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Alcuin Edwards Alcuin Edwards
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Under the Double Star - Chapter One

This is the Prologue to a book I am working on.  I hope it works as a short story.

11 July 1995
Rosza Perhan  - Srebrenica

We are the invisible ones.

For centuries, perhaps even a millennium, my people have travelled the highways and byways of Europe unheeded by the Gadje, as if we were invisible.

They see us only when they want to.  When they want us to play violins and accordions.  When they want us to tell their fortunes, to buy and sell their horses, to suck their cocks.

Today is my final day and I am not minded to equivocate any more.  What I have, in my head, in my heart, in my soul is only truth and nothing more.  

I was born on the side of a road outside Szczecin.  I was not Rosza Perhan, of course, I was Rosza Piast, and I became 'Princess Rosza', or 'Little Princess'.

When I was a young girl I had the sweetest, smoothest nut-brown skin you ever saw.  My hair was a dark, dark brown, very nearly but not quite black.  My eyes were darker still.  I was a beauty.

I know that even my people, the Roma, no longer see the young girl I was and still expect to see in mirrors.  They see an old woman, wrinkles and white-haired and with that nut-brown skin faded to a colour closer to yellow than brown.  My eyes though are still as black as a starless night and they are still as sharp as they ever were when I was that beauty.

Here in Yugoslavia, they divide us.  Here they would call me a 'clean gypsy' because I live in a house in a village where we are all Roma.  Because my grandchildren went to the school in Srebrenica with the local kids.  They even call my grandson a Bosanac as if he were just another Bosnian, albeit not a Bosniak.  These distinctions seem to be of importance to them.

When I was in Poland, these people would, if they had noticed me at all, have called me a filthy gypsy because I lived in a wardo and travelled from place to place, putting no roots down into the Polish soil.

They would have been wrong though.  I was clean when I travelled in the wardo, probably cleaner than the Gadje who would have called me such names.  I know I was clean because I have been filthy, and when I was filthy, I stayed in one place.

Back then, the place I live now was called the Independent State of Croatia and no doubt they would have sent me to Jasenovac with all the Jewish and Serbian women.  Instead, I travelled the roads in the General Gouvernement of Poland and so my prison was in a village called O?wi?cim.

That was the place where I first died.  

There were too many of us in too small a place and we found ourselves infested with fleas and lice and typhus and dysentery. We had no place to wash.  There was nowhere to get clean.  We had no way of getting away from the constant stink of rotting filthy humanity.  And it wasn't just those around me, that was the worst thing.

They will tell children that the Samudaripen was about mass destruction and that is true.  They called us "Lebensunwertes Leben" ('life not worthy of life') even before they started persecuting the Jews.  But there was more to it than devouring us whole, more than starvation and disease.  

To a nineteen year old girl who tried hard to look and behave like the princess she should have become, there were worse things than destruction.  They shaved off my beautiful hair and made me look like a boy.  I stank like a cross between a latrine and a charnel house.

They stripped me naked, but that wasn't enough for them.  They tattooed on my skin a Z and a series of meaningless numbers and tried to make those numbers into my name.  Stupid Germans, as if a name was something that changed just like that.

All this because suddenly they saw me.  They wanted something from me and that something was not a blow job or a fortune told, it was a scapegoat.  They wanted us Roma to die for their sins.  They wrapped it all up in their precious racial science, but it wasn't ideology that made the Gadje hate us.  So many times since we left Rajasthan, Gadje have demanded that we pay the price of their sins.  The Samudaripen was just a logical extention of that culpable desire.

They took me into their camps an they forgot about me, murdered Little Princess Rosza.  This is how it happened.

They gathered us Kale and pushed us all together with the other tribes of Rom until we could not stand the closeness of so many bodies.  There was typhus.  There was hunger.  There was violence.  There is always violence.

I stopped seeing my fellows as people.  It was as if I were seeing them as the Germans and the Poles see us.  Lice crawled over my skin.  I stank.  I would gladly have sold my soul for the chance to bathe.  And then they'd come to treat these misfortunes, hard jets of shivery-cold water, then razors to cut away our hair.

And we stank.  And I stank.  I hated that.  I was still Little Rosza then, clinging on to life as if it were a favourite toy.  And this blonde man.  He asked me to call him Karl and so I did and forgot any other names he might have.

