Snapshots 3

The headmaster is explaining to us the importance of broadcast programming. No more movies containing nudity or sex scenes. “Children need to be protected,” he tells us, “from the vices of our times.” I’m thinking how wonderful it is that there are people who take us, children, into consideration. No more hiding our faces when people in the movies start having sex. No more French movies at noon. The headmaster’s words sound prescient.

Children rejoice all around the world.

Math is not my forte: I just can’t deal with divisions because the numbers are asking me to take giant leaps and I can’t do that being overweight. Math makes me angry. Numbers feel as if I’m drowning. The teacher, a short plump woman whose hands tremble violently whenever she’s angry, doesn’t like that. In the eyes of everyone, my failure is her failure, so she asks me to stay after class. Tears run down my chubby cheeks while I watch the other kids head home. The lightness in their step feels like mockery. I sit at the wooden desk by the blackboard and watch the numbers commingle with the numbers on the page.

Why can’t I just be like all the other kids? I’m so ashamed I can’t look my mother in the eye when I get back home. No one mentions it.

The headmaster is a tyrant teaching biology. He sits and watches us as we return to class after the break and at the slightest sign of misconduct he grabs us by the baby fat under our chins and the hair. He slaps the girls at the back of their head as if to obtain cinematic effect: their ponytails startle and bounce. The shame of getting caught doubles the pain. It’s our way of learning math.

Later, the math teacher, whose thick glasses make his head look ovoid, laughs at my geometry homework in front of the class. “You can’t just say the base of the triangle is this long,” he stops and laughs raising his face to the ceiling, “you need to calculate it!” The room roars with laughter. Why can’t I just draw the triangle and measure it? I don’t tell him my father helped me with the homework because that would only make matters worse.

The headmaster enters the class and orders us to take out a sheet of paper. “THIS IS A TEST!” He’s angry at us because he is thirty minutes late for class. Question number one: “THE LUNGS! YOU HAVE 5 MINUTES!”

We’re going up the stairs after recess, and someone pushes a girl from my class and she’s limping because she’s had an accident and broke her femur. I stop to help her, but the headmaster sees me break the line and I instantly become his target. He levitates. He pulls me aside pinching my baby fat. I’m wearing overalls and I feel ridiculous because I hate them. I hate jeans. Other boys follow suit, all of us trespassers. I try to explain to him I wasn’t doing anything wrong, I was merely helping the girl, but he won’t listen. The headmaster is adamant in his decision to have me punished. He tells us to wait until the teachers come.

Potato. Chicken. Worthless. Sheep. Devil. Not-amount-to-anything. We’re being called with all these names when we fail to understand the rules of our adults.

At times, I gave my classmate, A–, peanuts in exchange for his math homework. “This exercise is worth four peanuts,’ he says pointing to another triangle and the calculations that surround it, “it’s not cheap, I know.” Reluctantly, I pull out the four peanuts from the bag and give them to him. The math teacher with the thick classes leans down to look at my homework and nods in agreement. Behind me, someone says he didn’t have the time to do his homework and he receives a blow. Potato!

I use my fingers to count because unlike numbers, I can hold my fingers. Feel them. Counting them feels like progress.

Every once in a while, I go to A–’s place because he’s got nice hair and his thumb curves in a weird but somewhat sexually appealing way. And he’s very good at math in a mad-scientist sort of way. He shows me the ropes behind equations and complex exercises, but I need to stop him again and again because I don’t seem to understand why the parenthesis goes there and not all the way over there. I laugh heartily whenever he explains stuff. His mother comes into the room. ‘That’s why you’re so fat,’ she says smiling, ‘because you laugh too much.’

After another recess, someone pushes a kid and he falls and starts crying. A teacher asks who’s the culprit and the kid points at me. There are about a hundred kids around me but no one says anything because teachers cannot be contradicted. The teacher punishes me. I do my best to explain to her I had nothing to do with it, but she is adamant. Tears roll down my cheeks as I await my punishment. I am asked to stand with my arms raised in the corner of the class.

High-school. Our history teacher beats the crap out of one of my classmates because he smiled at something that was said. We don’t look at him doing it. We only hear the words and the teacher’s open palm hitting hard against the back of his neck. “Why are you laughing, you idiot!?”

I run out of fingers to count.

Snapshots 2

“I can’t photocopy that book,” the man at the copy shop said, “the pages are loose and I might damage the spine.” The shop was in the corridor of his aunt’s apartment. At least, she acted as if she was his aunt, and he was the nephew who was desperately trying to make a living by illegally printing books for equally desperate students. “Please,” I begged him, “I need a copy of this book. My professor sent me.” I told him I would return the next day. 

