My grandfather told me that when the first Rom was eaten by a dragon, the sun cried and created the sea. My grandmother told me that all Romani were created from clay and some took more baking than others. My aunt told me that when a cherry tree gives more fruit than expected it is because she remembers when she too, was a Romani mother.
I am a patchwork quilt of thousands of stories; I am the dragon, the sun, and the clay. I am the witch and the daughter. I am the wind. I am the snow. I am the singing crow.
Romanija is the blanket of our skin – it holds together the stories that spoke us into being.
In the beginning was a word, my grandmother said. But, the word fell in a world with no ears to hear it. Alone and forlorn it soon died. So, God created the Romani to hear all his words, all his stories. We cradle them and hold them close through the night, hoping they’ll grow strong and vibrant, like our own children.
But, stories couldn’t keep us safe. Words were no substitute for fire or arrows. Our feet beat out paragraphs and chapters as we wound our way across the world. But, there were no stories for the empty places around the fire, no stories for the names shaped in smoke. There were no stories for the silences that shrouded their eyes.
When the crow took our hearts, said my aunt, we climbed the mountains until we became the stars.
When you tell me I am a single word – woman, mother, unclean, weak, silent, strong – stories rain down from the sky of my past. The woman who chased chickens; the mother who lost her son; the unclean farmer and his gold; the weak donkey; the silent witch; the strong and cunning dragon. Words are rivers leading back to the foothills of my family, our footprints arced gracefully like commas.
Our libraries are not cast in stone and glass, but sit, gilded in our hearts. Words rhythmically thrumming against our eyelids as we sleep.
In the beginning was a word. And the word died.
In the end was a story. And it lived forever.