Sofia was still asleep. Its citizens were enjoying the final hours of sleep in their cozy beds before their routine was going to start. The streets were empty and silent. There was only one thing that was breaking this idyllic image: the sound of a karutza’s* wheels and the tramp of a horse’s hooves. The karutza was cumbersomely going down Madrid Boulevard when it suddenly stopped in front of two garbage containers standing on the street. The three passengers, a man, a girl, and a boy, got out of their vehicle and started searching through the contents of the bins. After finding several bottles and an old pair of shoes, they returned to their original places. The man gave a sign to the horse and the karutza pulled off again.
The man was in his early forties, but he looked much older. The cold look of his eyes gave away the hard life he had lived and was still bearing. On his right, one of his sons was sitting. He had just turned five, and he already was getting into the basics of his father’s “business”. Next to the boy there was a girl. Her name was Aishe and she was 17-years-old. She had been helping her father to gather all types of garbage as long as she remembered herself. She had no other option but do it because this was the only way for her huge family to survive. She had four brothers and four sisters. Two of her brothers had already married and had their own families, but still there were six more children to be fed and dressed. Tomorrow at least she would be gone and one more burden would be thrown off her parent’s shoulders.
The karutza was slowly passing down the numerous shops on the boulevard: the Nedelya Pastry Shop, the banitza bakery, the pizzeria, and other stores that were offering a plenty of goodies for those who could afford them. The two children studied the store windows in detail every time they were passing by. This was an enjoyment to them because they imagined tasting all this delicious food, but at the same time it was an unbearable torture. They realized that it was only a dream, and dreams never come true.
This morning Aishe did not even flash a glance at the store windows. There was something unusual going on with her.
Aishe was the most cheerful of all the children in the house. She was always smiling and positive no matter how hard her life was. Even her name suggested what type of person she was - in Arabic it meant “alive”. Aishe was not a typical Romany girl. Most girls of her age were only interested in getting married but not her. She wanted a different future, a different life from her mother’s, from all Romany girls’ lives... She had attended school until 5th grade, but she had to give it up because her parents could not afford it after the birth of her younger siblings. She liked going to school. It was the only meaningful thing in her life. She was not like the other children who could not wait for the end of classes. She did not want to go home. If she could, she would have stayed there forever, in this magic world of knowledge where it did not matter who you were and where you come from. When she stopped going to school, something inside her died. She was no longer the same person. Yes, she was still kind and lovely, but on the inside she was different. She had realized that dreams, at least her dreams, could not come true…
Aishe was 17 and according to the Romany tradition it was just the right time for her to get married. Actually, her wedding was the next day and while they were driving down the street she was drowning in deep thoughts about this event. The wedding is usually the most beautiful day of a woman’s life, but for Aishe the marriage would be the beginning of a constant nightmare. All her life she had been observing her mother’s miserable existence and she did not want to follow her steps. She did not want to marry a person whom she did not even love. She did not want to have nine children, and she did not want to see her children gather garbage. She wanted another future for herself. She wanted to break the chains and there was only one alternative to her marriage – an escape. She wanted to escape from her home, her family, this killing routine of being. But where could she go? What could she do? Suddenly she remembered about her friend Lala who went to work in Greece. If only she could go there too... She decided to talk to Lala’s brother and ask him to help her go work there just like he had sent his sister. She did not have another choice. If she did not escape from the world she was living in, she would become part of it, she would become just like her mother.
* * *
It was early in the morning. Aishe went out of the hotel and got into the black BMW. Lala was already sitting in the car. The driver turned on the engine. The car moved along the Athenian streets.
While the car was traveling up and down the city streets, Aishe was staring out of the window. Even though her look was fixed, she was not noticing what was going on around her. She was seeing only one particular image: his face. He was right in front of her, smiling in his always calm and friendly manner. She had met him a month ago in the restaurant where she worked as a waitress during the day. Every single day he had his lunch there and she brought him his meal. He was always well-dressed, very polite, and well-mannered. He was one of those clients who treated her with respect. At first there was nothing special going on between them, but as time passed by, things began to change. She started feeling that every time he looked at her, she was blushing and that the first thing she was thinking about in the morning was him. He was responding to her feelings and the reason why he was coming every day to this mediocre restaurant was that she was working there. She was different from all the girls he had met before – they were spoiled and shallow, thinking only about shopping and their look. The first thing he noticed about her was her eyes. He had never seen such deep and beautiful eyes before. There was something hidden in them, some secret that never let them look truly happy. And even though she was always smiling, her eyes gave her away.
At first they were only friends. He offered to show her the town, teach her Greek. He wanted to help her in every way he could, because she was so delicate and fragile. When two people are in love they cannot hide their feelings for too long so very soon there was their first kiss and the things started becoming more and more serious. Aishe was truly in love with Nico. This was her first love and she could not imagine living without him. He was different from all the men she had met – he respected and loved her the way she was.
Now that she was sitting in the car, she was thinking about the situation with Nico. She wished the day never ended because during the night she had to put her mask on and follow her obligations towards Lala’s brother who a year ago had helped her escape. It was him who had saved her from the miserable life in Sofia and she had to pay him back… She did not know for how long she would have to return the favor but that was something she could not ask about, at least, if she did not want to lose her freedom. Only she and Lala were permitted to have “normal” lives during the day. This was a privilege she was awarded because Lala and she had been best friends since childhood. Lala loved Aishe very much and she was extremely happy when her brother brought her to Athens. Now that they were together her life was brighter.
Considering the circumstances, Aishe had come to the conclusion that she had no other choice but to talk to Nico and explain the situation to him. She was afraid that he might not understand it and leave her forever, but it was better to be alone than keep lying to him, the only person who had ever truly loved her. And besides, if he loved her, and she was sure he did, he would forgive her no matter how horrible her mistakes were. If they stayed together, there was only one possible resolution of this problem: an escape. She could not go on with this terrible masquerade every night. She hated herself for being involved in it, but she did not have any other choice. Now that she was not alone she could feel the strength rising up inside her and suddenly she had the power to put an end to this nightmare. Together with Nico she would escape from this city and this dual life, and she would start anew. She only hoped Nico would not leave her.
* * *
It was midnight and Aishe was already at the airport. She had come earlier in order to be sure she would not be late. There was half an hour until the arranged time of her meeting with Nico. They were going to take the airplane to Australia where Nico’s brother was living. Aishe could not believe that very soon everything was going to be over. Once she left this country she would forget about everything she had been through there.
Aishe was looking at the monitor of the departing flights when suddenly she felt someone’s hand on her shoulder. She turned back smiling. All of a sudden her entire expression changed. She became pale as if she was going to faint. She saw the three familiar men dressed in black suits facing her. They had come for her.
They escorted her to the black BMW waiting at the entrance of the airport. Aishe got into the car and saw someone she did not expect to see: Lala was sitting at the back seat.
Lala had found out about Aishe’s plans to escape with Nico, and she had come to prevent it. She could not let Aishe go and leave her alone in this misery.
The car pulled off in the direction of the city. Once you get there, there is no escape from it…
*karutza – the traditional Bulgarian name for a cart pulled by a horse or donkey
La Vie En Rose. Photograph. Deviantart.com. ParanoidButterfly. Web. 28 Oct. 2009.