Run, Forrest, run!


A teenage boy wearing thick glasses, no jacket over a thin white blouse and flip flops over his grey socks is feeding bread from a plastic bag to the seagulls on the river bank. He tears big pieces of the soft loaf and throws them in the air, pausing from time to time to take hungry bites himself.  When both the boy and the birds finish their lunch together, he folds the plastic bag and hides it in his fist before shoving it in his trousers pocket and crossing the street, disappearing among the old houses on the other side of the road. My baby is sound asleep against my chest, tucked in the elastic wrap and I can feel his warm breath against my skin. I stop in my walk to watch the scene. I know it’s one of those moments that are going to turn into lasting memories and stick with me for a long while.

Just like my midwife’s coffee scented breath in the wee hours of the morning as she’s blowing softly on my face during labor, while I’m feeling my baby’s head with my fingertips before he finally comes out later.

Or his heart pounding like a racing horse’s under that pink flowered tree in the park, as he pulled me closer and closer, giving me long kisses before allowing a short distance between our mouths and resting his eyes on my lips while uttering the question he’d been rehearsing so many times. It was a cool evening after a rainy day this spring and I felt like peeing.

Or seeing that second line on the pink test at 4 am on March 8, sitting on the toilet in his bathroom and trying to live through the next day as if everything hadn’t completely changed forever.

Or his warmth when I cuddled in his arms on our first night together and my chest exploding from the incredible heat as he so full of himself assured me: “Relax, I am here for you.” Back in Harmony street, early December…

Or sitting in my seat on the bus taking me from Konya to Cappadochia, my dark red fingernails matching the fresh bruises on my face, and the whiteness of the skin on my neck reflected in the clean window. November 1, last year.

Or landing in Cambodia in such perfect darkness that night in February last year, my 85 year old Swiss friend sitting beside me, a long saliva string with sparkling beads hanging from the corner of his mouth all the way down to his shirt, while I’m struggling with such a strong combination of anxiousness, curiosity and fear.

Or that rainy evening in March last year, landing in Istanbul to meet a beloved friend on her birthday after a delayed flight. Looking for flowers and cake in the airport and ending up with a huge lolly pop in my hand as I’m walking up to her in that impressive crowd in the Ataturk airport to surprise her from behind. Her smile and her tight hug bringing back old feelings of guilt.

Or coming out of the shower, wrapped up in that white towel, water still dripping from my hair down my bare shoulders, and seeing that silver mist fill up that shabby candle lit hotel room in Istanbul where I stayed for a whole week a month later. “My happy time”, as my Syrian friend called it. “You’re happy, Dana”, he explained, “that’s why you see this fog in the room. It’s called happiness.”

Or crossing that bridge lined with flower pots somewhere in Cluj in the summer of 2015, construction noise filling up the area and dust sticking to the skin on my feet, my sandals getting sweaty on the hot asphalt.

Or a particular evening in August two years ago while carrying stuff on my bike from my former home when I moved in Harmony street and I heard this little girl say: “Look, mom, the lady is going on holiday!” and I felt she was making such an accurate description of my situation in spite of the distance between us.

Or that morning back in my former home, probably in the spring of 2015, folding laundry and sprinkling it with warm, fresh tears on the stretched out couch in the living room where I’d just spent my first night alone, out of the bedroom. “This is so damn hard”, I told him, “Help me”. “Do you want me to help you stay or help you leave?” he asked picking up a T-shirt, tears rolling from his eyes down his cheeks and crossing paths on his chin, making it shiver uncontrollably.

Or that narrow road in Crete about ten years ago, after dinner in that beach tavern where those Greeks suddenly spoke no English at all when they brought us our overcharged bill. The day was losing strength as night was closing in, and so was I losing respect for the man driving next to me.

Or that creepy studio I lived in for a few months when I finished university, with its dirty armchair by the balcony door, where he sat, legs spread, arms resting in his lap, lowered chin and faint voice. That “I don’t love you anymore” that threw me out of my own life like a dog kicked out of a yard when its people are tired of it.

Or that “I love you!” spoken to me as if it were a huge and painful problem, sitting at the desk in my room back in my home town, while I was still in high school. I didn’t know how to answer that, so I closed my eyes and hugged him and just copied a detached attitude I’d seen was successful and repeated what someone else had said to me not long before: “What am I going to do with you?”

And so many others, like a big box with a wide selection of pralines – different sizes, shapes and flavors. I wonder if Forrest Gump had a similar perception when he remembered “My mom always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

PS Yeah, that’s me in the photo.

