Luca stands before me, eyes closed, lost in music. The slow draw of his violin bow, reaching into my soul, awakening and stirring feelings without name. I am transported, in tones of melancholy, sweet, anguished and hushed. I surrender to each exquisite note, feeling my heart rend with every stroke from his bow, then without warning, an accordion joins him, abruptly changing tempo. The music climbs toward the sky, fast and buoyant, as dancers burst onto the open field swirling and laughing. He opens his eyes now, smiling at me, the cheerfulness of his face and good spirits of the evening comfort me.
“Love! Love the music but do not love the man.” A woman stands in front of me deliberately blocking my view. “Luca belongs to me.”
The woman has a thin orange scarf holding back long hair, its carroty color falling against an off-shoulder blouse. Hoop rings adorn her ears, spangled necklaces cover a bulging chest. I have trouble seeing her face as she is backlit by fire but see a flash from a jeweled anklet near her hem. “You are a gorgio. How do you come to be here?” Her hands are placed firmly on her hips.
Angelina approaches with Marko and the children, lines of worry on her forehead. “Ah Tarnia,” she says. “I see you have met Maya.”
“Who is this gorgio,” she demands. “What have you done bringing her here?”
Marko steps between us, instinctively sheltering me as Angelina explains.
“I don’t care,” shouts Tarnia, her fiery temper towering above Angelina’s gentle voice. “Bringing her here puts us all in danger. We are already called wild and dangerous, thieves, witches, baby snatchers and worse! Our very existence is illegal. They break our arms and blame us for being crippled. Would you have them come upon us with bayonets and kalashnikor to kill us as we sleep, for stealing a red haired gorgio?”
Marko takes Tarnia by the shoulder, pulling her away, speaking to her calmly under his breath. Her eyes dart back at me in warning. “If you don’t get rid of her I will!”
Luca motions me forward to watch him step dance but the chill of Tarnia’s company sends me walking in another direction. I hear the clapping of feet on wood and slapping of legs as the men begin, but I need to leave such festivities.
It is dim but the wagons are well lit, beautifully and brightly painted. I run my fingers along their carved sides, admiring the glint of gold leaf on the border. It is very different then ours, which has been painted green to be less noticeable in the woodlands.
“Do you like the artwork?”
A male voice seems to come from nowhere. “Oh, I did not mean to startle you. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Edwin Gates from Wales, traveling with my wife, mistress and seven children. We live in Provence, between Arles and Marseille much of the time but the area is changing, and not for the better. I feel the need to travel with the gypsies now, to refresh my spirit and my art.”
He hesitates studying me from head to foot. “Forgive me, Madame, but you are not Romany.”
I search his eyes, wondering if he could know me, if he could hold a missing piece of my identity, but am quick to dismiss such foolishness.
“What kind of art do you do?”
He moves closer now, his features shadowed by moonlight. His eyes penetrate as if looking for truth. His cheeks are rosy and full, framed by the grey of his hair and beard. A white shirt lays open, covered by another with tiny buttons running the length of its silkened brown fabric. I guess him to be a man of sixty years.
“I am a painter. I sketch in oil and do figure drawings. I enjoy portraiture which has been both praised and condemned as extravagant. Those who like me, compare my work to Matisse, those who do not, call me une bête sauvage. Do you like the impressionists?”
Une bête sauvage, a wild beast. The words are not English yet recognizable. There is something familiar about this man. His talk of art finds a home in me, as do his forays into another language. “I don’t know,” I tell him, tripping over my words. “I don’t know if I like Impressionists or not.”
Edwin Gates looks through me, his thoughts forceful and private. “Then let me show you my paintings, and when we have finished I will paint you.” He lifts his hand, placing it on my chin, then turns my face slowly to the right. “Yes,” he repeats. “Come tomorrow and we will begin. Let the others pick lavender. I can already see the colors I will mix to catch the depth of your emerald eyes.”
I hear Luca and Tarnia arguing, as I make my way to the wagon under a star-filled night.