Author is a retired attorney having practiced for 35 years in Illinois who now lives in Texas and started writing stories about a year and a half ago.
The Christmas Gift Of A Child
Nuri and Nadya were gypsies. They sat at the front of their gypsy wagon, which at one time had been brightly colored and festively decorated, like they use to be, but now, like them, was old, weathered and worn out. Their nag of a horse pulled them onward somewhere on the back roads of Alabama this Christmas Day 1832, and within their home on wheels lay their daughter Drina, who had just given birth to a son. She lay there and wept, for her baby was dead.
Nadya, a midwife, had no problems with the delivery that morning. Drina was fine, but for some reason, unbeknownst but to God, the child had died and Drina believed that the child had died because God was punishing her for her sin, her sin of having a child out of wedlock.
Though the child was part gypsy, that part did not show, for the dead boy had light skin and blondish hair. Drina, a young woman of dark beauty with black enchanting eyes, long flowing raven hair and a flawless olive complexion looked nothing like her son. That was because the child’s father was Swedish for when the gypsy family was in Baltimore, Drina espied a young Swedish boy, literally just off the boat, and upon seeing him became enthralled with him and his Nordic features. She had to have him and did so many times.
The inevitable happened of course. The boy moved on with his parents and Drina moved on with hers. She was left with her pregnancy as a reminder of her sin and being now deep in the rural south there was no priest to hear her confession. So she had carried her sin, literally and figuratively, inside her.
“We must bury the child Nuri,” said Nadya as Drina slept in the back.
“But where? If we try to bury a blonde baby in a cemetery here, people will think that he is not ours and that we stole him. No telling what may happen to us then wife. Besides these people would never let us gypsies bury our dead among theirs.”
“Well we cannot bury him in the woods husband,” said Nadya. “Evil spirits will come forth and steal his soul. Wild animals will dig him up and feed on his flesh and bones. God will punish us if we do not see to a Christian burial.” Much of the old couple’s religious beliefs were still rooted in the myths, customs and legends of their old country of Romania and thus they remained somewhat superstitious. They blended those beliefs with their understanding of Catholicism only to get themselves more befuddled.
Nuri tried to think of an answer as the wagon bounced along but nothing came to him and after a while he did what many us do when we do not know what to do. We turn to God. So he said to his wife, “God will provide us with an answer.”
And soon God did. For they came upon a young woman sitting by the side of the road nursing a baby.
“Here is God’s answer,” said Nuri to his wife. Yet he did not know exactly what that answer was as he stopped the wagon and looked over at the young girl, a child herself, perhaps fourteen or fifteen, small and dainty, plain looking with mousy brown hair, in drab clothing, a white girl.
“Merry Christmas young lady. May I be of service to you on this the most blessed day of our Lord’s birth? asked Nuri as he crossed himself and raised his eyes heavenward in thanks.
The young girl was fearful of gypsies, for she had been taught to be so, but she was in desperate need of help as she was famished for she hadn’t eaten in two days and was exhausted from running away from home and giving birth. She did not have the strength to go one step further so she answered, “If you would be kind enough sir to take me and my child to the next town it would be deeply appreciated.”
Now Nuri knew that taking in this child with a child was a dangerous thing to do for as said before many people believed that gypsies stole children. Yet he believed that this girl was truly sent by God so he welcomed her into his home.
“My name is Drina,” Drina said introducing herself as the girl and her baby entered the wagon.
“My name is Mary Elizabeth,” she answered.
“Oh may I see your baby please?” asked Drina upon seeing Mary Elizabeth’s child.
She received no answer.
“Please,” she begged. “My baby is dead. See.” And she held up her dead child for Mary Elizabeth to see.
“Why have you not buried this child?” Mary Elizabeth asked her.
“Because we are gypsies and we have no place here to bury one of our own. Please, please let me hold your child,” repeated Drina, desperately needing the reassurance that this baby was in fact alive.
“Did you want your baby?” asked Mary Elizabeth ignoring her request.
“What?” answered Drina taken back by such a question.
But before anything else could be said four horsemen appeared. They rode up beside the wagon and stopped it. The first horseman then in a bellowing voice asked of Nuri, “Have seen a young girl hereabouts, possibly with a baby?”
“No I have not,” lied Nuri hoping that they would not look inside the wagon, hoping that the baby stayed quiet, hoping that they would go away.
“Well there’s a father and his two sons back there a piece looking for his daughter. She’s run away and they’re offering a reward for her return. So if you happen to see her it just might behoove you to tell him.”
Nuri said nothing.
“He’s the one that owns that big cotton plantation you just passed a few miles back.”
