Favored Grace

1

So far away from skyscrapers and from other kinds of modern civilization, there existed a quite vast land that held some of the most captivating beauties that Earth ever had.

This area had been witnessing wonderful sunrises and sunsets that everybody could not but behold every second of them as if they were the last to be viewed. In reality, the sun was a fundamental element for the people living there as they believed it brought them joy and dispelled away devilish spirits and welcomed all the blessings and brightness of angels. There lived who were called the Venz, and there laid the soil of Slôvenza.

According to the inhabitants, Slôvenza was a community of legends and myths which occurred once upon a time and whose echoes are still traveling throughout the region, so that is why I wished I could go there. I was actually looking for a brilliant inspiration for my future novels. Therefore, I walked along the streets patrolling and seeking for interesting people to meet or affair to investigate on.

Favored GraceStrolling along Wolf Street – the most famous corner in the region mainly on a clear day – I noticed that an art exhibition was held gathering many painters, poets and writers, exposing their awesome work. Going through the fair, I came across with some strange but extremely amazing pictures of charismatic men and women wearing special clothes and jewelry. When I got closer, I realized that another quite big surface was designed for dancing and the practice of some unusual body movements. I could not but wonder about this unusual sight for I knew the Venz’s art different from that one.

Seeing me puzzled, an old woman approached me with a smirk on her face and informed me that Slôvenza was not only the land of the Venz or tourists but also and forever the land of gypsies. Her words were like a wonderful note from a Spanish guitar; I felt like my feet were losing the floor for at last I found a more defendable and motivating reason for my settling. The old woman was not oblivious for my state and proposed to give a hand whenever I needed help. She also told me that her name was Zarinska, and the most stunning of all was when she uttered “You’re Roberto Marsalis, thirty-five years old, and I know about you more than you do.” I couldn’t hide both my fear and surprise, but Zarinska kept invading my hazel eyes with her deep gaze which succeeded in making me disappear from her view straight to the beautiful blue house I bought right after my arrival.

I didn’t sleep that night. Not because of the old woman but I kept tossing around and fixing my plans for the next day. And the first challenge I would have to face was to visit the gypsies and know more about them, the thing which I have always wanted to undertake. I woke up that morning with a cool sensation inside my chest, the one that fills you when you feel peace and delightedness haunting your thoughts. Now I’m ready for a big day…

I went straight to Wolf Street, got into the art fair, and spoke to Zarinska. She seemed waiting for my coming. ‘This woman is definitely strange’, I thought. I immediately asked her to show me to the gypsy tribe, and she gladly accepted as if this was what she really wanted me to do. When we were on our way to the tribe, Zarinska was murmuring some incomprehensible words and sounds, moving slightly her hands, and looking ahead without paying much attention to my presence. I was later told that she did this whenever someone visited her tribe for the first time. Yes, I was also told that Zarinska was the ‘drabardi’ or the woman fortune teller who was highly respected and honored by her fellows.

Arriving at the tribe’s entrance, I stopped for a while; Zarinska got in, leaving me behind. I just threw a staring gaze at what was before me; perhaps I needed someone to take my trembling hands and lead me to the tribe’s chief. The strange old woman did not even care so she entered her tent and suddenly yelled: “Maria Anya Banka! I will kill you!” I was still planted in front of the wide portal when a man of about fifty years old – still strong and quite muscular – got out of his tent and rushed towards Zarinska’s. But the latter got off her tent to meet in the middle of the deserted yard.

– What’s happening to you Dona Zarinska? — Said the man.
– Go and ask your spoilt daughter what’s going on with me!

The man threw a long breath out from his wide chest and said:

– What did Anya do again?
– As usual! You know her! She’s as stubborn as all the rocks of Slôvenza! She never gives up until she reaches her fancies!
– Did she play that spell again?
– Fortunately not! She is so nosy and tried to touch the untouchable cards! I don’t believe it!
– But you told me no one can do it without your assistance!
– Yes, yes, but I was always telling you in vain that she has got that gifted thing I’m incapable of deciphering yet, and which made her the unique one in this tribe who dares touching my things! Oh my GOD I feel so sick!
– Zarinska, you know she loves you a lot. She doesn’t do all that to upset you but just to reveal what she’s capable of doing, the thing which we’ve always tried to forbid.
– It seems like our attempts failed Merco – Zarinska said.
– Unfortunately, yes.

I was observing their discussion when suddenly the strong man noticed my silhouette. He then turned to me and shouted: “You, young man! What the hell are you doing at the door? Come in and tell us what you want!” His order was like an earthquake, but I felt strangely released as if he broke the obstacles which prevented me from moving and let me enter his kingdom without the slightest condition. When I stood before the man, Zarinska stood in the background and left us alone towards her big tent. I shook the man’s hand and introduced myself.

– Hello, I’m Roberto Marsalis, and I’m a tourist here.
– Hi, I’m glad to welcome you in Slôvenza. I’m Merco Banka. I’m the leader of this blessed gypsy tribe. Please call me Merco and feel at home.

The words of Mr. Banka really opened new horizons for me…

– Nice to meet you Merco. Call me Roberto, in turn. But I’m actually here for your help and I was wondering whether you would accept my proposition or…
– Go ahead.
– Actually, I am a novelist. I came to this beautiful land to enrich my experience and fill my white papers with aiming words and attractive facts.
– Go on, please.

– So, I would really appreciate it if you allowed me to stay in your tribe for some time. But in return I would like to take part in the tribe’s daily expanses just like one of its member.

Merco bent his head forward and thought for a moment. At last he spoke:

– You know dear friend, the gypsies’ rules are very strict. We never accept a white man sharing our daily life, more importantly our daily expanses. So I would rather say that you are welcome as our honorable guest who can stay the period you wish. But let me tell you that trust is never offered but deserved. Shortly, my men and I will be watching you over.
– You can rely on me Merco Banka. And please accept my sincere thanks for your charming hospitality.

