Stray Dancer

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Auburn hair flowing in every direction, the eleven year old Roma fought in the style of the wildcat. Every maneuver she knew she put into play. She bit the old clammy hands of her drunken attackers. Her rough bitten nails dug into the creases and soft spots in potbellies, arm folds, pressure points and pock marked faces of her wasted assailants. Her tan legs showed from underneath the moving colors of her mid thigh length skirt. She kicked out with her feet trying to knock them off balance. She twisted and spasmed all along her writhing dancer's body. She shimmied and shook curvy hips and used her bony elbows with slamming force. Her thin lips screamed for all they were worth, to no avail. She knew the second she opened her mouth no one would help a dancer much less a romani. Her lips emitted a piercing yell that soon turned into a despairing wail wavering in desperation. The sea breeze pulled her skirt out from covering her flat stomach. The thin lacy fabric was already see-through before flapping in the air around her body. The colorful turquoise-lilac skirt hugged her muscled thighs, twisting its mirage of colors in tie-dye swirls appearing to merge with skin. The loose cloth only taunted and beckoned to the trashed menÕsÕ wanting eyes. She took a deep breath and her frenzied body stilled. They almost dropped her dead weight. She twisted out of their grasp and fell to the floor, taking advantage of their hesitation. A nimble body scrambled up. She fled away from the drunken men not knowing where she was going until her reflexive feet start turning up alleyways she recognizes from long ago ,escaping to the bane of merchant district. Her eyes drink in the familiar sights as if it was a drug. Her ears still alert but doused in warm flashbacks. Panting she stumbles up the stone steps of an old doorstep. Pounding on the door she keeps her breath tightly inside her ribs. Deep within her heart she dearly hopes that someone will come .Her fingers are bruised and sprinkled in splinters from pounding by the time the door finally creaks open. Her old benefactor, Antonio,whose home she once lived in, is holding the door open, looking at the cause of the ruckus. His mouth sneers and his eyes frown when they see who it is. Please, help me. Drunken men are trying to take me. I have nowhere to go. I just need somewhere to lay low for a little whileÓ, begs the hopeful little girl. Her eyes brim with tears at his hesitation. Antonio didnÕt remember or didnÕt care that she had once been almost sisters to his daughters thanks to his motherÕs generosity. AntonioÕs mother, Sister Luisa found her as a one year old with a piece of paper that said her name, lying on the cracked steps of a church. When the matriarch of the family, Luisa had died, Antonio and his wife kept her for two and a half years afterwards till the girl was nine and half. When she chose to take up a dancing life, they refused to support her. When the girls were away with a relative she came home one night to find all the doors locked against her. A part of her had always wished it were a mistake. She learned to live on the street through desperation of having nowhere else to go after she was thrown out. She looked at him and he met her eye fearlessly. She saw bitterness, spite, sorrow, and pity in his eyes but no remorse. He wasnÕt sorry for putting her on the street. She could tell he had known what he was doing then and he knew what he was doing now. I remember you, girl. You put a curse on my family the day you walked into our lives. You are probably some slutÕs bastard daughter who she didnÕt want so she abandoned you on the doorstep of my motherÕs church. You are a careless mistake. "Tshaya couldnÕt believe what she was hearing but in a sick distorted way she wasnÕt surprised. Luisa and his twin daughters, Catalina and Juliana had been the only ones who had loved her. The twinÕs sister Alyiana had been eight and didn't pay attention to them except when required to. Antonio had hidden his dislike of her only until his mother died, and his wife had hated her from day one. Tears threatened to fall down her cheeks but she held them back defiantly out of pride predicting that there was more. On my mothers deathbed you know what she said to me, [My dear son Tony, I want you to continue raising Tshaya. Give her love and just treat her as if she was yours. Raise her with Lina and Julia; they already adore her as a blood-sister. I love her and she deserves a home. Respect my last wish, alas I go, but tell her when the time is right ‘Opre RomaÕ.] To my mother you were never a charity case but if you beat the odds, her prodigy.Ó Tshaya began to back away suddenly afraid of the snarling monster Antonio resembled in his hateful memories. His next words made her run to escape the awful, cruel words. As if she cared about anyone but you and distantly my younger daughters. Nobody wants you now, little Tshaya. Not even your own people will take you. You have nothing and you are nothing..