Doina Rusti









Lizoanca at Eleven Years of Age

The story is based on a true story featured in the Romanian media. Lizoanca (11) lives in a village not far from Bucharest. She has been accused of infecting the entire village with syphilis. She slowly becomes the most wanted criminal on everyone’s list – journalists, authorities, her parents and even the man on the street wants her to be punished for her crime. As the story unfolds, dirty little secrets of village life come to light. The stories connecting the villagers to Lizoanca are at the same time a reflection of the current state of life in the average Romanian village. No man is an island – and we are slowly immersed in a parallel story of relationships, traumas, love, envy and crime underpinning life in a small village.





Lizoanca at Eleven Years of Age

(EXCERPTS from…)


3. Lena saw the province phone number and waited for one more ring. It must be some cuckoo who wants to see himself on TV. He was clearly persistent. She pressed the button, she tossed her hair and put the phone at her ear.
“Lena Geană!” The reporter listened to the introduction with a frown. It was a nurse from Dudu, where she had made that feature report about the Gypsy children. “Yes, I am listening”, she said, still dismissive. At the other end of the line, Sanitary started to tell her story:
“We have here an 11-year-old whore who has syphilis! Can you imagine, Ms Lena? She has syphilis at her age! I thought this subject may be of interest to you…”
Lena was not interested although she knew other two dozens of sick or abused children and, as there was no rape or crime, she could not deepen the theme.
“Can you realize she is dangerous?! Especially that she may have already spread syphilis in the entire village!”
This remark suddenly opened the perspective of a title, so she asked quicklier:
“Why is that, is she a prostitute?”
“Yes, she is, Ms Lena! Exactly so! This little girl sleeps around, whomever she gets hold of and nobody says anything.”
“Doesn’t she have parents or something?”
“She does! She does have parents, they are also bastards…”
Sanitary started to tell about Cristel’s beatings and Lizoanca’s vagrancy, while the reporter’s mind was taking stock of the matter hurry-scurry. Well, it could work. She already has a source, there is the checkup, she could call the school or the town hall and, if necessary, she can run over there.
“Where’s this, right there at Dudu? Yeah, next, in the New Village, that is 25 km from Bucharest.” It was not much. “OK! Is this your phone number? Can I call you again? OK then! Keep in touch.”
Meanwhile, she had to feed the news. If it worked and people were interested, she could prepare a phrase on the frame, as she had the images from last time. So, she gently hit the keyboard and wrote the title: An 11-year-old prostitute spread syphilis in an entire village! Yeah, it was not bad. Then she wrote the news without bothering too much: “An 11-year-old girl from the New Village, the county of Ilfov, is prostituting herself under her parents’ eyes. The local sanitary staff determined the little prostitute was ill with syphilis and it seems the countless men who slept with her share the same fate. We do not know the exact number of people infested yet.”
She wanted to add something, but there was a big rumour all around her. The operator waved he had to go. “There is a deputy from Vâlcea who had a car accident!” In the big hall of the news agency, the keyboards were clicking on all tones and quick fingers were looking for photos and data about the deputy. From the other end of the room, the guy from investigations was also yelling as hard as he could. “Lena, in half an hour they bring the guy to the court”. It was a guy who beat his father to death, and today they were to give the decision. The reporter hastily pressed send and grabbed her bag in a hurry.
In the general rush, where voices and noises of keys were criss-crossing equally, the long words about Lizoanca passed slowly towards the press’s hungry belly.
