“Oh, Mama, you always say that,” the young girl said.
“And why not, my little chey? It’s true, you do have the sight.”
The girl and her mother laid their two baited lines in the water and were securing the ends to young saplings near the rushing stream. “Make sure you tie it strong, Simza.”
It was difficult to say who was the more lovely – the chey – a young black-eyed girl with the still childish laughter on her red lips or her not much older mother. They both had the dark caste of their long ago Indian heritage. The only differences between their looks were the mother’s amber eyes and the riper figure she had gained from child bearing.
Indeed, the entire family was good looking in the Romany way – they were a handsome people.
“Why should I not learn how to give the ‘gadjes’ what they want, Daj? Nano and Papa, do,” the young girl said.
“Your Uncle and Papa have not the ‘sight’ as you and I,”her mother answered.
Vadoma heard a loud splash to the left and grabbed the line that she had just lowered into the water.
“Aiee!” She said, and quickly pulled a big fish onto the earth and hit him on the head with a large stone.
“This fish was hungry; he was waiting for us, Simza – the Nivasi sent him.” Removing the hook, she re-baited before she threw her line back into the stream.
“The water spirits, Mama?”
Her mother answered, yes, and both of them spit quickly into the water.
“I won’t be long,” her mother spoke before she stepped into the forest to gather mushrooms. “We need but a few more for the fusui tonight. Watch the lines.”
The fusui was a pot of beans; nutritious, light, inexpensive and easy to travel with – beans were a staple of their diet. Fish, vegetables, chicken or game were added when available. Papa and Nano Merival were hunting and setting traps in the forest now.
Simza chose a likely tree and sat on the bright green moss below it. Leaning against the trunk and looking up at the sky through the leaves, she lost herself in the clouds. Clouds did something to her; her imagination soared looking at them – she saw faces, scenes, entire pageants in their shapes. An ever changing panorama played before her. And then, there he was, her husband-to-be, floating above her in the clouds.
The memory was still clear, as though it had been yesterday and not ten years before.
Simza had been young; they’d both been just babies, really, her and the boy. She had been walking beside her mother on a warm day. Her Daj took Simza with her whenever she went into the town to tell fortunes for the gadjes. Vadoma had chosen a likely corner and when a gadje stopped and asked the gypsy to tell her fortune, she told her child to stand beneath the eaves of a nearby building for shade.
Out of nowhere it seemed, a little boy, smaller than Simza, ran up to her. He almost fell as he pressed his lips onto hers. She could not have been more than four, and from the size of him, the boy was not even that old.
She could recall her back pressed against a hard surface, the building, she guessed. The pressure of his child’s mouth was somehow familiar and she felt the lack of it when his mother dragged him away. It lasted only seconds and they both giggled. As he left, he waved and said: “Bye, bye.” Simza had waved too.
“Simza! What were you thinking?” Her mother had said, as she came up to her. But her Mama was suppressing a smile. Vadoma reached for a cloth but the child was already wiping her mouth with her hand. Her mother swiped at the girl’s mouth with the cloth and reached for her child’s fingers. But she stopped suddenly. The four-year old was staring at the open palm of her left hand:
“Look, Mama,” she said, “at the picture.”
Her mother steadied herself. “What do you see, Simza?”
“He’s going to marry me, Mama” The child looked up from her palm to her mother.
“Hmmph,” Vadoma said. “Not today, he isn’t – come.” She took hold of her daughter’s hand and they’d gone straightaway home to their encampment.
Simza had seen the images ever since. Mama would not let her look at other hands, only the palms of the family and only if she – Vadoma – had read them first. Mama said too many images were not good for her young mind. “I guess I cannot do anything about the clouds and the water, girl,” her mother had told her. “The nature spirits have their own rules.”
Another loud splash took Simza from her reverie beneath the tree. She was pulling the wiggling fish from the water when her mother stepped from the woods, her basket full of mushrooms… and blackberries, an unexpected bonus.
Simza brought the fish aground and it flopped on the grass until Vadoma grabbed a stone and struck it. The woman knelt, took her knife and beheaded and gutted the two caught fish. Throwing the offal into the rushing stream, she cleaned them thoroughly of fins, scale and bone. Vadoma then handed the mushrooms to her chey and carried the two fish herself as they walked back to the camp.
