I was once told by a writer that the Romanian word came from the Greek expression ti kalos
– "how beautiful!" It was probably coined after the Greek merchants who praised their goods in the old Moldavian marketplaces. When I found the French equivalent, I applied it, in my mind, to Zaharia: Zaharia le salaud! Il est salaud ce type!
Then I began to babble something about the maps showing the successive contours taken by our delta during various geological eras. While speaking, I was trying to figure how foreign one had to be to picture details of what those sites looked like in the immemorial times those maps referred to. The tourists didn't seem to listen; that is, I couldn't see a glimpse in their eyes that might have revealed at least some good will. They were simply doing their duty of going around the museum before boarding the steamboat, because that was what the timetable said. How strange they appeared to me, all of a sudden! They were no longer French, Belgian, American, but total aliens. Thinking how I would speak to extraterrestrial creatures about our museum, I realized I was uttering strange sentences, which triggered no response whatsoever from my listeners.I was startled when I uttered them, and I still keep them in mind, because they haunted me throughout that day. I do not understand them now, as I did not understand them then:"Living matter is not the only structure capable of processing information." "Information deeper than the genetic information brings us in direct contact with the real shape of the terrestrial areas naively represented in these schematic diagrams." "The events in this field (I can't remember what I was talking about) succeed one another in a certain order for me, and in a different order for you, which is quite natural." "Life communicates with life irrespective of any space or time barriers, and the types of logic that used to stumble at the old, opposite idea have recently been outclassed. Our museum is a very good example." And so on and so forth.I don't remember much, and it is only natural, because I spoke with a vengeance, admiring myself at it and ignoring the not so brilliant faces of those listening to me, while trying to overwhelm them with my multifarious knowledge and the self-confidence I displayed when launching into scientific demonstrations. Towards the end of my speech, we were in the hall dedicated to the latest achievements of the working people in our region and to the delta preservation programs and economic integration. I also remember I brought up a theory about the similarities between the articulate speech of "the most evolved species on the planet" and the immunity system of living organisms. Both, I said, are made up of sequences with their own significance that produce, again and again, new meanings through their combinations. Storing up the entire vocabulary of a language is not tantamount to knowing that language exhaustively; likewise, the immunity of an organism that holds all 20 amino-acids is not guaranteed. The syntax of amino-acids is even more important than their capacity to recognize foreign substances, and therefore produce antibodies. Due to linear sequentiality, both systems (language and immunity) enable always new messages, never known before. The newly-added messages, however, may change the overall significance of the whole. Consequently, the real problem is not to bear in mind the whole, as most visitors of the museum imagine, but to always choose the best continuation, depending on the situation of the text
.I think this is where I probably lost the thread of my demonstration. Anyway, I can't remember the continuation!Somebody, one of my younger colleagues I hardly knew, or maybe one of the students assigned for summer practical training in our museum, approached from the exit door and shouted at Zaharia, who had just finished his exposé and dismissed his tourists:"Would you like to come on a one-day trip-"I couldn't hear the kid's last words because of the noise made by the group that had just escaped Zaharia's harangue. I decided to halt my lecture too, and thanked my listeners for their attention, wishing them a nice trip to the delta. I caught up with to Zaharia and the guy who was signing up people for the one-day trip. I was in a great mood for a one-day leave from the museum, the town, my standard flat furnished with mass-produced chairs, tables, couches and bookcase modules. No matter where that trip was bound for, I wanted to go. So when the student turned to me and asked, "Would you like to join the one-day trip-" I cut him short and said yes. I didn't care a red cent where that trip was destined.While I am writing this, I'm trying to resume my demonstration from where I abandoned it owing to my thirst for getting out of the routine and the unexpected trip offer. Ergo, given a textual situation, the problem is to select the best continuation. I agree – while writing – to this idea that crossed my mind yesterday, and I am aware that whatever I shall add to my text from now on will change the meanings of previous words, sentences and accents. What do I mean by this charming hypothesis anyway? What would have been the next step in my demonstration, hadn't I let myself be disrupted by my craving for evasion? I mean, given the situation of that text, yesterday, what would have been the best continuation?After the student entered my name on a list, Zaharia threw a furious glance at me, along with a few insults I shall not bother to reproduce here. He turned about and went straight to the director's office. Walking to the labs, I saw Zoia come out of that office, wiping her eyes red with crying. Naturally, I went to comfort her, or make a joke to take Gingea's old-ass outbursts off her heart. Well, I must confess I was eaten up with curiosity too. I wanted to know what had happened the night before, why she had been sleeping in my dining room, what I was like when I got zonked and passed out, and other prosaic, or maybe uncommon, details. But she glowered at me and bawled, among sobs and sighs:"You monster! Why didn't you wake me up? You want me to lose my job? You want to get revenge, you ticalos
