The green-eyed girl

Nelu Enache in his pilot uniform

Former pilot and current kidney patient Nelu Enache shares how one day a pair of bluish-green eyes at his dialysis centre triggered a beautiful memory from his youth in a small Romanian village.

As I waited to be connected to the dialysis machine, I sat down on the immaculate white bed, leaned my head back on the pillow and stared up at the ward ceiling until my eyes hurt from the light shining down. Instinctively, I closed them for an instant. When I opened them again, before me stood a young nurse wearing a blue outfit.  

"How much do you weigh today, sir?" she asked. "80 kilos", I replied.  

Following protocol, she connected the treatment lines and leaned slightly towards me, using a piece of sterile cotton to disinfect my arm where she would connect my fistulae. In that instant our eyes met for just a moment. Hers were bluish-green like the deep ocean or the clouds heralding a summer storm in the sky.

Those eyes reminded me of my youth.

I lived in a small Romanian village on the banks of the Râmnic River where I was a student in pilot training. It was on my day off that I met a girl with eyes resembling hers. Arriving downtown, I sat down on a bench. In the alley, a girl wearing a tracksuit and holding a ball stopped in front of me and said: "Don’t I know you from somewhere? Last Sunday, we had a game and I met someone who looked like you. Want to come along with me to practice?"

We started down the alley together. The girl was very cheerful and every two steps she bounced the volleyball on the sidewalk. "Where do you have practice?", I asked. "At the high school, it’s really close", was her reply. "Here we are, walking together, talking, but we don’t know each other", I said uncomfortably. She said nothing. Not then, not later.  

After practice, I walked her home and waited for her to change. Soon she came out in a light blue outfit. We walked down the street holding hands. When I looked at her out of the corner of my eye, I felt good. Her hair, the colour of roasted chestnuts, fell down upon her shoulders, uneven, wavy. Those beautiful eyes.  

Bringing myself back to reality for a moment, my nurse was ready with my fistulae.

At the end of the street

We crossed over towards the bridge across the Râmnic River. She didn’t ask where we were going while she talked about school and her classmates. On the bridge, we suddenly stopped. We leaned against the railings and touched. The girl turned towards me and covered my mouth with one hand. She was almost as tall as me, and it was only then that I could fully see her bluish-green eyes. Right there, on that bridge above the smooth, flowing water, our lips met in a kiss.  

"Is there anything that hurts or bothers you?", asked the nurse. I suddenly sobered up from my memories and managed to answer, "No, everything’s fine."  

In response to the nurse’s question, the pilot in me almost came out. "All secure on board", I thought to myself, just like back then, many years ago, on the Bobocu airfield. That was the same week when we first year students were flying solo. When I found myself alone in the cockpit, strapped to the seat, an ineffable feeling came over me. It was excitement and anxiety at the same time. I started the engine. Its pulse throbbed deeply into my veins, just as the pump of the dialysis machine now gets my blood going.

"All secure on board"

I released the brakes and progressively pushed the engine’s thrust lever. "All secure on board", "Requesting runway permission", I found myself saying. As I directed the airplane to the start line, I saw the guys gesturing and that other planes were following me. At the end of the runway, with the engine revved up to the max, I rose above the green fields. The take-off was like a sweet thrill in my chest. I climbed to 500 metres.  

"I am at the first turn. Requesting clearance to align with the flight path!", I said with confidence. "Cleared!", came the response from the ground.   

I was looking at the aircraft instruments when, down to the left along the wing, I saw the railway tracks. It was perfect flying weather and the plane glided smoothly through the air, without any shaking. I glanced at the map attached to my knees and the controls. From the front of the cockpit, I saw the village of Zoiţa with its spread out houses. "First mark. All secure.", I said. "Very good", came the reply.  

A few minutes later I saw the town of Râmnicu Sărat and quickly targeted the Anghel Saligni’s railway station as a guiding mark. I suddenly remembered the girl I met on Sunday on my day off. The green-eyed girl. I took a sharper turn so I could see the places I had walked with her. I righted the flight path and reported my position: "Second mark checked. All secure on board." "Roger!", came the response.

I flew above the Râmnic River

I checked the flight direction. It was correct. I don’t know how long I flew, but my eyes were glued to the controls and the hill’s irregular crests. My heart seemed to have stopped beating and I couldn’t believe what I saw. The pressure indicator pointer was moving erratically; I leaned on the lever and turned left.

"I’m coming back. The motor oil pressure is dropping", I reported. All sorts of thoughts swirled through my head. A pair of bluish-green eyes seemed to be watching my every move from the mirror of the position compass. I checked my parachute ties. ‘Engine rotation speed is dropping", I said. "Look for a spot and land", the flight manager ordered. I looked down and all I could see was the uneven land sliding rapidly below me.

"I’m going to try to make it to the airfield", I found myself saying. The railway, the acacia cluster, and the training ground. The guardhouse and the tennis courts. I was very close to home. I am 5 km away from the threshold’, I said. "Runway is clear. You can land", came the response.

The engine coughed a few times then stopped. Lever to my chest. The chair jostled me a few times. The brakes screeched in my body. I stopped the plane beyond mid-runway. I can’t say I was scared, but I felt tiredness overcome my entire body and could barely move. I saw faces above me and arms pulling me out of the seat. Then I was stretched out on the grass and the wind was beating against my cheek. I had to find that green-eyed girl again.