Karl took me away from my people and into the brothel where humanity was a thing of the past.  He enjoyed me and you know what, I did not mind.  He gave me soap.  My hair grew back in again.  And what did he want?  Sex.  Kisses.  All the things that the Gadje have  demanded of us over the centuries.

Why would I mind about that.  I even convinced myself I loved him.  Sometimes when he put it into me, I came and he loved that I did.  He called me his Rosza and once or twice he even pretended he loved me although every time he did, he would beat out his embarrassment on my skin.  After all, I was unworthy of life.  I was for pleasure.  After beating me, I know that he would go off and scourge himself.  I would see the marks on his flesh.  Such shame for him for tasting my flesh.

And that is how, moment by moment, Little Rosza died and in her place was Rosza the Whore.

I tried to tell myself that it was all about survival in that filthy place where my people, as if they were still my people, were penned up like animals or worse.
But of course, when I told myself that, I knew that I was lying.  The joy of being fucked brought with it a shame I could never live down. My heart now bore stigma as shameful as the shaven head they had given me before.  The Gadje could not see it but I knew that my people, those who survived this devouring hatred, would see it if I ever met them again.
Karl kept me with the comfort women.  His colleagues pretended they thought I was something other than what I was and when my people were murdered, I survived.  But I did not survive.

Of course I never survived, Little Rosza was dead, murdered beside the rest of my people.  She was beaten and broken, drowned in the stink of her own flesh, her brains bashed in and her soul rent into a thousand itty-bitty pieces that fluttered away like butterflies and left me behind, a lumpen whore who died in the moments between couplings.

My coffin was a bed where Karl would come and fuck me from time to time but where I spent the rest of the time staring at the ceiling or floating in a grey fog that left me nowhere.

But this too passed.  Change came as it always did and I found myself pupating.  Rosza Piast emerged from the cocoon that was Rosza the Whore and stood blinking in the sunlight as Russian soldiers put bullets into Karl's body and those of our other captors.
I felt for tears but none came.  I reached for the wail that would come, but my cries were silent.  I reached my hands up to feel my face, traced the shape of my lips and realised I was smiling.

"It's okay Comrade", said a soldier.  "You are free now".

I thought about that.  I doubted it.  I played the idea around in my mind.  It might be true.  I tried to dance but I fell and the Russian soldier caught me as I was falling.  
There was a long time of darkness where I smelled the world through cordite accompanied by screams and gunfire and the red light that fought through lids that refused to open.
When that time ended, the soldier was still there.

"Good morning, Comrade", he said.  "You have slept many days. Do not try to get up too quickly."

"Ohh!" Of course I did.  Silly Rosza.

"It's okay.  You're getting better.  I am Mihaly. I'm a nurse when I'm not being a soldier.  I'm also a Hungarian partizan attached to the Red Army. You, I think were slave labour."

"No I." And then I stopped.  Yes, that's exactly what Rosza the Whore was, there in Little Rosza's coffin.  "I suppose he saved me from murder only to make me his slave." The tears came then in torrents and I could not stop them. The wailing came as well, as loud as sirens and I crumpled and Mihaly held me.

Eventually I stopped crying and looked at him and felt my face form a little shy smile and he kissed me and I said, "Pleased to meet you Mihaly.  I am Rosza."

I never left his side for eleven years.  We celebrated together the end of war.
We danced together to the victory of the Communist Party in Hungary.  Suddenly for a while it was okay to be whatever we were, Romany, Hungarian, Polish, Russian.  We were people, and we loved.

But these things never last forever.  1956 came and Mihaly died when the tanks came in.  I walked away from Budapest with baby Narilla on my hip and baby Lasho by the hand.  I have no idea in what direction we walked or for how long, but I know that Lasho's feet bled and Narilla cried for food and water and tears flowed from my face.

I know that Rosza Piast died that day and Hungary faded from my memories until I was only Lost Rosza, who walked the highways and byways until some kind soul in a wardo took pity on her.

Lost Rosza and Narilla and Lasho walked until they could walk no more.  After that they crawled until the kind stranger found us.

Even then we rode in silence, my children holding close to me, never wanting to move more than a foot away from me.  I never spoke, except in the language of birds.  Crows came to us with food and the Kind Stranger gasped to see such a thing.

We came eventually, to the place where Narilla and Lasho grew up, this place

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Next: Pain - Part 3