Bogdan-Alexandru Stănescu (born in 1979) has been the coordinator of Biblioteca Polirom (the most prestigious foreign book collection in Romania) for the past 11 years. He writes book reviews for one of the best Romanian cultural magazines, Observator cultural. He is the founder and president of the only independent international literary festival in Bucharest, FILB (www.filb.ro).
Bogdan-Alexandru Stănescu wrote four books: two books of essays- Enter Ghost. Imaginary Letters to Osip Mandelştam (Cartea Românească, 2015); What holds us apart. Letters from Manuc Inn (co-written with Vasile Ernu, Polirom, 2010), and two books of poetry: And then, after the battle, we caught breath again (Cartea Românească, 2012); AnaBASis (Cartea Românească, 2015).
He co-authored more than five anthologies of short stories, and translated from the works of Tennessee Williams, James Joyce, Sandra Newman and Alberto Manguel. He won The best young writer award in 2015. He holds a PhD in Romanian literature and is an associate assistant at the University of Bucharest, Faculty of Letters.
He posted himself behind me and he was touching me with his chest, and while speaking I could smell the rancid stench of roasted sunflower seeds coming out of his mouth and creeping through my hair, going down over my face and then onto the two joysticks of the machine, there, in that barrack with two Aracade slots, a Formula 1 game, and the other, a kind of a soccer game played by eight fat minions, but the thing is that no one would play the Formula 1, it was only the soccer drawing a small crowd around the player, for we usually had no money, so we just stood there and made some bets around the chosen one – a game was worth 1 leu, and you got to play twice for that money, but the important thing was to win, so that you could climb the ladder in the Cup and practically play for free, especially that in the beginning you would play against shitty teams, like Wales or Bulgaria, but while you advanced it became harder and harder, so in the finals you would always fight against Argentina or Brazil, – the boys from block B claimed that Traian had once got to the finals and that he even held the lead for a while, 1-0, but the Argentinians finally screwed him 3-1, but Traian had the money to play a lot, for he worked at the small boats and on Fridays old George would pay him so he could afford to go to the ladies, but meanwhile this barrack with Arcade games arrived in the park, here, right next to the small water boats, so Traian was here all day long, with his cool jeans that his brother had sent him from Germany, with their grass stained knees, but really cool, and he was pushing the buttons all day long: from time to time you could hear a young mother asking whether there was anyone working at the water-pool, because her brat wanted to go into the little boats, and only then he would swear between his teeth and let one lucky guy finish his game, so, I had come here last Saturday, with Dad, when he was allowed to take me, once in two weeks, and he appeared at our door without a car, because they caught him driving with a pair license number, so we started together through the park, from Brâncoveanu to Tineretului, a little too quiet, because he had another ugly fight with mum, in the doorway, because my mum and grand-mum had prepared me the entire week to let him know, when he comes, that I don’t want to go with him, that he’s a ”Sunday father”, and this one’s face got deep red, there, on the stairs and he turned back, with his moustache getting all puffed, he rang the bell and left me in the hallway, while he went inside to fight with my mother and then I held my cheeks in my palms very tight, for they were burning and I felt a knot in my throat, maybe because I was ashamed as those had not been my words and I knew they would hurt him and I still said them, though I liked to go to my Dad’s on Saturdays and Sundays, one in two weeks, because he had a car and he let me, from time to time, hold the wheel while sitting on his lap and he had a video-player and I would watch The Jungle Book or Robin Hood or, the luckiest scenario, Star Wars, which I had first watched at Sala Polivalentă, where they would play movies once a month and there was a huge crowd inside, because the entire neighborhood was going there, but it didn’t matter, we went there, all the boys from my block and we would scream and shout in the dark, and when Princess Leia was in Jabba The Hutt’s lap we began to whistle and those older than us, who already knew life because they already used to go with Doina from the second floor behind the garbage cans and feel good together, they started these long talks, asking themselves about how might Jabba’s dick look like and whether it hurt poor Leia, but all these only happened once a moth, while at my Dad’s I used to rewind and see all three episodes again and again, a few times a day and his wife would bring me food at the living room table, but all these don’t matter too much now, as a childhood wound which you had cared for with disinfectant and bandage matters when you’re in a battlefield, bullets flying around your head and so on, the important thing is that Dad finally came out and Mum stood there, in the doorway, looking at me with anger, maybe because I had not recited my poem in a convincing manner or maybe because my shame was showing and Dad took my hand and he almost pulled me towards the elevator this time and then we decided to cross the park again, as it only takes us about fifteen minutes and we can also stop at the amusement area inside, where you can find the House of Horrors, the one with huge barrels revolving with you inside them and a plastic crocodile which comes out of the dark but doesn’t scare anyone, especially me, who know that I go there with