Monday, 8 February 2010

Violeta - William Falo

Tomi clenched the wheel with both hands when he drove over the railroad tracks into the Roma settlement on the outskirts of Ozd. The truck splashed through a puddle of brown putrid water that splashed onto him through the open door.

“Damn those Gypsies,” he said.

The nearest house looked about to fall down, and a shredded shade fluttered in a glassless window. A lady ran out of the door toward him; he tried to drive away, but she grabbed his arm.

“What are you doing?” He asked, and tried to push her away.

“Violeta is missing.”

“Who is Violeta? He asked, and noticed that the dark eyes of the lady glistened with tears.

“My daughter. She was playing out front. Right here,” the lady pointed at the front of the house. She still clung to his arm.

He shook his arm free, and unconsciously wiped it away. The lady stepped back repulsed by his action. “I have to deliver this mail, but I’ll look out for her.”

“She has long black hair, and is only six years old.”

“Did you call the police?”

“They say that I’m crazy. It’s because I’m Roma, they don’t like to come out here.”

The silence lingered. Tomi understood crazy. The counselors called him many names when he retreated from society. They diagnosed him with bi-polar mania, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, and as suicidal after his father lost his job and left for the Ukraine never to return. No one understood the pain he felt, except for his friend’s family took him under their wing.

The lady leaned against the truck, and he noticed her Roma features more clearly. The cell phone rang, and he saw Janos’s number on the display.

“Hello,” he said.

“Tonight? I’ll try to make it.”

“You have to be there. We’re going into the Roma neighborhood.”

“Okay,” he hung up, and the lady coughed.

He realized that his friend meant this neighborhood. The Jobbik didn’t come into a neighborhood unless they were going to do something violent.

“Oh Shit. I have to go.” He slammed the truck into gear knocking the lady to the ground. He looked back, and saw her on her knees. It reminded him of his mother after she discovered the note his father left.

The smells and litter made him wince when he delivered the route. Groups of children danced barefoot, despite the oncoming winter. Old people used crooked canes to navigate down litter filled streets. He dodged them bouncing over rut filled paths until he reached the last house. His mind filled with the Jobbik; his friend wanted him to officially join tonight. How could he say no, since his family helped raise him? He would do anything to help them, and they hated the Roma. Their father died in a bakery during a robbery, and the police charged a Roma man with the murder, despite the fact they had no witness.

A small voice startled him; it came from the empty house. He stopped the truck, and crunched over broken glass until he could see into the window. A small girl spun in circles trailing wavy black hair behind her.

She stopped when she saw him, and retreated into a corner where she rolled up into a ball. Tomi entered the house and noticed the charred wood, and the bullet holes in the walls. A Jobbik attack.

“It’s okay. Are you Violeta?”

“Yes,” she whispered.

“I saw your mother. She’s worried about you.”

“Oh, I just wanted to see where my father died.”

Tomi looked around. “Here?” He asked, and crouched down near the girl.

“Yes,” she said.

“Let me take you home.”

“Okay,” she said. Violeta stood up clutching a small doll. The truck made her laugh. The Magyar Posta painted everything green. “It matches your shirt,” she said.

“It is funny,” he said, but really thought it was stupid.

“What’s your mother’s name?”

“Zita,” she said. They drove toward the house with the windows open. The girl shrieked in delight never having ridden in a vehicle before. She held her head out the window while the wind blew her hair behind her like a tail, and she couldn’t stop laughing. Zita gathered her daughter up, and thanked him. He looked around dreading that a Jobbik member might be scouting the area. The thought of the upcoming night made him shiver.

“I want to warn,” he stopped.


“Never mind,” he said, and drove away. The girl waved while still clutching the doll. The Jobbik made her fatherless. The Roma made his friend fatherless. When would it end? He knew that things would become worse after tonight.

Janos met him at the Posta office, with his small black car. They drove pass the metro station, and he stopped the car.

“Look,” he said, and pointed at the children gathered by the entrance. “Roma.”

They watched while the children approached disembarking passengers. The station overflowed with people that came from all over Hungary to attend a folk festival. The travelers avoided any contact with the Gypsies. Janos got out of the car.

“Where are you going?” Tomi asked, and followed him.

“This makes me mad,” he stormed toward the station.

“Wait,” Tomi chased him.

A small girl serenaded the passengers, while a few people dropped coins in a brightly decorated basket. Janos kicked the basket over, and stood in front of the girl.