The leader was satisfied with a smile as a reply and showed me to the tent where I was about to experiment a new adventure which had just begun.

When I was left alone, I took the time to notice how comfortable and colorful my tent was. It was not big but enough to fit the slim and tall man I was. I had the opportunity to dress like those gypsies and why not follow the way of their traditions and rituals. I was actually open and ready for everything.

At lunchtime, noise started to emerge; the people always shared their meals outside, so Merco came to me and invited me over to join them. There, he raised everyone’s attention for a moment of silence so that he could introduce me to his fellows. I was a bit nervous feeling about sixty people looking at me and wondering what the hell a man of my race was doing among them. I greeted them and I noticed that Mr. Banka had an important influence on his people. We sat down at a large table in which all kinds of gypsy dishes were spread over; there were also different kinds of fresh fruits and beverages. At a distance, I was observing a man of about fifty years old coming towards us; weakness was obviously showing the symptoms of sickness, but all this was remarkably accompanied with a friendly smile and wide open arms.

– Merco! How long haven’t I seen your old face?!
– Hey! Pablo! How are you my friend?!

The two men hugged each other; they seemed to be close friends for ages.

– Where have you been this entire time bad boy!? Merco said.
– Haha! I just went for a week bad boy! I was on a business trip, you know, I must sell all the goods before winter comes…but where is…where’s my darling Anya?!
– She’s downtown in Camilla’s house – said Zarinska with a sad tone.
I bet she loves her despite her foolish acts.
– She’ll never change! She’s never satisfied to stay in the tribe with the girls of her age. I know my Anya;
She’s the spirit of freedom! Haha! – said Pablo.

Everybody laughed as a sign of agreement. Then the gypsies started to eat, each with their families. The three elderly did the same.

Three days had gone since the first time I stepped on the soil of this tribe. I almost knew everybody and spoke to everyone except Maria Anya Banka. I was always wondering how she looked like, was she pretty? How old was she? What were her interests and habits? Why did her surrounding always say that she is quite different? And more other questions which kept turning my curiosity on all the time.

August 19th, 1985 was a hot and sunny day of the usual burning summer. This was the fourth day of my dwelling in this land which already inspired me of beauty, charm, friendship, and especially peace. The people here understood life as their honest acts dictated by their noble and open hearts. But there was something missing; a piece of the uncompleted painting that I had before my eyes but was completely empty of passion and grace. For a while I thought hearing some little voices popping out from inside, telling me the secret that I was shy to reveal even to myself. Yeah, my depth knew what the missing spark was. My soul repeated her name and I couldn’t help it. I had never met her but I felt if I did not all my aims would lose their value. Yeah, that lady must figure in my book; she must be part of it, its passion and grace.

I felt a terrible need to meet Anya. That lady had certainly something in her that made people thirsty of her sight. I just moved out at once from my tent and went to talk to Merco. When I was looking for him, he was standing alone; right foot on a near big stone, arms crossed on his knees, and thoughts seemed travelling over slôvenza’s huge mountains. My shadow did not disturb his quiet contemplations, though. His gaze was lost amid the proud dark forest as if he was dreading something to happen or perhaps it reminded him of bitter memories. So when I wanted to move ahead closer to him, he spoke.

– You know, Roberto, a long time ago I had a brother who was bravely called ‘Banya the Lord of Wolves’. He was called so because he was as wild as a wolf. He was the kind of men who enjoyed being with the wolves of the forest there. He spent most of his time with them as if he didn’t have any relation with humans, as if his flowing blood was different from ours. He was tall, brave, and handsome. All the people were afraid of him and respected him so much that they were ready to fight at his side against the lots of enemies he then had.
– But weren’t the wolves a threat for his life and the life of the people here? – I asked.
– No, at all. Simply because they were afraid of him, too!. He was the first and the unique one who was against people who hunted them. He was their protector. You know why? Because he always said that the wolves are relentless predators and our lives are between their claws but if we manage to get their confidence and support everybody will live in peace forever. Banya always behaved as if the wolves were humans like us. As a result, a spiritual pact between them was built up not through papers or signatures but through mutual help.

I kept silent, but I was obviously astonished.

– As I told you, my brother had many enemies not because he was a wicked man but because he was the support of the poor, the fresh innovation of all Slôvenza, the economic booster of it, the sharp blade justice against rubbery and bribes. These qualities alone had and still have a positive impact on our relationships with both the citizens of this land and the visitors coming overseas. You can say that the people of Slôvenza are still grateful towards us.
– Well, what I read from books is that the gypsies and people from my race are in argument most of the time and in disagreement even about the simplest things. But what I noticed in the town and which pleased me much is that you succeeded in finding a common ground in the daily grind and even in the acceptance of both your traditions and lifestyles. I don’t remember that I’ve once read about this rarity.
– I must agree with you on this.

– Merco, may I ask you something?

He took off both his hands from his knees and his foot from the stone and turned to me, probably to meet my eyes with his.

– Of course. – He said.
– How can I get to Anya?

I took a risk in asking this question because I knew how gypsies were overprotective with their women, and became more protective when it comes to deal with outsiders. But he just looked at me and drew a subtle smile on his face and let me go on.

– Well, your daughter is the only member I haven’t met yet. And I think she can help a lot in my inquiry. I just wish you to allow me to talk to her and spend some time with her as I always do with each member of this tribe. May I?
– I know what you mean, Roberto. I accept. But let me inform you that Maria Anya is Merco Banka’s daughter and no one in this land can betray her feelings because she’s strong and knows the white men less honest than they think they are, so I advice you not to try to seduce her or even tease her, just be as natural as you are because she’ll never be embarrassed to leave you alone in the middle of a conversation and never talk to you once more. Anya is a so true person. Good luck.