Birthday gifts this year include a bruised face in a bike crash

My latest date was a smart and handsome guy and it felt like I was dating the center of the universe. (Yes, this is relevant.) Sure, you can be flattered for one night. But the universe can only have one center and you soon start feeling like the periphery.

But on the first (and probably only?) night, as he accompanies me to the Dhafer Youssef concert I’ve been waiting for, smiling and leaning towards me to whisper stuff into my ear, rubbing his shoulder against mine as we sit and eventually taking my hand into his, only to leave the concert hall hand in hand, like two teenagers, I feel good. “You know, I tell him, I haven’t walked hand in hand with someone for…” “… ages”, he quickly completes my sentence. “It feels weird”, I add giggling.

And there’s an insecure part of me thinking “Ah, if my ex is here and sees me, he’ll notice I’m better off now.” But I know it’s not nice, so I banish the thought and continue smiling, my chin a bit raised as if wanting to build a bridge for my eyes so they can roll directly over the insignificant crowd.

Bear with me, I’m getting there. Haven’t forgotten I promised blood and tears.

The next day I have an early birthday celebration at school with the kids in my class and it feels wonderful. They asked me to make them a cake, so that’s what I was doing the previous night at 2 am, after the concert and date. I take out the cake and everyone is excited. I light the candle on it and they want me to tell them (again) the story of how I came into this world, where, in what family and how my life has been so far. I end the story by telling them that I do what I love and I am grateful for my life and a happy person. They then shower me with gifts and flowers and hugs and warm wishes and all cluster around me as I open the gifts one by one and enjoy the surprises.

Getting closer.

I left the school and picked up my bike from where I’d left it two days before, crammed the front basket with my presents and flower bouquets, took out my phone, took a picture of it and posted it on my Facebook wall with the caption “The happiest bike in the world.” “How beautiful!” a lady exclaimed as I was taking it out into the street. “Yes, it is”, I replied. “I was just thinking it must be the happiest bike in the world.”

happy-bike, cycling around bucharest with birthday gifts
Bike crammed with birthday gifts.

And closer.

I get home and leave the presents and flowers and take the bike out again to shop for party stuff. An early birthday party (or rather gathering) at my place, with close and dear friends. I have my shopping list in my backpack and I am still wearing my dusty pink (princess) birthday girl dress. As I’m riding, an obese guy, struggling to walk, looks at me and says “The bike is good.” “Yes, it is”, I answer and speed up past him.

Here it is.

When I get in front of the supermarket, I attempt to make a right turn and jump over the curb of the sidewalk, right in front of the entrance into the underground parking space, where the curb is lower. The front wheel hits the curb and refuses to mount the damn thing, sliding sideways and throwing me and the bike onto the sidewalk. I’ve never fallen before. That’s the thought that echoes in my mind as my face and knee hit the asphalt. I quickly roll and sit up, my face in my hands, knees bent, legs wide open. There’s this faint thought quickly being swiped by an invisible finger at the back of my mind that I am wearing a dress and should probably put my knees together, but my body ignores the hint.

My eyes are closed (I think), but I can still see (or sense) the crowd gathered in the tram station five meters away. And feet walking past me. No one stops. I feel like I am the center of the universe. Alone. The center is always alone. The whole world is swirling around it like whirling dervishes and no one ever touches the center. Everything and everyone keeps moving and I am finally still and so alone. I don’t know how long I am there, I guess a few minutes. Then someone comes, picks me up and moves me away from the side of the street. Picks up the bike and leans it against a fence, hanging my backpack from the left handlebar.

“Are you ok?” he asks me.
“Yes.” I quickly answer. “Thank you.”
“It looks bad.”

I can see in his eyes I don’t look ok. He’s looking at me, assessing the damages and his upper lip slides upwards, revealing some metal teeth and gaps here and there, where his teeth are missing. He’s in his forties maybe, looks dirty and shabby, wearing a green safety reflective vest.

“Please stop touching your face”, he says. “Should I bring my first aid kit?” he asks me.

“I don’t think that is necessary.” I reply as my left hand reaches my pocket for tissues. I find the pack as my fingers get tangled in my hands free headset and I remember I was thinking of calling my mom when I left home. I congratulate myself for not doing that. I take out a tissue and touch the pain on my face and when I look at it I see blood. It’s ok, it’s not much, I think, I am ok.

“Wait here”, he says and disappears behind me.

When he comes back, a minute later, he’s holding his first aid kit and his dirty fingers are quickly shuffling through the stuff in it, looking for something that might help.

“I am so sorry, he says, I just have these bandages, no disinfectant. You should use some disinfectant there, clean the bruise so you don’t get an infection. Here, take this”, he says. And his black fingers hand me this white thing. “It’s a sterile pad” he says. I take it and softly press it against my face and then slowly wipe my bruises.

