Text written for Ciprian Muresan artist book

He looks into the mirror. Well, it’s not that bad, after all. His curly red hair needs a bit of gel, even if that will hinder him from running his fingers through it. Ratoi (Ducky) has something exotic about him, as if he weren’t Romanian, because Romanians are usually dark, with hazel eyes, whereas he has greenish blue eyes, pale skin, freckled around his cheekbones, and an abundance of red, curly hair. He is extremely proud of his hairdo, cut to resemble that of Baggio, Roberto Baggio – the Italian soccer player in a blue T-shirt -, short on the forehead, with longish locks on his neck, which he sometimes tangles into a pony-tail. Were we to adopt a modernist perspective, we might say that Ratoi’s being has a slightly kitschy side to it.

He was around thirteen – biologically, that is, because for that age he had gone through more than any kid in his neighborhood. At six, he accidentally entered the Steaua Sports Hall with Buchibu, his best friend. While Ratoi was a lively kid, incredibly fast in words and gestures, Buchibu was his exact opposite, chubby, with round features, eyes and hair of rather faint colors, slow in speech, always carrying some sweets stashed away in his pockets. So, they had entered the sports hall by accident and started to play with the balls dropped around by the junior handball team training there. The trainer was a peaceful, mild person, tall and thin in a way that reminded of a plank, he had short, soft, black hair and wore glasses. He was of the subotan type, a rather friendly and pleasant representative, though.

Fact is that ducks hated subotans passionately, and not because of any grudges between them, but simply because the latter seemed to be too well-behaved, skinny or even anorexic when compared to the fine build of the former, their faces were pale – actually the face of subotans always showed a yellow-ochre or green-blue hue, except for the rare occasions when they happened to lose their temper, and ducks hated them above all because they were awfully correct and religious persons, perfect to a fault. Subotans were genuine statues of perfection, examples of absolute obedience in a society of constraints.

At the earliest age, all ducks were acquainted with the story of how it took a subotan at least five minutes to cross the street, because he would prepare for at least four minutes, calmly looking first to the right to see if any car was coming, then carefully gazing to the left, well, well, nothing there, then to the right again, because a car might have popped up after all, and back to the left and eventually, convinced that there wasn’t the slightest chance for a car to appear, the subotan would gather all his might, cross his palate with his tongue and proceed to carefully cross the street. No wonder the favorite sport among ducks was crossing the street at a hair’s breadth, passing in front of a speeding car in speed – the closer to it, the better. The greatest crossings were those during which the clothes of the duck wiped, in an almost suicidal manner, the dust off the car’s front, in a demonstration of supreme bravery. Indeed, quite a lot of ducks ended up smashed against dirty windshields, which elevated the whole game to the level of pure art – the art of survival among quotidian dangers. The story about those horribly cautious subotans, force-fed to all ducks at the earliest possible age, was meant to illustrate the theory of their own species being the finest on the face of earth.

Back to the sports hall, the trainer had spotted Ratoi’s skill and asked him to join the team next day, despite his age – everybody knows how damaging it is to engage in such a violent sport under the age of eleven. Buchibu came in the same package with Ratoi and thus they began their career in sports. Needless to mention here the immense number of national, European or world cups the two and their handball team had won. Being left-handed, Ratoi played right end, having the task to jump as high as possible without stepping on the line, and while floating in the air toward the goalkeeper, to throw the ball into the net, making sure he fell safely on the floor of the gym without bumping against the keeper or the wooden post.

Buchibu, chubby and slow as he was, played striker – in fact he collected a great deal of punches to his ribs. Nevertheless sports couldn’t take over Ratoi’s life because he was expected to go to school as well, and that meant more than simply showing up in class, it also presupposed fighting against bitter enemies, such as Mickey’s band for instance – Mickey, the drugs, arms and ammunition dealer at prep school 164. Furthermore, Ratoi was supposed to partake at the holy ceremonies of his numerous family, such as Dinner – missing it equaled hanging oneself -, or Breakfast, scheduled for 7 a.m. sharp.