I just thanked him again, and perceived a deep trust that he had in his daughter.

‘This is completely amazing’, I thought. When I came to this land everybody came to me so that to welcome me and ask me whether I needed a hand or not, people came to me in order to show me the roads and touristic spots, everybody came to meet me because they heard I was interesting and thought I was worth talking to. But Anya was the only one who I bet never bothered to ask who I was. She was the unique person who I determined to go to and not the opposite. And to tell you the truth, this fact made me even more enthusiastic to see her.

I went back to my tent in order to work out Merco’s words, and went out again towards Camilla’s house. I thought it would be more decent if I wore my usual clothes, I do not know why I saw it preferable that she sees me as I am and not as the one who came and wanted to integrate her tribe. So I put my Levis’ blue jeans which were a little loose, and a white Lacoste T-shirt. I was quite presentable, I thought…On my way, I met the friendly Mr. Cardona who was Slôvenza’s shoe seller and who accepted to show me Camilla’s house.

– Good morning, good man!
– Good morning Mr. Marsalis. How do you do?
– Fine, thanks. ….tell me, do you know Maria Anya Banka?
– Anya? Who doesn’t!? She’s the most beautiful lady in Slôvenza! Ah she’s like her brave father.
– Oh yeah, Merco is really kind and brave.
– No! Merco’s not her father! I mean not the biological one.
– I beg your pardon!

Well, actually Merco told me that but I did not know that all the land knew about it!

– Yeah! Anya’s father was Banya! His death is still a mystery because he had lots of enemies surrounding him; even among those he thought were his close friends. He’s a real loss for us all.

I kept silent.

– Here we are! – Said Mr. Cardona – just knock on that door and you’ll find the nice De La Reguera family.
– Thank you very much – I said.

The house seemed quite big from the outside; there was a flowering garden which displayed a joyful atmosphere to the neighborhood. I rang the house’s bell and a middle-aged woman opened – I guess Camilla’s mother – and then a good-looking man followed her – Camilla’s father, I guess – I greeted them and asked them where I can find the gypsy lady.

– Anya is not in right now, she’ll come back soon…Ah just look behind! She’s already back!

I was hasty to look backward and discover her. When my eyes met her silhouette, I heard the little voices saying: ‘that is Anya coming!’ She was about forty meters away across from me. I walked down the house’s porch to have a clear view of her. As she was approaching, her body was imposing its graceful shape like a line drawing of a painter on his canvas. I could not move a muscle; planted, feet on the ground, eyes trying to identify the traits of her face, and without forgetting how my heart felt when she was only ten meters away.

As she was walking along the street, young women were greeting her and wishing her a good day, and some of the young men – captivated by her endless charm – let their eyes linger on her and stopped her either to kiss her hand or consume the magic of her gaze. When she was only five meters away, she threw me a wide adorable smile that showed the unusual whiteness of her perfect set of teeth. I thought I would die right away because my heart, which was already beating so fast, gave up going on at once. Maria Anya stopped going on too when she saw Mr. Cardona standing on his shop’s doorway. So she completely deviated her way from me towards her right and which was actually my left. I felt my feet detaching themselves from the ground, tempting to follow her and preventing her from going away. I also saw my hands wishing to stop her, but I fortunately realized how stupid I was and that I should simply wait for her until she greeted the shoe seller!

– Good morning Mr. Cardona! How are you doing today?—said Anya enthusiastically.
– Morning my daughter! I’m doing fine, thank you! Well, I see you bought some stuff from the local mall, right?!
– Yeah, you know, I have to thank Mr. and Mrs. De La Reguera for their hospitality.
– Right! Good girl! I think you should go and meet that gentleman over there; he wanted to see you, I think he’s an important novelist and businessman as well, coming from another land. You should spend some time with him maybe you… together can…
– Mr. Cardona! What the heavens are you trying to say?!
– Nothing my girl! I’m so old that I sometimes throw out odd things! Never mind!

I was about ten meters away so I could not distinguish what they were saying, but I understood from their body language that they were talking about me. Anya said goodbye and walked again towards my direction.

She was here, just fifty centimeters in front of me…

– Hello Mr. Marsalis. I was with my father a few minutes ago and he told me that you wanted to meet me. Here I am.
– Yes! That’s very true! I bet your father told you that he welcomed me in your tribe and that now I’m prospecting ideas for my new book, so I wanted the help of everyone here including you Maria Anya.

I had the most beautiful woman I have never seen in all my life, and she was just before me.

– Yeah, my father told me everything about you. I’m so glad to bring help if I can, of course.
– Thank you so much. – I replied.

She was here, and I could feel her breathe; her gaze going over my face; her white skin of porcelain reflecting the light of the day; her dark eye liner which went beyond the limits of her dark deep eyes and widened them; her small nose that gently settled in the middle of her face and pointed its tip to give it a proud look; and finally her rigorous lips that made each word she utters gladly swallowed.

We were walking along the town center where people were quite busy for a programmed party for this evening.

– Who’s the party for? – I asked.
– Oh! We have a party every year exactly in this season in order to gather as many tourists as possible for our trade, but at the same time the gypsies and the people of our race find it the perfect occasion to gather and share the music, the drinks and even the dances. Isn’t that exciting?
– Definitely. – I replied.

It is true that we were walking side to side but from time to time I let her overtake so that I could behold her longer. When I was a while behind her, her pretty long black crow hair was coming down as a waterfall, forming very slight curls that were shining under the sunrays and freeing its hunting perfume to invade my big space and poor heart. Then, she suddenly spoke so I caught my senses to listen to her.

– Tell me, are you coming to the party this evening?
– That’s for sure! I’ll never miss the show!

