I was seven when I found out that Elvis had died. We were stopped at a barrier waiting for a freight train to pass when my mum hit us with the news. Of course, that meant nothing to me. That summer we were travelling all around the country in a beaten-down little bus with a faulty first gear. Our Siamese cat was crated and left in the back seat with me and the entire month we rolled the kilometers, he was car sick and vomited. He never once stopped complaining. I admired his tenacity. He would be hoarse by the end of the day. Every day. I tried to drown him out with cassette tapes of Glenn Campbell, ABBA, Bonnie-M, and a collection of insufferable “popular” Romanian music, played on a little Grundig Unitra transistor/tape machine.
We spent nights in monasteries, put up by strange Orthodox deacons or archangels or whatever these men with tall hats were called. It was a strange contradiction to process: religious houses littering the countryside of a totalitarian, atheist political system. My father listened in the dark to Radio Free Europe on short wave.
Some nights we got room and board with peasants in their modest homes. We paid with banknotes and bite-size Mounds candies. One of the villagers laughed at our Siamese and said he sounded like a newborn lamb. Toward the end of the summer we came down from the mountains and pressed into the Delta. We shat in holes dug into the earth encased in concrete, and watched over by nocturnal bullfrogs and mosquitoes the size of dragonflies.
The last night on the road we spent in a small village by the Black Sea. We were put up by a Russian-speaking peasant in a room dedicated to his deceased son, who had been crushed by a construction truck just outside the front yard. The room was adorned with photos of the boy, the funeral, and a close up of the open coffin.
My father laughed and fell asleep and snored. In the morning we ate papanasi and left for the city.