Fleeing the Country
Mihai Popa

I was the only engineer. The rest were natural born rednecks. They could barely talk, but they were OK. And since we were in the same shit, that wasn?t a problem.

The prison in Belgrade was a huge room in a sort of old military barracks. It was very old and it had very tall doors, up to the ceiling, in metal, very heavy, if you know what I mean. It was clear to me that originally it had not been a prison. We were all staying in a huge room, as big as a sports hall, with mattresses on the floor. We had showers with cold water. I got to this prison on the 22nd of September.

There were a couple of guys who had been there for a month or so and who were improvising small theater moments. They would play Ceauşescu and his wife. What can I say, the atmosphere was almost bearable. The only thing was that I didn?t know what was coming my way. I knew that I didn?t have to worry because the mother in law of Adrian, my cousin, had pulled some strings for me. Ever since I left I knew that, so I was not too worried.

I was extremely bored and I was doing math problems as a pass time: analysis, all sorts of graphs and other stuff just to kill some time. I was the only one who knew a little English and a little German. There was this German guy who had gotten drunk and wanted at all cost to kiss the wife of a Yugoslav minister who was at a nearby table. He so that drunk that he wanted to kiss her on the mouth. He went straight to jail and the guys from his embassy said: ?Keep him there a month or so. He will get the booze out of his system and he?ll stop being such smart ass?. So, there was this German guy, some Afghans, some comrades from Iraq, how can I say, all sorts of peoples. I was the only one who talked to them, both in English and in German.

The most interesting was a guy nicknamed ?The Commuter?. He was there for the 3rd time. He only came and went illegally, swimming across the Danube. He was about 40 years old, thin, his muscles all fiber. He seemed a little like the lights-on-but-nobody-home kind of guy. He had left once and then returned for his wife. She put her on an inflatable mattress and swam with her across the Danube. Then he returned again, I don?t remember what for. Anyway, he was a star and they called him ?The Commuter?. Every evening, this guy was telling us his adventures. Once, he crossed with a tin boat with electrical engine. He had built that engine with three batteries, an engine from a starter or something like that. His boat also had a propeller that broke down in the middle of the Danube and he finished his trip swimming.

So, the Belgrade jail lasted for three days. Every morning there was this policeman who was reading a list with 5-6 persons who left and never returned. On the 25th of September I was first on the list: Popa Mihai. When I heard my name I said: ?That?s it!? They told me to take everything I had. We went outside. They put us all on a bus, and they dropped me in front of the German embassy. ?Well, what do I do from here?? I asked. ?Well, you go inside?, the policeman told me. Of course, like anything in Communism, outside at the gate there was a boot with a policeman inside. I said: ?Good afternoon, I would like to enter?. He said: ?Name, please!? ? ?Popa Mihai? ? he checks his list ? ?Yes?, he says, ?go to room?? These were the strings pulled by the mother in law of Adrian. She had worked at the German embassy, without being a member of the secret police (Securitate) or an informer Well, I went there. There was this guy, a very nice fellow who had a form already filled in: name, surname, and the address in Romania? I only had to add a couple of things. He said: ?Sign your name here!? and took a picture of me. He did my passport in front of my eyes. I cannot describe the whole thing, Popovat! It is a once in a lifetime thing. I am sorry that you didn?t get to live it. I thought that the happiest moment of my life was when I got on stage with ?Sphinx?. It was not. The happiest moment of my life was when that guy was filling in my passport. Right there, in big capital letters there was my name on that ID: Popa Mihai. And it was a German passport with the famous vulture on it and everything. He told me ?Unterschreiben Sie, bitte!? and I signed it. He gave me 500 DM. He said: ?When you get to Nuremberg try to find a job because you must pay back this money a month from today? (It was money given by Frau X that is Ilse, my cousin?s mother in law).

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