Cluj-Napoca, 2008. My daily routine involved waking up early in the morning to go to university. One morning I peed myself because there was only one bathroom and there were four of us. When my flatmate, who was studying medicine, came to my door to ask whether I was coming with him to the bus station, I declined saying I didn’t feel that well. 

Everyone feared the Phonetics professor. Rumour had it that out of hundreds of thousands of students, only three lucky ones passed his exam, and that he was gay. Those same students mentioned names of alleged boyfriends and other such horror stories. Whenever a classmate showed the slightest interest in the topics he taught, he instantly became gay. The newspapers spoke highly of the professor’s cruelty, but there was no mention of his homosexuality. He was one mean guy. Students changed courses just to avoid him.

I ate kebabs and felt guilty about it because I always bought two and told the waiter to hold the mayonnaise in one of them. One’s for me and the other one’s for my colleague at the office. “Of course,” he said, “I’ll put an X on the one with no mayonnaise. At home, I hid in my room and ate both of them. On Saturday mornings I cleaned my room and was extremely happy when I managed to do it before ten in the morning.  

My classmates studying Norwegian spoke approvingly of one of their professors. He was tall and had curly hair and spoke various languages. One cold evening I had the opportunity to watch him closely while he was waiting for the bus. He read and made annotations under the street lamp. Every once in a while, he raised his head to look at the passers-by. The eagerness with which he did that felt somewhat uncanny as if he was waiting for someone to appear and save him from what he was doing. I thought, how odd! Can’t he wait until he gets home to read? But then I realised I wished to be as studious and diligent as him and read while waiting for the bus. I was also surprised to learn that he was gay. I mean, he had curly hair and spoke different languages, and read under a street lamp. Of course, he was gay!

I once fell in love with Gaspard Ulliel from Les Égarés (2003). I watched all of his movies and wanted him to be my best friend. Then, I came across a gay commercial on YouTube about a man who imagined being friends with every handsome guy he laid his eyes on. I thought: how odd! I’m feeling something I should be ashamed of.

My dentist recommended x-rays, so I sit in the waiting room secretly hating everyone. Why are they so slow? On TV, teachers and university professors are asking for a raise: they’re working with their brains, they say, they need more money! The President, Traian Băsescu, wants to say YES, but then the railway workers also ask for money. Then the doctors ask for cash as well. Everyone wants more money. CRISIS. My world crumbles. I also notice the president’s face is anfractuous, and he covers his bald head with the hair on the sides. It’s my turn: I rush to the door with the yellow sign that says “DO NOT ENTER X-RAYS”. The doctor places a rigid collar around my neck and tells me to stay still. Then, she goes into another room and speaks through a megaphone. STAY STILL! IT WILL ONLY TAKE A SECOND! No problem there, doctor, stillness is what I strive to become.

I receive a short message saying “meet on Thursday afternoon?” and I reply “who are you?” with the urgency of a virgin who secretly wishes to fuck and be fucked by everyone. Three days pass until I get a reply from my secret admirer: “I was just asking.” I imagine there’s a silent “Jesus” at the end of that message. Jesus, hold your horses. I call the number several times, but there’s no reply. Months pass, but there’s no reply, so I let it rest. After months and months, I am reminded of that first short message by my obsessive-compulsive desire to be desired. Call that number again! Do it now! I recognise the voice at the other end: it’s my Literary Theory professor. Oh sorry sorry sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude! Please excuse me, professor, really, I don’t know what I was thinking. “Now you know,” he says. I think of all the calls in the middle of the night, the minatory short messages I sent, and I shudder at the thought. But then I realise I’m the one who’s being stalked here! 

One of my classmates wants to talk to the Phonetics teacher, the allegedly gay one, and she stops him on the way to class. He looks at her, fuming. “Ms, LEAVE ME ALONE!” he says and walks away. “He’s such a dick,” she tells me after class, “I only wanted to ask him about the exam.” In fact, I believe she meant “he’s such a cock sucker.” Of course, he is gay, he wouldn’t be so frustrated otherwise. Years later, on Facebook, she tells me I’m so fucking full of myself. I wanted to remind her of that time when, during a literature exam, she asked me about the difference between the Philistines and the populace, but I didn’t.

I return to the copy shop and realise the guy is a good lad. He’s nice (perhaps too nice) and tall and somewhat muscular but on the chubby side. He says: “I’m really sorry, but the printer’s out of ink…