Comrade

The proper way to call your teacher was “comrade” – we were told in our first grade – or “comrade” followed by her last name. And at times you could hear on the school corridors a whining voice asking “Comraaaade”. There was another instance when you would address her this way: when you threaten someone to tell on him or her. Semi ironic you could hear at times a group of sophomores yelling in a humorous choir: ”Told on to the comrade! Told on to the comrade!” It didn’t mean you or whatever you were doing at that moment had to be told on to the teacher anytime soon, but it was nevertheless an amused threat. We know you are doing something against the rules and we could denounce you I we so wished; instead we are just going to laugh at you, they were meaning.

“The comrade” was the teacher in charge if we visited a factory, a park, if she was the only teacher present at the time in the school yard, or simply because we didn’t know her name at all. We didn’t understand too well the meaning of the word (tovarăș), a neologism from Russian when used in this way. The initial usage of the word referred to married people “my comrade of life” or to dogs. Romanian already had the exact meaning of “comrade” in “camarad” but, being borrowed from capitalist France, I assume it just wasn’t good enough. Regardless of origin nobody dared to call a respected teacher in a serious talk “comrade”, it would have sounded very awkward. Our primary school teacher was Miss. Dragnea, nobody ever dared to call her “comrade”, and in the middle school not even the thought of calling a teacher “comrade” crossed our minds.

During my sixth grade the Romanian Ministry of Education had given the order that nobody addresses the teachers any other way but “comrade”. For us it did feel hilarious but something made our teachers take it seriously so that our class master summoned us in a pioneer meeting specially to communicate us the order. Miss Podoleanu was one of those women that while thin and not tall at all still didn’t give any impression of fragility. She was our Romanian teacher. Dark haired, intense eyes and with a strong commend of logic. I was one of the few who loved her for her grammar passion. It felt as if we both shared a common secret game. Yeah, morphology was dumb easy, and syntax an adventure.

She told us sternly about the order and added they are right, we are not anymore ladies and gentlemen in the new socialist society, we are all workers who build the communism hence it’s fair to call each other comrades. I’m not sure what came over me. Some of my colleagues were slightly smiling, others were watching her blankly. I rose up and said she finished her high school then later graduated the university, I’m a sixth grade so how on earth can I be really a comrade to her.

She avoided my eyes and her voice wasn’t so sure anymore but she did manage to explain that we all build the communism therefore, in that respect only, we can all be comrades. And, all of a sudden, I felt alone, terribly alone far from her and far from the others. It wasn’t a thought with words, it was just a cold, aloof feeling. In that meeting I didn’t talk anymore.

At home mother laughed worriedly at my story. At school pupils called teachers comrade for a few weeks then slowly everything went back to normal. No teacher, either before that order or after, ever contemplated the idea of calling us “comrade”.

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