The gypsy blood was there, hiding in his features, revealed in his
eyes. Like gypsies, his people had left their home, had travelled away
on the monsoon rather than over1and. They had alighted in the land
of the sun and the thorn trees, the rain and the dry seasons. But the
gypsy blood was there. Revealed most fully when he was away from
the city, away in the land that he knew and loved best. Travelling
didn’t tire him, it invigorated his soul, gave him the space to think, to
renew. When the horizon stretched away before his eyes, when the
land lay ahead with her secrets hidden from all but a few, like him,
then he was alive, awake, aware.
The gypsy blood was there; hidden in his soul, revealed in his sad eyes,
eyes grown large from staring out at the unlimited horizon, from staring
at the land that revealed her secrets to him and a few others. His golden,
dark skin revelled in the warmth of the sun, his feet curled and relaxed
with the earth beneath them. He smiled the gentle smile of a man that
understands the ground beneath his feet. There were so many things that
he didn’t understand, things that felt alien to his mind but this he
understood, this land, the scent that carried on the wind, the animals and
the plants. He understood this land in ways that he had never understood
so many things; it was familiar to his soul. And his soul sang a harmony
with the song of the land. His silence stretched out into the music of the
landscape, freed his soul to sing its own unique harmony. He smiled.
His dis-ease had been shed in the first kilometres of the safari.
The moment the road had begun to rumble under the wheels and the
traffic had begun to thin away. And with it his tiredness and the
turmoil in his head had been shed, thrown away as the 4×4 created
its own wind. The city, work, family, business were all thrown away
from him, sloughed away as he travelled. The discordant song of the
city was gone from his ears, a song for which he had no words and
no harmony, and a song for which his soul could not sing with.
He loved the song of this land, in a way that he would never be able
to love a woman. In a way that left women feeling that he didn’t love
them. But that wasn’t true, he loved and deeply, but the land was his
first love and it wasn’t in the nature of women to be second in any
mans heart. The land had won his heart first and women didn’t have
to compete. And the sadness in his eyes revealed his loneliness.
By the fire of our safari , he told me the story of his gypsy eyes and
his wandering heart…
Once upon a time in a land that is now called Pakistan but was,
before that, called India by the British and before that was called by
the name that Allah had given it and the land had accepted as her
own there lived a very devout family. This family was always
hospitable, they followed the laws of the Koran. They fasted during
Ramadan and they celebrated, as they knew they should. This family
lived in a village in the land that Allah had named with a name that
man would eventually forget.
The father of this family was a farmer, like his father had been
before him and his sons were becoming after him. This man loved
the land, he loved the rich smell of the earth when the rains began
and the fresh green scent of the harvest mixed with the salt sweat as
He loved the sun as it warmed the ground and his skin. And
everyday, at prayers, he sent an extra prayer to Allah thanking him
for creating man to farm the earth.
His wife, also, held the earth dear to her heart and loved it with the
same love that she held for her husband. They had grown together on
this soil and their roots were deep and nourished by it. She had been
blessed and knew well that her gratitude should be limitless.
But there was one sadness in their hearts. They had been blessed with
seven fine sons. Tall, straight boys, healthy and hardworking, devout
and obedient. But they had no daughter. The farmer’s wife missed the
company that her daughter would have provided. She longed for the
joy of preparing a girl child for her wedding day. She had enjoyed so
much the intimacy with her own mother but that was not possible.
Allah had provided them with fine, healthy sons and she was grateful.
One day a caravan of gypsies arrived in their town. The gypsies were
always looked upon with awe and some suspicion. Everyone knew
that a long time ago the gypsies had come from this very land, their
features were proof, but had taken to the road and had never chosen
to return. The gypsies had the large, dark eyes of a people who were
used to looking far into the horizon and not close to their own selves.
They were not Muslim and they were not devout. But they repaired
the pots and pans, the tools and the harnesses and they brought stories
form the great, wide world that they travelled in. They made their
camp away from the village and they kept mostly to themselves.
This group of gypsies seemed particularly ragged and unwell. But it
had been hard for everyone that year and no one made comment. One
night a wailing began from the gypsy’s camp that was enough to rend
the hardest heart. It began at dusk and continued throughout the night.
“Someone should go to them,” the farmer’s wife said in a frightened
voice. ”Not I,” said the farmer. “There’s magic in those cries,” he said
And he was right; there was fearful magic in those cries. And no one
from the village dared to leave their homes for fear of the spirits that
would surely be walking that moonless night. At dawn the cries died
away and the silence lasted only a moment before the muezzin called
the faithful to prayer.
After prayers had ended, and the souls of the men were bolstered after
the fearful night, the farmer led the men to the gypsy’s camp. What they
found frightened them to the core. Every gypsy had died during the
night; disease had taken them all. The men of the village stared in
“Surely demons have been here.”
“Surely they have been punished for some terrible crime.”
“It is a spirit.”
“It is a demon.”
“It is the angel of death.”
“It is a child,” said the farmer and he climbed into the wagon.