She only smiled. And we went together to the tribe, where we found her father, Zarinska, Pablo, and the rest of the people…

That afternoon, Merco, Anya and I went to the forest for hiking, so we brought some food and a bottle of red wine – which is the gypsies’ favorite drink. When we were walking, we saw a man shaking a young tree and saying some non understandable prayers. I asked Anya to explain and she said that this is one of their beliefs; when a person is suffering from fever and in order to lower it, they shake young trees so that the fever will be transmitted from the sick person’s body to the tree. After a moment and away from the sick man, Anya said that the forest is believed to hold bad luck and supernatural spirits or ghosts, so they – the gypsies – always carry bread in their pockets as a protection against these. Then she took two pieces of bread and handed the first to her father and the other to me. When she gave it, my fingers and hers touched slightly that I felt a wave of sirocco heat coming up from my toes to cling into my nose…and that was then the start.

La Verde Forestales – or the green forest – became increasingly dense; its huge trees were sometimes hindering the sunrays to pass through and reach our faces. The interwoven plants were so numerous that we could not easily move on. Therefore, Merco took a sharp sword, which gypsies often carry with them, and started to clear the path for us by cutting down the long branches. So when Mr. Banka was busy paving us a way, I took the moment as an advantage to have some words with Anya whose immediate lucidity gave a hint of a smile. She is actually the kind of women whom you enjoy discussing with; I also noticed that she got a lot to say and share about both the spiritual and material lives, and this despite her young twenty years. Yes, she was much younger than me but the strength, the maturity and the gypsy heart that was beating inside her made her even much older than she was. After that, Maria Anya spoke about something so interesting and exciting especially with the way she told it that I felt completely detached from everything surrounding us, even Merco the tribe’s chief. She said that the forest was one of the rare places where she felt free and wild, where no rules governed or made sense of them. She also told me that she visited the Verde Forestales from time to time in the very early morning when even her father – the first man of the tribe – never felt her absence.

– What were you doing at those times in such a dark place? – I asked in astonishment.

She beautifully laughed and went on…

– Nothing! I just walk along the narrow paths to find myself in the heart of the Forestales. That spot is so quiet and peaceful that you can hear the noise of silence coming from every leaf whispering, every air streaming, and every bird flying. You just hear yourself breathing, feel the contact of your shoes upon the grassed ground, sometimes hear your bones cracking inside your flesh, or even the sound of your saliva when you swallow it and pass it through your dry throat. There, at that time, I feel my soul and spirit excited; I’m the center of attention, I become conscious about the language my body speaks as if it’s the first time I practice those daily natural movements, I really explore the universe that is me and learn how to listen to the music my heart composes – the one I cannot perceive when I’m in another place but not in this forest. Believe me or not, I often wish I could live here far away from hate or even love, or from excitement or boredom.

When she was expressing herself, Anya was moving her hands and arms as she was painting on the empty space, or conducting a gypsy orchestra; her graceful being favored itself and imposed a total admiration. I cannot remember the times she looked straight to my hazel eyes and filled my soul with her intensive and passionate feelings; I think she was bit by bit hunting my inside with her invading light and sorcering dark traits. And let me again praise – but not in an exaggerated manner – on the way she pronounced every word; she was singing every sentence and giving each word its right note; she was as spontaneous and natural as the wild fruits of the Forestales or as the wild wind where upon her name is carried.

Actually, there was no ‘me’ in all this; I was completely lost in her sparkling eyes, I just kept lingering on her and never allowed any of her details escape from my view. Nothing around seemed important; everything became lifeless even the sound of the sword was just a forgotten echo coming from a distant mountain. There was only Maria Anya who captivated the whole of my senses and feelings. I then realized that I was really falling, and I fell for her in a very wild place of dwelling bad spirits and perverted ghosts.

Suddenly, Mr. Banka gave up cutting and stood upright and shouted: ‘Look my children! There’s a perfect place for our picnic!’ When Anya heard her father, she immediately run to him for the sake of discovery. Her father was warning her of the probable dangers but she did not care at all. However, Merco was right because when we caught her up, she was facing five menacing hungry wolves. She was immobile, so we rushed forward to protect her; we took our guns and tended to squeeze the trigger. But Anya reacted strangely and exceptionally.

– No! Don’t shoot, please! – She screamed.

We couldn’t believe that Anya was standing between the wolves and us; she was across from us, opening wide her arms, protecting the fierce beasts which were just some five meters behind her.

– No! Stop right now! – She yelled.
– What the hell are you doing? – We yelled too.
– Merco Banka don’t you remember your brother? – Said Anya – didn’t he say that wolves and the people of Slôvenza must live in agreement otherwise all of us will live in terrible troubles and forever. Don’t you believe in this curse?! Don’t forget that Banya’s blood’s running in my veins and the least I can do is to trust his noble acts towards the wolves and protect them as he always did.

The wolves seemed amazingly losing their aggressive look as if Anya’s words had a decisive impact on them. Then Anya switched her position; she was then opposing the wolves, Merco and I were behind the wild lady, and we were now the ones she wanted to protect.

– You, the wolves of Slôvenza! I’m Anya, Banya’s unique child…

The wolves made a slight movement backward when they heard the name of who used to be their Lord…

– I’m his unique daughter – she carried on – don’t you remember how protective he was towards you against the eventual hunters?! I just behaved just as my father always did; I prevented the two men behind me to kill you and now I demand you to go back from where you came because your Lord’s spirit is still alive…

As amazingly as it seemed, the wolves understood Anya’s message and I believe if they could speak, they would tell how courageous she was. Consequently, the wolves left without an obvious opposition, and we felt at last secure again but extremely stunned by Anya’s attitude…With a clear tone, favored grace told us that we had better go back to the tribe and get ready for the party. And this was what we did without uttering any word. But once in the tribe, Anya expressed the desire to go to Camilla’s house where she could get ready for the party.

– You can go, but tomorrow we’re going to discuss about what has just happened in the forest – said Banka.

