Iowa Writes

Beep-Beep-Beep Poverty Haunts

Rob, the American professor, was walking me back home after we had dinner with our Romanian university liaison at Bohema, a restaurant with white linen tablecloths and a waiter in a bowtie who holds his left arm behind his back when he pours your fizzy water into the wine-glass. We were on the main square of Timisoara, Piata Victoriei, when the teenage Gypsy girl with long braided hair approached us, hand outstretched; she tugged at my sleeve and repeated "dai, dai" in a scratchy whisper. Haunting, it sounded like "die" in English, and — as in Romanian, although spelled differently — it also means "give" in my native Polish. I had no change, just the big plastic bills. Rob pulled out a coin, handed it to the girl and she stopped to inspect it.

Rob and I talked in our outstanding language for a little while longer, said our goodnights and I was at my front gate — that is, the ugly metal door that you have to open by punching in a code to get to the pretty Mediterranean courtyard with a wrought iron-and-marble staircase that leads to my apartment. Suddenly there was another girl by my side, a shorter, younger one with her disheveled hair inexpertly cropped repeating "daj, daj" as if she knew I was Polish, as if she knew it was just the language in which to get through to me. I started pressing the code: two digits, a symbol, four more digits, but I got it wrong. I started again, and this time the girl focused her attention not on me but on my fingers pressing that code: beep beep beep. Will she learn it by heart?

"Hey," I said and she looked at me with her big big eyes; her older companion joined in and stared at me as my fingers completed the code — beep beep beep beep. The door buzzed, I walked in and pushed it locked behind me. The Green Zone.

For a second I felt relieved but as I took my first step I heard the beeping begin. Beep beep beep. Did they remember the code? What is the statistical chance that they will get it right? Will they follow me in? I skipped up the antique stairs; beep beep beep. Third floor, my door: the one to the shared hallway, with two locks. The beeping echoed in the courtyard while my keys clanked. I locked the door behind me. The second door, to my place; I locked that too. A look down into the courtyard; I drew the curtains. Calm. No beep beep anymore. I can hear no dai, daj, die.

About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

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Polish by birth and Iowan by immigration, Ania Spyra is an Associate professor of English at Butler and a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. She teaches Transnational and Postcolonial Literature, Translation and Creative Writing, and has published widely on multilingualism and transnationalism, most recently in Studies in the Novel and Contemporary Literature.

"Beep-Beep-Beep Poverty Haunts" is one of "Three Romanian Postcards," originally published in the February 2007 issue of 91st Meridian, a publication of the International Writing Program at The University of Iowa.

This page was first displayed
on April 03, 2017

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