Jan 18, 2015
Jan 5, 2015
Romania these days is packed with long and wide food lines. People wait for hours to buy rationed meat, soy or sunflower oil, sugar, bread, and vegetables. Hunger is the everyday norm.
In a potato line, one super-hyper man spits cusses at the “hunger system” and blames it on the communist government.
Angry and loud, he puffs on his cigarette and monologues about the old days when food was healthy and plenty, when old Romania was the grain supplier of the Entire Europe.
Some people in line nod their heads but no one comments; talking publicly against the system can cost one dearly.
The restless man gets in and out of the line, and suddenly he lays eyes on a friend waiting at the back of the line.
A trivial conversation issues, and after the banal exchange, he asks out loud, “Did you hear the one with the old lady at the soccer game?” Before getting a reply he continues, “An old lady was on a soccer stadium during a world cup match when all of the sudden the entire audience jumped to its feet screaming: O-ble-men-co, O-ble-men-co [the name of a famous Romanian soccer player]. Confused and curious, the old lady grabs a man by the sleeve and asks, ‘Sir, did they finally replace Ceausescu?’”
No one laughs one can be arrested for telling or laughing at a joke about our president, the beloved, comrade Ceausescu.
The man ends his joke gets back in line and lights up another cigarette. Out of nowhere, two men approach him whisper something in his ear and he quietly leaves the line, edged between the two.
Dec 17, 2014
I find a part time job on a construction site and I rent a small paneled room past the wilderness of Giulesti. The ranch style cottage where I rent hides in the shadow close to a long stone path. Scooped under a wide oak my room borders the sidewalk near the gate. The owner of the house, Mrs. Codin, a retired university professor in her 50s, has a daughter studying at a university away from home and a handsome son, Dan, about to graduate from the prestigious Gheorghe Lazar High School.
And Dan says he loves me... His mother watches like a hawk, as he gently pursues me with promenades, poetry and platonic romance. One late Friday night we go for a long stroll. It’s a moonless night with the anemic city lights flinging phantoms on walls and fences. We hold hands and slalom the neighborhood spying for ghosts talking and laughing, hours fly by. While walking back home we decide to do it again tomorrow night. Back in the yard, Dan stops me from opening my door.
“It squeaks,” he whispers. “It’ll wake up Mom.” He wants to sneak me inside his room, adjacent to his mother. Holding hands and panting with anxiety, we carefully tiptoe through a common foyer and onto the soft, Persian rug of his spacious bedroom.
Sandals off, I drop myself on the floor. Dan slowly locks the door and switches on a small porcelain lamp. A warm light falls on a queen size bed covered with spotless, perfectly ironed Dutch linen. While I survey a black upright piano and a wall full of books, Dan pulls the heavy drapes, opens a window into the dark night and drops down next to me on the rug.
We kiss. I run my hands through his velvety black hair and set sail in the blue sea of his eyes. I lick his engorged lips while he sinks his teeth and lightly bites mine. I unbutton his shirt, and he stretches out of his pants. We roll on the rug and he pulls me on top. I resist. He gives up and lies on his back next to me. I caress his perfect skin. My hands run light circles on his chest, stomach, lower, lower still. He grips my hand, holds it tenderly then moves it back to his upper chest. Minutes later, the pattern repeats.
Dawn creeps on the floor next to us where we hug, knotted tight, me fully dressed, Dan in his boxers and unbuttoned shirt. I stand up and peek through the drapes.
“I must go,” I say urgently.
“Okay,” Dan agrees. We kiss and hug. I jump out the window and across the stone path I slip into my dark, taciturn room. Awake and pensive I lay on me bed unable to stop thinking about the previous night. Clouded thoughts and feelings focus on Dan—admiration, physical attraction and respect mixed with an overall sense of peace and wellbeing when he’s around.
Is this love? Something’s missing.
Late in the afternoon, I hear a soft knock. I snap the door open, and find myself facing Dan and his best friend Traian, better known as “the medusa.”
Dan has many friends all over the city but his best buddy is also a neighbor who lives a few houses down the same quaint alley. They grew up in the same neighborhood went to the same elementary and that’s where the commonalities end. Traian is from a struggling family. He’s not a high school honor student; he’s an average Joe attending vocational school. He plays no piano, reads little and never goes to the theatre. Traian is a leech with an unstable character and emotional state. I do not like him. He is a thug and aware of my feelings he takes revenge every chance he gets.
Before I say come in, he insolently walks past me and makes himself at home. Dan follows and they both sit on my bed. Dan draws me close to his side while a wicked smirk grows on Traian’s face. Our conversation slides to a stop with the three of us lying on our backs, feet planted on the floor, eyes focused up on the paneled ceiling. I am in the middle, holding Dan’s head on my chest, while Traian dozes off on my left.
Dusk arrives early. It hangs on the curtains over two small windows peeking on the red sky. No one talks, the three of us stuck in a state of hypnagogia––not asleep and not awake, shrouded in the peace of a dense night. When black conquers all, I watch Dan and Traian shrink away in the flaky moonlight, while across the path a curtain topples over a tall shadow.
