text > Waiting (fiction)

When I was three years old, I lived with the grandmother and her mother. At noon we sat in front of the window and watched villagers going to “catch the 12 o’clock train.” All three of us followed each silhouette as it traversed the window glass mounted in a chunky wooden frame. When the figure disappeared behind the last molding of the frame my two old mothers began to speak. They discussed the village news, drawing inferences from the information collected from the surface of the glass. “Where would Maria travel today? Would she go to the city again? Why? To see her daughter?” If the villager did not carry any luggage then they knew that he or she was going to the station to meet someone. “Who? Is he going again to meet his son in law?” When the next person emerged from behind the white wall the interpretation abruptly stopped. We all waited for him or her to cross the cross-shaped frame of the window to resume the discussion. This was the first time I remember myself waiting.

Few years later I waited again in front of the window. I stared at the empty road waiting for my parents to come home from their work. When they had finally arrived I would wait for lunch. After lunch I waited for them to leave at once so that I could play where and how I liked. When I got bored playing I took again my place at the window looking at the road. During dinner, as I was eating, I waited to take my place in front of the TV. As my father followed the restless black and white news buzzing behind the thick glass of our old TV-set I waited for the movie. When the movie had finally started I began to wait for that part when the good character (who always happened to be the main one) revenged the villain. This always happened at the end. I knew this would gratify my awaiting parents and many, many other impatient viewers. But I could not fully enjoy the much awaited revenge because I was already nervously waiting for when the wooden box would start releasing the first line of the credits. And when they began to ooze slowly down – line by line – my parents both looked at me waiting in silence for me to stand up and go to my room. In bed I waited impatiently for the next morning.

Throughout the school years I waited a lot for the bell. The ring signaled my migration into another classroom, and offered also a short break before I could wait for the next forty-five minutes. The best waiting was when I was left to stare undisturbed at the window, but unfortunately some teachers needed my attention more than I did. For some classes, though, I enjoyed waiting. Particularly for those in which I had to take apart, and then to piece together an automatic rifle. I used to be also very impatient when I had to stand in the queue of those kids who were waiting to aim an AK-47 at a target, which conventionally stood for our class enemy on the top of one of our kolkhoz hills. In the physical education classes I was very unhappy when the instructor would stick me at the goal telling me to wait for the ball. I always preferred to wait in motion, in the case of running for instance. You wait anxiously at the line to catch the instructor’s signal and start running. And while I was racing sprint or long distance I always tried to get as fast as possible to the finish and wait there to see how other runners looked when they crossed that line. After classes I waited to be done with my homework. I waited for my parents to be convinced that my mind had committed to its memory the assigned numbers, formulas, years, poems, and ideas. Once persuaded they let me outside where I spent time waiting in one or another of the games that we used  to play. During these years I spent a lot of time waiting for the weekends. On Saturdays, we all waited for my father to finish polishing our white automobile at once and to go visit my aunt. While my father drove us seventy kilometers at the speed of seventy kilometers per hour I expectantly stared out of the triangular window trying to guess what present my aunt had prepared for me this time. When our car broke down, in the middle of the road, my mother went to inspect the area for a working public telephone. If we were lucky and she had managed to reach the engineer husband of my aunt we were all relaxed, waiting in our immobile automobile for my uncle to come and tighten the right screw.

I waited often to get sick and miss school. I remember how I envisioned myself lying in bed waiting for a cup of hot tea with honey. But when I did actually get sick I feverishly waited to get better. I spent a lot of my waiting drawing pictures of rifles, tanks, cars and princesses. Towards the end of my school age I began to learn how to paint, and while I was waiting for the first layer of the rough watercolor paper to dry I daydreamed about moving on to oil painting. Somebody had told me that it takes five, perhaps even ten times longer for the canvas to dry. I reasoned that in this way I could have had more free time to devote to art. I was very inspired by a painter called Repin, and many times I dreamed that one day I could paint just like him. In my childhood I waited for many things. I spent a lot of my time in my bed, shaking my sleep away so that I could more clearly envision many things that awaited me in the future, but the most desired of all was to grow old and mature at once, so that I wouldn’t have to wait anymore.