And at about the same time, Sanitary started to work as well. She had to catch Lizoanca and find out whom she dealt with, who else had syphilis. A list had to be done. By all means! This was paramount for the illness not to lay hold of the village. And, of course, Sanitary was dying out of curiosity to know what men the little girl had dealt with. She could imagine her looking under her eyebrows, upset and mumbling something in her unusually thick voice. Finally, she thought of her unwashed feet and flea-bitten hair and burst into laughter. On top of it, she heard in the village she used to spend her nights in Rack’s house. She got out and went straight to Cristel’s house, hoping to meet Lizoanca on her way out there.
In the courtyard, Florenţa was minding her business but she went to the gate where she had heard Sanitary’s voice. The visitor was wearing a squared dress in all colours and a big green plastic butterfly was glowing on her round collar. It had little entwined wings of copper pigtail leads. Florenţa was intimidated by Sanitary’s arrival because it brought the face of the speaker from TV back into her mind.
“Good morning”, she smiled, without daring to tell her name, because although they had been brought up together, Sanitary passed by her without noticing her for a good while. Even now she had waited to be greeted, standing in front of the gate, keeping her face serious, as if she came with an important business. Well, she did.
“I’m here to speak to both of you – you and Cristel”, the woman said, looking straight at her and rolling her eyes artistically, just like the TV speaker she wasted no second to imitate. “Is he at home or he hasn’t woken up yet?”
“Of course he did!” Florenţa said, puzzled. “He left early in the morning to Mihăileşti, at work. He has been casting asphalt, the sun on his back for two days.”
“Well, then you will tell him. Tomorrow morning you both come to the clinic for a checkup.”
Florenţa felt an ice nail hitting her right on the top of her head.
“How come?”
“How come! Your daughter has syphilis! That’s it! And she also spread it in the entire village! Where is she now?”
Sanitary was speaking unequivocally, using the tone of a great defender of justice, looking straight into her eyes!
Florenţa knew it was something bad, she remembered how she used to say about someone she could not stomach – “Rot in hell, you syphilitic!” – but she did not know exactly what the thin silhouette of this word could hide.
“She is not here, she is at her grandma’s, in the village, but what does she have, and how do you know she is ill?”
“I tested her! And even so, it goes without saying she’s full of diseases, as she scrounges around with no one to take care of her!”
“We can no longer lay hands on her: she’s evil. She’s been so since she was little, she didn’t want to do a thing, you’d tell her to do this or that, we taught her, but she wouldn’t! One would speak nicely to her and she’d spit you in the eyes at once! She takes after her grandma!”
Florenţa looked down and after a second she lift her eyes, still bedewed. She was crying slowly and went on with tears in her eyes, while Sanitary was still looking for a moment to say good bye.
“You know too”, Florenţa said, “how we used to look, when we were little, among the planks of the cemetery where she was sloshing with all those slobs, it didn’t matter a farthing to her…”
For a second, Sanitary thought how they went to see Tori fucking in the cemetery or on the river bank, under the willows and some man would chase them, throwing stones at them, saying ribald jokes or whistling at them like pen dogs. It was a time of liberty and humiliation, over which Petrache Notaru’s glop figure was growing. Once she remembered all these, Sanitary’s voice melted gently:
“It’s true, but you are her mother and can go and look for her and ride her in the snaffle, because she must be treated. Syphilis is very dangerous and can lead to death! And my obligation is to send you all to a checkup at the clinic in Grindeni or in Bolintin.”
“Why there?”
Sanitary wanted to say that their doctor was a cow, but she realized she was not in the mood to bring her up in their discussion. For everybody in the village, the true sanitary authority was she and it was not her fault they could not be treated here – wouldn’t she know what to do to them? That crowns it all! She knew too well! But some stupid laws do not allow her to write prescriptions, because all people of value in this country are kept with their forehead in shit.
“At Bolintin they have the necessary equipment”, she said in two tones, as she had heard on TV.”


