We moved class that day back to the abandoned futbol stadium where ivy and rust had begun to rule. The day we had arrived, we were astonished to find such a perfect area to host “L’École des Gypsies”. It was on the outskirts of camp, beyond the sunflower field. The partial roof could protect them from the sun, and the distant bells of the medieval church would ring on the hour, letting us all know when it was time it return to the caravans to break bread.
The next morning, someone had defecated in front of the bleachers.
It was a clear but thankfully rare negative review from a community that has always welcomed us as family. While Michel cleaned up the mess, we moved pieces of plywood that would act as impromptu desks onto the playing field and took out the straw hats that I had brought from the 99cent Store in case we needed to be in the sun. But the hats didn’t have any decoration, a deficiency that immediately began to be corrected by the bronzed étudiants. A feather boa was dismantled for its precious pink fluff, and crayons were worn down to nubs in an attempt to add bands of color.
The day before, I was faced with the sweet but uncomfortable demand to draw something for them. My artistic career ended in sixth grade, so I was only able to produce a pen and ink drawing of a cocker spaniel, and the iconic Batman stick figure that has won me pity as an adult.
After we returned to redeem the defiled bleachers, art class continued. Everyone shared the supplies and the older ones helped the younger. Inés, with long auburn hair and an ankle bracelet, gave me a drawing of a sunflower inspired by the field next to us that perfectly captured the Fibonacci numbers of its face. She didn’t know that these tournesols had been introduced to her land in the 16th century from the Americas, and she didn’t know that I would make her picture the wallpaper on my cellphone.
Without a word, one of the rambunctious twins bent over his paper. Despite being silent, I knew that he wasn’t bored because he still was there when – like all of the others – there was no obligation to attend.
After a time, he revealed his work. It was Batman. Clearly and rendered down to its perfect elements. Le Batman. The stick-figure design said as much as a Picasso, perhaps more because it was a jest at me without being cruel that made everyone share in the laughter. And he had said to me across the barrier of spoken language that he had Heard Me, and that day he had chosen again to be With Me.
Soon after, the rain began. We scrambled to put the school supplies into the rolling luggage that we had brought from LAX. The papers would become ruffled as they dried but still usable. After putting the suitcase under one of the caravans, we gathered under the canopy of Michel and Dolorés for strong coffee. But the kids followed us which led to using the one precious pair of scissors to cut out felt moustaches that were used in an impromptu moustache photo shoot. Gypsy kids know how to take a good picture.
The adults joined in the silliness and posed with Poirot or Zapata renditions. Victor showed up with a bow tie. We had met him the day before when he had driven right up to the dinner table with Elvis blasting on his car stereo. He had pulled me out of my chair to cut a rug – or rather cut the grass turf – to “Shake, Rattle, and Roll”. We had bestowed on him the honored titled of Oldest Student à L’École des Gypsies.
Dolorés served us the risotto she had made on the propane stove she kept in the cardboard box to keep the flame from being blown out by the wind. I sat on my chair holding Dislene with his blue blue eyes wearing his felt and glue goatee and was glad that there was room for me at the table.
NOTE: When asked, I was told to call them ‘Gypsies’, not ‘gitan’ or ‘Roma’. They probably don’t care very much about being viewed as politically correct.
NEXT TIME: Dandelion Whine…
Picture of the Twin with “Le Batman en la mode de Whitney”, from my cell phone.