Nuri and Nadya were gypsies. They sat at the front of their gypsy wagon which at one time had been brightly colored and festively decorated as they themselves had been, but now, like them it was old, weathered, and worn. Their nag of an old gray mare pulled them onward somewhere on the back roads of Alabama on this day in 1832. Within their home on wheels, their daughter Drina had just given birth to a son. She lay there and wept, for her baby was dead.
Nadya, a midwife, had no problems with the delivery that morning. Drina was fine, but for some reason, unbeknownst but to God, the child had died and Drina believed that the child death was God’s was punishment her for having a child out of wedlock.
Though the child was part gypsy, that part did not show, for the dead boy had light skin and brownish, blondish hair. Drina was a young woman of dark beauty with black enchanting eyes, long flowing raven hair, and a flawless olive complexion. She looked nothing like her son. That was because the child’s father was Swedish. When the gypsy family was in Baltimore, Drina espied a young Swedish boy, literally just off the boat. Upon seeing him, she became enthralled, enraptured, enchanted with him and his Nordic features. She had to have him and did so many times.
The inevitable happened of course. The boy moved on with his parents and Drina moved on with hers. She was left with her pregnancy as a reminder of her sin and being now deep in the rural south there was no priest anywhere to hear her confession. So she had carried her sin, literally and figuratively, inside her.
“We must bury the child Nuri,” said Nadya as Drina slept in the back.
“But where? If we try to bury a blonde baby in a cemetery here, people will think that he is not ours and that we stole him. No telling what may happen to us then, wife. Besides these people would never let gypsies bury our dead among theirs.”
“Well we cannot bury him in the woods husband,” said Nadya. “Evil spirits will come forth and steal his soul. Wild animals will dig him up and feed on his flesh and bones. God will punish us if we do not see to a Christian burial.” Much of the old couple’s religious beliefs were still rooted in the myths, customs and legends of their old country of Romania, and thus they remained somewhat superstitious. Those beliefs blended with their understanding of Catholicism only lead to them being more and more religiously befuddled.
Nuri tried to think of an answer as the wagon bounced along, but nothing came to him and after a while he did what many of us do when we do not know what to do. He turned to God. So he said to his wife, “God will provide us with an answer.”
And soon God did. For they came upon a young woman sitting by the side of the road nursing a baby.
“Here is God’s answer,” said Nuri to his wife pointing at the girl. Yet he didn’t know exactly what that answer was as he stopped the wagon and looked over at her. She was a child herself, sixteen or seventeen at the most, a small and dainty thing, plain looking with mousy brown hair, in dirty drab clothing, a white girl.
“Merry Christmas young lady. May I be of service to you? asked Nuri as he crossed himself and looked heavenward in thanks.
The young girl was fearful of gypsies. She had been taught to be so, but she was in desperate need of help as she was famished. She hadn’t eaten in two days and was exhausted from running away from home and giving birth. She did not have the strength to go one step further so she answered, “If you would be kind enough, sir, to take me and my child to the next town it would be deeply appreciated.”
Nuri knew that taking in this child with a child was a dangerous thing. Yet he believed this girl was truly sent by God, so he welcomed her into his home.
The young girl entered the gypsy wagon with her baby as Nuri held open the door for her. There was Drina to greet her.
“Hello my name is Drina,” she said introducing herself as the girl and her baby entered the wagon.
“My name is Mary Virginia,” she answered.
“Oh may I see your baby please?” asked Drina upon seeing Mary Virginia’s child.
She received no answer.
“Please,” she begged. “My baby is dead. See.” And she held up her dead child for Mary Virginia to see.
“Why have you not buried this child?” she asked Drina.
“Because we are gypsies and we have no place here to bury one of our own. Please, please let me hold your child,” repeated Drina, desperately needing the reassurance that this baby was in fact alive.
“Did you want your baby?” asked Mary Virginia ignoring her request.
“What?” answered Drina taken back by such a question.
Before anything else could be said four horsemen approached. They rode up beside the wagon and stopped it. The first horseman then in a bellowing voice asked of Nuri, “Have you folks seen a young girl hereabouts with a baby?”
“No I have not,” lied Nuri hoping that they would not look inside the wagon, hoping that the baby stayed quiet, hoping that they would go away, for Nuri was not going give up his answer from God to these men.
“Well there’s a father and his two sons back there a piece looking for his daughter. Said she’s run away from home and they’re offering a reward for her return. So if you happen to see her it just might behoove you to tell him.”
Nuri said nothing.
“He’s the one who owns that big cotton plantation you passed a few miles back.”