“Stop it”, he says, “Don’t do that anymore, it’s not good.” So I stop. He then takes the pad from my hand.

“What happened?” he asks.
“I fell.” I feel like I am submitting and answering like a child who doesn’t even consider the option of not answering.
“These drivers… They’re always driving so close to you, aren’t they?”
“It was not that.”
“Did your wheel get stuck in the tram line? Cause that’s what happened to me once and I fell.”
“Did you lose balance?”
“What then?”
“I don’t know. I simply fell. I’d ridden my bike here hundreds of times, did the same thing over and over again. I’ve never fallen before.”
“It happens…” he says in a deeply compassionate tone.
“Where did you come from?” I finally remember I can ask questions and pull myself out of the submissive role.
“Across the street”, he replies. “I saw you and I saw no one was stopping to help you. These people, they just walk by, like you don’t even exist.”
“What is your name?” I ask him as tears start rolling from my right eye only.
“Alexandru. I am a bike courier.”
“I am Daniela.” I smile and it hurts and the tears in my right eye force my left eye to take in the whole picture on its own.

He smiles back and blushes and I can sense he’s not used to the friendliness; it makes him uncomfortable because he has no idea how to react. I take a step towards him and hug him. He’s not used to this either and, like people who cannot stay in a hug, he pats my back as if wanting to encourage me it is time to move away now and put that safety distance between us again.

“Thank you so much.” I tell him.
“You are welcome. I am so sorry I didn’t really have what you need. You should put some ice on your face. Or no, meat. Yes, put some meat on it.”
“Ok, I will” I reply and realize telling him I haven’t bought meat for years because I am a vegetarian makes absolutely no sense. I have ice, I am thinking.
“You shouldn’t go now. You should sit a little”, he says.
“No, it’s ok, I’m fine, I’ll go.” I answer and I am still thinking of doing the shopping.

I say goodbye and after I leave him I realise people are staring, so I figure I must look bad. I check my face in a car window and see the damage. Ok, I think, I’m going home. So I start heading back to the house and as I am walking I start trembling again and it takes me a while before I get to the house and upstairs to my room.

I send a text message to a friend who I know cannot talk. “I had a bad fall with my bike.” Then, as I start crying uncontrollably, I realize I need help, so I call another friend. She answers. She helps.

“Who hates you so much?” the first friend later asks.

It takes me a few hours talking to my friends at my birthday party to realize what the whole idea with the fall is all about. As I am talking to them, telling them the story of the fall and stories of my travels and of the kids in my class and of friends and what not, opening gifts, opening the door, pouring drinks that they brought (because my shopping trip got interrupted by the fall), there’s this part of me observing everything – the tone of my voice, my choice of words, my gestures, my secret thoughts, my feelings, desires, criticisms etc. It’s the first time I do not ask myself what I did wrong to attract the accident.

And I remember my date and how it all went, step by step. And I remember precisely what I was thinking of the moment before I fell: I don’t have patience and don’t want to waste time and energy and I decide to tell him that I like him and ask him if he’s only into one time stuff, 100% sure he is emotionally unavailable and I am not even going to get a reply.

And the whole picture comes together and it dawns on me. I am smug. I have exceeded the safety limit of self confidence. I am proud. I got my right knee all bloody and bruised, my face looks like I got punched by a jealous alcoholic spouse. A damage to my image. Ok, haters gonna hate. True. Still, this is my Achilles heel: pride. Got it, God, thanks!


Morning ride

Our dreams still floating about us, under layers of fabric and lies, we make our daily way to work. As if our lives depended on it. We make enemies, we fight battles, we lose wars.

Sometimes, when Tinder is down, we look up. And we keep swiping. We match and unmatch, set up dates only to check if we can and then we cancel them for lack of time. It is only 10 minutes or half and hour or an hour before the shift starts. All that our morning ride can afford.

And yet how easily we fool ourselves into believing in yet another day that’s just beginning, promising something new each time. Such a feeling of possibility being born under our warm clothes, a feeling of yes, I know it, I can do it, I got it. And we only allow ourselves the freedom we get in those minutes of awakenness before the light turns green again and it is time to move on.

It’s that season again

I smile to the woman who crosses the intersection in front of me, riding her bike, her long, wheaty hair mounting the wind. She notices me and, for a fraction of a second, we make eye contact as she smiles back and disappears into the noisy traffic flow as if swept away in a flash flood. Waiting for the light to turn green, my bike seat firmly squeezed between my thighs, one foot pushing against the curb of the sidewalk, I am thinking about death.