Lying in the arms of her dead mother, a girl child cried in fear and
“Softly, softly”, said the farmer in a quiet voice. “Gently, gently,” he
said as he picked the child from her mother’s arms. “Come my beauty,
into the sunlight where it is warm and the breeze will dry your tears.”
The other men stared at the child.
“She is cursed.”
“She is diseased.”
“She is trouble.”
“She is blessed by Allah,” said the farmer. “bring me her mother’s
jewellery,” he said as he walked back to the village talking gently to
the child in his arms.
At first his wife frowned when she saw the child. But then she saw
the big, dark eyes fringed with long, black lashes and her heart was
turned to liquid gold.
“She is blessed”, said the farmer’s wife and that is what they called
Blessed grew up in the village calling the farmer father and his wife
mother and their seven sons brother. She was a beautiful child with
grace and wisdom in all her ways. At first the other villagers were
afraid that she would bring trouble to their lives but as she grew they
saw that she was not only blessed but also a blessing.
Blessed loved the land, the smell of the rains and the harvest, the
smell of the air and the sun. But always her big, dark eyes fringed
with long, dark lashes would look out to the horizon and she would
wonder what lay beyond the horizon. Often she would wander away
from the farm and the village to explore the land that surrounded
them. She particularly liked to visit the wild woods and visit with the
birds and the trees.
“Where have you been?” her mother would scold.
“To the woods,” Blessed would reply showing the firewood she had
collected on purpose.
“The woods are dangerous”, her mother would say.
“But the trees are my friends,” Blessed would reply.
As Blessed grew she became more beautiful and more graceful. She
went about her chores with gentle elegance.
“It is time to speak of marriage,” her mother said one day.
“He will come,” Blessed replied.
“How do you know?” her mother asked.
“I have heard his song. He will come. You don’t need to worry.”
Blessed’s mother was very concerned about this and set about with all
vigilance to watch her.
“Mother,” Blessed said one day. “You must not worry. When he
comes he will go directly to father. He will be very respectful.”
“How do you know this?”
“I have seen it,” Blessed replied with a smile and she kissed her
mother. “Don’t worry, I will never disgrace you. Never.”
One day a young man came to the village. His name was Anwar. He
was a tall, handsome man with straight, black hair, a warm, honest
smile and hardworking, clever hands. He was a very clever man who
could build almost anything and repair almost everything. His
speciality was creating ways to get hard jobs done more easily. He
especially liked contriving ways to bring water closer to the villages
because of the smiles the old women gave him when they didn’t have
to carry their clay jars of water nearly so far, this always made his
Anwar travelled from village to village fixing and contriving ways of
doing things. He made a very good living at this work and he enjoyed
all the sights, sounds and adventures that he met along the way. He
was a happy man. One day he came to the village of the farmer.
Anwar had heard that the village needed his help with their well. So
he came, striding through the countryside on his long legs, singing a
song in his strong baritone -if a little off key. He liked to sing and
didn’t much mind that he was, more often than not, slightly off key.
As he walked through the fields, singing his song, Anwar noticed a
quick flash of bright colour off in the trees. He wasn’t certain but he
thought that maybe it was a person dancing amongst the trees. It was,
in fact, Blessed dancing. She had been so enthralled by the trees and
their songs that she hadn’t heard Anwar’s song until he was quite close.
When she did hear him she dropped to the ground and hid herself,
peeking out through the bushes to see who was coming. Anwar paused
only for a moment, deciding that he had only seen a woman going to
gather firewood. But in the back of his mind he wondered if he hadn’t
glimpsed a wood faerie dancing amongst her trees.
“It is a good sign,” he thought. “Either way.”
Anwar went directly to the home of the farmer, for he knew that the
farmer was the wisest man in the village and the most likely to give
him work. Respectfully he presented himself to the farmer’s wife and
enquired after the farmer. She pointed towards the fields. Anwar
thanked her politely and walked in the direction she had indicated,
whistling gently to himself.
The farmer was delighted to meet Anwar and insisted that he stay with
them. Anwar accepted with the gentle, polite smile that was never far
from his lips or his eyes. And so that evening Anwar and Blessed met.
Their eyes touched across the room and in that instant the farmer’s
wife knew that Allah had sent this young man to them, to Blessed.
“He has arrived,” the farmer’s wife whispered to Blessed as they
prepared the evening meal.
“He has arrived,” Blessed affirmed with a shy smile.
That night Anwar told them tales of his travels. To the delight of them
all he told of how he had once travelled across the ocean, chased by
the monsoon, in a trading dhow, to Africa. Blessed’s eyes were wide
with wonder as he told stories of that great wild continent. From that
moment the gypsy blood, long dormant in Blessed’s veins was stirred
and her heart beat with the wanderlust of her people.
“I should like to go Africa,” Blessed said to Anwar one afternoon.
“And you shall,” he told her, smiling his gentle, polite smile.