Then, to Nuri’s dismay, the baby let out a loud awful shrieking squawk heard by all, a shriek no one could mistake for being anything but a baby’s.
“That sounds like a baby. You gotta a baby back there?” asked the first horseman.
Nuri looked away and did not answer. That was answer enough for the horseman.
“I should have know better than to trust you damn lying, thieving gypsies. I’m going back there and take a look for myself. Out of my way,” he ordered as he dismounted and marched over toward the wagon’s door.
Now Mary Virginia had heard all that had been said. She quickly handed her baby to Drina and whispered, “Show them my baby. Tell them he’s yours, for I am fearful of such men as these. Please do what I ask of you.”
Drina had heard everything and sympathized with the girl so she went along. Besides Drina wanted to hold the baby, to know t was alive, so she took the covered child and exited the wagon, promising to do that what was asked of her.
“This is my child.” she said as she came out.
Her inquisitor snatched the baby from her, pulled back the blanket and studied the child for a few moments, then covered it up and handed it back. Without another word he remounted and with the other, rode away.
Drina retreated to the safety of the wagon, and Mary Virginia grabbed her baby back the second she entered, which gave Drina a chance to see the child’s face.
The crisis had passed for the gypsy family. But their problem of burying Darina’s child was not yet solved, and their lives were only complicated further by this girl and her baby. After a while Nadya said to her husband, “We must get rid of that girl. She will only cause us further trouble Nuri.”
“She has told us that she only wants to go as far as the next town, and we have given her our word we would take her there. We will do so.”
“But husband what if we encounter strangers again or her father?”
“The girl is clever if not deceitful. It was her plan to have Drina pretend to be the mother. She fooled the horsemen. She can do it again.”
But Nadya would not let it go, and they argued loudly and bitterly until both gave up, disgusted that the other would not budge.
Their conversation had been heated and loud. The windows of the wagon had all been open, and Mary Virginia had heard it all. She knew her father and brothers were sure to find her. She knew she was doomed to return home, and she did not want these people, these gypsies that had taken her in and befriended her to suffer consequences for their acts of kindness to her, for she had come to change her ways of thinking as to gypsies.
Three new men approached from afar. Mary Virginia looked out the wagon window. “Here come my father and brothers,” she announced.
Her mind raced as she thought of what to do. She was tired and exhausted and really wanted to go home but not with this baby. The problem was the baby. She said to Drina, “You do not have a baby. I do. You people have been kind to me by taking me in. Here is my child. Take him,” she said and handed Drina her baby.
“But,” stuttered Drina flummoxed as she received the child.
“But nothing, I do not want this child. He is a curse to me. Please accept him as my gift to you. My father approaches, and though he will accept me back, he will not accept this child.”
“But I have no gift for you in return,” said Drina.
“Oh but you do. You too have a child. A child that I need. A child that needs to be buried. Give me your child and I will see that it’s done.”
Drina gave Mary Virginia her son.
The wagon stopped, the riders almost there. Mary Virginia got out carrying the dead child and went over to Nuri and Nadya.
“I have given your daughter my son,” she told the old gypsy couple. “I did so because it is God’s will.” She knew from the gypsies conversation that they would believe this, that they were believers in God’s will. “And your daughter has given me her child in return. I will see that the boy is buried and receives a Christian burial. This too is God’s will. My father is here now. I’m going home. I will trouble you no further. I thank you for your kindness.”
The old gypsy couple sat there at the front of their wagon–stunned. They could think of nothing to say as the three men dismounted.
The daughter ran to the father, arms extended, offering him the child.
“My baby died Father. Please forgive me.”
The father took the child, saw the blondish hair and pale skin. He showed the child to the two brothers one of which said, “Didn’t I tell you that she was seeing that Anderson boy? Didn’t I?”
To which the other brother replied, “Well that doesn’t change anything as far as I’m concerned. She was still messing around with that yellow mulatto boy Gabriel. Chances were just as good that he could have been the father and then Pa would have had to sell him and the baby down the river.”
“Hush sons. Rejoice for my daughter was lost and now she is found. Come daughter let us go home and bury this child next to your mother.”
“Here old man,” said the father flipping Nuri a coin. Nuri made no attempt to catch the coin and let the piece of silver fall by the wayside, swallowed up in the red dust of the road.
The father took the dead grandchild with him. Mary doubled up and rode with one of her brothers.
Drina came out of the wagon and uncovered the boy’s face for her folks to see. He was neither white nor black but the sum of each. He could easily pass for a gypsy. Drina clutched the child to her bosom and wept.
Bio: Author’s stories have appeared in some sixty online magazines or book anthologies.
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