“Go home. Tell your parents to leave this country.”

The girl looked up with wide eyes, while her hands shook. Tomi reached Jonas’s side and started to pick up the coins.

“Leave them; let her pick them up like a little animal.”

The small girl scrambled on all fours picking up the coins while people shuffled by her making sounds of disgust. Tomi took out his camera but Jonas grabbed his hand.

“No,” he yelled. “You do need to come tonight.” Janos pushed him to the car. He looked back, and saw the little girl on the ground while people looked down on her. One man spat on her, and she wiped it away while looking in his direction.

“You have to prove you really believe in Jobbik. I won’t tell them how you tried to help that girl.”

Tomi wanted to look back again, but Janos kept an eye on him. He dropped him off at his home without saying another word. The house felt void of joy ever since his father left for Ukraine. Every picture he took of his family was removed, and the walls were bare. His mother left a note saying she wouldn’t be home until late at night. Although, she didn’t tell him where she went every night; he already knew. A man in the village showed him a picture of her dancing in a men’s club in Eger.

He tried to take his mind off of the Jobbik, but he couldn’t relax. What if they burned the house of the little girl he met? Why did he have to get the delivery route in the Roma area? He tried to listen to music, but it made him sad. He searched the mail for the letter his father would never send. The local pack of stray dogs prowled the front yard; most mailmen hated them, but he felt a connection to the strays since he never felt at home himself. Although his mother yelled at him; he often snuck food to them.

He threw his sausage dinner out, and watched them feast on it. The dogs growled, and fought until a pecking order was established. They reminded him of the Jobbik, and their ranks, and rules that came from the leaders. Other leftovers followed out the door, until there was nothing left. He snapped their pictures while they fought over the final pieces of food. If his mother cared so much she should stay home, instead of dancing for strange men. He couldn’t think about it because of the ugly picture it created in his mind, and he walked out of the door.

The bookstore kept him supplied with reading material when he finished delivering the mail. A girl he never saw before sat behind the counter reading a book. When she looked at him; he put down the book with the sexy girl on the cover, and drifted to where the thick literature books were located; the ones he would never read. The girl peeked over the top of her book, and he knew she caught him staring. The thick novel cost a lot, but he plunked it down on the counter.

“Do you know that book is written in Russian?”

“Of course,” he said, and looked away.

“You can read it?”

“Sure,” he said. “Are you new here?” He asked before he realized how stupid it sounded.

“Yes, I’m Erzabet. Erza, for short. My uncle owns the store.”

“How come I never saw you before?”

“I live in Budapest. I came to live with him awhile. He has cancer, and may need my help.”

“I’m sorry about your uncle. I’m Tomi, maybe we can hang out sometime.”

“Sure, that sounds like fun,” she said, while twirling a colorful necklace around her fingers.

“I like that necklace.”

“My mother made it.”

“She must be very talented.”

“Yes, she is. She’s Roma, and makes a lot of jewelry that she sells throughout Europe. That’s why I’m here. She’s traveling now, and I decided to stay with my uncle this time.”

“You’re Roma?”

“Half Roma. Why?

“No reason,” he said. But the word Roma stuck in his head. He looked around hoping Janos wasn’t in the area.

“I got to go,” he said, and stumbled backwards.

“What about your book?”

“I’ll get it later,” he said, and shut the door behind him.

The night came fast, and he couldn’t stop thinking about Erza. Janos appeared at his door exactly on time. They drove to the empty warehouse, passing vacant buildings; the economic downturn caused many to close their doors. It fueled the anger of the unemployed; many blamed the Roma.

“Tomi, my family helped you when you were hurting.”

“I’m thankful for that.”

“Good, always remember a Roma man killed my father.”

“I won’t forget.” Tomi knew that there was a fight, and a gun went off. The police locked up a Roma man who committed crimes before.

The sound of yelling came from the building when they got out of the car. The ground vibrated from their stomping, and the walls shook. Inside, men in black vest and white sleeves stood in formation. They all wore black berets, and Janos put one on. He handed one to Tomi. The men started out of the door before they even had a chance to enter the building. A line of cars waited, and they filled them up. Janos dragged him along, and they piled into the back of a pickup truck. A red can shook in the corner when they got in, and he smelled gas. A man walked along checking each vehicle, making sure everyone saw the gun that he wore in a holder on his waist.