* * *

I don’t remember exactly when I grew old. Sometimes I think that it could have happened during one of those long nights when I was waiting to fall asleep. Or maybe after one of the awakenings as I was waiting for one of my dreams to recede back into the dark corridors of my mind? I don’t remember. For sure it couldn’t have been during my meals, because usually when I ate I bit, chew and swallowed as fast as possible anticipating the dessert, or my coffee, and when I was gulping my cake or sipping at my coffee with my burned lips, I was always looking forward to the after-meal smoke. In the course of roughly seven-minute intervals during which the red ember was dashing towards my lips (burning all on its way) I was already way ahead waiting to do something else, and when the fire, which had turned into ashes the last portion of rolled tobacco, began to go slowly out – frustrated with the incombustible synthetic filter – my other hand, which happened to be free, was already reaching for a book. As soon as I ran my eyes over its first page my hand was already waiting impatiently to turn it over. I must confess that while reading I often skipped entire syllables, words, sentences, paragraphs, pages, chapters, and volumes, and that sometimes I think with remorse that I approached some authors somehow from behind, which is to say that I started to read their work backwards, skimming through the last page in order to see what form of expectation they were offering. Those who were recommended to me I tried to read all the way through: but even then, my eyes, which were in charge of walking my mind along each line, often used to loose the leash letting my distracted mind to wander out into the distance making me, and my meaninglessly darting eyes wait in front of a white sheet of paper. My brain in the meantime had been plotting against me, making plans of its own: spreadsheeting, indexing, formatting and making (somewhere in the background) lists of other titles that it thought would have been of much more interest and benefit for both me and my awaiting eyes. When my eyes dragged it finally back to the deserted line, my mind pretended to obey and follow for a while, but in truth it waited only for my dulled eyelids to blink so that it could slink away, and from the distance to entice me with the idea of having another cup of coffee, another cigarette, or to cast an anticipatory image of my evening plans with my friends.

As soon as I had stepped into my friends’ apartment I was already looking forward to the drinks or the supper, and while waiting we engaged in various subversive disputes. We discussed, for instance, the D-Day when the authorities would release our central heating from behind the cold pipes, and for how long could one wait in such a cold. Once we lost patience and ran out into the streets to warm up, merging into a noisy crowd that was waiting for the collapse of the old regime. We lent our voices to the people. Shoulder to shoulder we shouted in unison while staring at the cops awaiting us as if wanting to know what effect our slogans were having on them; and if on that particular day the cops had been instructed with peace then their fidgety calmness was also having a sedative effect on us, giving us enough time to concoct a new slogan. When we were tired of shouting we took rests, discussing our expectations, and I remember how some speculated that soon the Americans would come and free us from a government that did not fulfill the promise of the time when we would wait no longer. When the old government finally left we waited for the new one that promised us a more responsive authority, and when it finally arrived we all beseeched it to put an end to our waiting. They assured us that they would do it, and even told us how. They would bring in freedom and democracy but not before a bunch of noisy Germans finished dismantling a Russian wall that stood in the way of this cargo. Until they broke down the barrier and cleared the rubbish they told us to remain patient and wait. Thus we all began to wait for that breach, and I was often trying to picture in my mind what kind of a hole our long awaited delivery would break open through that wall. We waited again but this time in front of color TVs that showed to me and some of my comrades (who later turned out to be Ladies and Gentlemen) with what passion those Osies sawed that fence up (piece by piece) and then, how they sold it (day by day) wrapped in nice souvenir paper supplied by the Westies. If you had told me, back then, that these little souvenirs would be soon used to erect other walls, I would not have hesitated to laugh in your face. Today I think that at that time, when the old government fell and the new one hadn’t arrived yet, may have been the most exciting time, but unfortunately I totally missed it while waiting.

