Reliu Constantin looks good for a corpse. He smokes cigarettes. He curses. He paces his empty apartment in Barlad. Last month a judge confirmed, to Constantin’s face, that according to the laws of Romania, he has been dead since 2003. This ruling, the judge affirmed, is final.
In 1999, Constantin left his wife, severed all contact, and moved to Turkey. “I tried to forget everything from my previous life,” he recalled. “In 19 years, I only spoke Romanian twice. I didn’t want to know anything about the country. I didn’t read the news. I didn’t want to know who the president was. I wanted to completely forget.”
For nearly two decades, Constantin worked in Turkey illegally until being deported back to his home country last month. On arrival in Bucharest, he was notified that his wife had secured a death certificate for him in 2016. Since then, the 64-year-old has existed in legal limbo, spending his days scavenging discarded cigarette butts and haunting the courts of Barlad, pleading his case to anybody who will listen.
I was able to reach the elusive Constantin recently via phone to discuss his case, and the series of events that led to his premature demise.
What is it like being dead?
Right now, I am very poor. I have no money for shoes. I have no electricity. I can only drink water from the public fountain. I’ve been thinking about suicide obsessively, because I feel I have no other chance.
What prevents you from committing suicide?
I only want to live long enough to get revenge on my wife – the woman who caused the worms to eat me. I don’t have just one idea – I have 4,750 ideas for vengeance.
What did your wife do?
She conspired against me with that villain lawyer Laura Grigoraş to declare me dead based on a fictitious file. I had some things in my name: an apartment, a car, several plots of land, my mother’s house. Since I’m dead, those things went to her. Her name is on everything.
How was she able to have you declared dead?
I was away in Turkey, and she bribed the entire court. There is a web of corruption – a lawyer today can be a prosecutor tomorrow or a judge the day after tomorrow. They pronounced me dead based only on the false statements of two witnesses. The file is a joke. On one hand, it says I died in the Turkish earthquake of 1999, and on the other hand, it says I was working in 2001.
Why did you leave in the first place?
Let me explain. Every year, when my wife and I were together, we would go before the relic of Saint Parascheva in Iaşi to swear that we would not be unfaithful to one another. Once, when we were coming back, she was driving and we had an accident. The car flipped over. That was a sign from God. She cheated on me with so many men – an army colonel, a major. She turned my house into a brothel. Anyone who wanted to would come to my house to engage in Olympic sex. I have at least one hundred witnesses that can testify about that. Not only that, but she has killed eight or nine of her own babies.
What do you mean?
Every time she would get pregnant, she would lift heavy weights so she would abort the baby. She had two abortions prior to the birth of our daughter, and then another abortion immediately after. She did the abortion herself and threw the embryo in the toilet next to our house. Another is buried at my parent’s house behind the toilet there, and another she buried in a vineyard.
Why did she keep having abortions?
She is a hermaphrodite, with a pair of testicles and a clitoris that is something like four to five centimeters long. Because there was a fusion between her male and female hormones, she would behave like a man one week, and a woman the next. All the doctors I met confirmed this diagnosis that she hated children because of the fusion of her hormones.
How did you fall in love with her?
We met by accident in a movie theater. I had a ticket for the 13th seat of the 13th row, which is very unlucky, so I took the empty seat next to her instead. At the time, I was trying to heed the advice my father gave me on his deathbed. “If you want to be happy,” he warned, “do not marry a rich and beautiful woman.”
And she was neither?
Yes. My greatest mistake is that I didn’t beat her up. In twenty years of marriage, I just slapped her around. I never really went for it. There were some things about her that would drive a sane man crazy. I found a blouse in the closet, for instance, and sewn into the sleeve of this blouse was the wing of a raven. I confronted her about it, but she didn’t respond.
What was the meaning of the raven?
She was casting spells. In Turkey, I traveled to the black village where the darkest wizards live. One wizard, who didn’t know me said, “There are spells on you.” I was very confused because I am a firm believer in God. I’m not a Muslim. The wizard said that my biggest mistake was touching that raven wing, and I cannot dismantle the spell until I get an object belonging to my wife, or a photograph.
What is the curse?
I can move as freely as a bird, but everything around me will be evil. Nothing will be good for me.