the boys and they let us in for free, because Traian also worked there one summer, and when we get to the bridge area we bet money on trying to spit the poor crocodile between the eyes, so that his brow is covered with some white, translucent stuff now, but Dad is unaware of these things, so we walk through the park hand in hand and I show him the games barrack and wonder what that could be, and there is no one in the park as it is Saturday and all the blocks in the neighborhood are deep in silence, the drivers have finished their night shifts and hold their children indoor to talk to them about their homework and to hold them by their necks with their big, calloused hands, in those very discreet and rare gestures of tenderness that come out in their world, so there is no one in the barrack except a small dirty gipsy boy from D block who starts grinning when he sees me and then becomes serious again when Dad comes in and pays him 5 lei and I grab the controls, not being able to understand a damn thing at first, but then I get it and choose Japan, because they wear blue t-shirts and blue is my favorite color, so I grab the joy-sticks and start dribbling, lose one player, then the second, I turn around and start towards the enemy field and It turns out that if you press the red button your player gets an infusion of gasoline in the ass and you gain super-speed, and I get it and there I am, in front of the goalkeeper, inside the penalty area, all the others are behind me, the goalie is coming for me, I dribble him as well, go past him and score. I get inside the goal together with my big ball, and there is a burst of firecrackers, confetti, bombs on the screen, there is a triumphant tune playing and I feel this strange heat inside me, that I can only feel on my birthdays, when my mum wakes me up and smiles at me, caresses me, spoils me and I know that she bought something for the occasion, and I’m totally into guessing what, but now the feeling is even stronger, I know I’ve done something really cool, I take a look at Dad, who’s smoking a cigarette outside the barrack, so he’s not watching, the crow selling tokens is picking his nose, so I’m all alone with my victory, I start playing again and I lose 6 to 1, for all my other dribbles where not good anymore, the others are passing the ball, but I don’t like to pass, I only like to take the ball and simply go with it, but that only worked once, so that’s what happened then and after that I asked for money the entire week, from Dad, from Mum, I saved from shopping, I stole from grand-mum’s purse and I raised the 5 lei, which meant five games and I dreamt the whole week about how I am going to be alone in the barrack and chose Japan again because of their blue shirts with yellow stars and I will win the ball and dribble everything and everybody, only using my right hand joint, till I am again alone with their goalie, I fake that I take the shoot to the left and I press really hard, a power shoot, to the right and I will hear that victorious tune again, but when I got there on Saturday Balkan was already a the place, and the twins, Petrică and Cristi, with their mother who would never say hello, and their father who really looked lie Jabba The Hutt and worked for that factory of sports materials designed for export from Cuza Vodă Street, from where he smuggles soccer Adidas shoes, professional ones, with spikes, that they use to play on the asphalt area behind our block, and they look like women running on heels, like Mum in her wooden-sole high-heel shoes that she uses inside the house, especially in the summer, and especially when she’s angry, but Petrică and Cristi are good players, even with their spikes on cement, and they also wear identical sweat shirts with a drawing of the Glaucos snake on the chest, so these three were already there, chewing sunflower seeds with the crow from D block, and there also was Korea, from the ITB block, whom we call like this because he really looks like an actor from Sister 13 or The Poney-tail Fighters, so I get in there, I discretely go along the walls and I signal the crow to come to me but they all gather around me then, what’s up, Bobi, do you have money?, I do have 5 lei, I tell them and I ask the crow to exchange them for 5 tokens and I build up a small tower out of them next to the joystick, as I have no pockets, the big, copper 5 lei token having been carried in the palm of my hand and I would bet my hand smells like copper rust now, so I arrange the little tower next to my right hand, I pick up the first token and put it in, I choose Japan and I get to play against Bulgaria, which I’m sure to destroy, I quickly win the ball, start to dribble really well, to bemuse my opponents, I can hear Balkan, making comments from behind, saying Oh, he is playing so well, look at him and he’s coming into me, closer and closer, I cannot enjoy my dribbles anymore, nothing works out, I feel I don’t even like the game anymore, I feel hot and I also feel something I cannot understand, it is quickly 3-0 for them and towards the end I can feel someone putting a finger into my ass-hole through the sweatpants, I turn to this one, grinning all the time and chewing his sunflower seeds, with a piece of husk on his right canine, what’s wrong with you, man? Are you a faggot? What’du’ say, man? he pretends to be resentful of my accusation, this is how they usually act when they want to start a fight, they pretend to have been hurt in their delicate feelings and he smacks me in the face with his head, I felt swarms up my nose, tears come into my eyes, I bend over and he hits me one more time with his knee, right in the face, I can hear voices all around pleading for me, Come on, Balkan, leave him alone, he’s finished, Why is he calling me a faggot, huh? I only want to