?"I stood still, dumbfounded, in the middle of the great hall that joins the first and last halls of the museum. I couldn't see why so much passion for a few minutes' delay. Wherefore should I seek revenge, why am I a ticalos
? And so on. Someone came from behind and patted my shoulder. It was my colleague, Felix, the biologist in charge of the aquarium. Even he, who had always been my friend, saw fit to put me down:"You wouldn't be in this fix now if you'd done as I told you!""What the hell did you tell me, man? What's got into you people today, have you gone nuts?""How many times did I tell you it would do you good to have a baby? You should have made her a baby, that's what!""Make her a baby?" I said in amazement.He had never mentioned to me such bullshit; besides, Zoia is a colleague I just about like – that's all there is to it. Sometimes she sleeps in my apartment and we make love, but we are not married, and we never planned to have any children.His amazement seemed even greater than mine. He stared at me for a few seconds, then turned about, and left. I went to my laboratory, where I repeated dozens of times, till evening, the same experiment from which I expected no surprise. I toiled meticulously and lackadaisically, all the time trying to forget the hapless start of my day.Now, writing this, confident that I am picking the best continuation of the textual situation extant so far, I'm beginning to realize what happened to me "yesterday". In fact, I think I've known it all along, ever since "yesterday": late in the evening, when I got home exhausted, I automatically pushed the eighth floor button of the elevator, not the third floor button, as I will tonight.Now I know that, in eight or nine years from now, I'll be married to my current colleague and girlfriend Zoia. That I'll be living with her in an apartment on the eighth floor of this selfsame building, where I presently live alone on the third floor. Until that ugly day I have already gone through, we shall have no children, which will embitter our marriage furthermore. That apartment on the eighth floor will be identical to the one I dwell in at present, except that, when coming from the entrance door, I'll have the bedroom on the right and the dining room on the left, in an inverted image of my apartment on the third floor. The bathroom and the kitchen will be facing each other too, but also inverted by comparison with this apartment. Director Gingea will have retired, or died, and his post will have been taken up by my colleague, Zaharia, who will push me and Zoia around. I know, therefore, that eight years from now life will not bring me any great joys, and that I should be asking myself (in writing, as a continuation of the given textual situation) why I do not commit suicide. Well, I'll tell you why:Because that student offered me a one-day trip to the past
, I subscribed, and I shall have to take it. Besides, nor do I know how many beautiful things lie hidden all through the thousands of days that separate me from that day of stormy arguments in my future family and at my workplace, which will be the same as it is today. I have a right to hope that, even after that ugly day, things can be set right and turn beautiful eventually, we may even have a child, we won't be too old to lack the courage. Yet, more than anything else, what keeps me going, and makes me live in peace with the tediousness of my stock apartment, my stock furniture, my work devoid of surprise, is a wild curiosity to know what really happened yesterday – the real yesterday. Maybe yesterday something remarkably beautiful happened to me, something that determines me in an essential way and makes me immune to the paltriness of the life ahead. I shall make that one-day trip to the past and I'll be glad! Only afterward shall I decide whether I am immune or not. I have no doubt. For one day you think you did not live, you shall be happy, or answer. And the best continuation of this text can only be as follows: Yesterday will be another day! Translated by Adrian Solomon
A graduate of the University of Bucharest (Faculty of Letters), he worked as a tourist guide, teacher, bookseller, clerk, secretary of the Romanian Writers' Union, editor of
Contrapunct magazine, Romanian language and literature lecturer at the University of Montpellier, France, and chairman of the Franco-Romanian cultural society
Euromedia. He made his debut with short fiction –
Adventures in a Courtyard (1979)
, followed by
The Controlled Echo Effect (1981),
Amendment to the Property Instinct (1983), and novels:
Wild Raspberries (1984),
Fabulatory Treatment (1986), and
The Woman in Red (with Adriana Babeti and Mircea Mihaies, 1990), considered a masterpiece of Romanian postmodern experiment. A long and severe illness tragically ended his life, and with it the project of another novel,
The Sign of the Diver. His works were included in anthologies in English (
The Phantom Church and Other Stories from Romania, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1996), French, German, Russian, Hungarian and Serbian. He received several prizes of the Romanian Writers' Union and the Ion Creanga Award of the Romanian Academy, and was a founding member of ASPRO, the Association of Professional Writers in Romania. A leader of the generation of the '80s and literary postmodernism, Mircea Nedelciu explored a variety of techniques (performing, in his own words, "textual engineering"), while his theoretical contributions, questioning traditional approaches to short prose and setting new standards with respect to its readers, were no less outstanding. The selected story,
Yesterday Will Be Another Day, lent its name to a volume of short fiction published 1989.
by Mircea Nedelciu (1950-1999)