Anya bowed forward as a sign of agreement without a word to add, and left my side without even bothering herself to throw me one of her best smiles. I remember I felt I lost something for her smile had always been an untouchable present for me.

When the charm flew away, I could not but notice the special one I just had in front of me. The tribe was like an aunts’ refuge not because the gypsies’ number increased but because there was a continuous activity that displayed an obvious excitement for the party. Merco and I went to our tents; I got dressed and wore a white shirt, black pants and shoes. So I got off my tent and met Merco who was really elegant in his gypsy traditional dressing; he was also wearing a white shirt but with a black vest, and black pants put inside his heavy brown boots. All these were accompanied by a nice large hat and a long thick stick which was decorated by colorful ribbons tied around its top. As far as the gypsy women were concerned, they were gathering under Zarinska’s huge tent probably to exchange each others’ opinions about the choice of clothes, jewelry, and of course make up. They were almost all wearing the same sort of dresses; long and colorful. They were also putting heavy earrings and long gold necklaces as ornaments. “A woman’s legs must not show, otherwise it’ll be considered as a grave offense”, explained Merco who was observing them. “Look at them, you can see some women covering their heads with what we call a ‘diklo’ or a head scarf which is a must for married women”, he concluded. Then in a thunder voice, Merco appealed to the people in the yard to hurry up and gather their families to the direction of the town center’s square.

Loaded with all kinds of food and common sense, the gypsies and I went on the road to San Antonio’s Yard where Slôvenza’s white men and women were waiting for us to put fire on the stages. We were very close to each other, a throng of happy and singing people; our voices were like a haunting horn sound that reached the Verde Forestales and sent us its best leaves’ whispering and winds’ blessing. The Romani – as they are universally called – are known for their soulful vocals which tend to be declamatory, a trembling and thrilling voice often incorporated with a howling that sends me shivers coming up my spine and travelling over my surrendering body with brushing caresses. This definitely made me want to shake!

The gypsies were singing; it was more like sound producing coming up from their nostalgic souls, sometimes with a very high intonation, sometimes go down so down that the people found it the perfect moment to shout their ‘Olé, Olà!’ usually followed by rhythmic hand clapping.

When we arrived at the Yard’s entrance, the people there were somehow like us; numerous, joyful and well dressed. Some women imitated some features of gypsy clothes mainly the flower in their hair. But amid all this bubbling energy, I was actually looking for a familiar face, an angel who filled my heart with a thing – I could not avow at that time – when it used to be like an abandoned shrine. I was seeking for Anya’s silhouette but I could not find her until she called my name…she was just behind me all that time, I immediately turned round because my eyes needed the scenery of her body to go on shining. So, I saw her smiling at me, she was there, she shot me with her dark frustrating eyes, her gaze travelled all my body to control its movements and commented on the way I was dressing…

– Roberto – she said – you look great!
– Thank…thank you – I mumbled because of shyness.

The gypsies were already dancing and mixing their joy with the city dwellers’, but I was the only one left at the entrance and that was probably why my favored grace came to rescue me. Suddenly a young boy, who was named Sébastian, called Anya to join the dance floor…

– Come on Maria Anya! Show us what you’ve got!
– I’m coming! Let’s turn the party on! – She yelled.

As usual, she left my side without even saying goodbye. She just run to the stage, and there began the gypsy show… Anya was wearing a red, silk and long dress. Her thin arms were free from sleeves and her breast slightly showed its sweet forms through her low cut collar. I thought for a while that her hair was darker than ever, forming graceful curls that were falling down her velvet shoulders which were reflecting the torches’ light of San Antonio’s Yard. Her beautiful dress was tight at her waist letting her hips show their wonderful humps. Let’s not forget the white Chrysanthemum flower that she inserted amid her falling curls and which gave her a crispier beauty. I was there in my place; could neither move nor could I take my eyes away from her or stand up longer but sat down on an old bench that was there to catch me from falling down on my trembling knees.
San Antonio became a sort of melting pot which gathered the Venz, the gypsies and the tourists coming from different lands. To be honest, I did not feel that I once belonged to one of those three origins but to be part of all of them; it is true that I first came to Slôvenza as a tourist from the down under lands but after that I managed penetrating the two worlds of the Venz and the gypsies, so when the three worlds were melting in the Yard I just stood in the background on my helpful bench to behold the fantastic of the current tolerance that was emerging and taking control of the entire attending hearts. The music was a Romani one where the guitars were as if playing on their own, spreading over a terrific energy that pushed people to free their bodies from the daily pressure, and let off steam! Sébastian, who was Camilla’s brother, encouraged Anya to go up the wooden stage so that everybody could see her, and so that she could represent the beauty of the gypsy dancing traditions.

The stage was not actually high but enough to see everything while we – the guests – were sitting down. I instinctively took my note book from my small bag, which I kept carrying in case of need, then I started to write without even being conscious I was doing it simply because I had the most wonderful natural scenery I had hardly ever seen during my wanderings around the world. Therefore, I simply became what I called myself ‘a painter writer’ because I was just like a painter who was looking at his chosen view and pouring all his talents on his canvas using bright colors and shapes. But I was not using colors; my pen’s black ink was trying to identify each move she was making; her long arms were travelling the empty space and caressing it; her velvet hair coming down her shaking shoulders; from time to time she pushed it back from her face and swayed in the moonlight; she lifted her hands up to the sky and moved with the song which was her unique lover; the small of her back was forbidding distance and making the desperate youth around her loving her gypsy heart more and more. The golden jewels that were hanging up her neck were flashing and touching the sparks coming down the dark starry sky to show off their intrinsic gypsy value.

Nothing else mattered; I was completely apart from what was going on around me; there was just the painter writer and the dancing master chief. Even the invading gaze of the ‘drabardi’ did not affect my hidden passion for what I was working on – though Zarinska obviously read everything in my eyes, I thought.