Soon when the caldron of events began to cool down I spent most of my waiting alone or in very small companies and in a  more tranquil and civilized ways. I remember how once I waited for two red curtains to be lifted so that I – together with Estragon and Vladimir (assisted by Pazzo with Lucky and an entire audience of respectable looking people) – could wait for two hours for someone called Godot (who, by the way, never showed up); and at the end of the play, as I was waiting in the aisle dawdling towards the exit, I thought that perhaps that author had gotten me stuck for such a long time in that pink chair in order to make me recollect how many times I had been waiting throughout my life. But I could not accomplish this task at that particular time because as soon as I stepped into the foyer of the theater I had to queue up in the long line where I waited to pick up my coat. Occasionally, I have waited in museums – in front of the pictures – and, as I was dancing to and fro, trying to find the right distance from where (some claim) a picture begins to talk to you, I begged them to reveal me the truth – and one of them did. A dark squared surface informed me that there were other painters besides the one I already knew, and that I was perhaps wasting my time waiting to become a second Repin. That monochrome canvas also whispered me some other things, which concerned the unfortunate fate of painting in our times, suggesting also that perhaps I shouldn’t paint at all. But it let me decide. And I did. Of course I could not have made this decision unaided. I enrolled in an art school and there professional painting instructors taught me how to methodically curb my enthusiasm for painting, and after a couple of years of intense training and strict waiting we succeeded. In the end my desire for this fine art slowly dried out – moisturelessly and irreversibly – like a thick layer of oil paint on the canvases of the Impressionists. I was cured, and now I wish that I could somehow outwait my other cravings for artistic expression, and be able to produce whatever my mind fancies without pretences or expectations of being like somebody or of getting somewhere; to be able somehow to work like a farmer (out of sheer necessity) without fertilizing the unsown crop with anticipations of praise and recognition that have always contaminated the so-called artistic mind.

