[For the Romanian version, visit Bucătăria narativă]
Unlike the other know-it-all taxi drivers I’ve met, Bogdan doesn’t know where “the Mushroom” is, on Ion Mihalache Boulevard in Bucharest. He admits it politely and feels the need to follow up by saying: “But don’t worry, we’ll find it!”. I catch his eye for a moment in the half-shade of the rear-view mirror, and I’m surprised by the gentleness I find there, in high contrast with the rest of him: a large man, with bear shoulders covered in colorful tattoos.
He likes to talk to his customers, because it helps time pass more easily.
I soon find out that this taxi is Bogdan’s “emergency solution”: he has been driving it for one year, only to get some money to leave the country. He’d have left already, had he been able to get a loan from the bank, but as a freelancer and a taxi driver, he had trouble with that.
Bogdan is 36 and he studied law. But like many young Romanians, he wanted to start his “real” life sooner than the system allowed it, so he chose not to get a job at a Bucharest law firm. “I wanted to be independent, to make some money sooner”, he says, confessing that he now thinks it might have been a mistake.
He started two businesses, one after the other, in fields that he was interested in. The first one, a shop selling products to the fans of the local soccer team, Steaua, obtained the official license granted by the soccer club, he tells me proudly. He opened the second business, a small mobile phone and laptop repair shop, together with an IT specialist friend.
Both businesses met with difficulties, though Bogdan feels he did nothing wrong and had no chance to stop the issues from happening. First, there were the conflicts that the soccer club Steaua (a club formerly sponsored by the military) had with the army, which ultimately led to Bogdan and others like him losing their marketing permits and, from one day to the next, having all their merchandise seized. That was how he lost his first business.
Then, after having concluded a deal with a mall and opening a shop on the ground floor of that mall, Bogdan ended up surrounded by repair shops much like his own, which created the kind of competition the small company could not handle. “They always strike the little guy, you know. Doing checkups and audits for no reason”, he tells me. “You have no chance at all, what with the taxes and the way the laws are made… There is never a quiet moment.”
Bogdan says he now feels “beaten by the system and by the people”. He decided that Romania has nothing to offer him. “I’d stay, if only I thought something could change. I’d stay and fight, for my family and my friends. Cause I am a bit of a nationalist, too”, he smiles in the mirror.
It’s already past nine in the evening, but we’re making our way very slowly thorough the heavy traffic, towards the north of the capital. We’re sinking into the sea of cars in Victory Square, but neither of us is impatient. I’m interested in the story, and Bogdan is happy he has time to tell me everything on his mind.
For a while now, he has been planning to move to England. He worked hard to get the money he needs, and now he’s almost ready to go, but the talk of Brexit muddied the waters. He had feared the British would take this kind of measures, but still he’s determined to go on with his plans. Two weeks from now, he’s moving together with his girlfriend of seven years to Christchurch, a small town on the British coast. They chose a small town, because they no longer wish to live in large, noisy cities. Thanks to its beaches and surfing opportunities, Christchurch attracts quite a large number of tourists, and Bogdan plans to keep working as a taxi driver for a while (he already set out the details with a taxi company), and then look for another job. Under the new circumstances, it’s more important than ever to get a work permit before anything else.
We’re now on Ion Mihalache Boulevard, with its many traffic lights. When we stop, Bogdan’s gaze slips beyond the rear-view mirror. Besides, it’s dark outside and it’s hard to see his tired eyes anymore. His voice is still calm and warm, and already he’s talking to me as if I were a friend. However, he never forgets to be polite, despite the fact that I, myself, have dropped the formal “you” in favor of the informal one.
He says he’ll miss his mother most. She needs his support, and he hopes he will be able to bring her along, as soon as possible. Other than her and his friends, he’s also leaving a brother behind, but he’s not as worried about him.
To me, it seems that it takes quite a bit of courage to dust yourself off and start over, like they plan to, and I tell him that. “The real courage would be to stay here and invest in this country”, he tells me. “But I can’t anymore. Everything that happened was too much of a shock to me. I feel so betrayed.”
We’re reaching our destination, so I show him the crossroads we, locals, call “at the Mushroom” and ask him to stop just after the traffic light, in the bus stop. As I’m walking on the pedestrian crossing, I see the yellow taxi still waiting, as if in hesitation. Then, Bogdan turns the car around, facing the center of the city, and drives away.