Tatyana's Tale

Trashedo ta Aknoyo - Frightened and Alone

What do I do now?

I must have asked that question a thousand times during the week following my father's death, posing it aloud and mentally to my father, my mother, God, myself, noone. I spent each hour of the night and the day lonely and scared, unsure of everything, dreading the black-shrouded future and wondering if my life would ever be whole again.

One overcast night, I sat upon my father's favorite work-stool and stared blankly into the cavern of the dark, cold, empty kiln, not able to sleep but barely awake. I had sold all of Papa's remaining pottery that day for low, pathetic prices, and as I looked at the yawning mouth of the kiln, I knew I could make no more. Even if I was blessed with serviceable pottery skills, how could I bear to hear the whirring wheel again, my foot pumping where his large shoe used to press, kneading the clay like his long, deft fingers had? How could I pick up his delicate, long-handled brushes and presume to paint his pastel designs and woven patterns, as if nothing had changed?

My eyes felt the familiar sting of gathering tears, and I let them fall silently. No. Trying to continue on with my old life was pointless. Without my father's guidance, I couldn't begin to make a living with pottery, nor did I want to.

And even my continued dwelling in our tiny house/shop would be near-impossible- we had always paid a landlord for our space, and now I barely had enough money to feed myself. Father had no family nearby, and mother lost hers on the way to Paris, so finding shelter with relatives was out of the question. Once rent was due, I would find myself a denizen of the refuse alleys with only my clothes and a few livres. I could pawn my father's stool, our mirror, my scroll-trunk, the pottery wheel....but who would buy? And how could I drag all of that to market? And would I be able to hand those memory-laden, familiar items to uncaring strangers? And what could I do when all that was gone and the money spent?

I felt trapped and more scared than I ever had before as I thought on my options. I stood and paced the room a few times, my stomach tight and my eyes still streaming.

"So what do I do now?" I whispered, and my jaw clenched in frustration. "What do I do?" I shouted, repeating the words again and again until they hardly made sense anymore, until they were little more than agonized, pitiful sobs. I dropped to my knees before the big wooden trunk and weakly leaned on its smooth top, wiping my eyes with the heel of my hand. My other hand almost reflexively snapped open the brass clasp of the large box and raised the hinged lid with a gentle push, and my weeping eyes focused on its innards: the Gypsy skirt and blouse lying atop a mound of scrawled-upon parchment.

"What do I do?" I pleaded once more, and a golden bracelet hiding within the folds of the brightly-colored skirt twinkled with the intruding candlelight, as if in winking answer.

Should I? I thought even as I reached to pull out the components of the costume, to let the smooth fabric slide comfortingly over my shaking fingers. Within minutes, I wore the outfit on my body, and I stared uncertainly into the mirror.

Do I dare? What if they do not accept me? Do I have anything else? Have I anything left to lose? My mind roiled with indecision as I watched my stoic reflection. Do I even have a choice? I touched the cool glass with trembling fingers and faintly shook my head. No, I don't. I need to start a new life. I need to find a family. I need to make my stand against the evil judge.

The sun had just risen and a new day had barely begun when I stepped nervously onto the street. The feel of my bare feet on the stone was an odd, strangely unsettling sensation, and even the faint clinking of my jewelry startled me at each movement. I stood before my house for a few long, mourning minutes, wondering if I could ever truly leave my home and simultaneously reminding myself that there was no other way. A cold, restless wind took hold of my hair and whipped it about my face, tiny ribboned braids and all, and I silently bade farewell to both my home and my old life. I hefted the makeshift blanket-sack over my shoulder (which contained only a few of my favorite scrolls, my boots, the last of my food and money, a quill and some ink) and I walked with purposeful steps towards Notre Dame.

Not many citizens were out and about yet, but those who were seemed to totally ignore me, or at the worst, send me curious glances bordering on mild bewilderment. Every time I heard a man's voice, my heart jumped into my throat and my head snapped around to look for the expected soldier coming to arrest me, to mock me, to beat me senseless. Every laugh I heard sounded sinisterly directed at me, and every step I took became more difficult, as if I was wading knee-deep through water. I didn't even know where I thought I was going; I had never felt so wretchedly alone and forsaken in all of my life, so utterly without direction and aid.

You can't quit now, urged my mind as I struggled to keep my head held high and my gaze unhindered by terrified tears. You will be a Gypsy, proud and free and standing against the Judge's black hate. Your father died for the sake of a Gypsy, and so shall you validate his sacrifice, so shall you begin a new existence. This is what you've wanted, and there is no other option save death.

While the reasonable portion of my brain methodically and somewhat vainly tried to soothe my various well-justified worries, I stepped into the Place de Notre Dame and looked upon the great cathedral with wide, glistening eyes. Its looming presence instilled that bit of familiar hope in my spirit, and I walked towards it slowly, my hand outstretched as if reaching for aid.

Please God, help me through this. I prayed silently, halting my strides at the building's wide steps. You're really all I have now. I looked up and up to the very top of the massive structure, saw with blurring, pleading eyes its highest reaches haloed by glorious light and embedded in purest blue. I allowed myself both a small smile and a single tear as I stood there, and the sweet, mild breeze which caressed my coldly sweating brow was as a loving gesture of comfort from the hand of my God. He had not forgotten me, and now He reminded me to trust and be at peace, to be strong in the knowledge that He was with me.

