St. Sava’s officials informed us, the aspiring students, that the postings of who made it into the elite high school would be made by 4:00 PM. By Noon, we, the hopefuls, and their families were already crowded in front of the school’s iron gates, elbowing one another, trying to get closer to where the lists were to be displayed.
By 5:00 PM we were still waiting, but nobody moved an inch. My legs were numb, but my heart was pounding with fear in expectation of the verdict that was to change my life: Was I an idiot or not? That was the question! And if I were, what would become of me, did I even deserve to live?
At last, by 5:00 PM, a man in a white shirt, wearing a grey cap opened the gates. In his hand he was holding the treasured list. Expectantly, in silence, we stepped back and allowed him to reach the board. He posted the list of those few accepted in this citadel of knowledge and hope. He posted the list and barely squeezed out from the crowds.
I made my way to the front shamelessly stepping on other’s feet, but all seem fair play, as others stepped on mine!
Why was the print so small, I wondered. And the names weren’t in alphabetical order, they were listed from the best grade to the worst, who still made it in. I started to read from the bottom up, and when I was half done, I still couldn’t find my name. I continued to read, and as I was approaching the top, in my mind I was already making plans of how to end it to stop being a shame for my parents.
“Look, you are number 19! You’re in!” my mother shouted and pointed to the top of the list. She stopped and controlled her excitement. “I guess, that’s okay, ” she continued, “at least you are in!”
There was no celebration because I was just number 19. If I were first or second, it would have been different, I would have been praised, but number 19 of hundreds of applicants… was barely enough by my mother’s standards.
I was just happy I didn’t have to figure a way to disappear in shame and 19 was good enough for me, I was officially not an idiot and I was in the best high school in the country, and that was all that counted.
However,this new status, of high school student, “cracked” some doors of freedom for me. When we were on vacation, at the Black Sea, on the beach, I started to speak with a muscular young man and mother allowed me to swim with him while she watched. After a few days of coincidental meetings on the beach, he, respectfully asked my mother if she would allow him to take me to the Marine Museum in Constanta, the main port on the Romanian Black Sea. She looked him up and down and asked:
“How old are you? Do you have any I.D. with you?”
He, to my surprise, complied with all her requests and produced a “buletinul de identitate”, a small booklet we were supposed to carry with us at all times, so Militia, the Romanian Police could identify us.
My mother was not the Militia, but she might as well have been. She wrote down his name and whatever else was in his “buletinul de identitate” and that same afternoon at 3:00 PM sharp, Mihai came to pick me up from the place we rented at the shore.
“Be back by 5:00 PM.” my mother ordered and looked at Mihai not at me.
It must have been an interesting museum, but we didn’t see much of it because Mihai escorted me on a bench by the Sea and before I knew it he kissed me! My first kiss. He was older, and the way he knew his way around my lips and body made me believe he had some previous experience in pleasing girls.
I tingled all over and wished it would never end, especially when his tongue touched my ears and went down my neck and then up again in search of my lips.
“Oh, it’s 5:30 PM! My mother is going to kill us!”
I jumped off the bench of pleasures and we barely caught the bus back home. The memory of the tingling of my first kiss becme insignificant compared to what I knew was going to happen when we got home…
As we were running up the street, in the distance I saw a person standing in the middle of the street.
“Why would someone stand there?” I thought, but as we came closer, I realized the person was my mother! She looked at her watch. It was 6:00 PM. She looked at Mihai and without a word, turned towards me and slapped my face twice on each cheek.
We went inside the house and I don’t know what happened to Mihai, my first date, but I knew he didn’t get slapped.
When our summer vacation was over and we went back to Bucharest, the rules of the house changed. I was told no friends, male or female were to come into our apartment unless an adult was present and to protect the rugs, my mother put long sheets of stripped canvas on the rugs, so that whoever came in would step on the cheap canvas and not on the precious rugs. She never asked me if Mihai and I exchanged phone numbers, but we did and soon after we arrived in Bucharest, our phone rang. It was Mihai. He was a medical student, no wonder he knew the female body so well! We started to meet in secret, when my mother was at the hospital and I was supposed to be home alone doing mandatory summer readings for school. The problem was that I could not be away from home more than an hour because my mother called to check if everything was alright. The less than an hour dates, stolen kisses and rushed touches weren’t enough anymore. In addition, if we kissed on benches in public parks, people saw us and inevitably some older women, some spinsters, I thought, would look at me disgusted and shake their heads in disapproval!
“Where is her mother?” they probably thought.
I decided it was worth it to maintain my good reputation and for that to happen I had to break the new rule of the house. I invited Mihai in my parents’ apartment! Before he arrived, I took off the ugly stripped canvas which covered the rugs, to make a good impression on my boyfriend. I thought he would surely be impressed by the rugs.
He showed up and didn’t even look down at the floors. All he wanted was to touch me everywhere, to kiss and touch and touch again…
The phone rang.
“Everything okay?” “Are you studying? I’ll be home soon, wait to eat together ”
Oh, what would have happened if she just showed up without calling? I pushed Mihai out the door as quick as I could and we made another date, this time outside my apartment. I had decided the dirty looks of strangers weren’t nearly as dangerous as my mother’s finding out about our secret dates.
“Who was here?” she asked when she got home.
“No one, I studied…” Oh the damn canvas! I forgot to put it back on the rugs!
“Why did you take the canvas off? Who was here?”
“I cleaned! I cleaned the house.”
She went to a shelf and touched the dust with her finger.
“You cleaned the apartment? Really?”
I confessed. She had her ways that never failed:
“You’ve been seeing him in Bucharest! He is older. Where is he touching you? Tell me, did he touch your breasts? Oh he touched your breasts! Why do you think he touched your breasts, you idiot”
Oh, I was demoted to idiot again, and frankly she was right, why was he touching my breasts?
On my following date with Mihai, we were back on some bench in some park and he touched my breasts. I backed off. He looked surprised:
“I thought you liked it???”
“I would like to know,” I said,”Why are you touching my breasts?”
He thought for a while, as if such question required intense thinking:
“I guess because I have none!”