(An excerpt from Pearl and Garridan: A Roma Love Story )
She heard the crackling of leaves from footfalls, quickly pulled Cosmina to a stop and carefully listened. She could not see very far into the dense forest, but she got the feeling she was being watched. She decided to be brave and nonchalant.
“I can hear you, you know. Why don’t you show yourself?” Pearl heard him speak before she saw him.
“I didn’t want to frighten you.”
Then she saw the young man step out from behind a tree, still inside the treeline.
“You didn’t. I’m glad you are here. I want to thank you for the flowers you left yesterday.”
He stood next to the tree, but he was still several yards away. Pearl froze in place at the sight of him. He had a light-skinned face, a long nose and cheekbones. His eyes held her, just like the face in her dream. His lips were delicately-formed of pink as she had dreamed, and his moustache and beard were exactly as she had seen. He was neither lowly, nor affluent, but something about him was strangely noble. He was dressed as any villager, wearing a dark-brown shirt with a dark- green vest and dark pants.
“You look at me so strangely. I have frightened you.”
It took a moment for her to find words. It was either a coincidence, or he was a dream come true. “It’s not that. It’s just that you look like someone I’ve seen before.”
“Really? Was he nice to you? Did he give you flowers, too?”
That made her laugh nervously. “No, no, nothing like that. Yesterday you had no idea, but it was my birthday. The flowers were beautiful. I was hoping I would see you today, to thank you. Where did you find that white egret orchid? It was extraordinary. Are there more?”
“There was only one in bloom nearby, but I know where more grow. I could show you sometime.”
She paused, still caught up looking into his eyes. They were a dark brown, soft and captivating. She sat on Cosmina, looking down at him. The horse bent her head up and down, as if in greeting.
“Your horse is beautiful. What is her name?”
“Cosmina. I got her yesterday from my father.”
“He has excellent taste in horses.” She didn’t answer.
“Are you and your family travelers?” he asked.
“We are. I’m traveling with my mother, father, aunt, uncle, and a friend of my father’s. We’ll be here for a few weeks. We have wares to sell in town.”
“What kind of wares?”
“My uncle makes tin lamps and silver jewelry. My aunt is a healer and sells herbal medicines. And my mother reads tea leaves and palms.”
“And what do you make or do?”
Pearl was amused with all of his questions. “I paint glass and make paper flowers.”
“So you are Tsingani.”
“We are Lautari Rromani.”
“Oh, I’m of the Motzi Rromani.” He was curious. “I heard music last night. Was it coming from your camp?”
“Probably. My father plays guitar, my uncle violin, and my father’s friend plays flute. My mother, aunt and I like to dance, and sometimes we entertain others.”
They continued to stare at each other for several seconds. Then Pearl broke the silence. “What is your name, and where do you live?”
He gave a smart little bow. “My name is Garridan Searle, and I have a small house in the forest. What’s your name?”
“My name is Pearl Bucur. My parents said the forest is haunted. Is it?”
“Well, sometimes the tree limbs creak against each other in the wind, owls screech, foxes cry out, and the fog can swirl thickly, but haunted? I think the woodcutters tell the villagers that so they will not come in and see all the wood they are cutting and taking away.”
“I believe so. I’ve never felt my life to be in danger and I’ve lived here for almost a year.”
“You have? Are there bears in the woods?”
“There are some bears up near the mountains where there are caves, but not in the lower forest. You should come to my house. I could show you that there is no danger.”
Cosmina raised her head and stepped back. Pearl seemed to sense her horse’s mood. “I don’t think Cosmina wants to come today. Maybe another time. I need to get back to camp.”
“You can come any time. Just enter here and follow the small path. Then take a path to the left at the boulder, and you will come to my house. It is made from an old tree.”
“You live in a tree? A house in a tree?”
“Well, no. Only part of it. An old large hollow tree fell over and I built around it. You can’t miss it. It is the only one of its kind.”
“I’ll think about it. I need to go now.”
“Wait, I have something for you.” He pulled a carved wooden star out of his pocket. “It’s for you. Do you like it? I carve things.” He held it out with his hand and she slowly reached for it.
“Another gift? It’s very nice. Thank you. Why all the gifts?”
“I guess I’m just trying to make a friend.”
“Oh, well I must bring you something in return for your kindness.”
“Only if you like, but it’s not necessary. I carve lots of things all the time.” He smiled up at her and gave a short little wave. “Maybe I will see you tomorrow?”
Pearl could not help but smile back.