Ó She didn't run far or fast enough for his words still fell upon her victimized ears. Each hate filled dagger stabbed her full on, in the back. Her hardened face fell to the onslaught of emotion. Tears soaked her now pale cheeks in rivulets. Worse than his hate of her was he was right. She did have nowhere to go and she probably wasnÕt meant to be without the help of drunken idiots. Her emotions were put on hold when three very angry very drunk men came around the corner at the same time she did and grabbed her and slammed her against the cracking stones of the wall. Even a strong muscled dancers body could not withstand the brutal pain. Spasms of pain spidered up her back, tiny fingers tweaking every sinew of her body farther than it could move. With her back firmly pressed against the brick wall, a vine protruding caught her in the spine, in the middle of what would be massive artworks of black and blue. Deft fingers searched for handholds, while she only made contact with the wall when the brutal effects of momentum forced her into it. Trying to stall the men she searched her aching mind and rattled out all the prayers she could think of hoping just for once, someone would listen and deliver. Devlesa Ataman, Chere Bhen, Day Te avel angle tute. Baxt, Barearav isi. Dosta?Lord, our father, help me please. Dio nostro padre. Ó, She pleaded in desperation. Fear created goose bumps all along her body. Her heart pounded, beating out of rhythm. Her body went limp and in the hesitation of the men she slipped out of their hold and scrambled up the wall as best as she could. She collapsed in tears. Her cheeks were dirty and wet with crying. Her hair lay wet against her face. She awoke to faint whispered words of a lullaby. She blinked twice before her eyes could take in the rooftop she was on. Dusty old carpets lay scattered around piled on top of each other miscellaneously. A thin little girl stood a few feet away from her singing a lullaby. Kay one, romale, kay one, Mire berja savnayakuyune... Ne-ne-ne... Aj! Djide! Javasa kana na merasa Me shukir Ay zajivayasa! Ne-ne-ne... Aj! Kay one, karik yo ne gene Berjasa pre matore Yavava ke tu me! The little girlÕs dirty blonde hair was pulled back in makeshift piece of string. A strand of dark curly hair fell down against her olive skinned face. Tshaya wasnÕt sure what to make of the young singer dressed in rags. What Tshaya couldnÕt get her mind around was that she seemed to be singing the lullaby to Tshaya. The little girl, who she found out was named Ana-Marie and was seven years old, led her over to the girlÕs brothers who were heating some warm mixture on a fire. The boys who were not much older than she, agreed to feed her and let her borrow clothes if Tshaya would help them with a project. Hesitantly but indebted Tshaya agreed. When it was time to go the boys put down a ladder made of dirty rags and torn threads from the ragged carpets. Tshaya went first; she jumped down to the ground and held the ladder so Ana-Marie could climb down. The boys had her and Ana-Marie stand as guard while they stashed up the ladder for later. Ana-Marie must have been accustomed cause she acted like a very innocent normal Italian seven year old. Whistling and smiling amiably they made their way over towards the houses in merchant district. The boys led them around backstreets and over tiny bridges and around twisting canals to the back door of one of the richer merchants MarrettiÕs home. The breath caught in Tshayas throat. Her ribs contracted, and her spine was a statue of stone. Ana-Marie behind her tripped into Tshaya and pushed her forward. They climbed the old creaking wooden steps in silence. A step fell in as one of the boys foot glanced it, and Tshaya wondered why Antonio hadnÕt fixed it, but assumed he had been so busy partying that he hadnÕt paid attention. The boys led them along richly decorated hallways that Tshaya remembered has the floor the MarrettiÕs did all their entertaining on. Her feet traveled an emotional journey as they stepped on the familiar silken woven carpets. Last time she ran down the hall on the carpet she was chasing her adopted sisters. Ana grasped her hand and pulled her into a niche to avoid coming footsteps. They held tensely their future depending on not being found. Ana dashed out rushing the mission forward as soon as she thought the footsteps had receded. Tshaya on her heels felt an eerie sensation of being watched. She turned around and her for a split second caught a four-year-old girl disappearing behind a statue with her thumb in her mouth. They could hear loud laughter drifting down the hall. The clinking of wine glasses could be heard outside of the dining room. The children ransacked the main rooms upstairs, emptying each drawer of its treasures. Ana-Marie grabbed the jewelry out of their designated places while the boys made the riskier raids into and around the dinner getting glasses and china from the hall. Tshaya removed ornaments that would or wouldnÕt be missed and added it to her pile she was gathering. Tshaya, Ana-Marie and the boys met up in hall and started creeping back towards the exit. A maid appeared out of a bedroom unexpected and they barely pulled out of sight in time. A surprised Ana-Marie stumbled and knocked the candle on the hall table to the floor. The flames took to the damp Venetian floor instantly. The boys grabbed Ana and sped off through passageways and shortcuts known to them. Tshaya sped through the maze of the house systematically using old escape routes. She made it to the floor and could hear screaming again. She assumed someone had found the fire and would warn the MarrettiÕs. She assumed Antonio would be drunk but that he would find a way out of his own home and that his family would follow him. She felt a warm burst of air hit her. The door at the top of the stairs opened and fueled the fire lurking just meters away. The four-year-old