Confessions in the electricity shop

“You know, I can pay you through a bank transfer if you give me your account number.” I tell my dentist as she’s pulling her instruments out of my mouth so I can talk again. “I don’t have enough cash and I don’t have my cards anymore, but I can do that.” I add.

“No, no, it’s fine, I told you. I was actually thinking I might give you some money for food” she says and that brings tears into my eyes but I quickly swallow them thanking her for her infinite kindness. She’s a good friend, my ‘dangerous Syrian boy’ would say. I’d told her my wallet was stolen/ lost and she insisted I should still come for the appointment.

And when she’s done fixing a tooth on the upper right side (the side with the swollen eye and the upset ear from landing this Saturday and the bike crash before my birthday this autumn), we both get out and she gives me a lift and drops me close to my home. We catch up on each other’s lives on the way and I meet her husband when I get out of the car and knowing that he, too, exists is reassuring and makes me more confident about my resolutions.

I stop at a small electricity shop and I find the door is locked. I look for the schedule on the narrow glass door and, before I find it, the door opens and a beautiful lady in her mid sixties welcomes me in.

“I’m listening. What is it?” she says and I notice her heavy makeup behind her thick glasses and her beautiful mouth and her clear, shiny skin.

“I need two light bulbs. A smaller one and a bigger one” I say hesitantly, realizing I sound like a woman who doesn’t know about electrical stuff. But since I’m talking to another woman, I’m relaxed about it.

“Do you know this neighborhood?” she asks fetching a couple of light bulbs from a shelf behind her and placing them on the counter in front of me, taking them out of their boxes and trying them for me to see that they work.

“Well, a little bit, I suppose. I haven’t lived here very long.”

“How long?”

“About a year and a half I think…”

“Do you get along with them?”

“I don’t know? With who? I don’t really interact with people around here…”

“I can’t take it anymore. I have some problems” she says making me stop and suddenly evaluate my possibilities. “How long can I still go on? What do you think I should do?” she asks staring into my eyes. “These people, they expect me to have sex with the boss of the neighborhood. Would you have sex with someone whose hands look like sausages? Would you be able to? With someone with loose skin, hanging about them like this?” she asks painting the image around her with her hands. “With someone who smells of garlic or who knows what else? With a seventy-five year old? I’m sixty-three. I am clean, I take care of myself, I can’t have sex with anyone like that.” she continues. “Why do you think they torment me like this?”

“I don’t know. I’m sorry.” At this point she’s got all my attention and my heart feels warm and a part of me reaches out to her over the counter, hugging her and wiping the tears running down her powdered, wrinkled cheeks.

“I had a family. They took it from me. I want my son. I want Cristi to come. Why isn’t he coming? You tell me.”

“I’m sorry… I don’t know…”

“I had a husband. My husband had a mistress. He would go and fuck her and then come back home to me and our son. You know, home is a state, an atmosphere. He couldn’t leave us… He came home every time. I see him sitting on a chair in the kitchen, his tears falling on the tiled floor. It’s you that I love, he used to say to me. And I believed him. Still, he kept fucking her. Now he is dead. But our family was destroyed before he died. They ran into it with a bulldozer. Why would anyone do that to someone?” she pauses again for me to answer.

“I don’t know…” and my own tears start blurring my vision as she’s giving me a glimpse into a possible future and I’m emptied of myself like a bath tub of which you suddenly remove the drain stop.

“At least if someone came to me and said: Mrs Doina, I have this against you…. I don’t like this about you… That is why I am tormenting you… But nobody says anything… You have to explain to me! Tell me!” her tears prevent her from continuing here and she takes a short break.

“I am sorry… I don’t know why this is happening to you…”

“And they torment me every day. They say nasty words, they steal my things, they took my boy, they took my family, my life, everything… Tell me why… Would you do that to anyone?”

“I don’t know why… I wouldn’t do that. I hope I’ll never be able to do that to anyone.”

“What can I do? Tell me?”

“Perhaps you should pray. Ask for guidance… Try to find some inner peace…”

“I can’t. I have tried. I can’t do that anymore. It’s too difficult. I can’t even go to church. It’s too much. You know?”

“I know…”

“Is it because I have these eyes?” she asks taking off her glasses to reveal her beautiful big eyes under her heavily made up eye lids. “Is it because I have these lips? Is it? Because I see when men come into the shop, they look at my lips. Perhaps they imagine their organ between my lips, you know… Perhaps that’s what they imagine…”

Her lips are beautiful – so soft and innocent and still so feminine and elegant, nothing vulgar or withered about them. And at this point I imagine kissing them. Just because I feel so much love for this woman right now and I imagine my touch would make her fly a little, help her forget about her life and take off with me in a dream. We could both disappear. I imagine leaning over the counter between us, my lips searching for hers and at the first soft touch, we both take off like two sister rockets and shoot up through the roof of the shop, making all the light bulbs and the cables and the fuses and everything burn in short, strong explosions like fireworks all around us. And we just disappear together. A well deserved break from life.

I’m standing still, back straight, arms straight, chin raised to meet hers, my eyes holding hers. What is it about me that puts me in situations like this? I am the silent dervish again (references here and here). Holding it all together so that the other one can express the pain. I am there for her. I love her with all my heart. I don’t judge, I just listen.

“Why is this happening to me?” she insists. “Why do people do this to other people? Why? What do you think?”

Since she insists, I make my confession, too. Just because for a moment there I think she needs to know she’s not the only one in pain, she’s not the only one asking herself and the others questions about life and the meaning of things. I confess everything.

“Oh, but that’s a totally different thing”, she says without the faintest sign of compassion.

“I should pay for the light bulbs”, I add deciding to get out of there.

“It’s 3 lei. And take care of yourself.” she replies.

“Thank you” I say in the end. “I wish you all the best, a light heart and peace.” and I truly feel blessed with a precious gift as I’m walking out of the shop.

Before getting home to write her story, a poem for a friend and a thank you card marking an end and a beginning, I make another short stop in the market across the road for some cheese. Just as I step out of the cheese shop and head for the exit, I am met by Annie Lennox’s convincing voice coming from a radio in a shop:

How many sorrows
Do you try to hide
In a world of illusion
That’s covering your mind?
I’ll show you something good
Oh I’ll show you something good.
When you open your mind
You’ll discover the sign
That there’s something
You’re longing to find
The miracle of love
Will take away your pain
When the miracle of love
Comes your way again.

I have absolutely no doubt about it.

PS Coming up on the blog: the story of my week in Sweden this winter.

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!