N  a  p a  l  m     H  e  a  l  t  h     S  p  a  :     R  e  p  o  r  t     2  0  1  1


After the Fall

They laughed when I told them I was afraid of the guns in the hands of young soldiers gathered in threes and fours on the corners of the streets.   Like children playing dress up in shabby uniforms three sizes too big, cuffs rolled up, they held their rifles casually against their thighs, or slung over a shoulder while one hand held a cigarette, another an open beer.  Their disdainful looks belied their age, high on power, if not the beer.
“In my country the guns are kept hidden,” I said, “and we pretend they don’t exist.”
My friends laughed not unkindly and gave me patronizing smiles as if their wisdom surpassed mine in ways their ages did not.  They pointed out bullet holes in the walls, and talked of friends shot by tanks in the very streets we strolled.  Their sadness seemed overshadowed by pride.  “You have no real history,” they said.  The soldiers watched as we walked by.
On the wall in University square the bullet holes were low.  Chest high, I reached out to touch one and knew they had aimed for the heart.  A helicopter flew overhead, and Dan laughed and said “Pat, I’m sure there are guns up there, too.”  The others ducked their heads and danced with linked arms, giddy with their freedom.
They spent the whole trip back to the village gently mocking my fear.  “It is as if you are afraid of bread,” they said, pointing their unfiltered cigarettes like bayonets as if to drive home their point.  I didn’t mind their jokes, but felt humble and ignorant.  I could no more understand their perception than I could their native language, although I was trying to pick up some of both.
The conversation turned as always to food.  The boys especially were always hungry, and discussed it as if words could fill the void.  But all talk ceased when a black sedan with darkened windows drove slowly down the road, stirring up dust in its wake.
The silence was filled with the smell of fear, and I saw they pretended, too.

Romania, 1991