Friday, August 19, 2011

Lilith (Part 1)

She’s folded like some humectant origami frog, hands clasped in prayer amid the Prada shoes splashing today’s rain in her face. Locals ignore her. Tourists abhor her, enshrined in crystal armour of their own, they hurl their metaphorical missiles in her direction.

A slender shop assistant stands in the doorway of Sephora amid escaping fragrance. Chypre and musk waft over the motionless body as 'shop girl' gesticulates to a mounted Gendarme, “You should do something about this Gitane!” she snipes, “ . . . nothing but thieves and beggars, here to steal, annoy my customers. This is the Champs Elysees, not the backstreets of Montmartre! Merde . street scum.” The immaculate youngling is unimpressed that her rich clientele have to sidestep the motionless bundle in their midst. The Gendarme tips his hat and pushes his horse forward, he’s more interested in chasing the bag peddlers. Disgruntled, the young woman returns to the shimmer of a mirror-lined store adorned with cosmetics and perfumery, back into her shallow world of beauty and appearances, as the rain begins to torrent and shoppers rush to escape the deluge or spring open their designer umbrellas.

Emilie is soaked to the skin. This is nothing new but as she tentatively raises her scarved head, she sees the street become more deserted. The tiny paper cup in front of her prayer-clasped hands quarter-filled with mostly useless international coinage, and a five Euro note. It’s  4pm, she must stay here until he comes to pick her up and retrieve her takings before he’ll allow her home into the warmth of a dilapidated caravan. He won't sleep with her though. She's menstruating and deemed unclean. He doesn't care about the muddied hem of her dress or the numbness in her hands. He won't touch her when she's pregnant or bleeding.  In fact these days, he barely touches her at all. 
 ***
He's a musician, camped with family and a large troupe outside Saint-Aignan. She's a slip of a girl, mesmerised by the fantasy of running away with a gypsy, running away to the circus, running away with anyone really. She doesn't care.  She just wants to escape.  She can hear the Sinta music through the trees and creeps closer. Their caravans glowing in firelight in the warmth of a summer twilight as women prepare the evening meal. Men sit on upturned buckets or hand-hewn wooden stools, smoking, clapping, singing and counting their day's takings. The unique timbre of their song and the monochromatic strain of violin and clarinet make her soul dance. 

At 13 years of age, she is overrun with romantic notions. She's lying on her belly, elbows sinking into the warm grass, hands propped against her chin, eyes watching the shadows through the trees. This is a carefree life. No school mistress to scold. No overzealous parents to coddle her.  No rules or restrictions, or so she thinks. To her young, wild heart, the gypsies epitomise freedom and joy.

"What are you doing?"

She's startled and didn't notice him sneak up behind her. Rolling instinctively to face him, she finds herself lying on her back, staring up into his midnight eyes. His hair is rough and shoulder length. The  violin dangling from his left hand, it's bow pointing at her.

"Nothing. I was just watching," she springs to her feet.

"From here? What can you see from here?" 


He kneels down, his face close to her grass-stained knees and peers through her legs, through the gap in the thicket watching his own band of vagabonds revel in their tunes. 


"Ah good spot," he agrees.  He's relaxed on haunches and gently places the violin and bow on the ground, clearly intent on hanging around.

They exchange names and pleasantries.

"What's it like, being a gypsy?" She sits cross-legged on the grass, naive and quizzical. His eyes first drawn to the shadow made between her thighs by her skirt, before snapping to attention and focusing on her childish face.

"Well we're free. We don't have to work a steady job, or go to school but it's hard. People don't like us much."

He had her at 'free'. She hadn't been free for all of her short life.  "Wild child" her mother had called her. She didn't suit discipline and structure, and with her family, there was an overabundance of both.  She'd run away before but their long, constraining arms had found her hiding places and retrieved her. She'd been chastised and grounded. Sent to an aunt's for 'time out' but she'd always broken the invisible chain; she was indeed, a rebellious and disobedient child.

"My mother says you steal coal . . and children."


He laughs, flashing white, "We might. I might steal you," he chides.

Watching the Gypsies becomes a habit hard to break.  Nightly she escapes from her bedroom via the window and Wisteria covered overhang to watch them at play, sing, clap and flirt. After that first night, she never approaches the camp closer than her sanctuary in the thicket, but he always comes. His tanned and sinewed arms fold around her. Black pools for eyes that suck her in so deep she forgets who and where she is. It's weeks before he can cajole her to make a foray into camp.  She takes his hand, asks if he's sure. He is. 

At first she's greeted with caution, animosity and jealous gazes. She's called 'gadji' an outsider. But time wears them down. His mother, once frosty and unforgiving, hands her warm and spicy soup, even gives her a scarf to flaunt and flay while his arms wrap around her waist in the flurry of the dance. 
Gueril is older, much older, but flippant with her and exciting to be with.  They laugh and talk. He fingers her curls and strokes her face with the back of his hand. He brushes a kiss across her cheek and magically produces a gold ring from behind her ear as she squeals with delight and asks to see more. He knows card tricks and dice tricks and entertains her with sleight of hand.  He presses her against the dark side of his caravan while the others are distracted in their revelry. As black silhouettes dance, he'd pulls her into the shadows, presses against her, his intention clear. He speaks softly in a Gitane tongue. She doesn't understand the words but they are honey and she the flower. Expert hands glide gently against nubile breasts, slide effortlessly along adolescent thighs, his tongue like silk until that sweet euphoria takes hold.

"Come with us tomorrow." It's a statement rather than an invitation. Their presence in the small village is unwanted, and several of their kind are being threatened with a forced return to Romania. It's time to move on.

