Romanians are a Latin people, despite their Slavic geographical location, and many could pass for Italians, at least at first glance. And with both languages in the same family, Romanians understand Italian pretty well without studying it, though speaking is more difficult.
So on this previous attempt, sly Sorin traveled from his town to Bucharest, boarded a bus headed west, cleared border checkpoints in several countries and made it all the way to Belgium and then into France. He was at a French port about to board a ferry to England, so close he could taste it. Bangers and mash with a pint of bitter? Or at least a good job.
Suddenly, a snag. The French customs officer does a double take at him and calls over an Italian-speaking colleague. She starts firing off questions and it is obvious that he is not Italian.
He spends the night in a jail cell and is awakened the next morning and driven to the Belgian border. He doesnt know whats going on. The French authorities, passing the buck and blaming their neighbors, hand him over to the Belgians. After questioning and another night in jail, hes told he is going back to Bucharest. The police car arrives at an airport and he is escorted to a plane. He cant believe his eyes.
Id never been on a plane before, he says. It was beautiful, a private jet, you know, like famous people have. I asked the policeman if I had to pay for the trip. He said, No, you can just thank the Belgium government. Now go back to Romania!
But there was something else his fellow passengers were also trespassers held in police custody.
You know what? When I got on the plane, I couldnt believe it. It was bunch of Gypsies from Romania and me. Gypsies! Sorin, seemingly unfazed by his own law breaking, displayed a common prejudice in Romania against the Roma people (generally called Gypsies and other, more pejorative names), who represent the largest minority in Romania, supposedly 10 percent but nobody seems to know for sure. Though they are Romanians, their ancestry is traced to India and other points east and many Romanians dont want to claim them and flat-out despise them.
That was the worse part, he continued. When the plane landed in Bucharest, there were TV cameras and reporters. I covered my face. I didnt want my mother to see me like that, with all those Gypsies.
As I was about to get off at my destination, I wished Sorin a good journey Drum Bun! and asked him if he would try to leave again, perhaps even legally. Dont worry, Ill get to England! He asked for my card and, in fact, called me once to say hello. He was still in Romania, but very restless.
Perhaps by now, hes sitting in a cubicle somewhere in London or Manchester, pecking on a keyboard. For sure, hes at least thinking about it.