Suddenly, something woke me up from my forbidden dreams, reminded me of bitter realities, and ordered me to stand up, so I went to Merco Banka and informed him that I wished to spend that night in my house, that I had a sick feeling, and that I needed some rest and quietness. The tribe’s leader stood up and wished I could attend the party till its end but could not oppose my desires so he accompanied me for some meters and wished me a good recovering.

I was poorly walking alone through Wolf Street; feeling weak, my heart was hanging up, my head bowing forward, tears in eyes; obvious sadness on my face; losing all hopes and wishing the dream could end before feelings become more unbearable.

That night was the 31st of August, 1985; the 16th day of my existence on this land, and the eve of the 1st of September. I thought when I was bringing myself to my shelter that those days were like a big lie in my life and that I had not but allowed my heart to guide me, and what guidance! You may say that this current state had just emerged at once but actually it had started long before because I had been reading about them, I had been seeking about the truth in them and looking for a light in them that may guide me to my favored grace.

But unfortunately there was no light, no hope, and no road that I could neglect but must follow. I also understood through my inquiries that the gypsies had this ideology of maintaining tribal and social purity among their families; thus, “Romani women are the guarantors for the survival of the population” and their marriage with a non-gypsy is considered a menace for this survival. Moreover, in case of mixed marriages, the children are considered Romani only if the father is so. Therefore, women are not allowed to marrying strangers. I was wondering why? I just did not care whether Anya’s children and mine will be seen as gypsies or not, the only thing I cared for was living at her side, and this is for the rest of my life.

I almost pasted my house ten meters forward because of my deep thoughts and low awareness of the surrounding world but I woke up again, went back to the shelter I should have never exchanged with a colorful gypsy tent, and realized that my favored grace will never be mine.

When I got in my empty home, I threw myself on the empty couch, and on my reddish cheeks I allowed my sacred tears to fall down… silently.

1:30a.m and the ceiling was my lost gaze’s unique view. The tears were still falling, wetting my pillow, revealing to the empty surrounding what I had been hiding from the crowded one, letting the child I used to be come out of the so-called ‘strong man’ I was. I just put my right hand on my burning heart to calm down the flames that started invading my chest and suffocating my lungs. ‘Let it burn’, I silently said to myself, ‘let it charred, let it disappear in ashes so that it won’t beat, so that it’ll never suffer anymore…’

When a thirty-year old man feels something real towards a woman, he feels her in his blood, he sees her shadow everywhere, he keeps looking for her face in every corner and on every street, he sleeps and wakes up with the souvenir of her haunting voice, he endures volcano eruptions flooding his entire body caused by every thought of her, feeling the lava spreading over and touching whatever comes beyond his body’s boundary.

After a while, I felt asleep on my red sofa so I just surrendered and took a deep breath; the one you display as a result of abundant tears. And then, slept at once as if I did not do it for a long time.

– I saw you last night when you slipped away from the party. I was wondering why? I looked at my watch and saw it was only 11 a.m, so I said to myself you faced some troubles so that you couldn’t get off your house!
– Don’t worry about me. Everything is going well Mr. Cardona.
– Hey my son! I’m an old ship! I know the oceans’ storms very well. Tell me, why did I find you in that state? Your cheeks seemed filled with tears. Did you cry last night? Hein? – He said.

I was a bit embarrassed and somehow upset with his nosiness.

– Well, last night I was not feeling alright so I opted to spend some time in my house, but I felt fast asleep so I stayed.
– Mmm. I see. It’s Maria Anya, isn’t it?

I had my eyes wide open for a moment then I tried to hide my surprise as much as I could.

– Well, it’s true I’m just an old man but this was enough for me to notice how enthusiastic you are whenever speech evolves around her. I could see all your lingering gazes on her and the way your eyes and your whole body responded to her presence. – Mr. Cardona carried on – Go ahead my son, I’m listening to your sufferings.
I tided myself on the couch; my elbows on my knees and my annoyance showed off.

– Yes, it’s Anya. So what! Now that you’re in this town you perfectly know the gypsy rules and how they are unfair towards men like me. When I came to that spot I never imagined or even planned to live such a condemning situation that will someday drive me to close my eyes with the tears in them.

My lungs were still full of emptiness and dwelled a heart full of destructions. Mr. Cardona understood everything, it seemed to me that I was not an enough good actor and that revealing my secret or not became an optional decision. But still I felt my person embarrassed and caught in the act.

– I see…it’s great you understood how this ought to be and not how you want it to be. Well, I’m done relieved to hear you delivering the facts in such a quiet tone, but I understand that they’re knocking you down and that only time will sooth your pains – explained Mr. Cardona.
– I’ve never said I agreed with them, but I’ve got to say goodbye to this land.
– You want to flee? Do you think you’re going to be true to yourself in running off? Think twice, you seem to ignore that the gypsy ladies are promised to their future husbands from their early ages and that women do not really have much choice, so your feelings will never be equal to those of Anya.
– Are you saying she’s chosen by one of those funny men for marriage?
– Yes.
– Who?
– Emilio De Rivera – he carried on – a brave man who earned the respect of both his fellows and ours. He managed to penetrate Slôvenza’s markets by his remarkable trade in both quality and price. I think he’s the guy beside whom Anya will live in joy.

To tell you the truth, I was a bit soothed that Anya will be the wife of that respectful man. As if I was assuring myself that everything will be perfect for her happiness and this despite all my bitter regrets. When Mr.

Cardona was talking to me, I from time to time looked at the floor not to behold the brown carpet but to pass my tongue through the walls of my mouth and feel the sour taste that they were producing. I just wanted to get rid of that disagreeable dryness of my throat which seemed as a shelter for a kind of small rubber ball against my Adam’s apple. And then from time to time, I threw an unpleasant smirk maybe because I needed him to leave me on my own and think of the coming eventual events.