I heard the sudden, lovely, unrestrained laughter of children nearby and turned in its direction, scanning the square for the source. It seemed that a little mass of giggling children was seated on Notre Dame's steps not thirty feet from where I stood, watching an animated storyteller with rapt attention. The storyteller was a tall, raven-haired Gypsy man dressed in a tattered but somehow flattering outfit and a too-large notched hat, a look-alike puppet perched on one hand and his largish foot propped up rakishly on a small wooden box. His eyes were round and deeply sparkling, like chips of polished obsidian, his brows black and arched and constantly in expressive motion, his deftly long-fingered hands clad in elbow-length gloves as sable as his hair. I took a step closer, staring at his lively, enormously handsone features and watching as he performed his quick movements with astounding stylistic grace.

Kralis, I thought. The King. And that sudden recognition sent a warm blush to my cheeks and a heavy thump to my already laboring chest. I had watched him and his company evey year at the Festival of Fools, had heard countless wonderous tales of him from Vashti, had even heard awe-filled remarks by non-Romany folk about the proclaimed Gypsy King. And now here he was, right before me when I wished to join their ranks, the Gypsy leader standing right there...

I felt faint. I unconsciously took a few steps backward as if to shrink out of his view, anxious and self-conscious. The idea of marching up to this... this... amazingly attractive king and asking to be of his tribe was delusional and foolish and silly. All of the reasons I had never before spoken to a Gypsy came flooding back to me in an icy wave - he would laugh at my costume, he would scorn my fair complexion, he would point me out to all the people of Paris, he would ignore my very being... No, no, I couldn't possibly approach him. But... I had to, didn't I? Why else had I left my home? Or after all of my hardships and sympathies and longings, was I to stand dumb as a post, stupidly letting my most dreamed-of opportunity (not to mention the preservation of my meager life) disappear into darkness like a snuffed candle flame? My entire body sweated coldly, and my heart flung itself against my rib cage as if desperately trying to escape. I knew with frantic certainty that he would not stay there forever, and every moment I waited brought me closer to death's leering grin...

I was just about to walk hesitantly forward when a heavy, maliciously stupid voice filled the air and interrupted both my tense thoughts and Clopin's little puppet show.

"Hey now? What's all this?" demanded the metal-helmeted, rotund soldier as he approached, his lumbering gait like that of some disoriented, bad-humoured bear. His companion, taller and thinner but no more intelligent-looking, followed close behind, a smirk on his cruel lips and a sword of cold steel already grasped in his claw-like hand.

King Clopin sighed heavily as the children scurried and scattered in all directions, their little faces clouded with guilty dread and their tiny feet pattering on the cobblestone as they did their best to flee.

"It was," he said dryly, "a performance. Until your utterly unwelcome intrusion, that is."

The round soldier snorted through his snubbed nose. "Performance! Is that what you call it? Looks more like you were telling filthy Gypsy lies to our city's children."

"If I wanted to lie to them, I'd tell them that Paris' Minister of Justice actually ministers justice." Clopin returned in an exceedingly bored tone. Before the two guards could protest or indeed even comprehend his weary disrespect, he leaned his chin on his puppeted hand and his elbow on his still propped-up knee. "Alright, so what happens now, pals? What epithet serves the mood today? Gypsy Vermin'? Thief'? Or perhaps you'd like to state something altogether more uncontrollable and obvious, like my complexion?"

The taller guard gathered his insubstantial wits first and assumed a look of thoroughly unattractive disgust. "Still your tongue, scum, or we'll have it out." he nearly whined. "Frollo has us under orders to arrest any Gypsy who tries to corrupt our city's children and fill their heads with heathen lies."

An expression of intimidated repentance totally failed to cloud Clopin's angular features. "And who better to judge lies than the Lying Judge? Really, 'gentlemen', I'll have to decline your invitation. Perhaps later...."

The smaller of the two lugs let out a ridiculously mocking laugh, like a pathetic cur taunting a proud, lean wolf. The taller swiftly raised his sword to level it at the Gypsy King's throat, the glittering point not six inches from the olive skin.

"You know, we could kill you right now, and no one would care." commented the armed guard in a quieter voice, narrowing his already laconic gaze. "Your blood would foul these stones, and everyone would step right through it. No one would care if you were no more, and no one would notice one less piece of trash on the streets." He moved the blade a bit closer, jeeringly. "And still you disrespect us, filthy Gypsy. You are nothing."

Rage burned in my chest and evaporated all of my fear and uncertainty like so much puddle water, sizzling and boiling horrendously. I could feel that indignant, horrible fury raze my throat and tighten my jaw until my teeth grit together like fire-flint. A plan spontaneously formed in my mind, and before I could analyse it or weigh its effects, I found myself darting forward to purposeful action. I could no longer stand by and let these cretinous sewer rats threaten my king, could not let them brandish the sword whose kin had killed my beloved father, could not let my childish indecision hinder my destiny any longer.

© 1997 Rachael M. Haring