“Going to vote, Domnul Vasile?” I lean from my bedroom window, looking down towards our elderly neighbour. Vasile pauses in the lane below me, glancing about. He’s wondering where the voice came from. He’s dressed dapper today – dark suit, shirt and tie, shiny shoes – despite the wintry weather. His feet must be cold in all that snow and slush but he seems in good spirits, which is unusual, considering he probably hasn’t got any spirits inside him just yet.
Most days, Vasile wobbles along in an old tweed jacket, corduroys, and wellies caked in mud. Sometimes, he’ll stop to pee in the middle of our lane, talking to himself. Or perhaps to his Little Richard. But not today.
I wave a hand. “Up here.”
Vasile looks towards my window. “Oh, it’s you. Bună ziua, Domnul Mike. Nine o’clock and still in your pyjamas?”
“Late night, late start.”
“Not me. I have to rise early. Sheep, see.”
“And the cows, I suppose.”
“Them, too.” Vasile leans against the fence and points a stubby finger into our yard. “You should get a couple of goats. Place is big enough. Decent grass, come summer.”
“Goats? No chance, we’ve got three dogs. And five cats, one of which is yours, by the way. The white one. She adopted us.”
“Keep the damned cat. I never see her, these days. Anyway, I must be off.”
“To vote, by any chance?”
“Yes. Long walk but I feel I should. And you?”
“I can’t vote. I’m from England, remember. It’s a little country near Europe.”
“So I hear.” Vasile winks at me, sharp as ever.
I gesture towards foggy hills. “Important day for Romania, though. So, I hope you’ll vote for the right people.”
“And who might they be, Domnul Mike?”
“The ones who’ll make things better.”
“Better roads, schools, hospitals. And less corruption.”
“In Romania? You must be dreaming, go back to bed.”
“Need to feed the pets. So, who will you vote for, if I may ask?”
“Not the usual lot, anyway. What do they do for our village? We’ve got no bus, no gas, dodgy water, and the snow plough never comes. And what about jobs, real jobs? My wife works in Germany ten months a year, just so I can renovate the house. Get my vote? They’ll get my boot.”
“Exactly, we need a change. So, who will you vote for?”
“No idea. I’ll wait until I get there.”
“Check the list, find someone I never heard of, and vote for them. Done!” Vasile raises a thumb.
“Fair enough, Domnul Vasile. But how come you’re not wearing gloves, on such a cold day?”
“Who needs gloves?”
“It’s minus five Celsius, according to my thermometer. I’m freezing up here.”
“Better get dressed then, hadn’t you? Good day, Domnul Mike, and think about a goat.” Vasile moves up the rutted lane, stepping around a gloopy puddle, adjusting his black astrakhan hat.
I watch him go, and hope for warmer days. The sun is trying to break through the thick, grey fog that clings to our hills and fills our valleys. But the fog won’t budge. It wants to stick around, engulf us, stop us seeing. Perfect weather for an election in Romania.
This story is from Mike Ormsby’s collection Never Mind the Vampires, Here’s Transylvania. In 2008, Romania’s literati dubbed Ormsby The British Caragiale, in a nod to their fin-de-siècle satirist. His books include Palincashire – Tales of Transylvania, and Never Mind the Balkans, Here’s Romania.