Sunday, August 21, 2011
Lilith (Part 2)
Theirs is a wedding different to anything she'd imagined. Clean dress and suit are retrieved from an old leather chest. Women fuss over Emilie and tease her hair, hang her veil. Gueril wears his father's suit and a cummerbund of red silk, only the scuffs on his shoes stand testament to his poverty.
In the company of his parents, child and man swear to be faithful until death as the Vajda binds their hands with a scarf and pours sweet liquor into cupped palms. They sip the nectar from each other's hands and seal their union with a Tokay kiss. She wonders where all the food came from and the cash pinned to her dress, but this is time to dance and drink, to feast before the famine of which she's unaware.
The celebration over, her fragrant hair's unbraided and his mother ties the Diklo scarf that marks a Gypsy wife. She will never be seen again in public with her head uncovered.
Their union that night so sweet in lust's delight. He is gentle, mindful of her youthful and unsullied body. Soft hands, warm lips as they lie swathed in fresh, perfumed sheets. It is the beginning of pure romance, love made physical. She learns how to please, he pleases in return. Emilie is in heaven. Everything is perfect with the man she wants, the life she craves.
Her tutors teach her well and she is sent to wash windows at busy intersections with other young women. Their chestnut hair, loose and shining, they are modern Eves, tantalising reluctant Adams with seductive smiles and disappointed pouts.
"Now smile, and don't take no for an answer," she's told. "Lift your skirt, just to the knees and show your bare arms. Clean the screens and make them pay."
At first it's fun, prancing between the cars. Receiving wolf-whistles and admiration. The bevy of teenage beauties giggling and chattering between the lights, flirting with drivers and being blessed with coins. But in the rain, it's cold and miserable. Drivers ignore their smiles, won't wind down their windows and they return with paltry rewards only to be met with scorns and slaps.
"You're not trying hard enough," his mother scolds. "This won't even pay for bread! You'll have to go out onto the street."
She's given a clipboard with a Fédération Nationale des Sourds de France sponsorship form and taught to point at her mouth and ears, pretending to be deaf. Tourists either wave her away, or take pity on her plight and sign the form before being suckered into parting with cash. This becomes far more lucrative than window washing, and puts her in her mother-in-law's favour. As the months go by, it does nothing however, to endear the fading attention of her husband.
Tired and cold, she prepares his meals, hand washes his clothes, serves his needs material and carnal. The gentleness of before giving way to grunts and ebbs in conversation, bad sex and poor attention. He begins to prefer the company of men, leaving her alone exhausted and dejected.
"We need a baby," he demands of her as they share an evening meal.
"I'm barely fourteen years old!" She replies, shocked that this would be asked of her so soon.
"It doesn't matter, without children we're nothing a laughing stock, a disgrace to the family. They're lifeblood, essential. It's been a year Emilie and nothing."
The coolness in his voice a stark contrast to the heady nights they once spent watching the dancing beyond the thicket. He's never pressured her about children but she's been with them long enough to know it was expected. His slow withdrawal because she wasn't pregnant however, was not.
Lovemaking has no passion just a purpose. Delivered with mechanical precision, no foreplay, no romance. The aggressive stares resurface as she fails to produce a child. "Useless gadji" she hears them jibe. He drinks later into the evening, plays his violin, eyes the other girls. The ones with hair uncovered, still braided down their backs, brown arms and legs flashing beneath swirling skirts. His smile is rarely thrown in her direction.
Finally it comes. He tells her he's 'divorcing' her. He spends his nights drinking and flirting barely passing her a glance until he finally spits it out, venom from a viper's tongue, "I don't want you any more!"
She's seen it coming. She was petrified it might. Now the words slice her soul, stabbing repeatedly as she slumps on a small wooden chair; tears streaming through hands pressed to her face. He's chosen another. His mother, once so accepting, has shunned her and now braids another's hair - prepares another wedding bed. The despair she feels gives way to numb. What is she to do? All she knows is chicanery and tricks, pan-handling tourists, washing windscreens and pretending to be deaf. She's a long way from home, no money, no necklace. The pretty stones now dancing on his new love's neck. A nuptial gift from the man who once showered her in softness and affection.
"Hey, you're soaked!" She looks up at him. An older man, greyed hair, conservatively dressed dons a quizzical look and a huge black umbrella.
"What the hell are you doing out here in this ?" He reaches down and puts a note into her cup. "What's your name?"
"Emilie" is all she whimpers. She's exhausted. Her knees hurt, feet are numb and her fingers tingling.
"Where are your people?"
"He's supposed to pick me up but it's 5:30. I don't think he's coming." The realisation that she might have been deserted hits like a hammer and she begins to cry. He feels the desperation in her voice.
The stranger helps her to her feet. She stinks. She's filthy. Odd for one whose race pride themselves on bodily cleanliness. Then he looks into her face. She's blue-eyed and fair - not Roma..."