And then, to Nuri’s dismay, the baby let out a squawk, a loud awful shrieking squawk heard by all.
“That sounds like a baby. You gotta a baby back there?” asked the first horseman.
Nuri did not answer and looked away.
That was answer enough for the horseman.
“I should have know better than to trust you damn lying thieving gypsies. I’m going back there and take a look for myself. Stand aside,” he ordered as he dismounted and marched over toward the wagon’s door.
Now Mary Elizabeth had heard all that had been said, so quickly she handed over her baby to Drina and whispered to her, “Go out there and show them my baby. Tell them he’s yours for I am fearful of men such as these. Please do this that I ask of you.”
Now Drina wanted to hold the baby, to know that it was alive, so she took the covered up child and exited the wagon promising to do that what was asked of her.
“This is my child.” she said as she came out.
Her inquisitor snatched the child from her, pulled back the blanket that covered the baby’s face, studied the child for a few moments, then covered the baby back up and handed the child back to Drina. Without another word he remounted and with the others rode away.
Drina retreated to the safety of the wagon where Mary Elizabeth grabbed the baby back from her, never having given Drina a chance to see the child’s face.
So the crisis passed for the gypsy family. But their problem was not yet solved, only complicated by this girl now with them, and after a while Nadya said to her husband, “We must get rid of that girl. She will only cause us further trouble Nuri.”
“She has told us that she only wants to go as far as the next town and we have given her our word that we would take her there. We will do so.”
“But husband what if we encounter strangers again or her father?”
“The girl is clever if not deceitful. She fooled the horseman. She can do it again.”
But Nadya would not let it go and they argued loudly and bitterly for sometime until both of them gave up, disgusted that the other would not budge.
As said their conversation had not been in whispers. It had been quite heated and loud and as the windows of the wagon had all been open Mary Elizabeth had heard it all. She knew that she must do something soon for her father was sure to find her eventually anyway. She knew that she was doomed to return home and she did not want these people, these gypsies that had taken her in and befriended her to suffer any consequences for their acts of kindness to her, for she had changed her ways of thinking as to gypsies.
Now three different men approached from afar. Mary Elizabeth looked out the wagon window. “Here comes my father and brothers,” she announced.
Her mind raced as she thought of what to do. She was tired and exhausted and really did want to go home now but not with this baby. The problem was the baby. Then it came to her and she said to Drina, “You do not have a baby. I do. You people have been kind to me by taking me in. It is Christmas. I give you a Christmas gift, my child. Here take him,” she said and handed Drina her baby.
“But,” stuttered Drina flummoxed as she received the child.
“But nothing, I do not want this child. He is a curse to me. Please accept him as my gift to you. My father approaches and though he will accept me back, he will not accept this child.”
“But I have no gift for you in return,” said Drina.
“Oh but you do. You too have a child. A child that I need. A child that needs to be buried. Give me your child and I will see that it is done.”
Drina did so.
The wagon had stopped now, the riders almost there. Mary Elizabeth got out carrying the dead child and went over to Nuri and Nadya.
“I have given your daughter my son,” she told the old gypsy couple. “I did so because it is God’s will.” She said this because she knew from the gypsies prior conversations that she had heard they would believe this. “And your daughter has given me her child in return to have baptized and buried properly. This too is God’s will. My father is here now. I am going home. I will trouble you no further. I thank you for your kindness.”
The old gypsy couple stood there stunned. They could think of nothing to say as the three men dismounted.
The daughter ran to the father, arms extended, offering him the child.
“My baby died Father. Please forgive me.”
The father took the child, saw the blondish hair and pale skin. He showed the child to the two brothers one of which said in response, “Didn’t I tell you that she was seeing that Jennings boy? Didn’t I?”
To which the other brother replied, “Well that doesn't change anything as far as I’m concerned. She was still messing around with that yellow mulatto boy Gabriel too. Chances were just as good that he could have been the father and then Pa would have had to sold him and the baby down the river.”
“Hush sons. Rejoice for my daughter was lost and now she is found. Come daughter let us go home and bury this child next to your mother.”
“Here old man,” said the father flipping Nuri a coin. “Merry Christmas.”
Nuri made no attempt to catch it and let the piece of silver fall by the wayside and be swallowed up in the dust of the road.
The father took his new found dead grandchild with him, his daughter riding with one of her brothers and they left.
Drina came out of the wagon now with her new son and went over to show him to her folks. She uncovered the boy’s face for them to see. He was neither white nor black but the sum of each. He could pass for gypsy. Drina clutched the child to her bosom. Drina wept.
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