by Stephanie Hutton
Cosmina must measure the room. In this moment, it is all that matters. From her narrow bed, she can just about stretch out her legs before reaching a wall. There’s no ruler to measure the room precisely. Cosmina recalls laughing at her grandmother back in Romania who measured things the old way – how she laughed at all those old ways. Now she would give anything to be scolded by her grandparents: Cine nu are bătrâni să-şi cumpere – ‘whoever doesn’t have elders, should buy some’.
But now is not the time for remembering. She must measure. Pas mic – a small step. How many make up this room? She walks the length toe-to-heel, barefoot. The skin of her heels has hardened enough to stick pins in and not feel a thing, from all those months of squeezing her feet into high heels. Cenuşăreasa – Cinderella. No prince after midnight.
Cosmina’s mouth moulds around a map of her route as travelled in numbers.
Jedan, dva, tri, četiri, pet.
Një, dy, tre, katër, pesë.
Uno, due, tre, quattro, cinque.
Un, deux, trois, quatre, cinque.
One, two, three, four, five.
How many pas mic to the low ceiling, the buzzing striplight?
How many times has she heard that instruction? In how many languages?
No, she must count only the steps in the room.
Cosmina tries to move the numbers behind her eyelids, to decipher the volume of space she exists in. Instead of school-girl calculations, her thoughts show her the places in-between. Vans, boats, apartments. The stench of roll-ups and bleach. The smiles that flicker before violence. The lies that took a girl and crushed her into the kind of woman who stands in a strange place and counts steps along the floor instead of kicks coming from her baby.