Blessed and Anwar were married. The farmer, his wife, their sons and
the entire village were delighted. The celebrations lasted long and
gloriously. Anwar and Blessed were the most handsome couple the
village had ever seen and it was agreed unanimously that in the whole
world there could not have been a more handsome or well-suited
couple. The only sadness was the knowledge that soon they would
have to leave. The farmer’s wife wept as she kissed Blessed goodbye.
Blessed held her mother close and whispered, “Do not weep
mother, for you always knew that I would have to leave, for I have no
choice but to wander.” The farmer’s wife nodded her head
acknowledging the truth of her daughter’s wisdom.
That night the farmer’s wife wept in her husband’s arms.
“My baby girl,” she sobbed. “She’s gone. Never to return.”
“She was never ours,” the farmer replied, although he too wept. “Allah
has merely given us a few moments with these children of ours. She
travelled to us. Now she must travel away from us. As Allah wills.”
Blessed looked out to the horizon, her husband stood beside her. She
smiled up into his face. Her joy reflected his.
“One day,” she said softly. “You will take me to this Africa of yours.
For it seems a proper place for us to dwell.”
“Certainly my blessed one. For it is a good place and you will see the
bright golden beaches and the turquoise sea.” And he went on to
describe to her the beauty of Africa.
And so Blessed and Anwar travelled throughout the countryside.
Anwar plied his trade and Blessed helped him, she learnt quickly and
was soon an adept assistant. Always they moved towards the sea.
Every village they stopped at they were welcomed and cared for,
every village was one step closer to the sea and the dhow that would
take them over the ocean to Africa.
Every evening they would sit over their evening meal and Anwar
would tell Blessed tales of the far off land of Africa. He would tell her
of the sun and the thorn trees, of the great baobab trees, the animals
and the plains. Blessed never grew bored of his stories, her eyes
would grow wide and soft as she tried to imagine the great land that
was waiting for her.
One day, when Blessed was heavy with their first child and very near
her time, they approached a village.
“We will stay here,” Anwar said. “Until after our son is born”.
“That is good,” Blessed said. “This is a happy village.” Blessed was
happy far the rest, although she loved travelling it was beginning to tire
Anwar found them a pleasant room and introduced himself to the
local men. Soon he had work to do. The women of the village brought
Blessed food and drink. When they saw that she was near her time
they sent for the midwife.
The midwife was an ancient woman who had delivered every child
born in the village for three generations. She was tall and slender with
a million intricate lines that the sun and wind had lovingly written on
to her face.
“Tsk, tsk,” she said to Blessed. “It will be soon. Very soon. You must
rest now. No work.” The midwife smiled, revealing that most of her
teeth were gone. Blessed said that she would rest. The midwife said
that she would call again after evening prayers.
“Thank you mother,” Blessed told her as she left.
“You are welcome beautiful girl.”
That night the pains began.
“Anwar,” Blessed gasped. “It is time.”
Anwar dressed quickly and ran to find the midwife.
There is plenty of time,” said the midwife as she collected her things
and called for her daughter to assist. “First babies always take a long
time to arrive. Quick to make, slow to arrive,” she said chuckling to
Blessed never cried out, she bore the pain quietly and with
perseverance. The midwife was very pleased with her. Dawn passed
without them realising and then the noon sun slipped overhead.
Anwar paced before the door, worrying and praying, praying and
worrying. The midwife would step outside, when she could, to
As the sun began to set into the horizon, a great angry ball of fire, even
the mid wife began to worry. The night dragged on and Blessed bore her
pain bravely and silently. As dawn approached a baby boy was
delivered, a big strong boy. As the midwife laid the boy into his
mother’s arms she knew that Blessed was too weak to live through the
The midwife stepped in to the grey predawn light. She saw Anwar
standing watching the East.
“It’s a boy,” she said.
“Allah be praised,” Anwar answered. “Can I go to her?”
“Yes,” said the midwife slowly, a deep frown creasing her already
“What?” Anwar asked. He took her hand. “What?”
“Blessed is very weak. It was a difficult birth. I do not think she will
last the day.”
“No,” Anwar answered.
“As Allah wills,” the midwife replied sadly.
That afternoon Blessed lay with her head resting on her husband’s
shoulder. Her breathing was shallow and her skin pale and clammy. “I
am so tired,” she whispered.
“Then sleep my blessed one,” Anwar answered.
Blessed closed her eyes and slept. She never woke again.
Anwar’s heart was broken. He stayed in that village until all the
obligations he owed to the living and the dead were completed. Then
he took his son and his tools and headed for the sea. He cared for his
son like a mother would but always he moved towards the sea.
Eventually they reached a port and Anwar booked passage for them.
The captain of the dhow told him they must wait some weeks until
the monsoon began. Anwar said he would wait. Finally the monsoons
that would take them away began to blow. Anwar and his son were
the first aboard.
Of their journey there were many adventures but they are for another
tale. After some weeks they saw the shores of Africa. Anwar lifted his
son and showed him the great continent growing before their eyes,
“This is your mother’s land,” he said. “This is blessed land.”
And by the fire, in the middle of the African bush I finally began to
understand my friend and his sad, sad eyes.