Mayor Amariei Zoltan didn’t understand anything anymore. He looked each and every one of them in the eyes, while making circular moves with his chubby hands and sighing:
- I don’t understand anything anymore.
He wasn’t one to yell every day. He just wanted to remind them, to Neagu Petrica, the vice-mayor and to the local councillors Popescu Edward and Stamate Cornel that, and the secretary was a witness, at the March meeting they had all agreed to the project and understood its meaning for the destiny of the commune of Sânceni.
- Didn’t we have a unanimous vote? And now?…
- We still agree, said councillor Mandache Ion. And we’re seven, so we have a majority.
- Yeah, majority…
All the problems came from the vice-mayor. She had informed them from the beginning of the meeting that she had tickets for Greece and then she’d visit her mother-in-law in Timișoara. That she couldn’t deal with “this phase of the project”. Hardly had she finished her sentence that Popescu and Stamate would hastily raise their hands, too, like pupils, letting everybody know that they, too, were going on holiday, but in Italy.
- And what message will we sand to our fellow citizens? You had to go abroad precisely this year, this year, you couldn’t wait?
- We have children, said Popescu Edward, then he shut up.
On the big conference room table, the A0 sheet of paper on which they had so affectionately added their ideas in March was now lying lifelessly. Right at its centre they had stuck a Xeroxed map of the county of Buzău: arrows pointing in all directions were stemming from it. On top, the secretary had written the title of the project in her elongated handwriting: The Transformation of the Commune of Sânceni in a National and International Tourist Centre. And now? Now no one wanted to get involved anymore.
- You agreed with me, resumed the mayor. We all went in the field. You agreed that it was the most beautiful commune in the county of Buzău!
- Well, to say the most beautiful…
The councillor who had spoken – the same who had fought it, although not that much, in March, too – was, to crown it all, in the same party as the mayor.
- Councillor Radovici Marcel, spoke the mayor out loud, to get it in the minutes, as well. Why isn’t our commune beautiful, councillor? Do you have some tickets to go abroad, too?
- I didn’t say it wasn’t beautiful. It is, how should I put it, cute.
The mayor felt his eyes welling up and he was ashamed of crying like this, like a child. He was hoping he wasn’t suffering from some illness. For a while now, injustice no longer infuriated him, like it used to, but rather subdued him.
- Have we no landscapes?
- Yes, of course.
- No hills?
- We have two! rushed-in the secretary.
- The Dead Man’s Hill isn’t really… all right, two.
- The river? Don’t you like it?
- Secuiciu? It’s fine.
- The county road? Freshly asphalted?
- And so?
- Mr. Mayor. I don’t know whether the secretary should write everything in the minutes – Yes, she has to! – because these are talks among us, we’re people – Let her write everything down! – all right then, but you should know that Sânceni, that we all love, right? – I know I do, I don’t know about you! – Sânceni isn’t really, it isn’t necessarily, I mean it’s nice, but it doesn’t have stuff. There are certain things in the county of Buzău that it doesn’t have. That’s the truth.
- What? What are you saying? What doesn’t it have? What?
Councillor Radovici didn’t know whether to take this further or not. The representatives of the ruling party were, of course, happy and he should have been on the mayor’s side. Maybe a private discussion? He looked at him and realised that it was no longer the case.
- Look, he said, standing up and gesturing above the A0 sheet. We were the ones who wrote down these things, in March. Just that then, it was… the trees were blooming and so on, we were all excited, but now it’s July, there’s a draught and we can see it’s a world of difference… between the communes in our county which have stuff and ours, which doesn’t.
- What don’t we have? What don’t we have? yelled the mayor. What changed our mind from March to July? This is how we lose the elections!
- Well, we can’t all lose them, said a voice from among the councillors of the ruling party followed by a deep laughter.
The mayor wanted to send the secretary for a glass of water to take his Aspacardin pill, but he resisted. He knew very well what it said on paper and thinking back, he was sorry that he had let them write down all that nonsense. And with red ink, too.
It seemed like a good idea back then, to inventory the tourist attractions of the county and see where you’re at, as a commune, between them all. Buzău has so many wonders! At the Pâclele Mici, the Muddy Volcanoes; the sculpture camp from Măgura together with the Ciolanu Monastery; not far from there, lies Poiana Pinului, not to speak of Sărata Monteoru. Councillor Radovici shows them on the map, then he let his closed pen slide along the red arrows to the text without saying a word. If he could, the mayor would have stuck that pen into his eye.
