My Mercy and Delight

[Transylvania: Agrij village, the week of Orthodox Easter, April 2009. Ileana Cristea sits on a bench. She is dressed traditionally with a scarf, a dark blouse with puffy sleeves and a large skirt.]

How was it before? During communism I worked at the collective farm, I tended to the cows. It wasn’t bad. May the Blessed Saint God be glorified! They’d write-up if we met our daily workload, they’d give us money too, 200 lei, 300 lei, they were good money then, in those times.
Well, after the things changed and the democracy came, at the beginning you thought it would be better, and it was better at the beginning, until things changed. The collective farm was broken up. Back then, you had the collective farm. Then everybody had work. If you didn’t work, you didn’t eat. But in The Time of Ceauşescu, if you will, for some it was very good, for others... they say they were unhappy, because they took their horses away, they took their entire livelihood, they took their land... Now they got back their land and the land lays wasted, because the old ones don’t have strength and the young ones moved to the city and they don’t want to work it… That’s the trouble. Folks try a bit, here, there, thinking they can farm… But entire hectares are deserted, full of weeds… Full of weeds... They don’t have the money and equipment to farm, because here, in this village there are only 4-5 cows or bivoli/water buffalos that give milk, because no one buys the milk... Nobody buys it. Back then there was a dairy where you went and they gave you whey and you got bran and you kept a pig somehow, it was different then. It’s very, very hard... It’s alright for the one who has a job in Zălau and who is young enough and can work… But even that it’s not enough to live on... In Zălau there are many expenses and so they bring their food from their families/people here… Because you have to pay for a parsley, for an onion you have to pay, for a cabbage you have to pay, rent you have to pay, the water… everything, everything, everything... The way the salary is... therefore it is very hard, not hard, but very hard! Dear Missis, or Miss, how should I put it…
For example myself… I don’t have a pension. Nothing. Look, I’ve worked 10 years at the collective farm and I worked at the livestock farm and I had an allotment of heifers, 26 of them. I cleaned the stable, I groomed them, I went to the pasture, during summer, I rounded them up into the stable, then I’d cleaned the stable after them, I watered them, but when I made it to almost 10 years… May it be forgiven, may it be forgiven, may God forgive my sins, when I was 42, I got pregnant, with child, God may forgive him... And I don’t know what it was, but one breast was hurting and I had surgery and after that I couldn’t go anymore to the collective to work, and I had 6 children. This man I was with was a drunk, was an alcoholic. He’d forget the bags with bread and whatever he carried in Zălau, that’s where he was commuting with the bus...
My mother-in-law was very kind, may God forgive her soul, but he was accursed, he was... the way he was.
I’m not from this village, but I was born here. I came here in this village in ‘65. Well, see, then, at the beginning, he wasn’t like this, for his mother was alive, and his sisters were alive then. And his mother showed me a great deal of respect, may God forgive her, for she was like a mother to me, his mother. But in vain was his mother kind--he wasn’t. Ever since I had this child, who works here at old Arpi’s… I said, “God, I can’t leave him and let my child be fatherless!” I said…

