“We are standing here like idiots, we are crammed in these queues, as if we were nuts, to pay our taxes. Do they know what is it like here? sighs a plump lady in her late 40s, annoyed and sweating, with her tension obviously well above regular values.
“I know, I know… But what do they care? They are only interested during elections. Afterwards, they see they got the chairs and they forget us, poor people, who pay their wages”, the voice of another woman is heard. She is holding the hand of a child who keeps pulling her on and on towards the entrance door and she is struggling with all her might to lie to him it only takes a little bit more.
In the long dark room, decorated with small round windows of offices left and right, the atmosphere resembles Purgatory and everybody caught in the middle is waiting in lines for their turn, to find out whether they will happily step on the ground of people who have solved their problems in this world and are accepted in a better world, or, worse, whether they are about to get swamped into a black and frightening pit and they will not come out anytime soon. Perhaps never.
It seems that all of us are in a kettle, where the water boils and it whistles desperately, yet nobody puts out the fire, nobody comes to plan things, nobody grants any explanations or comfort.
People wait, they rub themselves against other people, they share the scruff on each other’s clothes, the smell of perfume or perspiration and drops of saliva, they elbow one another’s soft parts, they step, first of all in a shy manner, and then almost deliberately, on each other feet, as if hoping that the other would feel defeated and leave home, promising himself to return the next day, with fresh forces and a new level of training. Yet, few people give up. We give each other compassionate stares, and also share hatred; we are strangers forced to stay too close to one another, united by the state and its strange rules. Bureaucracy – Connecting people.
Lost in our thoughts, impatient, alert not to let anyone else leave us behind, we await our turn as if we were cattle queued up for milking, to give our country the occasion to tax our modest income.
“We are standing like cattle”, says a young man suddenly, as if he had read my thoughts, likely inspired by the earlier bustle in the crowd. “Nobody knows what happens in the queues to the offices of state institutions. Nobody. They only make laws for themselves, not for us. Every Government promises to eliminate bureaucracy. In Romania?? Ha! No chance! Everything seems to be made to confuse you more and to discourage you… We are humiliated, this is the truth!”, he says in an increasingly louder voice, crammed between two elderly people with lively eyes, who, nonetheless, lack the force to say anything. They might be tired after so many queues they had been standing in.
“The devil made me start my small company. This is what I get in return, they keep me walking all day long. I do not understand a thing”, the brave fellow continues, then he realises he went a little bit over the top and he shuts up. The people around him nod approvingly.
“We have new Ministers. As if they will do anything at all. We will continue standing in queues just like this”, a lady adds in a voice that reveals hope had died a long time ago.
A burdensome silence follows, broken only by whispers at the windows and the rustle of hundreds of papers caressed by fingers as if they were fragile crystal objects. They are priceless in this place, where the entire Universe is moving around them.
“Hey, hey, lady, the line is here!”, a yell is suddenly heard. “What are you doing, are you pushing yourself into this girl?” a gentleman sporting a moustache, propped in crutches threateningly asks. “Say what, do you think we are stupid? Stand in the line!” he continues.
“No, I just wanted to ask something”, a girl shyly admits; she has just entered the small jungle and immediately withdraws to be back of the room, with fearful steps. Her gaze reveals she is unable to comprehend what was going on. How could she understand this chaos?
The room with offices and stale air is crowded with people, stories and revolt. It is the same revolt that dominates the country as well. Silent, contained, turbulent, bursting out too rarely, in a sadistic and savage manner, just to return against to its depths, awaiting, enduring the humiliation of bureaucracy.
Life at the office window is a parallel to reality. It has its incomprehensible rules, rules you may only learn by going with the flow. There, time goes by in a clepsydra of different flow; the laws of the country and of common sense are rewritten, people lose their humanity, they bite people next to them and the window between the civil servant and the tax payer becomes an abyss – border neither smiles, nor fists may pass.
Everyone feels the state is stepping on their toes. Nobody gets as much as an once of respect. Nothing goes fast and efficiently. Civil servants are rude and bored. Nobody smiles – they have no reason – and enthusiasm has vanished a very long time ago – if it ever existed. There are two realities on the two sides of the office window. Two realities of the same country.
While new Ministers are getting off the luxury cars they are provided after their recent appointments and get installed in the luxury offices of Ministries, ordinary people are crowded at office windows for hours in a row, for days in a row, for the sheer reason that they want to act legally, that they want to be honest to the Romanian state.
As a reward, they are sent from one institution to the next, in various parts of town, from one chamber to the next, from one officer to the next, holding huge piles of documents they have lost track of for a very long time; their dignity is crushed, their time is wasted, not to mention health risks.
They know nothing about each other. Neither do Ministers of the people at the queue, nor do people at the queue of the Ministers. Each of them has their own Universe, their world, and for 26 years, nobody managed to build a bridge that could connect them.
“Is there in any other country such humiliation, as it is in Romania, in this line?”, the man beside me rhetorically asks in an exhausted voice. “I wish to find out. And to never return…”, he firmly adds.
The echo of his words floats in my mind.
The bureaucratic chaos is still spreading itself all over Romania, fed by ourselves, by our common lack of reaction when we are crushed by a giant consisting of laws and papers, a giant we allow to perpetuate.
Romanians are still hoping. They are hoping that the new Ministers, the highly desired technocrats, will simplify the life of regular people, that they will help civil servants recover their enthusiasm and taxpayers their dignity.