It was summer, I was single, I had some time on my hands and I wanted to explore more of Romania. The advertisement for the group of adventurers I saw at a bus stop in Târgu Mureș came at the perfect time.
“7th Day Adventurers” sounded a bit too much like a steady rhythm, more chronological corset than free-wheeling frolicking. But then, not everyone is a freelancer and can take off a Tuesday as easily as a weekend.
I called the number and was relieved when the guy at the other end spoke English. Inquiring about the next trip of the adventurers may have been too straightforward because John curbed my enthusiasm: “It’s probably better if you come to our next meeting on Saturday.” So that was their “7th day”, leaving Sundays for family, church and football. Very thoughtful, very organized. That they wanted to get to know me before taking me on a trip fueled my impression of a not very spontaneous group of “adventurers”. A bit over the top, for I hadn’t exactly asked to join them on a 6-month expedition to Antarctica. Usually, people in Romania were more open and spontaneous and welcoming.
On Saturday, I showed up at 10:30 and felt so under-dressed that it hardly made any difference that I had slipped out of my pyjamas and taken a shower that morning. The guys wore suits and ties, despite the summer heat. The women looked as if they were looking for a husband. They were still nice to me though, and painfully avoided looking at my torn-out sneakers for a second time after the first glimpse had widened their eyes as if I had leprous symptoms.
I had brought a box of cigarillos, the good Italian ones. Always a useful ice-breaker. More special than cigarettes, but not as overwhelming as cigars. The adult version of a joint. Yet, one after the other, they all declined politely, some of them regretfully, others indignant, as if I had insulted them, until one middle-aged man said – in a tone that a father would use to correct a long-held misconception of his son – “we don’t smoke”. I could handle a bunch of health freaks, but that sounded like a rule, not a coincidentally reached mutual decision. “Ok, no problem, I don’t need to smoke,” I tried to ease the tension which had begun to creep up across the horizon (which was ironically filled with much unhealthier smoke from the Azomures chemical plant), as I shut the box of cigarillos and stuffed it back into my bag.
Luckily, at that moment the meeting began. They were all standing, holding hands and reciting something which was unintelligible to me, but which they all remembered by heart. From the solemn look on their faces, I assumed that this was a ritual to honor/commemorate/remember their comrades who had passed away. So even people who don’t smoke die.
Then the guy with a round face like the missing Kaczyński brother gave a speech, interrupted by controlled cheers from the audience. I wondered if they heard the same speech every week, because the cheers seemed to be as spontaneous as the bells of Big Ben. I was beginning to feel genuinely uneasy, maybe amplified by my lack of Romanian, as any group with a leader, a clear structure and uniform behavior reeks to me of a possible incubator for fascism or at least one of its mindless little brethren.
I couldn’t really picture these clone-like besuited men on any adventure deserving of that name. If they didn’t smoke, they probably didn’t barbecue either. Time passed more slowly than in a dentist’s waiting room. I was looking for signs of the meeting coming to an end or at least to an interesting part, but stamina these people had. Enough of it that they could have swapped some of it for creativity, spontaneity or individuality.
My mind was wandering, the only way to overcome boredom, to Transylvanian castles, Moldovan monasteries, Szekler towns, rolling hills and Roma villages and the hospitality found in all of the above – that is once one got beyond the dogs, again in all of the above. No longer noticing the time, any train of thought – and I tried to make them as slow as CFR to make them last through the whole meeting – was only interrupted by the standing up, sitting down, standing up again, grabbing each other’s hands. I hadn’t caught the leader’s name but they referred to Mr Jesus so frequently that I assumed that this must be him.
It felt strange, almost impolite that nobody bothered to explain to me what the hell was going on. But then I realized that it had nothing to do with me. The individual simply didn’t matter; the group was everything. I was not overlooked because I was new or a stranger or a foreigner; everyone else had gone up in a togetherness in which they maybe expected me to join. No thanks, no mass hysteria for me. I know enough about history and psychology to know where that leads to. More frighteningly, I know how fast it leads to it.
“If you want, you are welcome to join us again next week.” It sounded as much a lie as my “Thank you, I would love to, if I can make the time.” I’d rather make time for a proctoscopy.
As I stepped out of the building on Strada Filimon, I looked back and noticed my mistake.
“Adventista”, not “aventură”. I should always wear my glasses.
(This story was also published by Medium.)