Olga nodded her head it could not be any other way. They followed Mala through the camp, Natasha’s fright giving way more to curiosity as she looked about.
The Zigani or Russian gypsies made their living in various ways. Trafficking horses, sometimes they cured animals and the mujiks or peasantry of diseases, told fortunes or lived by theft or brigandage. Other times girls would sing and dance in local taverns while their men folk made deals and traded in horse flesh. As they walked the mother and daughter saw men and women smoking pipes, laundry hung on clotheslines strung between trees, drying in the fresh air. Cooking fires burned and the smell of roast meat made the mouths of Natasha and her mother water with desire. A three string balaika could be heard playing in the background.
Mala brought them to an old wagon whose paint was faded and chipped. She told the two visitors to wait and went inside the wagon alone. A few minutes passed before she came out and motioned Olga and Natasha to enter.
It took some time for their eyes to adjust to the darkness inside the wagon, which surrounded them like a cloak. Slowly they were able to make out objects that came into view. Russian dolls, old books with tattered pages, icons from the past. Beams of light which filtered through the cracks revealed faded tassels and pillows that years before had been alive with color and joy. Through the shadows, Natasha could see a small figure with a curved back dressed in black. When she looked closer, sparse white hairs could be seen on an old woman with a tired wrinkled face, the eyes staring back at the little girl. In her youth, she may have been pretty but after years of being exposed to the burning sun, sleet and snow, cold rains and biting frost, her face became what Natasha saw now, ancient and ugly made so with the pass age of time, the seasons of life.
“I’ve not seen you in many years Olga Novitch. Mishto hom me dikava tute, I am glad to see you.” A rough voice said, break ing the silence. To Natasha, her Russian sounded strange, the accent peculiar.
“I have done as you asked Madame Vadoma, all those years ago. I’ve brought my youngest child as you asked,” said Olga.
The old woman nodded her head, “You must not think badly of Durriken, he tries to do his best. As you know, there are places we are not welcome. It is why we travel through life more than others and are more familiar with rough stone and soft grass then jewels and featherbeds.”
Olga nodded, she knew, she understood.
Vadoma reached out with a hand that resembled a claw and motioned Natasha to move closer. The little girl looked to her mother who nodded her head. With such assurance, she moved closer to the old woman.
“Sastipe,” said the old voice.
Natasha looked perplexed, she did not understand. Mala who was sitting next to Vadoma, smiled and translated. “She says hello.”
“Oh,” said Natasha, “hello. That’s not Russian, it sounds different.”
Mala nodded her head, “Yes, you’re right. Its the language we speak among ourselves, it’s called Romani. It’s a very old langu age.”
“Sad san?” asked Vadoma, which Mala translated as how are you?
“I’m good,” said Natasha, becoming more intrigued with Mala and the old woman.
“Kater aves?” asked the one in black.
“The village,” answered Mala.
” Tijiri Familija si vi tusa?”
“Is your family with you?” translated Malai.