pick up my tokens and leave, but when I get up he is already at the machine, with the third token in hand and he is surrounded by a wall of shoulders and that’s when I get it and I go out, in the sun, I refrain myself from crying and I start swearing at him, cursing all his relatives, his pig-ugly sister who’s being fucked by the entire school, his black gipsy father who comes at night driving a huge cement truck and parks it behind the block, coming down from it dead drunk, and say all these because I know he will not get away from the machine, till I cool down and my hands stop shaking, and then I get back in and I creep besides the human wall to see how he’s playing and he’s playing really well, he can pass, he has already defeated two teams, he has little left till he gets out of the qualifiers, but this is not interesting to me anymore, I just look at his face, at that nose of his always running and his yellow teeth, like those of rats coming out from behind the garbage bins, that we chase and kill and then we use as soccer balls and the actual purpose of the game is to hit the other with the rat high enough to disgust him, so I stand and stare at him until he sees me and spits at me, calm down, boy, you’ll get other money from your Daddy, and I can see the others grinning, meaning they agree, and so I stand there, watching him play with my tokens, my nose aches and needs to be scratched where he hit me and through the open barrack door I see a ray of sunlight like a knife coming in, and its sharp tip is coming closer and closer to the center of the room, I go out and wait there until they finish and we act normal, and then Korea has this idea that we should go to the small bridge and bathe in the lake, but first we should pick up cherry plums next to the public swimming pool, so we go through the green fence, we cross the railway, Balkan slaps a small kid passing next to us, that one remains silent and keeps going, I walk behind Balkan and stare at his shoes, with his big toe coming out with its long and broad, filthy nail, and when we get to the plum cherries, I make a ladder with my hands for Cristi, who gets up in the tree and starts collecting the fruit in the hem of his shirt, cause we got no bag and when his t-shirt is almost full he comes down carefully with our help and we grub those plum-cherries in plain sun and then we go to the fountain and drink fresh, fresh water, the twins start a farting contest and Balkan walks like a king in front of us, he’s got the king’s share, at some point he stops and offers me some, Have some plums, will you? I gratefully take them from his big, dirty hand, and my teeth ache, tears come back into my eyes, like when he smacked me with his head, but now it’s nice because at the edge of the lake, among the willows, sprouts the iron-framed bridge and I know that sometimes, at the base of it, some turtles come out and sunbathe but now I pray that they be cautious, as I know what these guys would do to them, and along the shore there is a tall wild grass growing, with white flowers that make me sneeze and my eyes sting, the lake water is covered, for half a meter, by frog foot and there are wooden planks missing from the bridge, so you must be careful when you step, and I am careful, really careful, Cristi and Petrică already got rid of their clothes and now they hang from one of the bridge’s planks, in their white underwear, and I remember that my mother told me the bottom of the lake used to be a cemetery and that from time to time a skull would come out of the water, so I keep my clothes on, and sit down in the wild grass, watching them jump in the water, splashing, while I still chew on my plum-cherries, my eyes fixing Balkan who stands there, completely naked, in the middle of the bridge, till and old hag passes by and he starts waving at her his black prick, looky here, mam, looky what I got for you!, that one turns her eyes away in disgust and passes on, so he gets up, on the bridge’s rail, right in the middle, where it’s bent, curved and where the water runs deeper and so he stands naked, upright, dark skinned, with his face like that of a dead lamb’s, looks grinning at me and I smile back at him, the other three stopped their splashing, we can only hear the frogs grunting like hogs, he puts his hands forward, along the ears, for the jump, brings them along the body, balances on his toes and takes the jump, remains there, in mid-air, for a long moment, draws a half-square on the blue sky, and perfectly brakes the water while I close my eyes, maybe because of him, maybe because I have a green plum-cherry in my mouth, and when I open them I see his legs coming out of the dark green water, with his knees bent, between them I see his flabby prick hanging towards the place where his head is supposed to be, but bellow, or above, his belly-button his body is under the water and it just hangs there, impaled, as if time has frozen, like when I press the Pause button on the VCR remote and I get that flashy stripe on the bottom of the screen, only that instead of the stripe there are red bubbles coming out of the water, together with something oily, yellowish and I can hear, What’s he doing, man?, and after that Petrică and Cristi and Korea can only repeat man, hey, man! and come out of the water shaking and we just stand there watching those legs surrounded by red water and by something white and yellow and I think of Captain Grant’s children and how, during a powerful storm they spilt a few barrels of oil around the ship in order to calm the waves and I feel a deep shiver starting to rise from my ass-hole, up the spine and stopping somewhere in the back of my head and I start shaking again, even though I have no plum-cherry in my mouth, only a sour kernel.
Translated into English by the author.