stories series webworks weblog who-is

Stories / Transcript

Map of Romania

Homeless Romanian Dwarf {format} {format} 2:42 Larry Massett

A late-night encounter on Bucharest streets.

Broadcast: Apr 20 2005 on NPR Day to Day Subjects: Public Affairs, Youth, International

Commentary: Encountering a homeless dwarf in Romania

April 20, 2005 from Day to Day

NOAH ADAMS, host: We often hear in the news about the struggles of homeless people in cities around the world, but we don't often hear from them firsthand. Writer and anthropologist Alyssa Goodman describes an encounter she witnessed on the streets of Bucharest in Romania.


It is 2 in the morning in Bucharest. A face is peeking up from a whole in the sidewalk in the neighborhood of Piasavictoreia(ph). It appears to be the face of a little dwarf with small eyes and a bush mustache and beard. The outline of a man passes by, walking quickly, hands in pockets. `Who are you?' the dwarf calls out to the moving shadow. The man slows, looks around. `Who are you?' he answers.

The dwarf climbs out of the sidewalk hole. He takes off his mustache and beard and puts them in his back pocket and asks the man for a cigarette. He is just a boy. The man lights a cigarette and gives it to the boy, who cannot hold it. It drops from his cracked fingers and lies burning on the asphalt. He tries to stoop down to pick it up, but his small body is like that of an old man's refusing to bend.

`You live down in that sewer?' the man says. The boy nods. He stares at the cigarette smoldering at his feet. `And what's your name?' `Patrika(ph).' The man looks at him. `And how are you ever going to get out of there?' he says. `How are you going to get out of that sewer and live the live of a real human being? Once you go down in there, it's not so easy to get out. Am I right?' Patrika nods, still watching the cigarette.

`You know, I could have gone and lived in the sewers like you,' says the man. `I could have dropped out of school and gone underground, but I didn't want to live the life of half a man. I wanted to be a whole human being, not a worm. You don't want to be a worm your whole life, do you?' The boy shakes his head, his eyes welling up. Patrika stares at the man's face. `God is in you,' he whispers. `I know,' says the man. `And God is in you, too. Now pick up that cigarette. Go on. Pick it up.'

The boy reaches down, his hand drawing centimeter by centimeter to the ground, until he touches the cigarette, closes his fingers around it and stands back up. `See?' says the man. `You don't have to smoke it. I just wanted you to know that you could pick it up, because you didn't think you could. Now, go. Go back to the sewer. And then get out of there for good.' He turns and strides down the dark street. Patrika watches until the figure rounds the corner and is gone.

ADAMS: Alyssa Goodman's story was produced by Larry Massett and comes to us from the folks at, an independent radio group.

(Soundbite of music)

ADAMS: NPR's DAY TO DAY continues. I'm Noah Adams.