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DAN LUNGU

 

 

Dan Lungu

Dan Lungu (b. 1969) is a lecturer in Sociology at Al.I. Cuza University, Jassy. Post-doctoral studies at the Sorbonne. Editor of Au Sud de l’Est magazine. In 2001 and 2002, he was editor-in-chief of Timpul (Time) cultural review. Published books : Edges (poetry, 1996), Pass the Phlegm Plate Round (short prose, 1999), The Construction of Identity in a Totalitarian Society : A Sociological Study of Writers (2003), Retail Prose (short stories, 1st edition : 2003, 2nd edition : Polirom, 2008), Ground-floor Wedding (theatre, 2003), Hens’ Heaven (Faux Novel of Rumours and Mysteries) (Polirom, 1st edition: 2004, 2nd edition, 2007), Good Guys (short prose, Polirom, 2005), I’m a Communist Biddy ! (Polirom, 2007 ; the novel is currently being made into a feature film, directed by Stere Gulea) and How to Forget a Woman (novel, Polirom, 2009). The novel Hens’ Heaven has been translated into French (Le Paradis des Poules, Éditions Jacqueline Chambon, 2005), German (Das Hühnerparadies, Residenz Verlag, 2007), and Slovenian (Kokosji Rai, Apokalipsa, 2007). I’m a Communist Biddy ! has been translated into French (Je suis une vieille coco !, Éditions Jacqueline Chambon, 2008), Hungarian (Egy komcsi nyanya vagyok !, Jelenkor, 2008), German (Die rote Babuschka, Residenz Verlag, 2009) and Italian ( Sono una vecchia comunista!, Gruppo Editoriale Zonza, 2009) . The collection of short stories, Good Guys, has also been translated into German (Klasse Typen, Drava Verlag, 2007). Dan Lungu is the author of the plays Knife to the Bone (performed at Green Hours, Monday Theatre, Bucharest, 2002) and Ground-floor Wedding (reading and performance at the Odeon Theatre, 2003 ; reading and performance at the Luceafarul Theatre, 2006, as part of the DramatIS project).

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To the Cemetery

 

A shrivelled woman came with a tray of glasses and served each person. ‘Are you his workmates?’ she asked in a whisper, as though broken with grief.

‘We were in the same work unit,’ replied a tall, broad-shouldered man, who appeared to be the boss and whose leg propped up a wreath of paper flowers. White and pink.

The woman nodded and moved on to serve the next person, who said:

‘To Aurel. May he rest in peace! God love him, he was a decent fellow!’

‘A decent fellow,’ mumbled the shrivelled woman, as though to herself.

The ten men, wearing helmets and new overalls, stood under the shade of the grapevines. They were waiting for everybody to depart for the cemetery. They had two wreaths: one from the union and the other from the work unit. A sound of wailing came from indoors. That he had been good. Why was he leaving us? That he was leaving two children and a woman on their own. Who would feed them?

The broad-shouldered man reached up and picked a bunch of grapes. He popped a grape in his mouth. ‘It’s good and ripe. The wine will be good this year!’ he said, to nobody in particular. A young man with a moustache plucked a grape from the boss’s bunch. ‘It’ll be strong, ‘cos they’re sweet!’ he said. The corner of the boss’s mouth curved into a smile, but he quickly resumed a serious expression.

Aurel had fallen from a scaffold several months earlier. The report stated that the scaffolding was damp and slippery, though some people said he’d been a bit jarred. It would have been awful to have written that he’d been a bit jarred, thought the broad-shouldered man. He didn’t know exactly why, but it would have been awful.

The shrivelled woman was talking to a little man from the work unit with sunken cheeks and a thin pointed nose. It was something about medicines. The woman spoke in the same whisper, as though she had a claw stuck in her throat.

‘He was in hospital and not a doctor would look at him. Maricica sold the pig so she could grease their palms but even then they barely glanced at him. When they sent him home, they said he was fine, but he was complaining that it hurt inside. They just gave him expensive medicines and put him on a pension. The money from the pension wasn’t arriving, Maricica had sold the pig, so what could you buy medicine with? Buttons?’ She stopped speaking when someone placed a hand on her shoulder.

