On a strip of unfenced scrubland – adorned
with scattered wild roses white and pink –
between the main road and our apartment,
a Roma family had pitched a low tent
of sun-bleached canvas, beneath two stunted
umbrella pines, set up a cooking pot
and tied their horse to a tree with a long tether
so it could graze on whatever was there.
There were three of them: a middle aged couple,
and an old woman – the women in black,
the man as tall, lean and brown as the horse.
Each morning the two women, the younger
carrying a striped, faded folding chair,
would walk down the hill to the small town’s
supermarket, where the elder would sit
until siesta, hand outstretched, silent.
The couple would make favours to sell
from chamomile, pimpernel, lavender.
One early evening as we watched ‘Who wants
to be a millionaire’ to improve
our limited knowledge of the language –
questions and answers being sub-titled –
we began to hear from somewhere outside,
despite the air con and the tv,
a voice in extremis. We pressed ‘Mute’,
turned off the a/c and opened the window.
We could see three seated figures illumined
by the cooking fire. One of the women,
we guessed the younger, appeared to be
haranguing the other in a strident,
unceasing monotone. We saw no one
in the windows of the walled villas
on the opposite side of the road
and ‘Who wants…’ continued loudly throughout
the apartments. We had understood nothing.
Next morning, the routine was as usual:
the horse cropping, the favours, the begging.
None of their temporary neighbours
seemed to be concerned about whatever
farce or tragedy they had not observed
or curious in any way about
this threesome and their horse. Nobody
appeared to have been outraged. No one
was holding a placard demanding
whatever someone in our smug nation
would have demanded. Perhaps only those
for whom impoverishment
and tyranny have not yet become
abstractions can tolerate charity
among wild rose bushes.
AlvorPortugalromaWho Wants To Be A Millionaire