"No, I mean where are your real family? You don't look like a Roma."
She's not in the mood to regale her life story so cuts things short, "...don't have a real family. Not any more. Just fallen on hard times."
He offers to buy her coffee to warm her up. She's ravenous and devours a plate of apero, pate and saussice with caucherons and dark Arabica. For the first time today, she's warm and beginning to dry. He tells her he's from the south. He's in Paris on business and working with the Government to relocate Romany gypsies. He's sending them back to Romania. He exposes plans of how they're raiding a camp in Aubervilliers the following morning. It barely registers who's camp it is.
"Emilie? Would you leave the camp? Would you think about going home?"
Home? She's forgotten what or where home is, but the thought of a clean bed and hot bath are so enticing, her resolve so weak, she admits to him that she would if she thought her parents would take her back. Although she fears they won't. Not this time, not after what she's done.
"I stole from them you know. I stole a bride price. Their life savings and a family heirloom. A necklace. It was my Grandmother's I think. I just took it and gave it to his mother." Her grubby face now lined with cleansing tearfall.
"Look," his voice softens as he thinks of his own daughter, about her age, "I'm sure they'll forget it if they have you back." He places a bent forefinger gently underneath her chin and lifts her face, "Come with me, let's clean you up, we can call them. You can talk to them."
His apartment is modest, rented in the short term while he conducts his affairs. She can barely make the 100 wooden spiral steps but once inside it's warm, compact and homely. A small table with two chairs against the wall is covered with papers. Papers filled with Roma names. The walls are painted sunshine yellow against which two sofa's lean, soft and inviting.
"The shower's in there, " he points. "I'll see what I've got that you can change into."
She's tempted to rob him and regain favour with the Gypsies, but he's slowly winning her over and there's nothing of value in the rental. Just a suitcase of clothes and modest fittings. Cheap crockery and glassware and a small TV bolted to a metal stand in the corner of the room. Nothing worthy of theft, not even prized scrap metal in the kitchen drawers, which she checks scrupulously while he's scrummaging for clothes.
"Here," he emerges from one of the tiny bedrooms with a pair of track pants and a t-shirt. "These'll have to do for now."
The shower is bliss and warms her frozen extremities. Tiny bottles of shampoo and conditioner, body wash and exfoliant are all experimented with as she washes her tangled hair. Foam gliding down her shapely form, a body always hidden, washes away the grime of the day and the disappointment of desertion from her skin. She emerges clean, sweet-smelling and for the first time, he sees her smile.
"Thank you, that felt fantastic." She's had little more than a body wash from a bucket of cold water for days.
He's made tea in large white cups and she curls on one of the sofas looking fragile and oh so young.
"Rest now, we have work to do tomorrow," he urges whilst throwing a blanket and a pillow in her direction - she sleeps. And he's gone when she wakes.
There's calamity in the air. Immigration officials and Gendarmes en masse interrogate the travellers.
"Papers? Where are your papers?"
Of course Guaril has none. His companions have none. Their monthly check-in with the authorities had been abandoned long ago and to all intents and purposes, they're illegal aliens. They're escorted for 'processing' among the protestations of women who spit and plead, but it's no good. They've dodged a bullet once, it's not going to happen again. Belongings are searched and the proceeds of theft seconded and thrown carelessly into plastic bags to be labelled and identified and returned where possible. Among them, a pretty antique necklace of marquisette and amethyst. He recognises it immediately.
The raid over, he returns to the apartment and Emilie, now awake, is devouring his last chocolate croissant and watching morning television - a band of gypsies being herded into detention, being prepared for deportation.
"Time to call your family I think . . . and here . . " he throws the necklace which drifts sparkling in mid air and makes its mark in a young girl's cupped palms. Again she smiles, a beautiful smile - sad but relieved.
He smiles back.and nods, "Now make the call!"
"Emilie? Cheri? Is that you?"
She can't believe the sweetness and forgiveness in her mother's voice.
"Oh my darling, we thought the worst. We thought we'd never hear from you again. We thought you were . . " Her mother is overwhelmed and can no longer speak.
Emilie's pleas are punctuated with a flood of emotion as she begins to let go and sob. "Can I come home? Please, can I come home now? I'm in Paris but I can be at Gare du Nord in minutes. I have enough money for the train. Please, can I come home?"
There's no imagining her relief when her mother says she'll meet her at the station. All is forgiven, she just wants her baby back.
She stands naked in front of the mirror adhered to her wardrobe door. Clean sheets on the bed, flowers on the sill. Spring's morning sunshine shimmers on the whitewashed walls. A small cat winds between her ankles emulating the purr she feels inside.
She brushes sleep from her eyes and hands move through her hair, down her naked body, smoothing her tiny but slightly distended belly. She turns from side to side and coos in Gitane to the life within.
"My sweet Lilith," she whispers, "everything's going to be alright."