After the meal they sat around the fire as always and talked. “My brother will walk to their camp, tonight,” Slyfesta said. “With permission of the boy as head of the family, Merival will sleep just outside their encampment.”
Vadoma nodded slowly. It was only courtesy to have a man watch nearby for the woman and child.
Simza listened to their after-dinner talk as long as she could, before it was time for bed. She yawned.
“Go to bed, little one,” her mother said. The girl kissed her parents and climbed up into the vardo. She actually liked to go to her bed in the wagon early; she’d long ago discovered the talk of the adults was more interesting if they thought she was asleep. Not always, but sometimes, they talked of her – more often these days since she had become a woman.
The adults were talking now, of finding her a suitable husband and what her dower might be. “She will have my galbi,” Vadoma said, fingering the necklace of bright gold coins around her neck.
“No, my love, that was your mother’s,” Slyfesta said.
“Hmmph, what difference?” The woman shrugged, “She will have it one day, anyway.”
Simza could hear the crackle of the fire and smell the woodsmoke from her small bed in the vardo. She never understood how gadje children could stand to be so closed up and so far away from the earth. The voices of her parents droned on and Simza thought of her future husband. If only she could see him clearly….
The next morning Vadoma found the woman and her son less than a mile walk, upstream. Merival stood just outside the encampment while the women made their talking. Her boy soon joined him.
The woman gave her welcome to Vadoma and introduced herself as Sofia. A good name, Vadoma thought. It wasn’t Romany, but it was a good name – wisdom. Her own name, Vadoma – meant knowledge, she and the woman should get along well. The boy’s name was Anayus. There was a Romany name, Ananias. Close, Vadoma thought, close. And Sofia was comely, not in an obvious way, but quiet. Good again. She noted Merival already giving long looks to the new widow.
After the necessary civilities, Vadoma extended the hospitality of her band. Would Sofia and her son like to accompany them on their journey?
“We pass very near Prague in the coming months and you and the boy would be most welcome to share our family’s fortunes and protection.”
The woman did not cry, she was too dignified for that – but Vadoma could see an almost visible loosening of her shoulders.
“If you like, Sofia,” Vadoma took the woman’s hand, “you and I can walk back to our camp. Merival and the boy can hitch the vardo and bring your things.”
Not trusting herself to speak, the woman squeezed the other woman’s hand and nodded quickly.
“Good,” Vadoma said. “It is settled. My daughter is preparing the breakfast. Merival!” She called out.
As soon as the women arrived Sofia was introduced to Slyfesta and Simza.
“But guli chey,” Vadoma presented her daughter. “I’m sorry – my very sweet girl,” she explained to Sofia.
“No,” the woman turned to Vadoma, “I understood. My husband’s mother was Rom.”
A look passed between Slyfesta and his wife. Vadoma, smiled inwardly, yes, this was good. The woman was practically Rom and the boy had Rom blood.
They all sat down to breakfast and afterward, Slyfesta left to help Merival and Sofia’s son with the bringing of their wagon and goods.
“Simza, you will do the wash today, no – while I show our Sofia around the camp?”
The girl slung the full blanket over her shoulder that contained the laundry and walked to the stream.
She was sitting at the edge of the rushing water a few hours later. Beating the wet clothes against the rocks now and again and wringing them out, she saw her father and the boy approaching. For no reason she could think of she began trembling.
Her father began: “Simza, this is our new guest, the son of Sofia – Anayus.” The girl rose and bowed her head slightly as was proper with introduction of a new male her own age.
“How goes the washing?” her father asked.
“It is almost finished, Papa,” the girl answered.
“Leave it for now and come eat, your mother has the meal ready,” he said.
Simza pulled a skirt from the stream and hastily half-wrung it and added it to the pile of wet laundry atop a flat rock.
Mama had added the farmer’s vegetables and a rabbit to the stew and everyone praised it. All through the meal Simza had worked to quiet her trembling and done a good job too. But the shy glances between her girl and Sofia’s boy were not lost on Vadoma.
Slyfesta took his after-dinner pipe from his mouth. “It gets dark earlier,” he said.”You will finish the wash now, is it, girl?”
“Yes, Papa,” the girl rose.
“You are our guest, Anayus,” Slyfesta continued, “but perhaps you will assist my daughter?”
Vadoma shot a quick look at her husband who pretended not to see it.
“Yes, Dom,” the boy said, scrambling to his feet and the two young people left the camp.
A piece of clothing got away from her then and while chasing it downstream, one of her normally nimble feet stumbled and turned on a slippery, moss-covered rock.
She let out a small scream. Before she knew it Anayus had come, bent and leaned his shoulder into her waist and picked her up. Carrying her that way, over his shoulder, he sat her down against the very same tree from which she’d watched the fish lines, the day before.
“Let me see,” he said. “May I?”
“But Mama’s blouse….” She said.
“It will snag somewhere downstream. I’ll get it. Is your foot badly hurt?”
“It’s my ankle,” she said, pulling her skirt up slightly. “It is only turned, I think.”
The boy could see it was already swelling. When he made as if to touch it, the girl started – whether from electricity or pain she didn’t know.
“I’ll carry you back to camp.”
“You will not sling me over your shoulder again like a sack of potatoes,” Simza said.
Anayus laughed then and when he did, something went through her. Some wave of electricity or warmth went right through the entire upper part of her body.
She almost spat into the stream for the nivasi.
“All right,” he said. “Then you must let me wrap it. You can hobble back to the fire using me as support.” He hadn’t any socks beneath his sandals but he did have a colorful sash around his waist to assist holding up his trousers. He used that for a bandage.
At her nod of agreement, he took her hands and pulled her upright.
When she placed slight weight on her foot, she almost fell and he swiftly put his arms around and under her and lifted her from the ground. Warmth radiated from her back and beneath her thighs where his arms supported her. He sat her down slowly against the tree and as their faces brushed, both cheeks screamed with fire and color.
Their lips were inches from each other. The boy touched her ankle without taking his eyes from hers and whispered, “Does it hurt badly?”
Simza’s heart was pounding so hard that she felt as though it would burst from her chest. She could not speak and answered his question by nodding slightly. His lips were close enough for their breath to mingle. She was melting.
The boy had hold of both her arms. His fingers slid down to her left wrist and he took her hand into his own. Turning it face up, Anayus stared into her palm.
“What are you doing?” Simza said sharply, though she knew.
The boy looked back at the girl. He pulled her arm towards him until her face was brought very close.
“I’m looking at my wife,” he whispered into her mouth, just before touching it with the sweet fire of his own.