I met him on a hellish summer’s day, too hot, too little shade, too much sun in front of his house, where there was once a walnut tree. He cut it down. It made me sad.
I find Trifu alone, in a good mood, very young in his old age, full of je-ne-sais-quois. I bring him cherries. I offered to be his personal supplier of summer fruit. I am curious about him, he is curious about me. He spends many evenings on the internet, chatting with other writers or poets about … about literature, the local dialect, naive painting. He has painted and documented in writing all the customs in Uzdin, he is the kind of man who keeps quiet and acts. And he loves to tease women.
These are men who have a natural charm, you can’t take offence. When I first came to his house, I brought him cherries. He told me there was another woman in his life who brought him cherries. The second time I went, I didn’t find him at home. I left him two peaches and a handwritten note at the gate. Your fruit supplier looked for you and couldn’t find you. She’ll try again. The third time I found him at home. He showed me the note in my handwriting, but transcribed in his own handwriting, so he could understand it. He had cherries in the freezer, he had prepared them for me. So, let’s begin. You’ll meet Trifu Șoșdean and some episodes of his life.
He was eating the cherries with great gusto, Trifu. He was willing to talk about anything except the war.
Shall we start with old age or youth?
First we were young and then we were old. Let’s start from the beginning.
I’ve pricked up my ears.
That’s not necessary, they’re pretty as they are.
Were you born here? In Uzdin?
And your name is Trifu?
Trifu Șoșdean, that’s what they call me.
The parents are long dead. I was 8 years old. I grew up with my great-grandfather. He put me through school, then I got married, I did my military service. I married a neighbor. Because in those days, you married whoever your parents wanted, not who the girl or the boy wanted. On Sundays you go to the dance and marry Adam or God knows who else. I wasn’t in an arranged marriage. I’m a mechanic for agricultural machines. I’m very content now, nobody asks me about my business. I got on very well with my great-grandfather, he fought in the First World War, he was a prisoner in Russia, he spoke 5 languages.
I have not been abroad. I was not curious. I speak Serbian and the local Romanian dialect. At school I had a passion for technique, I took a course as an amateur photographer. I was curious about that too. And I wanted to make money. To take a photograph back then was a skill. Everything was done mechanically, the applying of ink, the retouching.
And starting from photography, you went on to painting?
No. I was good at drawing in primary school. I would draw portraits because I had no money and I would get money. At school I continued with technical drawing. They didn’t want leaves and nature there.
The landline rings and rings. Trifu doesn’t answer.
I married a woman who left her husband. On March 24 we got married, then I went back to finish military service, I worked in the economics department with 12 women. That’s where I learned my nonsense. Only one of them knew I was married. Life is funny. My wife was the one who started painting. She painted flowers and motifs from the traditional vest. I picked it up from her. She must have made 30 paintings.
That’s how many paintings there are on all the walls of the house, a permanent exhibition of the Uzdin of yesteryear.
I notice now, as I write, that in less than 8 minutes Trifu gave me a summary of the first part of his life. Enough talk about that.
Branco the Terrible. He spent a night with him. He gave him so much money that he was able to buy a nice pair of pants with them. He asked Trifu to take pictures of him and Trifu took about 100. The next day he found out he was a great assassin, he had even killed his own brother, and Trifu had spent a whole night with him in the darkroom.
Trifu also took up writing poetry in the local dialect. He saw that others were writing, but in everything he painted or wrote, it was always about Uzdin. What happened in the 1950s.
The landline phone rings again. It won’t let leave him alone.
The threshing machine, the café, sleighing, sheep at the watering hole, a storm, digging, drinking țuică, at the gate in Uzdin where there was healing water, rag-ball football, children in New Year’s masks, christening, workshop, unloading the corn, sheep at the watering hole, undoing charms, nighttime in the fields, the barns, jumping over the St. John’s fire, when you had to jump over the light.
The barns are empty now, they only keep inside the wind.
I went into another room, I found two big dolls on the table, one was dressed as a bride, the other one as a wife in holiday costume. I asked for explanations.
What’s the difference between the bride and the wife?
What do you mean? After the first night she becomes a wife. And she’s dressed differently.
My neighbor used to make charms. I used to climb the mulberry tree and listen.
Yellow boil, green boil, red boil, black boil, he’d string together all the animals and say boil in 99 ways, with a knife I cut you, with salt I salted you, go to Măria or whatever her name was, go to the wilderness, where the dog doesn’t bark, where the baby doesn’t cry, where I can’t remember what else happens …. a man remembers so much nonsense to pass on.
Here the women were dangerous.
Now I live alone. I even put out a book of poems. ONCE UPON A TIME, LONG AGO. And here are my wife’s paintings. They used to be covered with a curtain.
Am I allowed to smoke a cigarette in here?
You can smoke two.
What’s different about this book? It’s published in manuscript, handwritten. It’s still a satire, with stories exclusively from Uzdin about what happened here. [In the past] I was busy with work, with the field, with the two children, in my spare time I worked for a private business. I couldn’t paint or write.
Don’t put any more nonsense into your heads. There is no illness.
In 2019 my wife died. For two and a half years we struggled with her illness. Viorica was the wife. 57 years of marriage, we lived them to the fullest. You know how it is, nothing is yours anymore. It’s all for the wife. I worked, I had help from my wife’s parents, they lived in America. We built four houses. I didn’t want to go. What for? To stand in line for a visa? I lived well here. My wife was there for 4 months. They wanted me to go too, but I didn’t go. As far as I’m concerned, they can stay there for as long as they want, I’m staying here.
When I entered the village, I noticed that the Hungarian name of the village in erased.
We didn’t even have Hungarians in the village. 98% were Romanians. Hungarian was taught in school. I didn’t catch any. We were 6 people who learned Hungarian. I had friends, close friends, we used to get together. We were a small group.
