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December 2, 2022

In the land of “Everybody steals”

Iocan’s clearing (reference from a novel you, our dear English readers, have never read, but we just cannot help showing off with our national culture and we also keep forgetting again and again who our audience are, editor’s note) has moved to a games bar. The most enjoyable controversies on social and political topics last for RON 10 or 20 while fruit are running on the screens and the beat of fingertips outline an angry remark. In a cloudy and quiet morning, decorated with colourful autumn leaves in a commercial location in the outskirts of Bucharest, several warmly dressed pensioners start their everyday ritual:

“Sir, I do not like people such as Oprescu, Topoliceanu and Udrea, sir, people steal, but these guys just don’t know when to stop, that’s their problem!”, a chubby old man says. And boom, he hits the buttons. The reply comes instantly. “Alas, god have mercy of the society that admires thieves!” says another one, in great fashion. Boom, boom!

“Come on, sir, leave me alone, you have stolen, too. We have all stolen!”, the first man insists. Boom!
“Indeed, during Ceausescu’s time, it was like that. We were all stealing. A pen, a soap bar, tools from the factory, chairs from offices…”, a nicely looking lady says, who had recently reached the age of wisdom and was obviouslz bored by breaking news on TV. “Now, many of us refuse to admit, but we were taking things home. Thus, I had everything I needed. This is why I always say that things were better under Ceausescu. Well, except for food, because you could not find it, but we always brought something, especially school requisites. We were always exchanging them with neighbours and friends, and took what we needed of what they were stealing. We all did. Ceausescu was paying”, said she with a hearty laugh. Boom!

A gentleman who keeps missing the buttons due to his Parkinson’s makes an angry face towards the fruit on the screen and yells: “What would Romania be if there were no stealing?”
“So true!”, they all say and nod approvingly. “We were aristocrats now!”, the lady says. Boom!

They say nothing for a while, captivated by the view of the coloured fruit spinning unsuccessfully. A poorly dressed old man, wearing an outworn cap, shrunken shoes and thick glasses, is sitting at a distance, with his hands at his back, and looks at the players.

„They stole before the Revolution alright, but man how they stole during the Revolution!” he says. My God, I remember how people carried away chairs, cases, doors, anything they could from their jobs. Others were getting shot in the streets, in the centre, and in offices and factories everyone was stealing everything. Chairs under our bottoms, files. They even stole electric plugs and switches in our company. They seemed to take everything just for the sake of it. Because the militia was no longer there in the first few days”, he nostalgically adds.

He comes in every day to look at the players, the shop assistant explains me later, ever since his wife died because he had no money to properly treat her illness.
“I was a draftsman, sir, for 40 years. I am telling you, the entire country was stolen at the Revolution”, he continues.
“Yes, yes, it is true!”, they all yell. Boom, boom, boom.

“These guys nowadays are just the sequel to the things we have all done. These guys, Udrea, Oprescu, Ministers, politicians, judges kept being exposed on TV for having stolen houses, forests, huge amounts of money… these are just like us. Which is the difference? That they continued stealing from this country that had been already stolen. That is it. They stole from the people who had already stolen it. And this is why they got caught. And indeed, they did not know when to stop. Just like you do at the games!”, he says and a playful smile flickers from under the wrinkles of his unshaven skin.

The other people stop, turn around and give him a blaming glance. But they say nothing. Behind their contracted eyes, you almost see memories of past and present mistakes turning around in their heads just like fruit do on the screens. The pensioned draftsman is not intimidated and continues:

“Yes, you all know that old Romanian saying: “Who steals an egg today will steal an ox tomorrow”? Before 1989, Romanians were stealing little things. During the Revolution, those of them with a lot of nerve stole more, cars, houses, wagons, factories, fields, sports’ clubs – haven’t you seen? – tourists’ resorts, hotels and so on, you know… Then, they got greedier and greedier.
And what did their children, raised in this spirit, learn from them? To steal? To do dirty business with things they do not own and to live off other people’s backs. So, there they are, these guys are caught today. And there are so many of them. And there is more of it, soon!”, he says with a long sigh, as if he was glad not to experience the terrible future.

“We were stealing ourselves, that’s for sure. By stealing a pen or a soap bar yesterday, we arrived to this point, where we hardly make ends meet with our pension and we sit here in the games bar, while people of our age from other countries are traveling all over the world after they retire, because they can afford it. Because they did not trick themselves, they were honest, they put in serious work and each of them cooperated to make their country prosperous. So that each of them could earn what they deserved.”

A burdensome silence follows. The only audible sound is that of buttons hit with less enthusiasm and of wheels turning the fruit images of the engines that swallow time and thoughts about small pensions, unemployment, low wages, corruption, poverty, deprivations and death.

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