(Lizoanca la 11 ani, Editura Trei, Bucureşti, 2009, pp.123-127)
(Lizoanca at Eleven Years of Age, Trei Publishing House, Bucharest, 2009, pp. 123-127)





6. A car stopped in front of the school. It was not the ambulance, but the press. Lena’s news had caught on and a few newspapers rushed into buying it, so the agency head had sent her to gather new data.
“Make a short report following the subject of this village full of syphilis! See if you can talk with one of the clients of the prostitute!”
Lena had taken her operator, whose name she kept forgetting, because they had not been a team for a long time, and a few phone calls later she finally got a car, with a gadfly and arrogant driver you could mistake for at least a company manager. Now she grabbed the mike and waved to the operator to keep on his toes. He saw her gesture, but did not hurry because that stupid cows’ arrogance pissed him off. If he wanted to, her report could fall about her ears. And then what could she bring back to Bucharest? Five images and an incongruous comment next. Cow!
There was a group of people in front of the school. Lousy was among them. She came out because of Sanitary’s yelling.
“Good afternoon”, said Lena, while slowly getting closer, as if she happened to come there. “We’re from the press agency Valahia News and we want to make a feature report about that girl with syphilis.”
People were looking at her suspiciously, until they heard what it was all about.
“We don’t know either”, Lousy started, “Sanitary said before that…”
“It’s that girl, Cristel’s girl”, Croitoru intervened, eager to provide details.
Lena waved to the operator he could film and he put his camera on his shoulder.
“Really? Is it about her?” Lousy wondered. So that was it! “I don’t know if she has syphilis”, she said, “but she is a problem child. She dropped out school and her parents can no longer deal with her…”
“What grade is she in?”
“Well, she should have been in the second cycle, but she’s been a wash-out for many times.”
“But how old is she?” Lena insisted although she knew very well but wanted to have another source.
“She is 11 years old!”
“And she’s already hanging out with men at 11 years old?
“She does, she does, a sunken little male snapped, dressed up in a red undervest. Those two tramps takes her, those two big mares!”
“Who are they?”
“Some girls who’ve been taught to fool around.”
“Is it true she receives money from men?”
Lousy wanted to end the discussion, who seemed a bit vulgar to her, so she said quickly:
“People make a mountain out of a molehill.” But Lena ignored her completely, heading the mike to one mouth in the crowd who said almost enviously:
“She takes 10-20 thousands!”
“Of course! Even more!”
“How so? Is she asking for it or…?”
“Devil knows! Who was there to see how she does it!”
Lena felt the discussion was fading out, so she changed the lead:
“And where can we find this girl?”
Several hands showed towards where the house was, but in the same time she could see Sanitary and Cristel who were coming out of the gate, each of them dragging Lizoanca by one hand. She was screaming intermittently, like a tired bull, tearing herself away. Behind them Florenţa was coming with the child in her arms!
“Here she is! She is the one!”
Lena made a sign to the operator to get on with it and headed towards those three. She asked them from a distance:
“Is she the girl with syphilis?” All three stopped confused for a moment. Then, Sanitary took a step forward:
“Ms Lena! I didn’t even know you’ll get so fast! I am Cătălina Ghiţă…”
But Lena had no time for stories, so she asked Cristel directly:
“Is she the little girl with syphilis?”
“She is my girl, but she’s a vagabond who made us a laughing-stock!”
“She ran away from home!” Florenţa broke in.
“What are you doing here, you wench?” Cristel fussed around, “get out of here and go home with the baby! I’ll go with her, so scat!”
“You’ll come to test your blood”, Sanitary comforted her, conciliatory.
Lena smiled to Lizoanca in a hurry and she responded as if she recognized her because she was the same reporter who had been at Dudu. She saw her bracelet with love written on. She was now calm and a feeling of happiness filled her that the television crossed her road. Were they filming her? What if she were on TV?
“Can I speak to the girl?” the reporter asked Cristel, putting the mike under her nose in the same time.
“Go ahead,” he answered slightly intimidated. After recovering his senses, said huffily: “If only you could draw anything from her!”
Lena gave a nice smile and acted fast:
“What’s your name?”
The operator burst into laughter, hearing the thick voice, of sick bass, but Lena got by:
“Is this your real name or how they call you?”
Lizoanca thought for a second, then looked right into her eyes and said with a sepulchral voice.
“It’s my name. What’s your name?”
“Lena! Please, tell me, do you like watching TV?”
“What are you watching?”
“Wow! Do you like her singing? Or what do you like about her?”
Lizoanca looked responsively to the reporter and answered as if she addressed a connoisseur:
“The tin shoes!”
Lena was now convinced she created a type of complicity between them, so that she asked her almost whispering:
“I heard you are some kind of star here. Is it true men love you?”
And because the little girl was left flabbergasted, not knowing what she wanted from her, Lena added quickly, apparently in a much lower voice:
“You sleep with the men in the village and they provide you money, don’t you?”
Suddenly, a window opened in Lizoanca’s mind. She could see the reporter’s true face through it. So that was where she wanted to get! She had smiled to her, she had bent over her, and then she had showed her teeth and asked her the same thing as Sanitary. As if it mattered! Those men were but good hosts, who had given her shelter during cold nights and fed her. Especially Rack, who used to wait for her with a spicy and smooth croissant almost every night! She knew very well there was a number of bitches who were tantalising her about her nights and understood she was doing bad things. What she could not make out was why the hell they were so mean! Lena was smiling indulgently and Lizoanca suddenly saw the cynicism of the reporter beyond the sweet fog on her face. She translated it into the reporter’s bloodless cheeks, still wearing the traces of old grief and especially her potato box, strung by two-three wrinkles. These were not things to strike the eye at first sight. But they were a vague mark relating her to other beings of the same type, men and women, whose features remained forever associated in her mind to the circumstances when she had noticed their indifference, cruelty and hypocrisy. Thus, Lena had a viper’s face.
And in a thundering rage, she blew up her lungs with all her powers, she enlarged her nostrils and pulled a bit of phlegm from the back of her throat, which she projected at random, towards the woman who had tried to cheat her. The operator did not move. He moved the camera closer out of reflex, magnifying avidly her enraged face, ready to explode, her lips like a rose bud and, finally, the thick laughter of a being who, in that moment, had no age.