Beside all these compulsory tasks, he also had his love-life to tend to, to provide for his mulatto child born from an affair with a subotan black woman, extremely beautiful though, a feature that balanced the inferior quality of her species. The woman took the kid to Hawaii and sent him postcards with palm trees, azure seas and intensely colored flowers. They had left in a whirl because Ratoi cheated on her with another girl of the average type – beside the most wide-spread types, such as ducks, buchibans, subotans, dobrudgeans or mickeyans the average type also existed, people who had nothing special about them, who were perfectly average and uninteresting, and you could bump into them practically everywhere.

Ratoi happened to fall in love with an average girl also courted by his elder brother, a student at the Police Academy, of the subotan type, because Ratoi’s mother, a duck, ran into his father, a subotan, and the genetic character of the family got all messed up, consequently two of Ratoi’s eleven brothers were subotans, another two were dobrudgeans, one was buchiban, meaning fat, and the rest, thank God, were ducks.

His girlfriend was also wanted – a horrifying fact leading to monstrous battles -, by Mickey, a disgusting guy with eyes floating in alcohol, dressed in black leather and silver chains from head to toe, with greasy hair combed back, constantly reeking of cheap tobacco.

Let it be noted: Ratoi took the hell of a pleasure in breaking the law. According to him, the milestones of justice were erected right in the middle of the road, and it was up to daring individuals like him to reinvent the flow of traffic and open the gates for the free trade of goods. He sold drugs just to prove such things existed in the system, to prove there was supply and demand and nobody could do anything about it; he stole cars in broad daylight, took them to the city limits and smashed them against lampposts, returning them, heavily damaged, to their owners in the evening, taking his revenge on the owner’s stubborn system of accumulating goods; he had even raped a subotan girl who had fallen in love with him, he did it under a bridge with his friends to prove to himself and the others that fear – of breaking the law – was among man’s greatest enemies.

He blew up a barn that hosted the publishing office of an independent newspaper, because except for the movies, he had never seen a real explosion and he was curious whether those small, round things with a ring at one end – stolen from the local police storehouse, the boss, chief manager, leader, patron of which was his own father -, really worked, or were manufactured just to serve as souvenirs. He almost got caught a few times, but his father had always managed to downplay the significance of his deeds, sturdily believing his son was made of good stuff, and all his foolish acts were the fruit of some teenage crisis.

Ratoi carried the seeds of a gangster in him. But those of a good gangster. The difference between good and bad gangsters was that the good ones explained the reasons behind their horrible deeds, in other words they allowed you to peep into their rotten psychological system, as if they were communicating all the time. It was the greatest of all mistakes – he thought -, to commit all sorts of atrocities without ever letting the world find out about them. To selfishly lock them away. To keep others from sharing one’s joy. This is why Ratoi never stopped talking and hated those who kept quiet. As subotans, scared by his overwhelming personality, usually did, choosing to hide in some obscure corner and to become passive spectators of the entire discussion.

Once, in a fit of perverse stubbornness, Ratoi had even tried to help a band of subotans make it in the world of music. He had bought them identical clothes, washed them, fixed their hair with gel, whipped up some whiny songs to be sung on several voices, turned them into a real band, organized concerts for them, had them sign a contract with a small but flourishing record company and finally managed to give them a start on the musical orbit. For a few years he had been their manager, nanny and agent. Then he destroyed the five subotans in no time. The way you’d smash a cockroach after having watched it try and cross the room. Their car had suffered a weird accident while heading for a small town in the north and nobody could tell what had really happened.

At a closer look, all these things about Ratoi are far from being okay, people of the average type are usually shocked by him, being convinced Ratoi ought to be locked away in a cage somewhere on the open sea.

His collar of his shirt lacks attitude so Ratoi pulls it between his two fingers the way his math teacher would do when she took him by the ear; he pulls the collar into the right position in order to put his brown, light-blue-striped necktie on, but he suddenly freezes just to admire the reflection in the mirror of his ring. His looks, with his crisp red hair, astonishing white shirt and precious ring with a black stone – are truly impeccable.

Because the sand in front of him started to turn alarmingly gray, losing all brightness, because each pebble on the ground seemed to become specifically detailed and matter-like, because the shades of beige, brown, green and black began to return to their natural tint, while the noises coming from the kids around – the annoying creak of see-saws first, then the sound from the horn of a bike and finally the sharp, scratching voice of an old woman nearby – grew louder and louder, because all these signals rushed in upon his thoughts, he rose from the bench and stopped hesitatingly in the middle of the path, not knowing which direction to take.