- No, councillor, we don’t have volcanoes, monasteries or sculpture. Where do you want me to get them? But since when are those mandatory for tourism? They’re not!
Still without saying a word, councillor Radovici would just touch one point after another: Joseni, the cold pole; Căldărușeanca, with its New Orthodox Church; Chiojdu, where there’s the House of Coats of Arms.
- I’m really glad you showed us Chiojdu, said the mayor. Forget about the coats of arms, I had tourists from Bucharest complaining that they went all the way there and it was closed. I mean you can’t do this in tourism. But you know how many guest houses there are in Chiojdu? I mean we also need private initiatives.
- Well who could open so many guest houses here?
- Here, councillor Stamate, I thought that the vice-mayor would open one when she built her house. But apparently I was wrong.
The vice-mayor, although taken by surprise, immediately insisted that she was going on holiday anyway, because she had already bought her tickets and then she’d go to Timișoara, to her mother-in-law’s. That it was her yearly leave and it would be illegal not to take it.
- And I remember our discussion from March very well, she said, just that some commitments were also made back then and they weren’t honoured.
- What wasn’t honoured? I honoured mine!
- They weren’t honoured and this is what brought us to this difficult position we’re in now.
The mayor resumed them point by point, raising one finger for each of them: the county road, asphalted; the town hall, painted; the central park, equipped with benches and dwarfs; tourist fliers, included in the budget; information centre, under construction. So what wasn’t honoured?
- I suggest, said the vice-mayor that the secretary take a break from writing down so that we can talk.
- Why should she take a break? What, is there anything to hide? I don’t have anything to hide!
- Mr. Mayor, as you wish, but I wanted to talk about… it was the proposal of councillor Parasconie, if you remember. That proposal that, you know.
- Ah. Ah. Right. Mrs. Secretary, you may take a break. If you want. I mean stop writing. Maybe you could bring me a glass of water? If you don’t mind. I’d take an Aspacardin pill.
- Yes now.
The secretary stood and left the room on her metallic heels tock-tock-tock. Power and opposition together watched her leaving and listened to her steps heading towards the restrooms. Finally, the mayor spoke again:
- Mr. Parasconie’s proposal, he said. A very interesting proposal, it’s true. But it was also honoured!
- How do you mean, Mr. Mayor?
- Vice-mayor, I have the unpleasant feeling that I’m being held accountable to you. As if you were the teacher and I, the pupil!
- No, I apologize, but you are wrong. We should hurry though, the secretary will come back with the water.
- I hope she’s smoking. If I sent her away, she’ll surely have a smoke. Come closer.
The twelve participants to the meeting – the councillors, the vice-mayor and the mayor’s two personal assistants – approached the big table and leaned their heads towards him. Mr. Parasconie, unfortunately, was absent.
- The idea was good and you should know I pursued it. Maybe I’m crazy telling you this, but Sânceni means so much to me that I pursued it.
- What proposal? asked councillor Armașu Gheorghe who had been away the entire month of March.
- You tell them, Mr. Edward.
- Mr. Popescu Edward, originally a Romanian language teacher, was by far the best at summarizing. The facts are the following, he said to his colleague, Armașu Gh.: even though Sânceni doesn’t have any strong point on the county tourism map nor does it lay on the route to somewhere, god damn it, because this is geography, we may still improvise.
- First, we thought of a monastery like the one in Căldărușeanca. People are crazy about monasteries. But it takes a while to build it and, honestly, it’s a bit risky. Also, the Metropolitan Seat will frown upon it. And so, in March, at the end of the meeting, the secretary had just left and councillor Pasconie, who’s on the web all day long, came up with a new idea. He said: why don’t we invent some magic and link our commune to these legends about Buzău? About people disappearing, rocks coming to life?
- How can rocks come to life? whispered councillor Armașu since he had married into the county of Buzău.
- Didn’t you hear about concrete?
- Concretion, man, not concrete!
- That’s right, concretion, didn’t you hear of them?
- I might have heard something…
- You didn’t, or else you would have known. These are some large boulders in the forest in that region, above Berca. Large and rounded. They’re called living rocks.
