The radio newsroom is quiet but busy, reporters hunch at computers. One of them scribbles in her notebook, cradling a phone. Two guys in jeans huddle in low chat. I walk towards the News Editor who sits checking documents and tapping his teeth with a thumbnail. As usual, Marin wears only black. He rises and shakes my hand, all smiles, long time no see.
His window offers a panorama of the city. We stand for a while watching rush hour traffic. The blue sky turns purple. A big road stretches across Bucharest like the Milky Way, an endless stream of twinkling headlights.
We sit and he serves coffee in plastic cups. On his desk I notice an old china mug with a broken handle, embossed with a colour photo: a group of well-dressed young women, packed together, all smiling. Every picture tells a story.
“Nice girls, who are they?” I ask, sipping my ness. Marin offers a cautious grin and says: “My staff. Some left, some are still here.” He picks up the mug.
“See this girl? She was a reporter who liked celebrities. She took seven friends to a pop concert and tried to blag them in for free on her Press Card. But the Security guy phoned me. I told him no way. She resigned soon afterwards.”
“See the next one, the blonde? Told me she had a friend at a rival station who was well paid for little work and knew VIPs. So, she demanded a pay rise and glamorous stories. I told her not to be silly: her friend was obviously paid for connections whereas she had none. She resigned too. Went to our rivals.”
Marin pauses to take a call then continues his tale, still holding the mug. “This brunette, with the tan and wild hair? She loved environment stories and dreamed of working for an eco-NGO. So, I asked a friend to chat with her.”
I glance at the TV above us. Breaking News: Killer Snails Attack
“Which friend?” I ask, turning back to Marin.
“Someone who worked for an NGO in the Delta. He told my reporter to be wary. Take her time. Find a good one. Many NGOs are just a way to make money. Naturally, she resigned next day to work for an NGO. Guess where?“
He smiles and makes a funny face.
“Six months later, all three reporters phoned me: Can we come back?”
Marin gets up, patting pockets. He needs a cigarette. We move to a balcony, the air is cold. He lights up and we swap career stories: good times and bad times. He saves his best until last.
“In 1993 I was young and idealistic. I joined an NGO, the best I could find: human rights. I had good colleagues, tough assignments and big doubts.”
“We were cramming Somali refugees into accommodation for chickens, feeding them peanuts and charging donors like it was a five star hotel.”
He sees my eyes pop.
“At the same time, we monitored other Romanian companies to prove they were exploiting people, abusing rights. We put those documents in a safe.”
“Until the court case?”
“Until the companies paid up. If not, we published.”
Marin sucks his cigarette. I can’t tell whether he’s proud or disgusted.
“Did you complain?” I ask, folding my arms against the chill.
“First, me and some junior colleagues told the Somalis, tough people who had survived weeks in open boats on the ocean. God knows how they ended up in Romania but when they heard about the donor scam, they went nuts. Then they went on hunger strike. Then we called the press. They gobbled it all up,” laughs Marin, blowing smoke.
“I’ll bet. Then what?”
“Then we got sacked and charged with Bringing The Reputation of Romania into Disrepute. That’s fifteen years in jail. But the case collapsed and the NGO closed down. Don’t get me wrong – some NGOs are good. But some are rascals!”
Back in the office, a shy attractive redhead asks Marin to check her script. He reads quickly, scribbles a few changes and hands it back. She frowns, apologizes and waddles away in her Converse, duck yellow. She looks familiar. I look again at Marin’s mug. She’s there, grinning from ear to ear.
“Well-spotted,” says Marin. “She came down from Moldova for a job interview. I liked her CV, her answers and above all, her honesty. I offered her a position. She was in shock, almost fainted, poor girl.”
“Seems her Dad had told her she would have no chance because she was from the sticks, didn’t know anyone and would have to sleep with the boss.”
“Is that true?” I ask, teasing.
“Not here,” says Marin, flashing his wedding ring. “After the interview, she asked me if she could make a quick call. She dialed and said four words: Dad, you were wrong. Then she put the phone down. She’s one of my best reporters.”
“News? Sport? NGO stories?” I ask, but Marin is watching TV.
“Look at this bullshit,” he says.
(First published in FHM, March 2009, by S.C Sanoma Hearst Romania SRL)