The Size of a Nail

When you are born in a world of fear, corruption and a particular level of poverty, your brain goes into the survival mode and you are less vulnerable. You learn how to manage it.

My parents didn’t have money to spend on what I wanted, but I knew what to ask from mom and what to ask from dad in order to get it. My father bought me books, notebooks, pencils, sweets and fruit. I didn’t need anything else to be happy after doing my homework when the weather was bad and I couldn’t go outside to play with my friends.
On the other hand, I could ask mom to buy me a piece of cake, and she would buy it. Chocolate, candies, mother wasn’t convinced to make the financial sacrifice.

I was my last year in kindergarten and it was my dad’s turn to pick me up at 2:30 PM and take me home. Mom was working the second shift. He opened the door to my classroom and caught my eyes. “Let’s go!” It was summer time and changing from the uniform into my light personal clothes was piece of cake. I placed my uniform and my indoor shoes in my locker and grabbed my father’s hand.
“Would you buy me a piece of chocolate, please?”
Tata (“father” in Romanian) looked at me with a sad smile.
“I’m sorry, we don’t have money for chocolate today.”

We got on the street and hurried to the tram station. There were crowds of people waiting, and when the vehicle stopped, everybody was trampling on everybody. Finally, we managed to get in.
The news that we couldn’t afford to buy a piece of chocolate wasn’t in fact news. That happened often, but sometimes because I asked again and again, tata would give up and make the investment.
“I need a piece of chocolate, dad.”
He didn’t answer. I could see he had a lot on his mind.

We changed trams, and after about 15 minutes, we finally got out by the market in the Iosefin area.
“Would you buy me a chocolate, dad?”
“I don’t have the money to get you a chocolate, my daughter. Why don’t you understand?”
“How about buying me the tiniest one?” I didn’t let go.
My father halted in the middle of the sidewalk and dropped his hands.
“What do you want: bread or chocolate?”
I looked at him with serenity and declared:
“Chocolate.”

He didn’t say anything.
We went and bought a loaf of bread from the bakery and took our way home by the Bega River. Just when I lost my hopes about my treat, we entered the small ABC store on Pop-de-Basesti street.
And dad bought me the minuscule piece of chocolate ever, “Dwarf chocolate”, the size of a nail.
That made my day.

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Life Among Saints -1-

In the Christian Orthodox calendar every day is designated to celebrate one or more saints. From that perspective, with so many people named after saints, I can say I live surrounded by saints.
Sometimes that can be scary.

I remember my Psychology teacher when I was a junior in high school. Her first name was Maria.
Tall, thin, with the jaw bone sticking out, she spread fear around her, and she liked it. Comrade Maria was the communist leader in the school. She had the last word in many decisions.
We lived in the same neighborhood. From the seventh floor where we had our condo, I could see her balcony across the market and her shade growing big when she was passing by the window. It was pretty sinister, even though I had just decided not to fear people anymore, but God.
It wasn’t a secret the day I became a Christian. I was in her class, and her job was to find out such things.

One day during the lunch break I wrote on the blackboard for my classmates when and at what time my baptism was going to be.

Comrade Maria called me in her office. I was shaking, but determined not to show it. By the time I knocked at her door, something happened and she had to leave in a hurry. “Come tomorrow and we’ll talk,” she said reaching for her purse.
I can’t describe the emotions I went through the whole night. My brain was alerted with scenarios about what comrade Maria could ask me and what should I answer. By the time I walked the hall to her office next morning, my entire body was exhausted.
I knocked at the door. Nobody was there. I waited. My first class had already started, but I had let my teacher know about my meeting. All sorts of terrible thoughts were crossing my mind while waiting. They could expel me or hand me over into the hands of the secret police, the militia.

The first period was half through when I got back in my classroom. The teacher stopped from speaking and looked at me with concern. “May I?” I barely could articulate those words. She nodded her head and continued to stare at me, a fly sentenced to death.

Comrade Maria came back to school a few days after our appointment and something weird happened. She never asked to talk to me again. She never threatened me, like she did with others.
A week or two after that, the principal informed me that I couldn’t go to college. I was perplexed. Then I understood why comrade Maria didn’t need to talk to me anymore.

After a number of years, the communists lost their power in that corner of the world.

Two years ago I saw teacher Maria with the corner of my eye, when I visited my country again. We passed by each other in the crowded street. My feet stopped in the middle of the avenue while I was looking back. Her loop of hair was sticking up over the crowd for a moment, then it faded away.

That saint had lost her shine.

The Day When People Looked Younger

One of my childhood’s thoughts was that there was no life after I would be forty years old.

I don’t know for sure when it came to me and how, but I remembered I wasn’t thirteen years old yet because when I was thirteen we moved to a big flat on the seventh floor. Our home was still in a very small apartment close to the river, and because I liked to have my privacy, I would go and hid under the table with a book. I was reading there one day when it hit me: ”When I will be forty, my life will be over. “ It wasn’t a premonition about my early death, but a feeling of being too old to enjoy life at that age.

I did the math and I joyfully established that there were still three decades till then.

Mom had me when she was eighteen and I was suspiciously looking at her to detect signs of her getting old. She was 28.

Years went by slowly and even if I wasn’t looking for the “morbid age” when I was 8, I wanted to be 10. When I was 10, I wanted to be 12. Each day for me was like an inflated balloon, a humongous one, hard to pull it from the moment I was awake to my time to go to bed.

We had a few neighbors mom and dad were friends with in our common courtyard, and I knew some of them were in their forties. They looked old, worried and overwhelmed all the time. The times were tough and joy was not so much at home there, but our family was pretty happy.  Everybody worked six days every week and I sensed that the most rejuvenated day for the adults around me was Saturday.

That was the time when people looked younger for one day.

National Novel Writing Month Still On #NaNoWriMo

While writing the last part of my #NaNo novel ( still some thousands words to go ) there are so many things flooding my soul from my grandparents’ and my parents’ fascinating memories.

“Just Saying” is a fiction, inspired from real events and very much alive people in 1920s to 1970s in Romania. It’s getting a touch from the time when the country was under the harsh Austrian-Hungarian Empire and to the troubled years under the Communism. Romance, drama and secrets, they sprout out together, revealing a society craving for freedom.