Walking to my office today, I heard a blackbird singing. His voice, high and sweet, ricocheted off the concrete and tore open my heart.
When did everything become so complicated?
In my memories the days are gilded and bright, endless, surrounded by warmth and a cacophony of sound. The reality of those days was not so golden – coldness, hunger, poverty. Damp clothes, moldy walls. Cigarette smoke, whiskey breath.
I’m as guilty as non-Romani of romanticizing our lives. I ache for the clip-clop of xmara’s hooves as we wandered the moors.
I cry for the crackling flames, warm bread, and singing smoke of a spring fire; those silent mornings where mist hugs the grass and there’s no sound except the occasional snicker of a horse or sweet song of a blackbird.
Days like today I hear Maami Babka’s voice gravelly and full, urging me to ljikeres godji jekhetane. I smell that particular mix of wood smoke and cigarette smoke, cut with the sharp tang of whiskey and coffee.
Those were the days, I think. That was the life.
But, was it? It was all so simple then. I was a Gypsy. I was a girl.
My place was decided by the generations who had lived before me. I was a list of names: Mirga, Siwak, Zavačková, Petiková.
I was the names of my father’s father and all his before him all the way to the sunset.
I was the names of my mother and her mother and all of them all the way to the sunrise.
I was a collection of words and poems and songs and meanings. My heart was as full as a pitcher in a summer storm. The wind told us stories; the road knew our names; the stars sang us to sleep.
I knew my path like a mother knows her children. I would walk in the footsteps of those before me, each step of mine landing square in the steps of my mother. There was no other future but the past.
The choices I made – to leave, to attend school, to write – took me down a different, narrower, darker road. Every step took a word, a memory, a part of me and left it there, alone. There’s a story my daj told about Romani mothers and their hearts. How each child has a string that is tied between them. How if the child strays too far away, that string will snap.
I heard it when it did. An audible tearing of the fragile silence. For a while, I could see it there, fluttering, raw, but then it faded, like footprints in the snow.
The blackbird reminds me of so many things. His delicate wings carry my memories, their words folded in his melody. And he keeps on singing, his song curling up inside my lungs, my heart.