Well, then I stayed and stayed with him until I had 6 children. I kept on going away and coming back again... The last time, when he retired he was very accursed, he had... the fornication devil... I was not interested in those things. I was interested in having him bring home money, food, but the trouble was that he also beat me and he didn't like anything I did around the house. Often I’d run away with the children, to my mother-in-law in her hut, and we slept God knows where, on the floor, in the barn, and when he forgot himself into sleep I’d come back into the house... “Hey, stinky whore, where have you been?” I had a lot a lot of hardship. All my life I’ve never had happiness, ever since I’ve lived in this village.
Things went downhill for me, especially after I couldn’t work... I went to Zalău to collect a little bit of my pension, but I found out that I still need 1 year and 5 months to get something… 10 years and 5 months. If I pay my dues, 400 every month, then... When I reach those years then they give me a pension, how much I don’t know. I am 62 years old, since March 23.
I had my youngest, my baby, he was hired, he was my mercy and delight… [Cries] And when he was 20 years old and 1 month... he worked, he went and got himself hired, also with my agreementing… “Mommy,” he said, “I go and look for work.” “Listen, my baby,” I said, “don’t go, [Blows her nose] for you are too young for it, listen to me…” As if someone was warning me not to let him go. But he wouldn’t see eye to eye with me on that. He said, “Mommy, but what can I do, for you are ill and you aren’t able to work anymore. There they also give us vouchers, they also pay us…” and he got hired, my baby, and he worked, I don’t know, 2 or 3 years. And when it was in August, on 28... He went to work. I begged of him that morning on and on, “Ovidiu, may I kiss your dear hands, do not go!”—for I was taking care of an aunt of mine, and I got 3 millions, and I was happy. And I say, “The old woman is weak and we have to clean the place and she might die today or tomorrow…” “Mommy, leave me alone, we have to put sewage pipes in today,” he says “and we are only 3 men. The rest of the crew don’t come in”. So he left and when it was 2 and 20, they brought him out of the ditch dead, depth 4 meters and 20 centimeters, it was, and it wasn’t wider than that. [Makes a hand gesture.] There was nothing to support the sides of the ditch. There was a truck loaded with rocks passing by, and the earth trembled, and the earth crumbled over him. And it was only him and a 50-year-old man that were there. And he said, “Ovidiu, run!” he said, “Look, the earth falls on top of us!” But he didn’t have where to go, and right then the handle of the shovel pierced his stomach and a concrete slab, they’d broken the pavement with the jack-hammer, tumbled on his head... When they got him out of there he was like a 6-year-old child, he was entirely, entirely broken like beads. Like beads, broken to bits and limp, when they got him out and put him on the flowerbeds. No one showed him to me then. But suddenly I saw the newspaper and they showed on TV, but no one let me see him there, where it all happened. So I didn’t know that my child had died. No one told me how it really happened. Only that he broke his legs and was in hospital and when they brought him, they brought him dead in a coffin, my baby.
I have no support, no help from anybody; they don’t give me social assistance. I am married with this filthy accursed bastard… All these people know about it here. Social assistance they don’t give me. Pension... I have the right to get one but I don’t have the years, since I was operated and, I was the way I was, and I had 6 children, in my entire life. Now I live on what the other children help me with. One of them just went to help old Arpi. Yes! He also has a hard time, and lives only on unemployment… He has 2 months more and he has 4 children. One of them played with a bottle and a splinter flew in his eye, he’s blind, one of them. Another one, well, is a lost soul. The other one too, my daughter, has a 1-year-and-6-month-old little girl, she has three kids. That one, a while ago, poor thing, was born with falling sickness, epilepsy. All the time to Cluj, every single month she has to go there, to Cluj with the girl. Medicines, treatment, how can I expect from her? Even now, I walk about begging around the village to find work so I can buy a box of Dero detergent.
I walk about, to cut off corn stems, to hoe the gardens, to make planting beds, and... That’s how, with God’s help, I manage somehow. Those young ones who can manage… But see, since my baby died, I’m not able to do anything, I’m wasting away. If I hear anything, like the thunder, or if I hear... that... I get scared and I turn weak… I can’t anymore, I don’t know what to do. During summer, I try and go to hoe, as much as I can, to women neighbors, to women friends, as much as God helps me... and others take pity of me... “Come, Ileană, come here!” Auntie Nastasia gave me two or three jars of tomato paste. What can I do? I do what I can. What can you do, that's how it is... I suffered along ‘til I made old bones, old age.
He has a 7 million pension and... And if you’ve ever seen a penny from it, Miss, then I’ve seen it too. My baby, may God forgive him, often would say, “Give me 50 thousand!” before he got hired. “Go to your mother, since with her, to her, with her you get along well.” What's he doing with the money? There is a bar nearby our house. Daily, he buys his meals from there, he gets one or two beers, gets pălinkă/plum brandy, drinks, then goes to sleep, then gets up, drinks again, wakes up again... And he has two or three friends here in the village... If he doesn't go to their place, they come to see him. So he goes and comes, to and fro, all day long. And it's not only with me that he makes trouble, but also with the children.
Oh, what a circus was last night. That I should not live in the same house with him! In the house that I worked for together with him and we built that house together!
When I was pregnant with the oldest child, I didn't dishonor him, I wasn't a whore then. But now to him I’m a whore. He was in the sanatorium, he has TB, he has what not, but I didn't leave him. I stood by his side. But now that he has the money power, he plays me as he wants. I’m at his mercy. Now he wants to order me about, rule over me, to beat me, to boss me around… May God shit on the Sun!
I'm lucky that I stay at my sweet mother's house. My sweet mother in the other village where we lived before my stepfather died and she sold the house there and built another one here, so I live in that. My sweet mother died, she died. She died 6 years ago.
At times, the other villagers, May God have mercy and take care of them, for He has mercy of me and they take pity of me. I go and work, whenever I can. When is the time of porcini mushrooms, of button mushrooms, I often go picking mushrooms, I’d go to the mountains where I make more money.
During summer is very good, I manage during summer. But in the winter, and spring, like now, I barely manage, it's bad, until I get a bit of money. Well, it's hard, not hard, but very hard, until... Before when I go to the mountains, I gain money. But my legs don't serve me anymore, just look at my varicose, how they are. I go only nearby, others go far way, they make millions. I barely make three, four hundred a day, to eat, pay my rent, I’m left with one, two hundred. I’m glad for that too. We have not, this is my life. I wait for summer to come so the porcini mushrooms grow around here. I give them around here to my women friends. In return they give me slănină, bacon they give me cheese, eggs, they give me some money too, in the summer. In the winter it’s harder. In the winter I barely manage. 


Well, here you have it: If you’d like to throw a bit of money my way to keep my endeavors going, and also enable me to spread the money to my various causes, witnessing democracy, freedom of speech and faith, and engineering social change thru art being one of them, I’d be grateful.

New York,
July 24, 2013  

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