‘What is it, dear?’ ‘Where’s toilet?’ ‘The privy’s in the vegetable garden. Go around behind the house, you’ll see it’.

Several children were pelting each other with grapes. The yard was slowly filling up with people. A woman with a moustache caught a child by the ear and gave it a good twist. The child began crying. She slapped him across the mouth and barked at him. The child swallowed his tears.

‘Have another drink, in memory of Aurel!’ This time it was a fat woman who could hardly catch her breath. But the tray was the same: with two big red roses, standing out in relief. They resembled the woman’s scarlet cheeks.

Two men from the work unit began talking about football. The wailing from within the house grew stronger. The moment of departure was approaching. A hoarse voice could be heard above the others. That of Maricica.

A helmeted man sat down on the ground, leaning against the fence. The boss put the wreath next to him. The man on the ground quickly arranged several bent flowers. He took his helmet off and placed it on his knees. He read the ribbon. “Rest in peace! Union of Builders and Reinforced Concrete Constructors’. In fact, he hadn’t even known Aurel particularly well, as he had joined the unit only a month before the accident. And then, for six months, in which he had not seen him again, he had almost forgotten what he looked like. But he had been given time off work with the others to attend the funeral. The main thing was that it was paid leave.

A dog nuzzled between his legs. It smelled the helmet. A youth was filling a bucket of water from the pump in front of the house and asked what was going on in the yard. The dog scampered towards him. It smelled the bucket. Water sloshed from the bucket. The dog jumped aside. The man beside the wreath smiled. Then he looked at his watch. He wanted to get home earlier than usual but, the way things were going, it wasn’t looking likely.

‘Towards the end he felt sick, he vomited everything he ate. He had no money to get a doctor to the house to see him. Those from the union didn’t give us a penny, his papers weren’t in order, that’s what they said. Now they send a wreath. Now that he’s dead, his papers are in order.’

The shrivelled woman received some indignant looks. But she carried on talking, now that she was finally being listened to.

The wide-shouldered man appeared under the black mourning cloth that was stretched above the door. ‘I need four men in here!’ Four immediately came forward. The whispering ceased. Some eyes became tearful.

‘Let’s get the coffin out!’ he said, in a gentler voice.

‘Once we bury him, the union will forget him, and the doctors, and all the rest.’

The wailing intensified. It passed like a wave of pain through the crowd, gripping it with sobs, sighs, regret. For a moment they all felt their powerlessness before death. It was as though they had forgotten that they were before someone who had died, and the voice of the broad-shouldered man surprised them. Even the man who had joined the unit a month before the accident felt heavy-hearted.

The four black-helmeted men bore the coffin on their shoulders.

A woman dressed in black, bent-over with pain, was too short to hold onto the coffin, and gripped the overalls of one of the construction workers. Then came a brother of the dead man and a brother-in-law. Then came rough-handed, hoarse-voiced women from neighbouring houses.

The crowd in the yard yielded. The expression of importance on the faces of the four who bore the coffin was mixed with fear and pain.

A postman appeared at the gate. He took off his hat and fluttered a piece of paper in his left hand. ‘Six months of pension have arrived. If it belongs to the deceased, the closest relative needs to sign for it!’


Somebody took his arm to lead him aside. He shook free and stated loudly that he had a job to do. The shrivelled woman came forward and said she would take the money. He asked who she was.

‘I’m his mother.’

‘That’s fine. Sign here!’ Then he counted out the banknotes.

The wrinkled woman filled a glass of rachiu. The postman knocked it back. ‘God rest his soul!’

‘Won’t you have another?’

‘God bless you! One for the road.’

The funeral procession, with the two wreaths in front, had already moved on.

©2009 Dan Lungu


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Author Links

Dan Lungu home page

Dan Lungu at Contemporary Romanian Authors

 

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