Learning how to write

She must have been about 5 or 5 and a half – the year before she started school. It was 1987, Ceausescu’s Romania, collectively remembered as one of the hardest periods of the dictatorship, one of the grey-est, darkest times, when the dictator tightened the belt on the population so he could repay the external debt and ensure Romania’s ‘independence’ from ‘foreign powers’. Both of her parents, geologists, were working full time and she spent most of her time with her maternal grandfather, Icu, who wanted to make sure his granddaughter learned how to read and write so she could go as early as possible to school (most kids would go at 7, and she went at 6). Because only through a good education can one achieve something, he said (the self-made man, coming to the capital from a village in the Danube Delta, the soldier, the fierce nationalist, the economics university graduate, the accountant, the columbophile...). So every afternoon/early evening, Icu, who smoked like a furnace – rumor had it, about 2 packs of “Carpati” a day -  sat her down in his room and taught her how to write. By playing. With lines, shapes, and colorful drawings. The room was smoke-filled. The tips of Icu's fingers were yellow. And every day, he would show her, and they would draw together. First, half a circle – the moon; then a full circle – the sun; then a cloud with rain drops; and a triangle with a square – a house. Each in a different color. Next to the house, a small fence, with a tree behind it. Sometimes, a flower. In front of the house, some chickens, a dog or another animal. Sometimes, a car. Then came the numbers, from 1 to 10. Then, the letters: a,b,c,d,e. Finally, the words: Monica (he used to call her so), mama, tata, Icu. As she looks through these yellowed pages today – some of which her mother kept in a binder – all she can remember is a sense of wonder at the world, a sense of color and excitement, her wish to go to school and learn how to do magic with shapes, letters, and numbers. Just as Icu taught her to.