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Authors: Ruta Sepetys

I Must Betray You (17 page)

BOOK: I Must Betray You
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:00 a.m.


Two pair of socks. Three shirts. Hat. Gloves. Jacket. Ration card.

I left the apartment as if to stand in line but hid across the street.

And then I waited.

Cici left the apartment wrapped in a yellow scarf. I followed at a distance.

The textile factory she worked at was supposedly across town and that's why she had to leave so early. After a fifteen-minute walk, she turned down a street. I rushed to keep up.

When I got to the street, she was gone.

I looked up at the buildings. It wasn't a commercial district, it was a residential district. And then I saw the pop of her yellow scarf. Behind the window—

Of a black Dacia.

Each step I took toward the car felt like a kilometer.

Should I do this?

Yes, I had to know.

I approached the passenger-side door. A package of BT cigarettes sat on the dash, next to my sister's elevated foot.

Through the window, I saw the shape of two figures amidst a
swirl of hostaged cigarette smoke. I pressed my face against the glass.

Cici jumped. So did the driver. It was quick, but I saw.

The thinning hair, one eyebrow, his huge mitts foraging my sister's lap.

Paddle Hands.

I pointed my finger at the glass. I slowly shook my head.

And then I ran.

Her voice rang out behind me. “
, wait. Wait!” The Dacia's engine roared to life. I continued to run, cutting and dodging quickly across the sidewalks. My lungs burned, my pulse raged.

My state-made sneakers were ragged, with barely any tread. I slipped, almost fell, and lost time. Those who were out early looked at me. There's a difference between someone who's running, and someone who's running
something. I looked more than suspicious.

The black Dacia sped to my side, squeezing closer and closer, trapping me.

My sister jumped out of the car, and Paddle Hands drove off.

Cici's face burned plum. Her lipstick was smeared. “
, let me explain.”

“There's nothing to explain. You became an informer, a traitor, for perfume and tampons.”

“No, you don't understand. They were poisoning Bunu. They were serving him irradiated coffee! I had to help him. They promised me medicine and a passport if I would cooperate.”

“Cooperate how?”

“They were badgering Mama for information on the Americans, but she wouldn't give them anything. They came to me, said if I seduced Van Dorn, they would treat Bunu. But Van Dorn wouldn't have me. He immediately knew what I was up to. The Secu pressured me. They suggested you might have better luck getting information from the son.”

I stood on the sidewalk, staring at my sister.

“So you framed me. You put the American dollar in my stamp album so they could blackmail me.”

“No, I mean, not exactly. You didn't let me finish. I felt so guilty,
. The day you came home and I was crying, it wasn't because of an exam at the factory; it was because I knew that the Secu had gotten to you. Bunu was so sick. I knew how much he meant to you, and I—”

“Bunu's DEAD! He's gone, but we're still enslaved to the Secu. And you know what? Bunu knew exactly what you were doing.”

Cici took a step back.

“Yes, Bunu tried to tell me. He knew, Cici, and you know what he said? That it was so painful. That we had a rat in our very own apartment. You got us into this and now Bunu's dead anyway. Did your agent boyfriend kill him? Or was it the agent who lives in our building? Are you seeing him too?”

And then the realization hit me.

“You asked Alex out. You informed on his family, told them that his father brings bones home from work. It was you. Everything, it's all been you. You killed Bunu. You killed my relationship with Liliana.”

“No. Please,” she whispered.

“You've killed all my plans. You've killed—me.”

I turned.

And left her on the sidewalk.



[20 Dec. 1989]

Ministry of the Interior

Department of State Security

Directorate III, Service 330

Meeting with source FRITZI was compromised this morning by the appearance of her brother, OSCAR. As previously reported, OSCAR is now a liability and must be dealt with. Circulate name and photo immediately.


I made excuses and stayed at Luca's. Anything to avoid Cici.

