Preview The Book
He made it! He made it! He’s alive!” With those words, my father dropped the phone, collapsed to the ground, and began crying uncontrollably. Shocked, I stood there, my heart pounding faster and faster as my mind began jumping to frightening conclusions.
“Tata, what happened?” I asked. “Who’s alive?”
“Who could have been in such danger? And, if they’re alive, why is my father weeping?” I wondered. I glanced toward Mother only to see that she, too, was sobbing. Dismayed, I felt my heart sink.
“What could possibly be so wrong?” I thought. “And why won’t they tell me anything?”
After what seemed like an eternity, my parents motioned for me to sit down. Scared, I lowered myself to the ground and squeezed in between them. And for the very first time in my life, I heard them whisper to me the incredible plan my family orchestrated to escape Communist Romania in search of freedom.
Hidden behind the Iron Curtain and severed from the world, my beautiful country was dying slowly from the blow of Communism. Nestled between the Carpathian Mountains, the Blue Danube, and the Black Sea, what had been a thriving kingdom known as the “Grainery of Central Europe” just thirty years earlier, had now become a country in mourning— a country of rations and portions, where people stood in line for hours in hope of receiving one loaf of bread.
The Securitate was working in full force. Patterned with diabolical precision after the Russian KGB, this state-controlled agency received its orders directly from the Soviet Union, and used the same methods of emotional, moral and physical torture and intimidation.
Christians were persecuted for their beliefs; telephones were tapped; the media was biased, and there was no freedom of speech. Anyone who spoke against the government was immediately incarcerated or killed.
If one believed in God, that person was considered a traitor. If one chose not to belong to the Communist Party, that person was labeled anti-partisan and suffered the economic, financial, emotional and physical brunt of such a choice. Dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu’s grip upon the people and the country was tightening every day, and freedom had become a figment of one’s imagination.
“Sweetheart,” Mother said, “Uncle Emil was pressured to become an informant, a secret agent for the Securitate. They wanted him to work for them. They wanted Uncle to spy on the Christians in Alba Iulia.
“I need a couple days to think about this,” he had told them. If he would have refused them outright, he would have endangered his family. So, he chose, instead, to risk his own life and swim across the Danube into Yugoslavia. For an entire week, we didn’t know if he was dead or alive, until just minutes ago. Darling, we couldn’t tell you anything before. It was too dangerous. But now you must listen carefully.”
“What next?” I asked, as my heart raced.
“Sperantza,” Mother said, “it’s only a matter of days until the govern-ment finds out what has happened. Once they do, our lives will be in danger. We must escape, and we must do it fast.”
“What? Escape the Securitate? Mama, how can we do that? Uncle Emil swam across the Danube, but what about us? How can we do it?” I heard my voice get louder and louder, as the tension inside of me became painfully obvious.
“Shh!” Mother motioned, pressing a finger to her lips.
Father got up from the floor and turned the radio on louder than before. It was a small safety measure my parents always took before telling me some- thing important, in case the house was bugged. The words—danger, death, escape—were playing in my mind over and over again, like a broken record and I felt my head begin to spin. Danger, death, escape... Danger, death, escape...danger....
“Do you remember when Mother and I applied for a trip to Germany, but we were denied the Visas?” continued Father.
“Of course,” I said, clearly remembering Mr. Enescu, our neighbor, who worked for the Criminal Justice System, coming and speaking with my parents.
“Mr. Enescu wanted to intervene for us,” said Father, “but we asked him not to. He wanted to put in a ‘good word’ on our behalf with the Securitate. ‘I know you won’t defect, Mr. Totpal,’ he said. ‘I know you’ll come back.’ We told him we had prayed for this trip and would accept God’s will for us.
Sperantza, if we would have allowed him to intervene for us, his career would have been finished. His life, and that of his family, would have been in extreme danger. Mr. Enescu would have been considered an accomplice to our defection.”
“Is that the reason you didn’t go on that trip?”
“Yes, darling, that’s why.”
“So, what do we do now?”
“We have applied for a trip to Turkey for you and Mother. If they give their approval, you two will be leaving within weeks.”
“Wait a minute... What about you? What about my sister?” I asked.
“We must remain behind, Sperantza,” said my father, sadness creasing his face. “They would never allow all of us to leave.”
“Tata, Turkey, of all places? And without you, or Cornelia?”
At only fourteen, the thought of not only my own life and Mother’s, but that of my father and little sister hanging in the balance was just too much for me to bear. No matter how hard I tried to stop the tears, the flood of emotions overwhelmed me and I began to sob.
“Shh. Don’t cry, Sperantza. Don’t cry. God will take care of us. He will protect us, and He will make a way. You must be brave, my child. You must help your mother. And above all, you must keep the secret.”