Tuesday, 16 August 2011

An excerpt from Language of Thieves.

   ‘Tell you yer fortune, sir?’
Tobias Flint turned to where a dark-haired, olive-skinned elderly gypsy woman was sitting outside an immaculate, colourful, bow-top wagon. She smiled at him, a clay pipe filling the gap where once there had been teeth. Her dark hands heavily laden with sovereign rings rested upon her apron. Enormous gold earrings the size of bracelets dangled to her shoulders, and around her neck hung strings of bright coral beads.
   ‘I don’t think so, but thank you,’ he said smiling at her.
   ‘My, but you’ve got a lucky face,’ she continued, ‘Come along in young sir, you’ll not regret it. Rose Marie’s me name – I’m known all over the country for me gift of fortune telling.’
   Tobias hesitated. Aw, why the hell not! He said to himself, it’s harmless enough. He then about turned and made his way toward the famous Rose Marie.
   ‘And what will the pleasure cost me?’ he asked, looking into the darkest eyes he’d ever seen. But they were kindly, knowing eyes that twinkled mischievously when she smiled back at him. He decided there and then he liked this woman. Whether she was a charlatan, he cared not. He wanted to spend some time in her company - and this was as good a way as any.
   ‘Five shillings,’ she said in a business-like tone.
   ‘Good Lord!’ He exclaimed, ‘That’s a lot of money, are you good?’
   ‘Oh, I’m better than good,’ she boasted, ‘I’m the best you’ll find for miles around.’
   Marie Rose stood up from where she perched on a stool. She placed the clay pipe on a small ashtray then indicated the wooden steps leading to the inner sanctum of the bow-top wagon.
   He had to duck his head and bend his knees to go through the door. On entering, he gasped with delight at the beauty of it. It was crammed with the finest china and cut glass he’d ever seen; even his mother would be hard pushed not to be impressed, he mused.
   The canvas roof of the wagon was lined in a quilted silk fabric, exquisitely embroidered in tiny flowers which must have taken months, or even years to do. Rich red velvet curtains hung at the tiny window. He was astounded at the delicate, intricate work visible in the construction and furnishing of the charming little house on wheels.
  He sat down slowly, carefully avoiding knocking over any precious pieces of glass or china. Rose Marie read concern in his face and advised him not to worry but to relax.
   She placed a flimsy bone china cup and saucer on the table between them. For the life of him he didn’t know how she’d managed to produce the hot cup of tea within seconds.
   ‘Go on, drink it. Don’t look so scared, I’m not going to poison you ‘cos you ‘aven’t paid me yet!’ They both laughed and he relaxed a little. ‘And I can’t get to them leaves if yer don’t get it down yer – an’ it’s your lips that must drain the cup.’
   ‘Right, right…’ he said apprehensively, and quickly gulped the hot tea. He swallowed a few tea leaves causing a bout of coughing and choking. ‘Sorry ... sorry about that. I’m ok now.’
   His index finger became stuck in the tiny handle. She leaned forward and gently released it.
   ‘There now,’ she whispered, and with a strange unnatural slow swirling motion of her hand – which appeared not to include any wrist action – she emptied the last drops of tea from the teacup into the saucer then held the cup in both hands as though ready for prayer.
   She stared into the cup for what seemed an eternity. Her eyes assumed a faraway look. There was a hushed stillness within the wagon even though, outside, the place thronged with people.
   A shiver ran down his spine when she placed the cup on the table and raised her head to look at him. The faraway look had vanished and was replaced with an intense gaze of concentration. This is serious stuff! He thought.
   Her eyes held his gaze and she sensed a disturbance in his heart. ‘Don’t be afraid of the danger in your midst, but it is there … not for too long. You must ride the storms in the near future. Your help will be much needed by someone….’ She took a deep intake of breath placing the cup back on the table.
   Tobias could feel his heart racing. He was unable to move a muscle or take his eyes from her. He made no resistance when she took his hand and turned it palm upwards in her own.
   ‘Ah, a gentleman’s hand,’ she said, stroking her fingers over his soft palm.
   Most of the hands she read were gnarled and callused from hard labour, the hands of men and women who were desperate for change in their lives. They wanted to hear about coming into lots of money, a way out of the poverty, hardship and misery that swallowed them up. Rose Marie could see that there was no way out for most of them.
   She continued stroking the hand that lay in hers for a while before she spoke. ‘You must guard against someone, someone close…’ She hesitated, unable to continue for a while and her lips moved as though in secret conversation with an unseen being. ‘There is somebody who would harm you and there is also someone waiting … waiting for you to help them …not a stranger. It’s not clear who… but will be made so…’ She then looked up into his eyes and smiled. ‘Ah, there is much love in your heart, and I see you are waiting for the fortunate young lass to come and claim it. She will, all in good time. There’s nothing any good gotten in a hurry, young man, so be patient, and your patience will be rewarded.
   The mystic spell dissipated as the Romany let go of his hand and stood up.
   ‘Come and see me next year.’ This was something she never asked any gorgio to do, probably because they always came back to her for another reading in any case. Yes, she had the gift of seeing into the future; sometimes it was a blessing, other times a curse, but for some reason she wanted to know how this man would fare through the difficult times ahead.
   ‘I’ll still be around next year then?’ Tobias jested.
   ‘You’ll be around, young man, that’s as sure as night follows day.’

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