Tomi wanted to leave, but the truck started. They followed the others through the village toward the Roma neighborhood. Janos tried to stand up, but the truck jolted, knocking him down. It was then that Tomi saw the gun in a holder on his side. He looked over the side at the ground going by in a blur, and hoped that the police would stop them. He took his camera out, but Janos grabbed it.

“Why did you do that?”

“I’ll give it back when this is over. You have been acting funny.”

“Damn, Janos. What’s going on?”

“We’re trying to save this country?”

“Nobody is going to get hurt, are they?” Tomi said. The silence answered him. “Are they?” He looked at the other men.

The streets became bumpier, and he knew they entered the Roma section. A streetlight flickered over head when they stopped. A distant drum beat a haunting rhythm in the distance. The men leaped out of the truck; all except Tomi.

“Get out,” Janos said.

“No, this is bad. Somebody will get hurt.”

“They’re Roma. They’re not real Hungarians.”

“They are human beings.”

“If you don’t get out, our friendship is over.”

“I can’t do this.”

Janos turned his back on him. A man lit a piece of wood. Someone grabbed the can out of the truck. Tomi crawled into a ball, trying not to see what was happening. The smell of gas filled the air, and men started laughing. A flame sparked to life on one of the houses.

“Stop that,” a man yelled.

“Get back in your house,” a man with the Jobbik pointed a gun at him.

The fire on the house flared up, and illuminated the area. Tomi looked up, and gasped at what was happening. A Roma man ran toward the house, and a shot rang out. The man collapsed on the ground. In the flickering light of the fire; Tomi saw a small doll. Violeta. This was her house. He jumped out of the truck when he saw a woman on the ground by the front of a house, and knew it was Zita. He ran to her, and lifted her head, but she blacked out.

“Get help,” he yelled. The Jobbik already were driving away except for one man.

“Let’s go,” Tomi looked up, and saw Janos standing there.

Janos turned away, and jumped into the back of the last truck. It spun around, and someone threw his camera out before they drove away.

Zita opened her eyes. “Where’s Violeta?” He asked.

Her eyes blinked, “She’s with a friend. Is she okay?”

“I’ll check on her later.”

“We’re you with the men who did this.”

“No,” he said, and looked away.

The fire continued to burn, and a siren shrieked in the distance while people gathered in the street. Someone leaned over the shot man, and shook his head. They took Zita away in an ambulance; he walked home covered with soot and shame.

The police took his statement, and mumbled to each other when he left. When he looked back they crumpled the paper up. He returned home, and discovered that someone wrote Roma lover on his car window.

He cleaned it off, and found a large book sticking out of his mailbox with a note. The Russian novel included a note from Erza. She wanted to meet him tonight at the bookstore. Before he did that he crossed the railroad tracks again into the outskirts of Ozd; The smell of smoke lingered, and he drove away from the house where Zita lived and died. He followed the sound of music until he found the house where Violeta stayed. She waved to him, and danced around the room when the lady turned on music. He looked at pictures of the family on a shelf, and saw that some of them showed stick like people in front of concentration camps. Violeta watched him.

“Do you have any pictures?”

"My family did in the past, but no one wanted to remember them anymore. My mother got rid of them,” he said.

“Will people remember my mother? I don’t have any pictures.” She stopped dancing.

“We will always remember her,” he said. “I won’t let anyone forget her.” He put flowers on her grave in the morning.

“Maybe in the future you could take some new pictures,” she said.

“I think that we should start now,” he said, and pulled out the camera he started to carry with him. The flash of the camera illuminated Violeta’s eyes, and they pierced the darkness in his heart causing him to imagine the house filled with pictures.

“Can I see it?” She stood on her tiptoes trying to see the display. The image of her disappeared when he pushed the menu button, and became replaced by a group of men in black and white marching in formation. They were the pictures he secretly took, that he wanted to post on the internet to show the world the dangers here.

“Who are they? They scare me,” Violeta said.

“Don’t worry, I will never let them hurt you,” he said, and shut the camera not wanting to expose Violeta to the darkness growing in Hungary.

-William Falo has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and his stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Skive Magazine, Delinquent, Delivered, Mississippi Crow, Bottom of the World, Cantaraville, 34th Parallel, Skyline Review, First Edition, Foliate Oak Review, Oak Bend Review, and many others.

-Photograph by Christopher Barrio

-Model in Photograph: Nicole Pitoscia