“Women’s work, you say?”
Throwing his head back to laugh once more. “I will not bother you and your woman’s work. I, Tomas,” he said, thumping his chest for emphasis, ‘have no interest in your work. But I will accompany you while you go about it.”
Éléonore looked up from the iron sastra pot she was stirring over the fire. Tomas of the Gitanos may be beginning a serious courtship, she thought to herself smiling. And a good thing he was. Éléonore was nearing 17, two years past the age that most gypsy girls marry. Headstrong and independent, she was the apple of her father’s eye. She had successfully thwarted the advances of other gypsy boys with tears and pleas that her father not turn her over to them. She pleaded with him for days to refuse the sizeable payment offered by the father of young Pulika, a member of her own Manush tribe.
Her father drove a hard bargain for the horses he traded and agreeing to give up his only daughter to another man wouldn’t have come easy to him if she’d told him she was ready to wed. Begging to stay with him and her mother a while longer, waiting for the right boy, she’d made him feel as if it were wrong to even consider letting her go to Pulika and his family.
The disgrace to a boy and his family of a formal proposal being rejected had also helped her stay single bargaining for a Gypsy marriage was a ritual not to be taken lightly by prospective fathers-in-law. Tentative offers were made through a go-between before a boy’s father ever approached a girl’s family in person. If the first conversations with them were not well taken, negotiations were generally dropped as they had been by Pulka’s father, rather than dealing with the public slap in the face of a refusal from Éléonore and her father.
The boro-rye, leader of the Manush, and the senior judge of the kris (the governing board of the tribe) was, as a matter of circumstance, also the father of unruly Éléonore. He, Éléonore knew, had married her mother for their love of one another, and because of that she held on to the belief that she would marry the boy of her choice, and when that happened it would be the result of love, not bargaining power.
Tomas held out his had to her, “Come,” he said, “Lets be about this herb-gathering now, before the boro-rye is at you for his supper.”
Éléonore stood, unaided, to look Tomas full in the face. “You may come with me if you like,” she said, the look in her eyes be lying the nonchalance of her tone. “But I’m off for the dandelion roots for my father’s coffee, not my herbs. The boro-rye as you call him, is even more passionate about his coffee than his evening meal.”
She walked ahead of him in the soft sunlight, going toward the clearing where she had harvested dandelions for the year’s coffee every spring for five years. Tomas watched as she passed, appraising her again as he had many times in his mind during the past year. He’d first seen her at the festival of Camargue last spring and was so taken with her then that he set upon his father to begin negotiating for their marriage at once.
Having heard rumors of her sttrong-mindedness, and not one to be pushed into an embarrassment by the whim of a young man, his father had declined and looked to purchase a girl with promise of being a more docile and dutiful daughter-in-law.
The year of travelling through southeastern Europe had only served to confirm young Tomas’ desire to marry Éléonore. As he drove his family’s wagon or walked those miles of the last 12 months, his thoughts returned more and more often to Éléonore. Like all Gypsy boys, he longed for the status of the title Rom that only marriage would bring him. Even if he were 50, he would never become a man in the eyes of his tribe until he took a wife. And, as his feelings for Éléonore grew, he knew he would give even that up were he not to marry her.
She’d grown taller since he’d committed her to his memory and her body was fuller, as if it was coming fully into womanhood. She took long, even steps that set her tattered skirt swaying rhythmically, delighted to have her bare feet out of her winter’s boots and back on the warm, damp earth. Her hair, braided in one long thick swatch that hung to her waist, caught the sun and seemed to reflect every color of the rainbow. Her arms were supple and well-muscled and swung when she walked so that he was reminded of the grace of a cat.
He caught up with her easily, brushing her warm with his as he did, and enjoyed the quick rush of pleasure. They walked without speaking until they came to the clearing that held the flowers. Éléonore knelt and began digging the roots that had just bloomed, pleased for this duty to her family. She had learned everything her mother had to offer about the gathering and curing o herbs and knew not only where they grew along the many miles th Gypsy wagons travelled, but how to use them to prepare food and cure ailments.
Tomas dropped to his haunches under a tall tree at the edge of the clearing and glanced upward to note the leaves just beginning to peek out at the sun. He savored the smell of the earth greening in April and like Éléonore, enjoyed the feel of the soil under his feet. Leaning back against the tree, he stretched out his long legs and watched the girl gently pulling the flowers from the ground.
It seemed as if every part of nature smiled on Tomas and his choice of a wife that day. A gentle breeze brushed his face and hair and the sun shone proudly in a cloudless sky.
Omens of such magnitude were not lost on the two of them. Though they were both silent, their minds ere spinning, and in much the same direction. They were happy to be together, unspeaking, reading themselves for the time when they would talk and cement their intentions of beginning a lifetime together. They each rightly presumed the interest of the other, even as they seemed unmindful of it.
Tomas watched Éléonore through half-closed eyes, as she bent to her task closely inspecting the small yellow flowers and taking only those that were just opening, leaving the larger older blooms.
Later after she’d washed them in the brook and spread them in the sun to dry, she would have ample time to talk to Tomas. She’d made enough discreet inquiries among the Gitanos’ women to know that Tomas would make a good husband to her, as much because of the women’s compliments as their chagrin that he’d not yet taken a wife from their tribe.