Very few gypsies want to be seen as poor, although
many are. Such was the case with old Angelina’s sons,
who possessed nothing other than their caravans and
their gypsy blood. But it was young blood that coursed
through their veins, a dark and vital flow that attracted
women and fathered numberless children. And, like
their mother, who had known the era of horses and
caravans, they spat upon the very thought that they
might be pitied.
The camp was on the eastern edge of the town; they
moved, driven by evictions, from place to place around
this unromantic periphery. It was a landscape of small
houses and council blocks, interspersed with rubbish
dumps and empty plots. The past beauty of this part of
the country was long forgotten – it had once been a
huge wheat-covered plain, but the last farm lands
had disappeared to make way for urgent housing
needs. The sky was the only source of light, providing,
even on dull days, a chiaroscuro which flattened the
damaged buildings. Only the end of the school day
brought this desert to life; there was none of the normal
conviviality of village life. Nobody, apart from the
inhabitants, could distinguish one street from another.
The streets were named after flowers, as though the
official in charge of naming them could thus provide
some of the poetry that was lacking (or perhaps these
mean urban developments were merely unworthy of
the names of the great men of the nation).
An old vegetable garden still remained at the corner
of the rue des Iris and the rue des Lilas. The owner, a
retired schoolmistress, refused to sell it to the town.
The ground was full of potholes and was encrusted
with broken glass, pieces of rubber tyres, and bits of
scrap iron. Old car doors served as bridges over big
rain puddles. An overflowing municipal dustbin was
sealed onto a cement pedestal, and an apple tree was
slowly dying in the scorched earth, surrounded by
detritus and rotting wood.
The end of summer that year felt more like the end
of autumn. The empty house in the country where the
gypsies had been squatting had been walled up before
their eyes. Moved on by the police and the bailiffs,
Angelina’s tribe began occupying the vegetable garden
at the beginning of September. It was private property,
but there was nothing to indicate this, and anyway they
were used to settling in forbidden places. The long
hair of Angelina’s daughters-in-law blew in the sea
breeze, and the women hugged worn cardigans around
their chests. Children ran around them. Every now
and then the women would catch one of them, give
him a clout and then let him go, shouting at him to
keep quiet or go and help his father, they were fed up
with having them under their feet. The children ran
off, screeching and shouting. With their dry, stick-like
bodies they could shin quickly up the apple trees.
“Bring some kindling!” Angelina would shout. She
was more cheerful than the others, as though she had
discovered, with advancing age, that happiness comes
from within. The children were swept up in her high
spirits, and brought her sticks and twigs in their dirty
little hands. Angelina laughed. Yes, children were the
greatest joy. Thinking this, she looked around for her
sons. They were moving the lorries, avoiding the ruts.
“Where shall we put the old mother?” the eldest
shouted to his brothers.
Soon the wind was warmed by a blaze, and they sat
by the fire together, chewing bread and bacon and
watching the scudding clouds. The children kicked
each other for fun. Misia, as usual, was crying in her
“You’ll see, my Miss,” he whispered to her, “you’ll
see, we’ll be fine . . .”
“I know,” she said quietly, and one could see that she
believed the opposite.
He caressed her, and that made her cry even
more. She was pregnant and approaching her term;
her swollen red ankles looked like those of an old
“You’re exhausted by the journey,” said Angelina,
looking at her tired young legs. “You must go to bed
early, my girl.”
The young woman didn’t answer; she had stopped
crying. The child inside her had begun to move.