At last, the shoe seller got off my house with the company of the most ridiculous utterance I have ever heard in the last ten years, and whose echo is still resounding through my ears: ‘Find peace in you, my son!’ what the hell this means?! I wanted to scream: don’t you think if people had the least grain of peace in them, wouldn’t they give up the suffering and the terror they feel towards love? Wouldn’t they take the good decisions about whether they close their lives’ book before they’re done or not? … With some step back, I think I was a kind of drunk with no trace of alcohol in my stomach; I kept cursing the entire world instead of doing so with my unconscious state of mind. It is true – said one of my friends – that having a fit of blues can make you either say beautiful things or make you act like a fool. I guess I was in the second category though I was supposed, as a ‘painter writer’, to belong to the first.

This was my 17th day on this land and in which I decided for myself to be jailed in the big blue house. I was like a vampire from the darkness, dreading any ray of light and even an unexpected visit. However, I was hoping the Grace to knock on my door and give me the right to live happy again. My house was a kind of isolated island and the crowded streets outside were like a wavy ocean that was sometimes flooding my shore.

The atmosphere was gloomy and melancholic; the curtains were heavy veils preventing the sunrays to penetrate, there was unusually no music on, the sweet bird that I used to have flew away out of its cage and seemed was not comfortable in it; the sight of some fade pink tulips on the tea table squeezed my heart and made it feel even guiltier than it was.

Two whole days had passed by since my isolation. The second day, which was the 2nd of September 1985, made me feel like a wreck, knowing nothing about what was going on outdoors and falling asleep at a very late time to wake up at a very early hour; I was both a night owl and an early bird.

My mind and soul were still aching when lying down on the floor; the shadow under my eyes gave a sad look to my hazel gaze – I was actually lying down just under my luxurious chandelier which had been of no rescue in those hard times. And I kept asking stupid questions like: what would a five kilo metal do if it fell on someone? It would kill them, of course! But what if that shut source of light fell down right now, would it kill me? Of course, yes! Yeah, it would probably hole my body and my poor heart would certainly be the first target. I confess I wished it fell; therefore, Slôvenza would then laugh at how dramatic my death was and ironically how strange that the chandelier chose the moment when Mr. Roberto Marsalis was under it to fall from the ceiling and kill him. I was obviously exaggerating because nothing of the sort happened, eventually. I was still on my aching back, staring across from me, neither with a purpose nor with the slightest care.

Still in the position of a war loser, I brought my memories back as far as I could. I travelled through the times I was wandering the world either by land, by sea or throughout the skies. This was a kind of Remembrance Day for me; I just could not forget the wonderful people I met and how helpful and loyal they were – and still are, and who without I could not reach the literary statue I have proudly got.

Then, my broken heart – though very alive – interrupted the beautiful and quiet days to bring me into the rough sea of reality, and I was free falling… suddenly, I heard water touching the soil softly…it was the rain. So I kept listening to it and I realized how much I missed music. Although I was not moving a muscle, my spiritual senses were responding delightfully to the coming cool weather, and welcoming – earlier than expected – the wonderful smell of Fall that I definitely long for. Then, I could understand the forefeeling I had that it was the rains which were meant to fall and not the chandelier, and that the melodious sound produced by the meeting of the drops and the ground made me feel strangely at peace and softly allowed me to close my eyes and draw a light smile on my pale face.
The rain was still wetting Slôvenza’s ground when I allowed the mirrors of my soul to open. There was a terrible sound of silence filling the space and bringing me to a world of dumbness. Suddenly, I heard a noise coming from the other side of the house, some quick footsteps, and then there was a slight slam of the back door as if someone wanted to get in hurriedly. So I immediately brought myself on my knees to be more attentive to what was coming. Then, someone was trying to open the shut living room’s door; the knob was turned right, and I could not easily move not because I was afraid – for I know no burglary in here – but because I was definitely weak. However, somebody managed to open the door and when it was left ajar, a sweet voice called ‘Roberto, you’re here?’ I thought it was a familiar voice but too low to be distinguished; however, the voice called again ‘Roberto, it’s me, Anya!’ It was she… I couldn’t even react or at least display my presence – mainly because of the darkness – I just had my mouth slightly open, my sad eyes were not making the slightest move but were desperately longing for her sight. At last, I felt some kind of heat waves crossing my whole body and burning my cheeks.

‘At last, my love has come along…’ my heart was singing. She was there and I could feel her presence tickling my senses even though she was standing meters away, next to the door that she cautiously closed. Still on my knees, I couldn’t but wait till she rushed to me and filled my loneliness with her abundant generosity. Some sunrays got by to find a way through the narrow spaces between the curtains.

– Oh! Roberto! What the hell are you doing here? What…what’s this obscurity you jailed yourself in?! What… what the heavens are those funeral curtains?

Anya just hurried to draw the veils and enable the light to come over, kiss away the blurred view of my dusty furniture, and dispel the spooky ambience that was hanging on the walls. I was actually following her steps while the new day’s light so invaded my face and my entire body that I could feel its warmth soothing my sore muscles. And then, with a brushing touch, favored grace passed her hands over my shoulders and brought herself in front of my weak being. She then lingered over my face and invaded my burning cheeks with her cool bony hands. Her long fingers seemed to control my pulses, support my heavy head, and make myself surrender to the orders that her palms might give. Her knees were touching mine, and we sat down there, just under the solid chandelier, my eyes were calling help, her eyes were rescuing mine, the sun was heating the small of my back, the blood in my feet started to be kept there so I felt the pressure in them, my hands wanted to lay on hers and warm them but I couldn’t, my dry lips tempted to sing how delightful my soul was but I felt them glued, my elbows were sore and my wrists too, but my ears seemed that they wished they could set free and burry themselves under Saint Antonio’s freshly wet soil so that they would never hear others say that Anya will never be mine.

