Monica was another one of those who looked strikingly young, just like Mona. Sure, one could say, in their early twenties anyone is, not just looks, very young. But trust me, I know what I’m saying. Many of my friends are in their twenties, practically all my friends are under thirty-five as a matter of fact, now I realise it. Sort of strange, one could think, considering I’m well past that age. But who cares about age anyway… What I mean about Monica – as about Mona for that matter – is that her face bore what I call a streamlined look, which has something to do with straight features, no puffiness, no sagging of lines, but mostly with that air of what I called single-mindedness when I introduced Mona: I mean, a sort of “I am what I am and I do what I do” air, no wavering, no confusion, no dilemmas. Her army-like short haircut gave her face still more prominence.
Monica, in contrast to Mona, wore no make-up, and her overall body language seemed to say “I don’t think much of frills and in fact I don’t think much of what you think of me”. But that doesn’t mean she looked like a slob. No, no, no. I think I have yet to meet a Romanian slob. Nothing of that kind. She seemed to be a sort of modern hippie, this green type of social activists, you know, casual shirts and jeans and all. But on that day she was wearing a plain, tourquoise Indian kurta made of rough linen over dark stretch jeans and black boots. A long dark scarf, rolled around the neck and left hanging loose was replacing any jewellery. There was that kind of functionality in her style, clothes and accessories meant to be clean and comfortable with no further pretence of wanting to please.
And when I said she seemed not to care about what one thinks of her I didn’t mean that she wore a tough look. Just that relaxed attitude focused on the doing side and not so much on the image. She briskly lit up a cigarette before squatting on the pouffe opposite me. Each of us was contemplating a plastic cup of coffee on the low Ikea cube that was being used as a table.
“Mona tells me you’re familiar with Romania”, Monica addressed me with a gentle smile.
“Yes”, I replied. “It’s just that this time I’d like to go a bit deeper.”
Monica’s smile went broader. Looking down for a second to drop the ashes of her cigarette, but presently looking up to me, straight into my eyes, she put in:
“So you think you’re ready to take the next step, right?”
Her allusive smile seemed to be daring me in fact, by a soft hint at romantic language.
“That’s right”, I gave a short laugh. “I think I’m ready.”
“Well, I can understand that fascination you probably feel for this place. Lots of Westerners like you who never in their lives had an idea that there’s a country called Romania, when finally arriving here through god knows what mysterious design of fate, they are struck with the depth of this place. And they never want to leave again. So mind you, just beware!” she added, resuming a playful tone of voice.
“Yeah, like a sort of magic island in the Odyssey! Only it’s Romania that’s the witch” Mona cut in a bit sarcastically.
I wasn’t quite sure I was getting their point, but the two young ladies were enjoying the metaphor it seemed; Monica added pointedly:
“But not a nasty one. The travellers in the Odyssey were turned into captives and downgraded to animals. The Westerners that I’m talking about claim that their minds were opened up by this place, that it’s here that life becomes real.”
“In what way?” I asked.
“Maybe they just like our wine and our ladies”, Mona put in with her sarcasm.
Monica only vaguely acknowledged Mona’s remark with a short smile but went on, ignoring it:
“You’d have to ask them, but I guess their experience is that here life is stripped of many of the rituals of everyday life in the West. There is a sort of simplicity in the countryside, making you feel at the beginning of time. And even here, in the big city, there’s so little etiquette, so few rules, it’s chaotic, right, but this chaos stems from everyone expressing themselves, each on their own wavelength. I don’t know much about television, but what comes to my mind is more like radio waves and channels. You get here and all of a sudden you’re flooded by fragments of voices and utterances. There is very little equalizing effect for the sake of unity or direction.”
Monica kept on smiling, at times searching for words and then she was looking up, just above our heads, and when she’d found the words her eyes would get back to us with a small flicker of satisfaction. It was good to be talking to her. Even better than with Mona, who was more passionate and for this reason more difficult to follow.