I see her in the city every day. Carefree, quiet, humble, she usually walks around the Market Square all day. She gazes at every human face that passes her by as if she were an Indian Goddess. She whispers something to herself, as if performing a special mantra. She washes her hands in a small water column installed in the centre of the city as a supplement to the exhibits of the “street museum”. Sometimes she has an unexpected business and her slim body gets lost in the crowd of people coming wearily from the market. The city is sparkling with various colours. The smell of acacias and elderberries is soaking through clothes and settles somewhere in the depths of thoughts. And our body.
I always knew her name was Olia. After all, that’s how she once introduced herself to me. Only then, the name “Olia” was changed to “Kameliia”.
— Kameliia is for my people. Well, for the Roma. And Olia is for others, Olia-Kameliia once told me when I saw her carefree in the market again. Immersed in her own thoughts, she was staring somewhere ahead. “Call me Ka-me-liia,” she said cheerfully, and followed me slowly.
Kameliia is 13. She is of Roma origin. She has dark brown, thick and curly hair. Big round eyes the colour of cinnamon. Red sweater, blue jeans, white sandals. Looks like a Mexican or a Brazilian. But her accent discloses her Roma origin. Slightly low, hoarse voice. And a smile that almost never leaves her childish face. Kameliia has two younger brothers, Moisei and Samson. Skinny, in T-shirts and in large-sized shoes as for their children’s feet, Roma boys roam the city like little birds, looking for some crumbs of food. And it doesn’t matter that today they haven’t found anything. The main thing is that another day of life has passed.
I suggest Kameliia to treat her with sweets. She quietly saves a piece for the brothers. She carefully wraps a piece of food in paper and hides it in his pocket.
— What are you dreaming about?
— “Nothing,” she shrugs, running to meet Moisei, who suddenly calls his elder sister, standing near the city hall. Her dark curls are swayed by the wind, tangled in the full density of shiny child’s hair.
Kameliia, along with Moisei and the youngest Samson, lives on the outskirts of the city in the old hut. The area is adjacent to the banks of the river Tysmenytsia. Dried up, which barely flows with life, its serpentine waters quietly flow through this part, hardly reminding of itself. As well as about all those who live here. Those people who speak another language and those whom we know almost nothing about. Locals say: “those who live in Mlynky”. They call themselves Roma-Lovarya. They collect firewood, trade with all sorts of things, dig up horseradish in the fields and sell them at the local market. They stick together and then return to their orphaned, empty homes, which no one ever visits. Sometimes they remember all the ancestors scattered around the world that came to this region from different parts of the world. And whose voice is still heard as a reminder of the past. Like the dried waters of Tysmenytsia.
Kameliia does not know where her family comes from, but one day she will definitely find its genealogy. At least, she really believes in it.
Together with her two brothers, she sometimes attends Saturday school in Mlynky. Once a week, a group of evangelicals come here to teach Roma children some literacy. Recently, during one of the lessons, Kameliia and Moisei learned to write the letter “ґ” (a letter of Ukrainian alphabet). Gently on a white sheet, firmly pressing the ballpoint pen to her small fingers, for the first time she drew a doodle unknown to her. Now, when we meet, Kameliia pronounces the letter “ґ” every time as if it’s some unknown universe for her, which she slowly discovers and fills with new meanings. Maybe so.
Sunday in the Market Square is hot and quiet. Birds flock to the shingled roofs of old buildings. City pigeons lazily collect crumbs of bread, which locals carelessly throw down. The June heat spills over the streets. On the terraces of the pub is noisy, you can hear coffee being brewed in the cool rooms of restaurants. Sitting at a small table, Kameliia and I talk about her everyday affairs, about the new letters that she enthusiastically learns to write in her copybook. After all, about dreams she doesn’t have. Suddenly the girl’s eyes fill with anger, her face gains anger and malice.
—“What are you looking at me like the devil?” Kameliia says to the young waiter, who sees a little Roma girl and goes out on the terrace of the pub, ordering her to leave with a menacing look. Sunday bells are ringing nearby, and the sound of Catholic Mass is rolling through the city. Then the bartender’s gaze softens a bit and he, leaving his intention to drive away the Roma girl, returns to brew coffee for impatient visitors. An air-raid siren sounds. For the third time in a day. Someone suddenly gets up and hurries to the shelter, someone just stays still, slowly drinking cold beer and raising his head to the sky.
Kameliia talks a little more, unresponsive to the shrill sound of a loudspeaker roaring like a wild beast, then she gets up from the table and slowly disappears into a corner of a narrow street. She does not hide in a bomb shelter. And she is not afraid of missiles. And she is not afraid of war either. At least that’s what she says. Maybe she just knows nothing about it.
On the edge of the city, a lazy evening falls asleep in the bread buckets of noon. Mountain ranges abound on the horizon; the orange sun goes to sleep. Kameliia returns home. To Mlynky. It’s quiet and peaceful here. And no one will look at her “like the devil”. Because here she is her own.
And the sounds of air raid sirens do not buzz. They just can’t be heard.
Author: Eva Raiska