– Why all this sadness, Roberto?! I just can’t recognize the man you are! I’m sorry but I have to take you away from your melancholy.

I didn’t say a word, but she perfectly understood the cause of my current state… Then, I suddenly remembered a story that I wrote years ago and which is about an impossible love between an eagle and a gazelle despite their sincere feelings. So when the gazelle felt lonely and needed the eagle’s tenderness, I wrote, she just wished she had hands that hold fingers – no matter how many – and could caress the eagle’s silky face, but she could never do that because her feet were only meant to run. So when the eagle heard her words he just stood in front of her, spread his wings wide and passed his soft feathers over her angelical and youthful face. I was actually just like the gazelle; my eyes were shut and my whole being was completely offered to Anya’s. Grace’s fingers were like the eagle’s feathers. So white and soft, they just healed my darkness, caressed my eyelids, kissed away the remaining tears, brushing my three-days beard, tickled my nose, stuck my fugitive ears, coming down my well formed jaws, and kneaded my lips as a baker does with pastry…

– Roberto, let’s go out…I want to show my secret spot…
I did not display any disagreement in following her, so she just took my hand and my soul with her and showed us to her secret spot. We crossed Wolf Street without being much noticed but only by Camilla and Sébastian who did not care about the fact displaying their baffling. Moreover, I was like an old person who had sight problems and who sees blurred pictures of oval faces because of the day’s light that was lacking my existence those days. My body was the only thing I was in possession of and the unique thing which was only left for me to carry, so I tried to overcome my weakness and be faithful to her pace. We were actually going straight towards the Green Forest which, I guess, was as shabby as my living room. So once there, I could widely open my eyes and feel at home but as a thunder, the sunrays invaded me again and I could not but follow her blindly.

– Hey, Roberto! We’re very close to it!
– I hope so. I weakly replied.

When we arrived in the heart of the Forestales, Anya set my hand free though I could still feel the soft and warm touch she left in my palm. Then she run up to ten meters away, opened wide her arms looked up to the extremely blue sky and shouted:

– Look around you Roberto; this is the place I’ve told you about, the one where I can’t feel but myself. So open your arms and close your eyes and breathe that fresh air so deep that you’ll almost feel your lungs burst out of peace.

You’re crazy – I thought between myself and I.

However, I just did what Anya asked me to do, and then I really could understand everything she told me about; the fact of being beyond the present moment and nothing but absolutely conscious of what was going on in us.

– Yeah that’s right Roberto. Now leave out all your worries, let the tears flow away, let your spirit be lifted and listen to what’s surrounding you; listen to every leaf whispering, every bird singing, every insect commuting, every abandoned stone on the fertile soil, every rock priding on its strength, and every breath you take throughout your lungs and fill up your heart with an infinite peace.

I could not but be what my Favored Grace requested me to be. After a while, I opened my eyes and I saw her coming to my direction and then she stood in front of me and smiled.

Simply, Anya did not only show me her secret spot but she also showed how tolerance and acceptance of what life imposes will make us happier and more satisfied about our position and what we can bring to our lives. More again, she made me understand in a very spontaneous way that there is a feeling even more marvelous than any other I could experience and which is the generosity of friendship, and that everyone of us should neither give up having faith on this feeling nor underestimating it.

‘At last – I spoke to myself – I found what I was hoping to undergo since the first time I stepped on Slôvenza.’

– Roberto – She suddenly spoke – my wedding to Emilio will be in three days. I would like you to bless our union with your presence. Would you come?
– I’m sorry, but I can’t.

I took possession of her cheeks and laid down the softest kiss I have ever given to a woman’s forehead, and I said:

– May GOD bless every hour you spend by Emilio’s side, and may all your life be full of happiness and love.

My Grace understood me well. So we just went back to each other’s home without uttering a word. Once in my house, I had a long bath, shaved, and dressed to go and see Mr. Banka. On my way I met Zarinska who was also going to the tribe. We had few words and suddenly she stood before me and said:
– May all your life be full of happiness and love.

I just smiled and thought she was definitely as strange as the first time I met her. Then I went straight to Merco’s tent and had some words with him too; I thanked him of his hospitality and comprehension and I invited him to come some day to my land too. After that, I told him that I was leaving the next day and that my investigations were done, so he handed me a beautiful gipsy scarf which once belonged to his brother Banya. This was the most wonderful present I have ever received.

That was the 19th day for me in this land, the 3rd of September 1985, and the last day for me in it. I got off my house to the shoe seller and gave him my personal information so that we can keep in touch.

– Mr. Cardona, I just hope that you’ll tell me about Anya’s news.

Mr. Cardona expressed his pleasure to meet a person like me – as he said – and promised to write whenever possible. Then I went to see Anya and.

– Are you leaving today? – She said.
– Yes, I made my reservation for the two coming hours. I think the days I spent on this land were like a dream for me because they just went so fast!
– Yeah! I think too! But let me tell you that we’re so grateful about your financial help. Thank you for everything Roberto.
– Never mind! It’s a pleasure… Well I think it’s time for me to go…Goodbye Anya and I hope to see you some day.
– Goodbye Roberto, I hope, too.

– Dad, are you alright? – My daughter said.

I was in the hospital, taking a lovely little creature between my hands.

– Dad we’re waiting for you! How are we going to call her?
– Anya – I finally said after a long moment.
– That’s a wonderful name – said my son.
– Anya Smith Marsalis – I carried on.

This is the 8th of October 2009. I’m a fifty-nine year old grandfather. And in the depth of my arms I’m holding the most beautiful grand-daughter in the world.

1 Comment
  1. Judy Markova says

    Engaging story, intelligent setup. Thank you for sharing this!
    JM

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