Did you meet?
I was seeing a girl. Three hours short of two years.
I wondered what it was like to love for three hours short of two years. Trifu was going to tell me more, if we didn’t start talking about other things.
In 1958 I enrolled in an Esperanto course, on September 17, in the evening, at 18:00, together with a friend. And that’s where we met girls from the dorm, we made friends, both girls and men have their own problems, that’s where I saw her for the first time. The last time I saw her was in 1960, also on September 17, in the afternoon, at 16:00. Anyway, nothing is accidental, everything happens as it’s meant to happen. I like to read philosophy, the newspapers Tibiscus and Cununa, which are written in dialect. I never interrupted him, he loved a woman for three hours short of two years, but his love of poetry and the dialect is greater, I see.
Trifu doesn’t leave Uzdin very often. The last time he was in Romania was in 1977, in Timișoara. I wasn’t even born at the time.
And why haven’t you returned?
I had no reason to.
And if we invite you for an ice cream, will you come?
No, I’ll give you ice cream made here. I got used to staying close to home, I don’t like to leave. Look, here are the poems and we get to talking about dialect words. What is flăflă?
I don’t know!
What is cucuiele?
It means to climb up. I keep coming up with words, I remember them from when I was younger, I don’t really forget.
Would you like to write a poem together?
I don’t know, you write it in dialect, I’ll transcribe it in Romanian.
What could be better than jam?
What kind of jam?
Is that the name of the poem? Black Cherry Jam?
No black. Just Cherry Jam.
When I was in the army, one of the 12 girls I worked with always brought me cherries.
We started reading Trifu’s poetry. Evidently, I was chosen to perform. I performed badly. It’s not easy. But I got the idea. And Trifu explained each poem to me. They were all about women. Men would be saints if it weren’t for them.
But you can’t do without them either, right?
We could, but that was the mistake. God could have made women in the image of goats, but instead He get a rib from Adam and He did whatever the Devil he did with the rib.
You were the one who wanted a wife, right? You could have stayed single if you didn’t like women.
No, no, it’s not that. Nobody knows what’s in store for him.
But who forced you to stay?
In a marriage?
I stayed out of shame, it’s the shame that keeps us, what kind of man is he if he can’t even keep a wife.
But you wife was married before.
Yes, for 11 months.
Didn’t she like it?
She didn’t because it had been an arranged marriage. They would tell you, starting Sunday, you are with this person. [And you say:] But I was with Petru… You’re no longer with him, now you’re with this oner guy. What happened if she eloped? She wouldn’t get anything, no furniture, nothing. She had to do what her father said.
Does that mean you two loved each other?
We knew each other since we were kids, we grew up together. When I went into the army, it was autumn, September, she waited to meet me, her parents were in the fields and she told me look, you’re going into the army, I’m married …
Now people don’t get married anymore.
Love is hard to share, like money, you give some here, you give some there, and in the end you have nothing.
Have you loved one woman all your life? Your wife?
No. I haven’t. Do you know why? It’s dangerous to love only one woman. Like giving all your money to someone. I give you all the money and you don’t give it back and then what am I left with?
So how is it then? The wife is one thing and love is another?
Yes. The wife is a necessity, to have a family, to have children, food, to have someone to work with, but love is emotion. The wife is material. Just as you use bricks for bricklaying, for houses, so is the wife.
But could the wife love more than once, love more than one man?
The wife! Maybe the wife also loved other men.
She didn’t because otherwise she would have been abandoned on the night of her wedding. But if she loved only from her heart, in her thought, that’s what I’ve always said, there are two kinds of people, you can’t stay with someone if you don’t like that person at least a little bit, it shows on you, you suffer, you get sick. If you like each other to a reasonable extent, it’s possible. But the soul must be content.
Like a kind of platonic love. Otherwise you wouldn’t have lasted 57 years together. But did you love other women?
Of course I did… there is a film about two idiots who were in love, that’s what I had. That girl I befriended in Esperanto classes, from the school, she didn’t have a boyfriend and we liked each other a lot, but someone got it her head that, she thought that if she falls in love she can’t study anymore, she’ll fail everything, she’ll be poor. That’s what her girlfriend had put into her head when she was young. We walked side by side, we didn’t even hold hands, until one day, necessity changes the law, we went out for ice cream, to Scăriță, where there was also a club, and in the evening the wind started blowing, it got colder, the phone rang again, there was ice on the ground and she asked me if she could hold on to me so she wouldn’t fall. I said, I don’t know, can you? Of course she could, and she held me and I held her and it was so nice.
The next day she told me she liked when I held her, she wanted more. She was afraid of falling in love, that’s what she believed, that love brings poverty, until one day I said to myself, come what may, and I kissed her. Out of the blue. She was telling me about a movie, it was an American movie about a guy looking for a woman, and something happens, and he kisses her, and that’s what I did. It wasn’t so great the first time. She didn’t say anything, she didn’t tell me off, she didn’t say that wasn’t our deal, she continued to talk about the movie and the kissing, so I tried a second time, this time properly. She stopped talking, she started shaking, we were walking towards her dorm, and I saw that she was crying. I apologized for kissing her. I swore I would never touch her again. She still glanced at me in a certain way, but I didn’t touch her again, I had promised.
So she’d study in school, so she wouldn’t fall in love because of me.
Is the lady still alive?
I don’t know if she’s still alive, she’s a doctor, my wife would get upset and tell me to go to her, if she was that good for me. C’mon, let’s read my poem.
I asked about a word: păscoania.
It’s worries that kill a man, not illness. Man worries too much, he worries himself to death.
Photo credit: Diana Bilec
English translation: Cristina Chira