girl slipped down the stairs also trying to escape. Waves of heat kept coming. In the same place but not together they ran both striving for the same goal. Tshaya was seconds away from opening the door handle out into the clear Venetian air when she heard a strangled cry. She cursed her curiosity. The little girl had dropped her doll and reached down grasp it and her dress and fancy curls had caught on nails sticking out of the stair rails. Her little arms were busy trying to free her dress and hair as she finally reached her doll straining. She pleaded for help but Tshaya looked away and left AntonioÕs granddaughter to die in flames. She heard the rip of cloth and assumed the dress had come free. Tshaya knew that her own death might still be linked to now if she didnÕt leave, now. Her fingers were grasping the brass door handle when she heard innocent prayers repeated over and over. Two words struck her as unique out of the lot. she kept hearing,Ó Opre Roma, Dza Devlesa. Opre Roma, Dza Devlesa over and over again,Ó in a childÕs voice. A voice that sounded just like Tshayas adopted sister Catalina when Tshaya had told her to call that if she was ever in trouble. Tshaya turned in her tracks and raced back to the hearth of the fire. The flames were licking precariously close to the tiny feet of the little girl who kept trying to inch her feet away from the flames. Her side of the lacy dress now had a gaping hole in her side but her hair was still stuck. She clasped her precious porcelain doll to her chest. She kept trying to pull her hair away, but her golden locks just got wound tighter and tighter into the railings. Tshaya heard the ceiling begin to creak and raced breathless to the side of the little girl. TshayaÕs nimble fingers worked the hair undoing the knots swiftly. She raced against time, untangling a massive mess. Her mind was concentrated on her work. This isnÕt working,Ómuttered a desperate Tshaya. Pure blue eyes widened in remembrance and one hand let go of the doll to rummage through the pockets in her dress and pulled out a thin filigree knife with golden letters inscribed on it, "Cassie, my darling. Keep this for you may need it. With love Antonio.Ó
Tshaya grabbed the pocket size knife and began to saw at the beautiful golden curls. The last knot tore just as the step behind them caught in flame. Tshaya grabbed Cassie with one hand and ran for her life. The fire reached out for her, reaching with flickering fingers ready to scorch in its burning caress. Strength that Tshaya never knew she possessed propelled her to keep going. The four-year-old gentry daughter and the outcast Roma dancer made it down one story and reached the door. The dancer pulled power out of her very soul and pulled the heavy oak door open and thrust the child out of harms away . The black African doll that had provoked being trapped at first fell to the flaming shrine. Cassie screamed and ran for it, Tshaya pushed her back and dashed just to the threshold of the door to reach for it and toss it behind her. The house collapsed and so did her heart before she could move. Antonio staggered out of his burning home barely functioning. His whole system collapsed when he looked over the survivors of the blazing inferno. Though he and his elder daughter looked, his granddaughter was not among those standing. His body just gave up, and even through his alcohol touched mind he could briefly wrap his mind around the consequences. He awoke to chilling fingers tugging on his shirtsleeve. Am I in heaven?Ó he asked still in a stupor. Tears were his answer. His eyes remembered the miracle standing before him. With her help he stood up. He kissed her golden hair noticing her chopped hair but not commenting. He began to thank God profusely. His joy was immense. He called to his daughter and wife to tell them. God didnÕt save me, Pappy. Mamma and LenaÕs sister did. She heard me praying the Romani words. She saved meÓ, whispered his granddaughter. It took him a little while before he could realize whom she meant. His other daughter Juliana died in her teens from sickness. His stomach lurched and he realized horridly whom his little darling meant. Somehow the very girl he had refused shelter to and thrown out had been in his house and saved his granddaughter. He didnÕt dare to ask what had happened to Tshaya. He could see it in the teary eyes of his granddaughter. The stray dancer had died to save his granddaughter. He patted CassieÕs hair and held her hand and they walked over towards her Mamma and his wife. How would you like us to christen you by her name, after all she spilled blood to you and is practically your aunt?Ó he asked wanting so much to try to repay the debt. What was her name pappy?Ó her eager voice asked. He chose to honor Tshaya by christening Cassie, Tshaya Cassie on the spot Tshaya died. He stopped drinking as much as he could and spent some of his merchant funds to provide winter housing for street orphans. He had an old warehouse rebuilt and fitted with bedrooms and plumbing and let street orphans no matter the race or religion stay during the cold winter months. I am nine now. I am just learning my letters. It has been five years since my namesake and adopted aunt perished in the fire. Pappy says its time that I be educated as his mother taught her. I carry her name proudly, and love my name. Tshaya Cassandra Marreti. As it should be. That is the end . Of her story.





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