I was on so many waiting lists. I waited, for instance, to be waited on in restaurants by waiters and waitresses, who sometimes weighed me with their eyes as if I was a wait-a-bit thorn bush; I waited sometimes in the dark (with my hands on the steering wheel) for the cops to approach and illuminate me with their lanterns from behind, and then – enlightened  and with my eyes still squinting – I waited obediently for them to make sure that the identification number assigned to me matched the one they had been assigned to check. And while waiting for the verdict of the nightly law I often had those ticklish pinching sensations around my neck, which I used to get after I left the hairdressers, whom I had always suspected (together with the cops) of sincere indifference to my coiffure, for it seemed to me that all they wanted was for me to pay and leave them alone with their records and my hair on the floors. I waited many times to have my feet measured so that they would fit into new pairs of shoes listed in various retailers’ inventories, and I had also my feet checked for warts, ulcers, flatfoot and other known and unknown lists of abnormalities, and lately scanned, x-rayed, examined, and inspected for explosives and other sources of ignition. I waited so many times for stipends, salaries and paychecks from the payrolls computed, completed and approved by both capitalist and communist employers (never by anarchist), and I wish I could one day wait for my payment with the same faint smile with which I watched for the first time how a washing and drying machine whirled and spun my dirty and soaked clothes for almost two hours. For two years I waited for Sunday morning to be given an egg and a piece of butter (half the size of that egg), and while waiting for the strictly portioned proteins I always made sure that I crossed off in my mind another week before that day when the army would save my portion of Sunday yolk, and discharge me together with my fighting skills. I have waited in my life for programs, courses, plans, directions, reports, rapports, judgments, decrees, opinions, conclusions, evaluations, grades, compliments, events, games, cars, barbarians, planes, husbands and wives, sons and daughters; for potatoes, bread, beans, oats, rice, fish or meat; for wine, vodka, samagon, tuica, tequila, water, hot chocolate and tea; for faxes, packages, and letters. More recently I have waited for the remote server to accept my username and password in order to inform me of those who still want to keep in touch with me as well as for the most recent scientific solution for increasing my pen1s, t00l, schl0ng or luv 0rgan – something which I keep postponing. I have waited for inspiration, encouragement, revelation, insight and wisdom. How many times have I waited desperately for just one single phone call, from someone who had stopped waiting for me, and while waiting for the ring I was calling to mind all those times when I had ceased waiting for someone who was still waiting to hear from me. But this is not all. I also waited for George, Gheorgi, Gregory, Ghita and Grisha, for Christian, Kristine, Christopher and Chris, for Silviu, Silvia, Silvian and Santa Claus, for Tanya, Tatyana, Ala, Alena, Evangelos, Fred, Ron, Dan, Ann, Stefan, Arthur, Kapur , Anna and Adriana, and for many, many other names. At one time or another I have waited for all days of the week but most often I waited for Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays; I waited for dogs to bring me the stick, for cats to begin purring when I patted them, and for calves to lick my hand with their rough tongues. Not to forget all the blood tests and X-rays, all the prescriptions and the vaccines, all the extractions and the fillings I had waited for. How many times have I waited for elevators to open and close their doors and then to either lift me up or bring me down, except for a couple of times when they got stuck and kept me captive. And while I was waiting in between the sky and the earth to be rescued I tried very hard to entertain my claustrophobic mind remembering how many times I had waited in cues to be weighted, in waiting rooms to be cued, in cantinas for borsch, in traffic for my exits, in libraries until 8:00, in buses for conductors, in subways, stations, antechambers, shopping malls, lobbies, atriums, lodges and lounges, depots and department stores. Many times I have waited with a silly smile or without it to be blinded (for a fraction of a second) and then to be captured by German, American, Soviet and Japanese-made photo cameras of both analog and digital circuits. Then I waited again at doors, gates, corners, and tables, at noon and dawn, at loading and offloading areas, at dentists, visa consulates, stadiums, and entrances in the zoos; under bridges and pressure, under balconies, staircases, birches, pines, tables, rain, snow, stars, and surveillance cameras; in between sessions, interviews, exams, ads, rides, songs, cars, passing trains; among trees, cows, tents, barracks, agents and crowds, foreigners and locals, students and professors, solders and generals; behind bars, doors, walls and grills made of iron or glass, behind bushes and parking lots; I waited with despair and hope, with anxiety and serenity, with open and closed eyes… I waited on couches, stages, bicycles, country roads and highways, borders, corners, docks, and on the weather, I waited all through storms and rains, minutes, hours, days, months, and years, through the darkness of the night and the brightness of the day; through call-waiting services listening to Chopin and Vivaldi; I waited for, in, at, on, under, before, through… in short aided by most of the available English, and other languages’ prepositions.

I am still waiting. I am waiting for my mothers to stop waiting for the time when I will “put some flesh on my bones,” and I am still waiting for my father to be proud of me. Sometimes I wish I could wait with the same passion, purpose, and belief that my waiting will be rewarded as I did when I was little. Back then I knew that the ice cream I was waiting for was really, really good, and it really was. I knew that if I waited to grow old I would be happy because I would have nothing to do anymore with childhood – the category against which those who had grown up had affirmed for centuries their adult hegemony. I waited with passion for the end of this oppression, but when I thought that it had finally arrived, sneaking noiselessly like a thief, I began to miss that innocent state of mind that believed so sincerely in the promise of waiting. I had tried to imitate it, but it didn’t work. It was restrained by all kind of impediments that I was taught to accumulate and cultivate for years. Now I often think that perhaps I haven’t grown old yet, and that perhaps instead of going back I should just keep going forward and become indeed mature through learning – like one of those old-day arhats anchored in the shade of a tree –  how to master the tricky art of waiting.

 

Octavian Esanu, 2007