- Come on, man…
- Councillor Armașu, we are all grown-up people here. I didn’t say they were alive, I said they were called living rocks. So we could bring some of those rocks.
- And I did! said the mayor. Together with my boys we carried them like lunatics, at night, we brought three concretions with a truck and placed them through the commune. One in the park, one in the bus station and the third behind the town hall, by the bench.
- They’re a bit small said the vice-mayor.
- Small? They’re as heavy as hell and, if you must know, you’re not even allowed to take them out of the woods. All right? And I went in at night and brought them over in a truck.
- But you see, Mr. Armașu didn’t even notice them…
Silence fell over the group of twelve plus one. The secretary was probably smoking her second cigarette.
- The concretions aren’t even that important said Mr. Popescu Edward. What’s more important is the legend, the mythology. Take Bozioru, for instance.
- Give me a break with Bozioru, Sir…
- Why would I, vice-mayor? I think this is where we must focus our efforts.
Mr. Armașu had heard something about Bozioru, although he wasn’t born in our county. What exactly, that people are disappearing? he asked and some laughed, others waved their hands in disgust.
I have my mother-in-law in Bozioru and I’ve been waiting for her to disappear for twenty years now.
Ha ha ha – isn’t she coming back? – maybe she’s on the phone – but why are we hiding from her? – as if you didn’t know – ‘cause we’ll all go to prison, that’s why – bite your tongue.
At Bozioru people are disappearing. The magnetic poles are changing. You’re walking through the forest and you feel something down your spine. If you’re sick, you get healed. Or you vanish, pouf! all of a sudden. It did happen, several times. You touch the wrong thing and a portal opens. You’re leaving and you’re not coming back. Or you do come back, one week later, but you’re old. Or on the contrary, you show up young at some gate one hundred years later. This kind of stuff.
- Well… and… how can we… I mean kidnap people or…
- We’ve talked about all these in March! Now we repeat the whole meeting for Mr. Armașu, that’s too much.
- Patience, vice-mayor, because I also honoured this commitment. Like I said.
- Meaning? Be more specific, Mayor.
- Meaning! Meaning I used the force of the internet and I’m waiting for results any day now. Any day.
Assisted by his personal assistants, the Mayor took out his laptop from the briefcase and threw it in the middle of the table. It took a while for them to find an extension cord, but then they turned on the router and went on line.
- Wait till it loads… wait till it loads… that’s it. You go online, vice-mayor and look for the commune of Sânceni, county of Buzău.
- Yes, now.
The vice-mayor placed her turquoise nails over the keypad and started: S-a-n-c-e-n-i – write “commune”, “Sânceni commune”, or else there’s another town in Swaziland – where’s that? – somewhere in Africa, – so c-o-m-m-u-n-e – and also write “Buzău” – I am, I am – OK, are you done? Hit Enter – OK. Wooow…
An explosion of titles! Websites that they hadn’t necessarily heard of, but many and different ones, were writing about Sânceni. They would have wanted to click on every title and there wasn’t enough time, the secretary was about to return but they couldn’t wait to get to their computer at home and look. For instance: “In Sânceni, the Paranormal is at Home” (Cancan). Or: “The Dead Man’s Hill, a Tumular Dacian Structure?” (www.poatenuvaconvine.ro). How about: „The Rocks from Sânceni, Nature’s Cure for Rheumatic Diseases” (Formula As)?
- You sure put a lot of effort into it, Mayor…
- The whole family did, Mr. Armașu! The whole family, especially my wife.
- It’s so beautiful! I’m really touched.
- You should be, vice-mayor! What do you say? Still want to go to Greece?
- I do, because I have the tickets, but I’ll shorten it and no longer go to my mother-in-law in Timișoara, know this!
- Come home, we must welcome the tourists!
- That’s right.
- So it’s settled?
- Of course! The secretary is coming back.
Indeed, you could hear the tock-tock-tock of her heels on the corridor. The door opened and the secretary came in careful not to spill the glass of water. They were all looking at her. She was… it was late and they had to turn out the lights, all 100W lights? or maybe they had never looked at her carefully, but – here’s your water, mayor – her faced seemed to have exploded in one million wrinkles all of a sudden. Her chin was sagging. And that hand, as if made of ropes!
The mayor was staring at her while drinking his Aspacardin pill with big gulps of water. For the first time in his life, he forgot to thank her.
- You’re welcome, said the secretary.