Aida moved out of her shack, and into the early morning sun, to check the stitches on the blouse she worked on. She spotted her youngest grandson strolling across the windswept gypsy campground and knew where he'd been. Young fool, hobnobbing with the tourists in the village instead of staying near the camp. His mother hasn't long to live, God bless her. Wherever they camped, sweet-faced Manuel and his two sisters acted as bait to attract the tourists. They sang and danced while his four older brothers played their guitars. Trinkets were sold and palms read, and when the tourists did not come to the camp, Manuel and his siblings sought them out at their hotels. Aida sniffed in disgust. The proprietors didn't mind their presence when they provided free entertainment, did they? Mean penny pinchers! Thread and materials, to keep the colourful costumes clean and repaired, did not come cheap. She studied the blouse, a red one lovingly embroidered by her own hand and passed down from generation to generation. One of her many great granddaughters wore it now. How many more times will it stand repairing before it has to be replaced? Her grandsons usually ended up in the arms of bewitched female tourists and did not return to camp until the early hours. Now it looked like Manuel had begun to do the same. Aida sighed and fought the urge to give the boy a tongue-lashing; he was her favourite grandson after all. When he spotted her watching him, his face lit up with a smile, his dark eyes twinkling beneath finely sculptured eyebrows and floppy curls. He always had a smile for her but this time there was a new gentleness about it, and a new spring in his step as he walked towards her. He stopped a few feet away and acknowledged her status as clan chief with a nod of respect. She expected no less from him. "Hello, Grandmamma, how are you today?' "What do you care?' Aida secured the repaired seam and snapped her thread with unnecessary force. "Who is she?' "Who is who?' "The one who has your heart, you young fool. Isn't Elaina good enough for you?' Manuel laughed. "Now what would I do with Elaina? Her brothers are twice my size and her father has the temper of a stricken bull. If the tourists dream of seduction by a handsome gypsy, who am I to refuse them? In any case, this girl is one of our kind.' "How do you know?' "She told me. Her parents are Irish gypsies.' Aida's nose wrinkled. "Tinkers!' "No, they're real gypsies, like us. They call themselves the Shelta.' A shadow of unease made Aida want to question him further about the girl, but his father hurried round the corner of the shack with a pair of trousers over his arm. Aida watched him jerk to a halt as he caught sight of Manuel. His face darkened with annoyance and he lowered his head, and Aida thought he would charge the boy. Elaina's father wasn't the only one with a bullish temper. He stopped in front of Manuel, his eyebrows meeting above his nose. "Don't you listen to anything I say these days? I told you to stay near the camp.' Aida watched Manuel's happy expression fade and his eyes filled with concern. They were so different, these two; the father thick set and easy to rile, the boy more like his mother, slightly built and gentle-natured. "I'm sorry, Papa. How is my mother?' Juan placed a comforting hand on Manuel's shoulder. "It will not be long now. She's asking for you.' Manuel stared at his father for a few seconds then ran towards a muddle of tents and corrugated panels, his blue-black hair bouncing wildly about his ears. Poor boy, Aida thought. He's just turned eighteen but still has a child's emotions to cope with. He must learn to stand back and let the women show their emotions in public. Relieved Juan hadn't dealt harshly with him, Aida spoke on the boy's behalf. "You'll never tie that one down.' "I know that.' Juan stared after Manuel. "He talks of going to Madrid to learn music. What does he need with lessons? He sings like a bird and dances like he has wings on his feet, and already he plays the guitar better than any of us. If we lose him to the city, we lose our best performer.' Aida recalled how a maestro from Madrid heard Manuel play in the big hotel below the camp. Impressed with Manuel's abilities, he offered him free tuition if he would go back with him. "He is gifted, Juan. Don't bury what talent The Lord has provided.' "Spoiling him again, Mother?' Juan thrust the trousers at her. "Here, do what you're best at and leave my sons to me.' "Doing women's errands now, are we?' Aida snatched the trousers and flung them into the shack. Juan's face flushed with anger. "The women are with my wife, where you should be.'  "Oh yes? You'd have your queen scrabble on the floor of a cave with the other women, would you? I've done all I can for your wife. My herbs are no cure for this wasting disease. You should have sent for the doctor from the village when I told you to. Now it's too late. All I can do now is pray for her. If you want to honour your wife's dying wish, let Manuel go to Madrid.' She kicked the door of the shack. "Better you do what you're good at, too. We've been here for three weeks and you still haven't fixed this door. As you've already taken my wagon apart to repair that, you'd better get this rabbit hutch seen to.' The rain swollen, rotted wood made it catch on the floor.  Juan bent to examine the damage. "I'm surprised at you taking his side. A gypsy living in the city, learning to play from bits of paper?' "It can be no worse than drifting from place to place like we do.' "It isn't the life for one of our kind. He should stay here and work for the family like his brothers do and be content.'  "To do what? Beg and live in a tent for the rest of his life?'  Aida stepped back into the shack, to give Juan room to lift the door off its peg hinges. "The old ways of the Gitano are over. Many live in houses and flats in the towns now. Do you think I want to see my group break up? One by one the families have gone their way, two of your own brothers included. None of them have come back and pleaded poverty.' Juan heaved the door a few feet away and set it on its side and Aida watched him take his working knife from his belt to shave the bottom edge. "Let him go, Juan.' "If he leaves he is no longer a Gitano.' Aida shrugged. "If that's the case, neither are your brothers and you haven't turned them away when they've come to see me.  Manuel will return when he's ready.' "Oh? And how do you know that?' "I dreamed again last night.' She spoke with discretion because Juan scorned the idea that God spoke to her. She wasn't the first Gitano to embrace the Christian faith. Manuel, unlike his father, often listened when she read her Bible, which made his slide away from its moral statutes all the more painful to her. "Your wife will be gone soon and another life will take her place, conceived last night if I'm not mistaken.' Aida inclined her head in the direction of Juan's quarters.  Juan straightened up, his eyes wide with amusement. "Manuel? You're rambling. He's just a puppy.'  "Is that so? You were younger than him when you found out what your tail was for.'  Juan turned back to his work and Aida did not interrupt him again. She didn't want him to walk off in a huff and leave her to spend another night exposed to the winter weather. But once the door hung back in its place and moving easily, he gave his whole attention to her. "So, you had another dream.'    Aida nodded. "You know I see things, Juan. A life already flutters into being and I will live to see his face, just as I saw it in my dream, a beautiful face and the image of Manuel. He will have the gifts of his ancestors - that may be good or bad. I don't know. I also saw the name 'Ganymede'. Strange name! I've never heard it before. I also saw a lot of pain and sorrow for this baby.' "Will you tell Manuel?' "Your wife wants him to go to Madrid. He will go his own way with or without your consent.' "If you tell him, he'll waste his time looking for the woman.' "If I don't, and the kid shows up years later looking for his papa, what will we say to him?'  Juan shook his head and offered his usual excuse. "I'd better get back to my wife.' With a sad heart, Aida shuffled back into her shack, the blouse forgotten. She leaned on her bed and went down on her knees. She opened her hands, palms upwards, and closed her eyes in prayer; for the living as well as the dead.  * * * Nine months later Aida shuffled into her shack with a small velvet box clutched to her breast. She closed and barred the door then opened the box and lifted a newly minted gold medallion and chain from its satin pillow. All the gold she possessed, from her own wedding ring and her father's watch to trinkets and jewellery bought or bargained for over the past months, went into the creation of this piece and the engraving of both faces. It glinted in the light of the oil lamp hanging over her table. She didn't have to read the minute inscriptions; she knew them by heart. Even before her great grandson's conception, God gave her a message but she had not understood it or known whom it was for. Now she did and it made sense. The message held a warning for the unborn babe, Manuel's son, and now safely inscribed on the medallion.  With both hands, she cradled it to her breast, and lifted tear-filled eyes heavenward. Now she knew why God blessed her with sons and grandsons. In her sleep last night, she saw the baby born and heard its first cry. Through her tears, she offered a prayer of thanks and moved to where an ancient rosewood cabinet stood between the table and her bed, given in payment for healing the young son of an antique dealer when others failed. She opened the top drawer and placed the box inside then closed and locked it before wrapping her one good blanket round her. She settled down in her old rocking chair to begin her long vigil, and wondered where Manuel was now. *  *  *

 

DJ

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