Early the next morning, loud, demanding taps rattle my door. I open it and Dan’s mother steps in as if blown in by a blizzard. My “good morning” goes unanswered and her prominent stature gulps up the space in my tiny room. Her eyes inspect the room, blatantly violating my frail sense of privacy. As if understanding my feelings, she blinks and asks permission to sit on my bed. I sit next to her. A black mourning dress, her husband passed away not long ago, covers her snow-white skin and tall heavy body. She doesn’t get much sunlight.
She tilts her head to the side while her icy blue eyes pierce through me tunneling beyond my irises for answers and confessions. Under her fine, high tipped nose, her small lips move, but I don’t hear distracted by her body language it warns that this won't be a friendly chat.
Her words hurl out like stones of lynching. She’s accusing me of sleeping with her son and his best friend. A threesome? She saw them both sneak into my room and hours later sweaty and guilty melt away the night sweaty and guilty. Guilty? Sweaty?
I struggle for words to defend myself. But I stare in silence at the skin on my legs as they stick close together on the edge of the bed, just as they were last night. Not getting much out of me, Mrs. Codin leaves the room after demanding that I move out as soon as possible.
Later that night, Dan softly raps on my sidewalk window. I peep through the curtain and send him away. He insists. I open the window and he jumps in and hugs me in a tight clasp. On the bed, our clothes on, he holds me gently and the vexing game begins again; my trembling hands caressing his chest, abs, over the belly button, lower, lower… and Dan moving it back up all the way to his collarbone.
Now I know why. His mother is watching and Dan Codin cannot perform.
Oct 11, 2014
Two years before selling the house Father made his last will and testament leaving his estate to Mark the grandson he helped raise from birth. Now that he stands to lose it all Father’s pain is impossible to bear, even for his young grandson and the fact that we must soon return to New York doesn’t make it any easier.
Father hired a lawyer to help him fight his real estate crusade. The lawyer found loopholes in the legality of selling and buying the house and he's collecting evidence to build his case. We leave the amount necessary to cover Father’s expenses and drive back to Serbia where in three days we must board the plane from Belgrade to New York.
Weeks later, Father whizzes his pain through the phone lines. He cries and cusses about being thrown out of his house and living on the street.
One afternoon the police knocked on his door the gypsies stepping in their shadow. One officer tells Father to pack his belongings, while another officer carries and piles the stuff on the dirt path outside the fence. Later a kind neighbor allows him shelter in her house and stores his possessions in her shed. Three doors down in his house the gypsies gather singers, live brass bands and all. Loud music blows the night into shards of sheer madness while the neighbors brace themselves, for a bleak future.
Then it quiets, and it stays that way for days. No movement comes from and about the old house; except for Father prowling along the fence in the dull dusk light stretching his neck and glancing over it. Past the twilight, a death-clasping scream pierced the air and traveled the hoary yards. More voices thumped up and down the hardened path. Then over the tumult the ambulance and police sirens yelled up the hill, tugging neighbors from their beds and onto the narrow lane.
“What happened? What’s going on?” hung on everyone’s lips. A neighbor ran between Father’s old gate and a clump of curious heads clamored by the main road.
“They found a dead gypsy in Dumitru’s house.”
The news outflowed like broken dam waters, and neighbors whispered how Father now was nowhere in sight. From the shadows the crowd stretched a collective neck to spy the covered gurney wheeled into the ambulance. The vehicle proceeded quietly downhill followed by loud wailing gypsies on foot. Their swindle bashed in terror when the wife came home to find her husband on a chair at the living room table his head rested on his hands crossed near empty bottles and glasses. From afar she thought he was drunk asleep, but as she got closer, she saw the back of his head carved open and white spongy mass scattered over his arms and the dingy table. She screamed into her phone for help and kept vigil by the side of his chair. She held and kissed his cold face and stared into his open terror sealed eyes. She blew warm air into his blood-splotched hands and hugged him tightly to transfer life into his rigor mortis slouched body.
Wailing in pain, the young wife ran down the slanted yard yelling gypsy meddled words pulling her hair and tossing it in the wind. She tore at her clothes dancing circles she rhythmically bent to daub dirt on her head. Cried and sang and tapping her feet to raise dust on the same spot, a gypsy ritual to strew the bad spirits. Bawling out of breath her mother and sister ran up the knoll and joined in her twirl while neighbors crossed themselves trapped at a sinister parade.
More police cars screeched up Eternitate Street, blocking roads and slowing traffic to halt. Plainclothes investigators and uniformed cops strolled in and about the house, literally turning and collecting rocks of evidence.
The gypsies chorally howled that the old man killed the new owner. He threatened him more than once, and always in the same words:
“Asa batrin cum sunt iau o piatra si-ti crap capu ca pe-o nuca.” or “Nu voi muri pana nu-ti sparg capu sa-ti vad creieri.” “As old as I am, I’ll break your head open like a pumpkin!” or “I won’t die until I bash your head and spill your brains out!” Dumitru got what he wanted neighbors whisper, now the gypsies would never live in his evil cursed house.