"I can't. My parents will kill  me if they find out I've been coming here. They'll kill you if I run away." Her objection is half-hearted. She wants desperately to be part his world, his life. To be included in the  bohemian troupe.  She wants desperately for him to sweep her away, take her in his arms and become her salvation. 

He kisses her softly, "Come into camp tomorrow . . ." and retreats with little more than a passing smile carelessly flung over his shoulder. She leans against the decrepit caravan, one hand against her belly, a finger to her lips, sealing in his touch. Wondering if she dares.

This night she'll bid silent farewell to the fading Wisteria arbour. She packs a small carpetbag with few belongings, leaves a note on her pillow and slips silently into the night without looking back. 


Tonight there is no music as man, woman and child busy themselves with preparations for departure.  The women securing caravans, men hitching them to clapped out cars and pickups and tinkering with ancient motors that have become too cantankerous to start. 

"You came!"  He startles her, wrapping arms around her waist from behind. "We're heading to Paris, easier to get lost there, easier to make a living. You really coming?"


She smiles and holds the loose bag high, "Yep, all packed and ready." 


Inside she's hesitant but willing. She wants to, she's always wanted to, but not until he laced those arms around her waist and pressed warm lips and tongue into hers, does she swoon and all sensibility is lost; all thought of consequence abandoned.  It's the kiss of fantasy and addles any common sense she's ever possessed.

She's bundled into a small van with his mother and three siblings, at least she thinks they're siblings despite being younger than her.  Children are everywhere, at least 10 per family, it's hard to tell who belongs to whom.


"Put these on," his mother thrusts discordant colours into Emilie's chest. A hand made skirt and embroidered blouse, pink cardigan and Spanish shawl.  His mother admires her handiwork as Emilie dons the gypsy garb, "There, you're one of us now. What did you bring?"


He'd told her to bring valuables. A bride price would be required even if her father was unaware of their elopement. Shit she was 13, what did she know of such things? She wants him, and if her mother's necklace and the money saved in the biscuit tin on the kitchen shelf is what it takes, then so be it.  She empties the carpet bag in the back of the van. Most of the booty is junk - mother of pearl  and costume jewellery. His mother sifts emeried hands through every piece. There's money of course, rolled tight and bound with a thick red rubber band - and the necklace. Twenty beautiful stones. She bites the chain to which they're tied. It's gold, as gold as the filling in her front incisor, but the stones are fake. It'll make an heirloom, 'something borrowed,' but there's little value in it on the street. She examines the blue/white stones with care and precision. "They'll do," is all she says.

For three days they travel, a motley crew of men, women, children, scrappy dogs, emaciated cats, even a canary in a cage with its sweet incessant song. She feels welcome and encouraged. During the trip she's shown their ways, enduring travel in the rear of a windowless carriage. She learns how they value virginity and purity which explains his fondling without intrusion.  How they are descendants of Lilith, Adam's first wife in the Garden of Eden, according to some versions of the Old Testament.  How Adam found Lilith too forthright and independent and asked God for a more pliant wife. After the expulsion, Lilith remained pure and never fell from grace - which is why the Gypsies are free to do as they like - free to take advantage of a sinful world, a fallen race.  "And that, little Emilie, is why if you want to stay, you have to learn the craft" his mother concludes.
 ***
August and Elaine Cornet are beside themselves but not surprised. Their only child was always one to cause trouble but had always come home. Perhaps they'd pushed too hard, cosseted to much , been to disciplinarian, but all was done out of love and not control. She'd been a difficult child. She once ran away for three days before the constabulary found her and dragged her kicking and screaming back into the arms of frantic, if not furious, parents.  

Her bed was empty that morning, never slept in. The note short, "I've gone for good this time, I'm free. Sorry about the money and the necklace." The alarm raised good and early, but past habits are hard to break and local Gendarmes show little enthusiasm for the chase. 

"August, she's done this before and more than once. We'll keep an eye out but she'll be home as usual."

Her father knows it's likely, but prepares newspaper advertisements to notify her as missing. Her mother just sits on her bed stroking the sheets and sobbing, blaming herself for being too strict, not understanding. By the time the authorities  show any real concern, she's long gone.  A covered passenger in a gypsy van, headed for one of the largest cities in the world. No better way to lose yourself than in a crowd, even at her tender age.
***
It's early morning when they arrive in the 'projects' of Aubervilliers on the outskirts of Paris. They assemble on a roadside, close but not part of the 'insertion village -  cabins home to Roma from Romania and Bulgaria where most wait to be reallocated to public housing.
 

Guaril opens the van door and takes her hand, "This'll be home for a while," he reassures. "We can earn some money here but we have to get our circulation records first." She's confused and has no idea that those with no trade or regular income need to report to the authorities each month, be granted the right to set  up camp or risk being moved on.  

His mother bustles between them, "Never mind that . . help me set up. You have things to learn and work to do, a wedding to plan. Gueril, you have business . . go to it!"

She's hastened away and fussed over by people she's never met as he disappears with half a dozen other men, slapping backs and shaking hands like old friends.

To her it's paradise, eyes blinded by adventure. Even in the early morning musicians gather with accordions and violins, fires burn in 44 gallon drums, women bustle in preparation of the day oblivious to the chilly dawn. Children barefoot and grubby, chase between the caravans their contagious laughter music to her once heavy heart. It's a shanty town, poor and shambled. To her it's palace grounds and he her Gypsy prince.


Written for the Tenth Daughter of Memory " Two Glass Houses and Twenty Stones"

2 comments:

  1. Isn't the shop called "Sephora?" And "Champs Elysees?" And "merde?"

    Interesting start... I'm guessing you're having issues with the Muse, as well. You know, the one YOU picked. :P

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is so exotic, spicy. Off to part 2.

    ReplyDelete