I am Tekla. Soy una gitana. The lower part of my body is mahrime, or unclean, two parts pressed together like a dusky rose. My upper body is pure like a virgin’s shoulders. So it is with all the woman of the Romani clan. We are pure and impure, and can pollute by our actions. We must never expose our lower half to anyone but our husbands and even then we must take care not to pollute them. We must stay away from our men and male stallions when we have the time of blood and when we are in child birth. There is a special red tent for these times. One who is mahrime by action or by nature cannot walk amongst us. The worst punishment for a gypsy is to be cast out, or judged mahrime, for he can never live the gypsy life or be with other gypsies. It is a fate worse than death for it is death to the spirit. Family is the most important thing for a gypsy, not possessions, as it is for the gadje.

When I was a girl I used to wander bare breasted through the camps free as a flower, my high little girl’s breasts catching the light like burnt calla lilies in the morning sun. The little, ragged boys would run by and try to touch them but I always avoided their greedy, curious fingers. As I have said my gypsy name is Tekla. My gadje name is Carmen, and my secret name you will never know. My sister, Rupa, at fourteen is much more beautiful than I. Yet, I do not shed a tear: my heart is a stone. I am a mere thistle at her feet.

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