Two uniformed cops stopped and asked a lingering group if they knew where Father was. The men shrugged but one frail old lady pointed toward the yard he’s been calling home lately. The officers turned to the gate. Voices lowered to whispers and all eyes followed the tip of their hats shrinking into the courtyard. They heard the knock on the main door and the landlady pointing them to Father’s door. Another knock and the officers let themselves in. There, in a tight and flashy decorated room, face up on a low single bed Father was sound asleep with the evening newspaper and his eyeglasses resting on his chest.
“Domnu Dumitru [Mister Dumitru]?”
Father opened his eyes, reached for his glasses, and struggled to sit up.
“We need to talk. Do you know what happened in your old house?”
“No,” Father stated red faced and tired from his flailing his arms to sit. “What happened?”
“Didn’t you hear the ambulance sirens blasting up the hill a while ago?”
“No, I’m hard of hearing. But if the ambulance came I hope they’re all dead, and the world is finally rid of their kind,” he bellowed while the officers glanced at each other.
“Well, strange you say that, Mr. Dumitru, because that is exactly what happened.”
“Are they all dead?” Father’s eyes blazed over the opaque cataract coat. “It really happened?”
“That’s what we want to find out. We know that the gypsies celebrated the buying of their new house with live music, and loud guests we also know that you were spying into your old yard about the time everything got quiet.”
Hunched in the doorway one officer asked Father to get ready and come to the station for an interview (interrogation). Both officers helped him walk and into the squad car parked on the main road. Neighbors watched them take him away some shouted encouraging words while the deceased’s family bellowed and swore on his guilt and their revenge. At the station, Father got ushered into a tight room and asked to sit across the table from a middle-aged officer. The “interview” began.
“Domnu Dumitru, de ce ati spionat prin curtea tiganilor Luni seara?” “Mr. Dumitru, why were you poking into the gypsy yard on Monday afternoon?”
“Eu n-am spionat! Lumea minte si fura. Dar sper sa crape toti tiganii asta sper!” “I was not spying! They’re lying to you. People lie and steal. But I hope that all these gypsies die!” Father shrieked. His hands fumbled on his cap pushing it high on his forehead. From his chair, the officer stared at red bloody scabs on Father’s temple, partially hidden by his cap.
“Remove your cap,” the investigator demanded.
“What?” Father’s puzzled face threw the man into a fit. He reached over and slapped the cap off uncovering a scalp red with old and fresh scratches.
“Explain these scratches on your head,” the investigator ordered.
“I’m a diseased old man who got swindled by the scum of the society,” Father cried. “Police came not to help me but to toss the things I worked for all my life onto the muddy path. Irreplaceable items were stolen from me and I reported it to you but got no attention. I’m an old man, who needs me? They stole my life, but no one investigated how they crept into my house, how they got me drunk a man my age, and how the deed changed names, in the hands of a corrupt notary public.
“I’m sorry to hear about that, but it’s not what we’re investigating right now. You are here because a man was found dead, and you were edging the fence on the day his head was wacked open. Why? What were you doing? Why were you peering inside the yard inside the house?”
“I had more stuff in there, and they would not let me take it. I wanted to see if anyone was home. I know other ways to get in that house; I designed them myself.
“What ways?” Red flags waved up and the investigator offered Father, a cigarette. They both lit up and Father went on.
“One entry is on a north wall of the house shared by the old stable, it’s a narrow opening that I covered with planks and a hinged set of tall shelves, it opens into the pantry’s fake wall at the back of my winter kitchen.”
“Is that the entry you used to kill the young gypsy?”
Father takes a last puff and mutters,
“I thought about it many times.. but I did not kill anyone, I’m too old, too weak.”
“What are the other secret entries, and which one did you use?”
“Oh, shame on me, and my life. Yes, I would have killed him and his entire kind, but I didn’t. I’m too sick and out of breath a dead man myself ah, if I was only a few years younger!”
“What other secret entries are there?”
“From Mrs. Popescu’s backyard, there’s a square hole blocked by wooden boxes on the outside and a book shelf on the inside. This opening is the size of a 6 or 7 year-old-child, the same size as my grandson.”
“Is this the entrance you used? The young man was killed close to this spot he was sitting at the table located next to the bed. Someone snuck up behind him and hit him on the back of the head with a blunt object, possibly a rock.”
Ignoring the interruption, Father continued with a sigh.
“No, I did not use any of these openings, and I did not kill this scum. I am too old for that.”
There was no case the police could build against Father in the death of the young gypsy, or the beatings that followed. Two more people were discovered stabbed and barely alive on the old property for reasons not spewing from beyond the grave.
The neighborhood never recovered from the tragedies and ghouls howling the old house behind its high fence. Father’s house turned haunted, and “cursed” with spirits grappling for eternal peace. No gypsy family ever moved in, instead it shelters shady transitional characters slipping in and out the gate taking doom to darker nadirs. The old neighbors left to face the everyday mayhem; the stealing and destroying of properties the never-ending fights between lawless hoards of gypsies thumping over the two faced mound. Things disappear from yards, sheds and houses. Brash, insolent parties break the silence each night. Illicit activities assault the area while neighbors complain and suffer unable to leave this blighted part of Iasi. But unlike Father, the old gray blood smeared house still stands even if ashamed and guilty.