(Lizoanca la 11 ani, Editura Trei, Bucureşti, 2009, pp.136-140)
(Lizoanca at Eleven Years of Age, Trei Publishing House, Bucharest, 2009, pp.136-140)





“I have often thought”, you tackled the topic, “why people make babies.”
“Out of carelessness”, Cristian said, accompanied by the others’ laughter.
“It is true. To a great extent, children are born out of casual relationships, but I refer to people who really want to make babies, sometimes more than anything. There are poor people, who live in squalid houses, in one room or together with their parents, who have no idea about the future, they know precisely they have no means to raise a child, and yet they make it, hoping things shall arrange by themselves. Not only do they make it, but they also throw it in a tormented world, make it live in misery and inoculate it one single ideal ever since childhood: to make babies in its turn.”
“Obviously. Otherwise the human race would disappear.”
“It is not about any race here, any debt, but a terrible and dark selfishness. Most individuals make babies because of their instinct of possession, they need love, unconditional love more precisely, they need a soul at hand, who should be theirs alone, whom they teach their own imbecility, they guide it to take those actions they did or missed and, especially, they need to leave their face in the world.”
“Of course, man goes down in history through his offspring, a common fact enough individuals had noticed before you. Shakespeare even wrote about it until both hands hurt him.”
“Very well, Cristian Avram, but this willingness changes along life into a connection, hard to bear for both parties. Parents make all kinds of sacrifices, they feed their children with what they have best, they put clothes on them, they take them to schools, they often forget to live. They run from morning till evening to get money, to save money, they make compromises, they live all the atrocities the society puts people who have children through and they are always blackmailed because they have children, as someone said once, so I can quote somebody.”
“Well, this terrible struggle poisons them and they regret they are not free, making their children feel guilty and in debt for all this life full of torment and silent discontent. What happens further? As soon as children grow up, they try to escape their parents’ shackles, but it is impossible. They start fighting their helpless parents and realize they cannot do much, they look for means to ease their old age, they run after cures, and sometimes they go into the wide world. But no matter if they are good children or bad and abandon their parents, in both cases they suffer tremendously, they feel guilty for all their discontent, they spend their life in rabid despair, loving their parents, feeling guilty, making babies in their turn, whom they would teach what their parents taught them. In short, the man lives in misery, choosing half a life to live his offspring and another half of life to torment them.“
“Yes!”, Cristian burst out, passing his hand very quickly through his hair. “And what should he do? Swift’s alternative: take them since childhood and bring them to children nurseries.”
I think that was when I wedged in, enthusiastic on my own. I saw nobody was listening to me, each one of them was thinking of themselves. I was speaking, afraid at the thought they might listen to me. I started telling them about school dissolution. I mean, not exactly. There is a number of people prepared to begin life earlier, already grown up around the age of 17 years old, for whom school is a foolish waste of time. Ultimately, the age of great impetus goes by with exams, stupid memorization, under the baton or the stick of some teachers, crushed down by their own life problems and, in most cases, unable to teach another. I wish schools changed into clubs, had a strict socialization function. As a matter of fact, children go to school to see what X did, to meet one another, to know people from the same generation. I do not think there are children who go to school for what they are taught there. I am convinced the intellectual education is done by self-study. The teacher should have only a corrective role. I would like school to be done by computer, by periodical tests, without the sinister guy riding the chair and one hundred slaves.


(Omuleţul roşu, Editura Vremea XXI, Bucureşti, 2004, pp.125-127)
(The Little Red Man, Vremea XXI Pusblishing House, Bucharest, 2004, pp.125-127)





Translator: ZENOVIA POPA




Zenovia Popa graduated from the Faculty of Foreign Languages – French and English section, and MTTLC (The MA Programme for the Translation of the Contemporary Literary Text — English), University of Bucharest. She works as a translator and interpreter.

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