The fire already contained a pot of fusui – bean stew – steaming in the middle of the rock-encircled pit. Her mother cut the fish into pieces and added them to the stew along with the mushrooms. Vadoma had told the fortune of a farmer earlier that morning and received a bag of vegetables in return. They’d got cabbage, onions and carrots from his garden but except for two of the onions, they would save the rest for tomorrow.
Usually, the families cooked and ate together, but today the other members had taken their vardos ahead, leaving only two wagons in camp, their own and that of Uncle Merival.
There had been of talk of work on a large farm just outside the faro – town and her three cousins, strong, attractive young men, had been eager. Not a large group of Romany, their gypsy band was all family and consisted of Papa, his two brothers and one sister, along with their spouses and children, the boys. His unmarried brother Merival, had stayed behind to hunt with her father.
Simza was still questioning her mother: “I don’t know why I can’t make up fortunes like Uncle Merival and Papa and the others.”
“If you start making up stories to tell the ‘gadjes,’ like Papa and Nano Merival, you could lose your gift, child.”
“You might come not to know the difference between what will truly happen and the stories you are making up to please the gadjes.”
“But how will I learn if I don’t practice?”
“Dosta – enough!” Her mother snapped. “I will know when it’s time. Now quick – see to the pot, Papa and Uncle will be returning soon.” And she went inside the vardo.
The fish were barely done when the girl heard deep male voices coming towards the camp. Simza jumped up and ran as the two men came into view.
“Papa,” she said, jumping into her Father’s arms. “Whoa, my little chey, you are not so little anymore. Be still while your father puts his miserable catch down, eh?”
“Merival, see to this child will you?” Her father turned to his brother.
The other man picked his niece up beneath her arms and swung her around several times making himself dizzy. “Your Nano cannot swing you like he used to,” he said. “I’m getting old.”
“Vadoma! Where are you woman, breath of my life? Her father roared. “Have you no welcome for your husband?”
There was no immediate reply from the vardo – but after a moment Vadoma came from inside the wagon to the entrance and jumped lightly down. Hands on her hips, she sauntered slowly up to the large man calling for her. After fifteen years together, she’d not got enough of his swagger or his voice.
“So,” She mimicked, “who is this veshengo – this man of the forest who calls me? Can it be my husband, Slyfesta?” She turned her head an exaggerated angle to the right, then to the left – pretending to look at both shoulders. She sauntered behind him, then back. “It cannot be. No elk, no deer… just two small rabbits? Hmmph,” she said
“That’s enough from you, woman,” he grinned and picked her up by her waist. She cried: “Put me down, Rom! Not another night of your groaning while I rub arnica into your back.”
He set her down, his luxuriant black mustache tickling her, while she squeezed his cheeks between her hands and kissed him. “Ouch,” he complained.
Leaning over the pot, he grinned: “I see your lines did better than our traps. You’ve bested us again.” The two men sat and Simza fetched the wine and mugs while her mother dished up the stew.
“There will be two more at breakfast, my love.”
Vadoma’s eyebrows went up but she waited for him to elaborate. Even Simza kept quiet – company was a rare thing with the families. “We met a boy in the wood,” Merival offered.
“Yes.” Slyfesta said. “We caught the same rabbit or my catch would have been three.”
“He and his mother are camping upstream,” Merival added. “Her husband died three nights past; they go to join their family near Prague.”
“Is it safe with that gadje maniac, Hitler?”
“The gadjes have been killing each other since before my grandfather’s time,” Slyfesta said. “Let them go at it, wife – perhaps it will distract them from killing us for a while.”
Simza jumped up. “Papa, how many years does he have?”
“Hitler? Let me see….”
“Oh, you mean the boy? Well, my little chey,” he said, rubbing his chin as if in contemplation, “I would guess about as many summers as you.”
Simza raised her hand to look at her palm but Vadoma slapped it down quickly.
“Are they Romany, Slyfesta?” She said to her husband.
“Perhaps the father was, I haven’t asked – in any case, they are for now, at least. You will go tomorrow and extend the invitation and accompany them here?”
It was a truism – though Romany rarely invited anyone into their ranks – once they did, they were treated as closest family members.