That sounds like being dead.
I agree. Spells are constantly around me. Earlier, a cloth filled with hair appeared in my apartment out of nowhere. The spells are very powerful. I am not a gypsy or a beggar, but I am very, very sad and very sick, and my organs are no longer functioning. I have three paralyzed fingers, and I cannot even lift a spoon or cut anything with a knife. I am feeling really bad, because for three months I haven’t taken my diabetes medication. It requires a test, and I cannot do any tests because I am dead.
The doctor won’t see you because you’re dead?
The doctor refused to touch me before he did any tests, and he can’t do any tests without a health card, and you can’t have a health card if you’re dead.
Have you met other dead people like you?
No, I am the only one, and it is driving me crazy. I feel that my mind has let me down, that I’ve become an idiot. I didn’t use to be like that. I never had problems with the police. I was a chef in Turkey. I had upscale clientele. Everyone knew me. Everyone knew I was honest. I swear on the cross on which Christ was crucified.
Do you worry you might actually be dead – that death might actually just be an endless bureaucracy?
No, I do not question the fact that I am alive. If I would, then I would be ready to go to the madhouse. But, let me ask you a question. How would the lowest person on earth, a person who cannot express himself, cannot think for himself – what would that person do in my position? The lowest being on earth? What would he do if he was declared dead? I want an answer from you.
I think the lowest being would truly come to believe that they were dead.
I saw death with my own eyes, and death was different than this. I was nearly killed five times. When the earthquake happened, the walls fell in on me, and I was very badly injured. My left foot was broken in two. My left hand was cut. I couldn’t get out of my bed. Everything had to be put back together again.
What was your first experience with death?
When I was nine, I fell from a bridge into an oily river. I was dead for three minutes before a woman saved me.
What was it like to be told that you were dead for the first time, coming back into Romania?
Everyone in Turkey knew that I was dead, but nobody told me. They treated me very nicely. When I landed in Bucharest though, two guards took my passport and told me I couldn’t enter the country because I was officially dead. It completely blew me away. In ten seconds, my mouth and throat and tongue dried out because I was so in shock.
What did you say?
At first, I started to weep. I said, “I won’t talk to anyone without having a cigarette. I don’t care if you kill me, I have to have a cigarette first, and try to pull myself together.” They made me give statements for about one hour. There were fifteen officials from the customs office that came, and I was lucky because one of them was from my town. He asked me questions about the town and from my answers he could see that I was legitimately from there, so they let me go.
How did the people who knew you react when you returned?
My mother went into shock. She had to be hospitalized for three days. Some of my friends have been kind, but others make jokes. “You look pretty good for a dead guy,” they say. A cop told me, “Be careful not to die, because no one will bury you without your paperwork.” It’s true, you cannot be buried without having the proper papers. You cannot even be incinerated. Everybody asks me questions about the situation, which I why I only go out at night. I’m disturbed by the questions.
I have a project collecting dreams – what are yours like?
My best dreams happened in childhood. I remember flying like a bird and everyone admiring me for the heights I could attain. The dream I cherish most is one I had before I was ten years-old. I was dreaming of my parents’ vineyard, and I remember God coming down like a helicopter right beside me. He put his right hand on my head, stayed for a while, and then went up again.
What did it feel like to be touched by God?
I remember being very happy and content in the dream, but when I woke up, no one believed that I saw God. I was very disappointed. My mother and brother said I was crazy and that there was something wrong with me.
What do you dream about now?
Recently, I dreamed of being back in the vineyard where God visited me, but this time only the devil showed up. He put his hand on my head and said, “You’re going to die.” I consider my current predicament as a slap from the hand of God. There is no criminal or mobster in Sicily, and no thief in Romania that hasn’t been slapped by God.
Why were you slapped by God?
I made my share of mistakes, but I’m not sure what they are.
What is your legal plan now?
I have had a few lawyers come, and there is a lawyer from Bucharest that is advising me now. But, I would rather be judged on the Ivory coast or anywhere in Africa than in Barlad, because it is completely corrupt there. I have the right to ask to be judged in a neutral territory, so I will do that.
What will you say?
I will tell the judge to put his head on my chest and listen to my heart.