During the day, I walked around the city, trying to calm myself. The snow was melting in the warmer temperatures and now resembled lumps of sooty porridge along the roadside. I passed hobbling old people with knees full of rheumatism and faces corroded by fear, people who should have been resting, not prowling for rations. I joined a line for potatoes and got an onion the size of an olive instead.

Betrayal. It's undigestible. It instantly changes the frequency of things. Every Romanian carried a world inside them, and mine had quickly gone from dark to black.

I took the long route home. Young people loitered, filling the pavement in front of the apartment blocks. Luca's head towered over a group that had gathered. He spotted me and ran my way.

“Where have you been? I've been looking for you,” he whispered.


“Ceauşescu's back from Iran. He's going to speak in the square. A group of university students will be there. C'mon, let's go.”

By the time we arrived at Palace Square, a sea of thousands had gathered. The
were stacked rows deep below the balcony of the Central Committee Building where our leader would appear. Some hoisted red signs declaring
long live Ceauşescu
and other phrases
extolling the glory of communism. The warmer weather had inspired a massive crowd.

“Forget it,” I told Luca. “It's just another rally of applauding men.”

Communist adulation rallies were commonplace in Romania. Over the years, we had all been dragged from school or work to hold signs and salute the leader. On our own, we weren't allowed to gather in a group of five, but Ceauşescu could demand fifty thousand gather for him.

The mayor of Bucharest began his introduction over the sound system.

“Our much beloved and esteemed leader of the Party, the eminent patriot . . . has given us prosperity and provided full independence of socialist Romania . . .”

Eminent patriot? After Timișoara? Our leader had gunned down innocent human beings—students my age. Prosperity and independence? I couldn't stomach it.

Ceauşescu and Mother Elena appeared on the balcony to rounds of applause. Ceauşescu stepped to the microphone, waving, wearing an expensive black coat with a fur collar and matching hat. He began speaking his usual nonsense.

“I'm not staying for this,” I told Luca. I turned to leave.


A blast thundered nearby. Screams shot through the crowd. What was happening? Had someone set off an explosive? Luca looked at me, eyes wide.

A mass of people pressed in behind us. The new crowd suddenly began swaying, yelling.



“Down with Ceauşescu!”

My heart began to pound. Everyone knew that plainclothes
Securitate were always among us. But people continued to jeer anyway.

Groups of university students appeared, booing and shouting. They carried flags.


“Down with Ceauşescu!”

Others joined in. They were heckling the leader of our country. Ceauşescu stopped speaking, confused, and looked out into the crowd. He stuttered into the microphone.

“Hallo! Calm! What? Hallo!”

Mother Elena pushed toward the microphone. “Silence!” she screeched.

And then the chanting began near the back of the swarm, quiet at first, then louder, pulsing:




Chills erupted over my entire body. The volume grew, a freight train of sound. A feeling of solidarity rose, growing within the crowd. Romania had found its voice. And we were using it, together. And our despicable leader was rattled, shaken, trying to calm the people, trying to remain in command. In a quarter of a century, this had never happened in Bucharest. The feeling was palpable, a breaking and cracking, the dam of oppression bursting.

Emotion leapt within me. My hands began to vibrate. For Bunu.

“Timișoara!” I yelled.

I couldn't stop. The screams came from deep within me, tearing at my vocal cords. “You're thieves and murderers! Betrayers! TIMIȘOARA!”

“Down with Ceauşescu!” yelled Luca.

The university students encouraged others to join in. The response was spontaneous, full-throated. Thousands of people were protesting!

Ceauşescu attempted to regain control. He couldn't. Random noise echoed from the sound system. He was rattled, confused. And the crowd—we felt it.

The sensation of speaking up, speaking aloud instead of in whispers, it was euphoric. And you could sense that others felt it too. Ceauşescu blabbered something about raising wages but the jeering continued.

“Empty promises! We want food. We want freedom!” I yelled.

Ceauşescu left the balcony and scurried into the Party building. But the crowd didn't disperse. We looked to one another and made eye contact.

one other.

It was December 21st.

Romanians in Bucharest were united and ready.

