Snapshots

The first time my mother came home from Italy to attend my uncle’s wedding, she brought me a phone with a camera on it.

I took tiny pictures with it: of grandma’s roses; of my shadow against the trees in the forest behind the house.

Before mother’s arrival, my older brother had told me about the phone’s miraculous features. I could watch Cartoon Network if I wanted. Make video calls. Watch porn late at night when everyone else was sleeping. My world thrumming with expectations, I taught myself patience, a virtue that had been growing within me since childhood.

When the phone finally arrived, I stopped eating. There were so many things to do. Mother couldn’t stop looking at me. She hadn’t seen me in years and was now somewhat impressed of my development. “He’s so different,” I overheard her telling my father over the phone, “he sounds like a man now. I can’t believe my ears!”

A video I shot in the garden with my new phone was so real that my aunt’s brother said it had been processed on a computer.

Then the phone started running out of memory so I had to cancel some of the photos. Some of them were saved on a computer, which I no longer have. It became my uncle’s computer so I had to delete any traces of my persona from it.

There was no Cartoon Network on it either. In Romania, at that time, there was no 3G connectivity and the phone only worked with one operator and there was no way to bypass that.

The next time mother came home was at Christmas time and she brought me another phone. It had no camera but it had a full QWERTY keyboard and a huge screen.

Though shiny and new, the phone felt like a disappointment of sorts: I had hoped to receive a laptop computer. Father was in prison and I was ashamed to ask for more or show that disappointment.

Mother sat by the kitchen stove and smoked and wept. “Stop smoking, child,” grandma said, “your boys are here with you. What else is missing?” But I knew she was missing my dad and the cigarettes reminded her of him. I knew what grandma thought about father because long before that she had confessed to have asked mother to ask for a divorce. “It was high time she got a divorce,” grandma said. Her words were as soft as wooden smoke: they curled above her nose and went up into the air and turned into a fungus. I imagined men lining up for my mother’s hand because that is what had happened when father left us to go to Italy for work. The men called her and came to our house and mother’s cheeks turned red.

I watched TV on that phone: the connection broke at times and I had to give up trying. We didn’t have a TV in the apartment I lived in during college. Mother asked me to go visit my dad in prison and I followed her instructions. Go to the guard at the reception, tell him who you are. He will take you to your father. The guards rummaged through the bag I had brought for my father. His medicines were in there. We sat at a table in a room that was probably under ground because there were no windows. One of the guards sat with us at the table and I felt as if I had to play a part. I was embarrassed, as was the guard. I couldn’t wait to get out.

The new phone did not have a calculator. One of my classmates drew my attention to that. “You can watch television on it,” he said before a class, “but you can’t do 2+2 on it?” He had a Lenovo laptop computer his brother had bought from the UK. It had facial recognition.

Not having a computer at home, I had to do research and write my papers for university at Internet Cafes and libraries. Since I couldn’t save anything on those computers, I had to email everything to myself and print pages and pages of summaries and things found on the Internet. I printed handouts and lesson plans. The printer was often out of ink…