I wake to loud voices in the kitchen. Through the
closed bedroom door I can hear Tata and Mama shouting in anger. A faint light
from the street lamp comes through the thin curtains covering the bedroom
windows, but it is not enough to make out things in the room. Maybe it is
still only evening, and the whole night is ahead of me? My older brother
Ferkó, who sleeps alone in a large twin bed, is not moving.
I feel alone and miss the comfort of Mama's warm body. I reach over to Tata's
bed, thinking that I might somehow find him there, even though I can recognize
his voice in the kitchen. This darkness surrounds me tightly. I wait patiently,
hoping that the voices will stop and Mama will come back. But Tata's anger
pounds through the door like a weighty hammer. I've never heard him so angry.
I cover myself with the thick woolen blanket and shut my eyes, trying to
force sleep to come. If only I could not hear them! But they go on and on.
My parents have twin beds pushed together, and I am supposed to sleep in
the middle. However, being in between the two beds is not comfortable, so
I always end up on Mama's side. I have been there ever since I can remember.
Tata goes to bed early because he is the first to get up in the morning.
I, on the other hand, often go to sleep with Mama, feeling her surround me
like a soft and secure comforter, her left arm folded over me. I like playing
with the soft skin of her bent elbow. Tata is always close by, though at
arm's length, and I can usually hear his heavy breathing. His pinkish dentures
are on the night table in a clear glass, his face is puckered up, and his
lips tremble ever so slightly as he snores.
I don't think Tata likes this sleeping arrangement with me in between the
two of them, especially now that I am eight. One night when I was much smaller
I woke up realizing that I was in his bed, while he and Mama were together
in the other bed, whispering. Feeling like I had lost my rightful spot, I
started whimpering, pleading to be allowed back by Mama. It was really dark,
but I remember after a while Tata lifting me with his strong hands and depositing
me by her.
"Here. You can have him," he mumbled while Mama embraced and kissed me softly
on the hair as I found my usual spooning place in her arms.
"Sleep sweetie, sleep," she whispered in my ears. Enveloped by her warmth
and soft fragrance, I felt victorious as I fell asleep.
It is dark now, and the loud voices in the kitchen will not stop. Why are
Tata almost never raises his voice towards Mama, and when that happens, she
never returns his shouts. She turns her back on him and on us too, and spends
days in the kitchen nook, working quietly and crying softly. She can cry
for days. I am so afraid now that I finally get up, walk over to the door
and open it slowly. The strong kitchen light hits me in the eyes, and I can
barely see. My parents stop, surprised, but turn back to each other almost
immediately. Tata is by the kitchen stove in his long cotton nightshirt that
reaches almost to the ground, moving his arms as he yells. Suddenly, his
right hand rises and he slaps Mama across the face. It makes a very loud
noise. For a moment they are both suspended, as if in disbelief.
When she starts crying softly, I run over and embrace her legs, her robe
smooth on my face.
"I don't care if you leave," Tata shouts. Then he turns around, walks into
the bedroom and slams the door behind him.
Mama collapses back on a kitchen chair and lays her head over her crossed
arms. I do not want her to cry, so I hug her. I caress her hair. I softly
kiss her. She lowers her head onto my shoulder in a familiar gesture and
goes on crying.
"Are you going to leave?" I ask. I wonder where she would go in the middle
of the night. We don't have any relatives in Cluj.
"Yes," she whispers quietly, weeping on my shoulder now. "I cannot live here
After a while she looks me in the eyes and strokes my head. "I must wash
and pack my suitcase."
When she gets up from the chair, I hold onto her arms, not wanting her to
leave. Finally, I plead, "Will you take me with you? Please take me with
you. I want to come with you."
She looks at me sadly and hugs me. After a long silence she says gently,
"Let's go back to bed, Misike."
We enter the dark bedroom with her hand weighing on my shoulder, as if I
am carrying her. Tata is still awake, but his body is turned away from us,
facing the window. I can hear his fast, angry breathing. I snuggle up to
Mama without saying a word, close my eyes tightly so I won't see him and
fall asleep in her arms.
May 1st, the Workers Day, and
August 23rd, the National Liberation Day, are special, and Father and I always
spend the whole day together. Father has to participate in the twice-yearly
marches past the city authorities, celebrating the communist leadership and
all their accomplishments. This is always a happy day for me.
Early in the morning, I put on clean shorts, a white shirt, and around my
neck, I tie my red triangular Pioneer scarf. Father also dresses nicely:
a clean short-sleeved shirt, freshly ironed pants and highly polished shoes
replace the half-destroyed boots he always wears for work. After a slow
breakfast, he and I walk over to Napoca Street.
Most of the city is gathered there in groups that are formed according to
types of workplaces. Father and I look for the workers of Aprozar, the state
enterprise he works for, and when we find them, we receive banners and pictures
of our national leaders whose names I recognize but do not know much about.