For revolution.


The crowd lingered. People stood, shocked, waiting.

Luca's mouth hung open and he began to laugh, nervously swatting my shoulder.

A woman in a babushka shuffled up to us. “Go home, boys. Now!” she said. “It was probably televised. There were cameras. There will be consequences. Be quick. Go home and hide, they'll kill all of you.”

“We're not cowards!” I told the woman.

“We're already dead!” replied a university student in a green cap. “Their system has killed us.”

“We have to fight for the future!” said a man.

“We have to fight for Romania!” I yelled.

The crowd cheered. The terrified old woman tottered away.

A university student stood on a lamppost, holding a flag. “Remember, this is peaceful. We're asking for food and electricity. We're asking for freedom of opinion, freedom of religion. For those of you who are undecided—please, join us! Workers, come join us! Students, come join us! The world is watching Eastern Europe. Show them that Romanians aren't cowards. Together we'll stand up against tyranny. We're going to march for freedom. Join us!”

An elderly man took off his hat and clutched it in his hands. With quivering voice, he began to sing.

Deșteaptă-te, române, din somnul cel de moarte.

Awaken thee, Romanian—wake up from your deadly sleep.

The old song of patriotism. It had been outlawed when the communists destroyed the monarchy. Those who knew the words joined him.

Better to die in battle, in full glory

Than to once again be slaves upon our ancient ground.

The student in the green cap turned to me. “I'm Adrian,” he said. “What's your name?”

“I'm Cristian; this is Luca.”

“How old are you guys?”

“Seventeen.” I removed the knife from my pocket. “Hey, give me that flag.”

I grabbed the flag and cut the communist coat of arms from the center, leaving a hole amidst the vertical stripes of blue, yellow, and red. I held it up to the crowd.

Without the emblem in the center, the flag resembled our national flag of the 1800s:

Blue for liberty.

Yellow for justice.

Red for blood.

“Cristian and Luca, you carry the flag,” said Adrian. He gently steered the elderly gentleman in front of us. “And you, sir, will lead us for as long as you feel able.”

We walked together, chanting and singing. The crowds grew as we marched.

As people left work for the day, I encouraged them to join the swell of protestors. Our column expanded and became one massive surge of thousands of people. Demonstrators brought flags with holes, they carried signs. Our voices were ragged from shouting and singing, hoarse with happiness.

My body had felt uninhabitable for so long. But now the emptiness
was replaced by a closeness. A true camaraderie. We all felt it. We saw it in one another's eyes. It was freedom—and it was glorious.

We continued for hours.

Darkness fell. The crowds increased. Information circulated.

TV and radio stations over the border in Hungary—they're reporting the protest.

Ceauşescu deployed the army. They're setting up stations.

Plainclothes agents, they're everywhere. Be careful!

A group of wet demonstrators ran by us.

“Stay alert,” shouted Adrian. “They're hosing people!”

We arrived at University Square.

“Oh my god,” said Luca.

People—as far as the eye could see. Thousands and thousands of people—pregnant women, adults with children on their shoulders, countless students. The sound of the crowd roared.

Olé, olé, olé, olé, Ceauşescu nu mai e!

My heart beat in rhythm to the chants.

Li-ber-ta-te, Li-ber-ta-te!

Ceauşescu no more. Liberty!

Near the Intercontinental Hotel, I helped demonstrators build a barricade using a tumble of chairs and tables. Kids ran near our blockade, using their fingers as guns, crouching in poses like the renegades they saw in American movies. I tried to shoo them away.

“Adrian,” shouted Luca. “Should we tell people to take kids home? It's probably not safe for little ones.”

“It's fine. They won't shoot kids. It's important for all ages to demonstrate. The world must see that everyone wants change.”

Luca looked at me. Our thoughts were in sync.

Adrian said they wouldn't shoot kids.

After what happened in Timișoara, how could he say that?

They could shoot any of us. Or worse.

All of us.

BOOK: I Must Betray You
13.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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