of course i am invited for christmas. there we are sitting around, drinking coffee when grandfather arrives with an elderly hen under his arm. it has rustyred feathers and a ragged leathery comb slung over one eye. it looks sad. and resigned, kinda like the oldlady i see on the street. she with the hat over one eye.

well, the oldladyhen is about to meet its demise, so being the sensitive sort that i am, i gotta get out of here. i might want to save it or something and thus spoil the festivities. i gather up the junior mihaly, and off we go to get a surprise. junior-mihaly and i have become conspirators. our conspiracy consists of being able to tell eachother stuff and not having it go further.

so what we are about to get is some christmas lights. cause mihaly-the-father has somehow acquired a sorta chrismas tree that now flaunts its sparse and hairy limbs in the corner.

off we go, juniormihaly and i. he is clumping along in the boots i had brought him, real motorcycle boots, i say. the boots are a bit big so they make him walk funny, a kinda clump-and-swagger. a skinny little kid, swaggering along in big black boots. he loves the boots. he has now been wearing them for ten days solid. one night, when i had come late to visit, i saw him asleep on the couch. he had the boots on his feet.

so off we go to find a store that has lights. we want blinking lights, the real thing. with the hope, mine, secret, that the oldladyhen will be dead and acook by the time we get back. hey, why don't we go check your email at the netcafe first, says juniormihaly. i am loath to tell him i'd already done so, before i came. cause i know how much he likes coming with me to do that. he gets to peck around on a keyboard and look up websites about kungfu moviestars. which gives him mucho bragging rights with his friends. and me, i get to bug him about learning to read-and-write. i say, find the g, and then i say find the o and another o. very good, i say, do you see what i mean.

there is of course no email to check but netcafe only costs 50 cents an hour and j-mihaly has learned another letter. well worth it.

blinking christmas lights. we see a store that sells blinking christmas lights. so we stand in line and buy some. 50,000 lei, they cost. that's five loaves of bread, i am thinking. around here, i am always thinking in loaves of bread.

jmihalys eyes are shining. combination of jeanclaude van damme pics and bringing home a surprise. talk about status. lately he had been falling behind cause a friend of his got a a keychain laser pointer.

back home, we string up the lights on the tree. it now also has three chocolatebars hanging on it. the chocolatebars were brought by the halfblind old man who lives in a house up the street. he brought them as presents for the children because his own grandchild had died. so melinda strung up the chocolates with thread and hung them in the tree. we now have a veritable plethora of christmas decorations.

in order to plug in the lights, we have to unplug the tv. there is only one plug. so we unplug the tv and turn on the lights. we all sit around waiting. but they are not blinking, katika wails, they are broken. shit, i say, we got ripped off. but no, all of a sudden a light blinks. then another. then they all blink like crazy. katika sighs.

the smell of garlic and cooking chicken wafts in. grandfather has cooked the dinner and it is ready. all the children are chased into to kitchen to eat. then, ceremoniously, i am brought the guest plate. the best part of the chicken. which consists of all the innards, liver, gizzards, heart. and something else besides, that looks like a reddishbrown omelet. uh oh, i think, fried blood, that is. the whole thing swimming in oil. with a big slab of bread on the side.

the red thing, i say. i don't think i can eat that. i feel bad when i say this cause i read somewhere that that is considered the biggest delicacy, reserved for honoured guests. i feel honoured but kinda nauseous. i don't think i can eat the redthing. i am okay with all the other innards but not the redthing.

oh no, they say. everyone runs around, clearing off the table. i feel terrible,now they think they have insulted me. nono, i say, bring back the plate, i love chicken innards, my mom used to give me the chicken innards too, i say. just take off the redthing, that's all, i say, but bring back the rest, please.

a collective sigh of relief. the plate comes back. now, i say, why am i eating alone. surely you are not going to leave me all alone to eat, surely you're not eating in the kitchen with the kids. let's all eat together, i say, i hate eating alone.

so then everyone comes trooping back, plates in hand. adults around the table, children on the floor all around.

it's christmas. lights ablink, chocolatebars aswing, we toast the elderly chicken and devour it, suck the bones dry and sop up the grease with the bread.