Attendance is taken by someone, and we all practice shouting as loud as we
are able slogans in the leaders' praise. I am happy and excited out there,
surrounded by the crowd and feeling the spring sun warm me. I like being
with Father. When the time comes, we start marching, holding a placard up
high. I walk beside Father, feeling his strong, rough hand envelop mine.
When we arrive at the bleachers, built in front of the Romanian City Opera
especially for this occasion, we start shouting the slogans and waving the
"Look straight at them," Father says, pointing to the people on the bleachers.
From up there, unknown faces are looking in my direction, smiling and waving
their hands. Then, a few blocks down, as the crowds disperse, everyone going
their own way, and we head as fast as we can for Union Square, where we take
the trolley to Hoia. This is a wide meadow on a hill, a few kilometers out
of town, where we just lay in the grass, drink beer and lemonade, eat
mititei-Romanian hamburgers-and watch folk dancing and puppet shows
the entire day.
One spring we push our way into a bus to Hoia so full we barely fit in it.
We get off twenty minutes later: tired, sweating and happy. Tata takes my
hand, and we start off up the unpaved dusty street, with no sidewalk. I can
feel his rough hand full of tiny cuts, with wide palms and thick fingers.
His hand is always warm and solid, even in the winter. As we reach the top
of the hill, the early May sun heats the crown of my head and my shoulders.
Tata breathes heavily, and he wants to stop for a second and let others get
ahead of us.
"There is no hurry, Misike. We have the entire day here. Your mother is not
waiting for us with dinner."
"What is Mama doing at home alone?" I ask. She never comes with us to Hoia,
and she must be lonely.
Tata does not answer, and we start walking again. We turn to the left and
face a large meadow sprinkled throughout with small groups of people sitting
on the grass, mostly gathered around a podium in the middle of the meadow.
Ahead of us the road full of people follows the edge of the forest over a
hill to more meadows, with more podiums and more music. On the right the
wooden water mill of the Folklore Museum is closed. The familiar sound of
folk music blasts out of two huge loud speakers by the podium, and a small
group of people are folk dancing on it. We head towards it, and on the way
Tata stops at a stand and buys himself a bottle of beer and me a couple of
mititei and a bottle of green lemonade. We find a place not so far
from the podium on the sloped hill about eye level with the performers-which
surprises me since Tata cannot stand loud music-and we sit down on the grass.
A group of about fifteen dancers, men dressed in colorful peasant suits,
hats with flowers and short sticks in their hands are performing a dance
called C?lu?arii, from Oltenia, a southern region of Romania. They dance
in two rows, facing each other, jumping over their sticks and feigning a
battle. I watch their familiar hopping movements to the fast music while
I tap the rhythm with my fingers and imagine myself as one of the dancers.
I would like that.
After finishing my mititei and lemonade, I lay my head on Tata's lap
and look up at the sky. It is mostly blue and wide and silent, while the
music by the podium is jumping at a fast pace. High up there, the strong
wind blows the white puffy clouds as if hurrying them somewhere, maybe towards
the city and out of my sight. Tata lays his heavy hand on my shoulder, arranges
my body a little so my head fits comfortably. I like the friendly weight
of his hand on my shoulder and cover it with my own hands, recognizing the
dry thin skin of the back of his hand. We just lie there silently, staring
into the deep-blue sky and smelling the fresh green grass around us.
"Tata, do we have any relatives in America?" I ask after a while. He does
not answer immediately.
"Why do you ask, Misike?"
"I don't know. I was just wondering."
"I don't think anyone survived when I returned from the concentration camp.
Everyone died there."
"Did your sister, Blanka néni, also go to the camp?"
"No, she was not deported. She was lucky."
"Who died there, Tata?" He remains quiet for a long while. Then he whispers.
"Listen to the music, Misike." He seems to be somewhere else.
We keep quiet for a while, not knowing what to say, but soon I continue my
questioning. "Tata, how do you know that everyone died?"
He looks at me gently, but I feel his heavy hand on my shoulder tighten a
"Actually, I don't know. Maybe someone did survive."
"Could they be in America?"
"Why do you ask, Misike?"
"Maybe someone could send me a pair of blue jeans from America." There is
silence for a while, and I wonder what he is thinking about. He slowly caresses
my shoulder. "Would you like that?"
"Yes, very much. I would really like to have a pair of blue jeans. None of
my friends has one yet, so I would be the first one. And they are fantastic."
"Misike, do you know something? Maybe someone did survive and I could try
to find out. Would you like me to do that?"
"I will write to America, Misike," he whispers. "I am sure we will find someone
to send you a pair of blue jeans."
A new group of dancers come up onto the stage. I look at their wide cotton
pants, embroidered at the bottom, and their tight vests. I like folk music,
but not the way they dress. I don't like peasant clothes. Maybe Tata told
me the truth, and I will really get a pair of blue jeans. American blue jeans.
Wouldn't that be great! I close my eyes and slowly drift away towards the
city along with the white puffy clouds, wearing a new pair of blue jeans
as all my friends, from the ground, admire them.