|Photo by By lafleur, via Wikimedia Commons|
My name is Michca, and I live in a city of wonders. I live in a flat on the highest floor of my building. It looks down on the mansions, ski lodges, and expensive shops across the river. Some days, I watch the little people ski down the mountains right to the edge of town, and dream that I am a queen surveying my subjects. To either side, identical flats in identical blocks to my own form a kind of castle wall. I wonder sometimes if in the hundreds of families lucky enough to have a view like mine, if there is a girl that thinks she is a queen too.
My cousin came to stay with his worn suitcase and old person’s clothes, reeking of animals and diesel. I wondered if we could find him something else to wear before we went out to meet my friends. He almost looks Roma, his clothes are so worn. The Roma pick through rags and live like peasants. The city makes them live away from us, which is good, because otherwise they would steal from us all the time. Every year, the Americans and British come to give them food and toys at Christmas. Why, I do not know.
We have fine Western clothes, with the names and logos of many American sports teams. My cousin looks like he is from the country, but I look like I could have just come from New York City, or been in a hip-hop music video. Someday I will be a famous model in the magazines and I will live on the other side of the city. My cousin will never be this; he will always be a pig farmer.
I said as much to him, but he just shrugged. He pointed to the road leading out of town.
“Who are they?” he asked.
On the road, three Roma were carrying some boards likely stolen from a rich person’s garage.
“Don’t you have Roma where you live?”
“Then you are lucky; they steal. They pick through our rags for clothes, and through our garbage for food. They are so bad, they are not allowed to live in the city.”
“Where do they live?”
I pointed to a hill. “The Roma live behind that,” I said,
“It must be even sadder than this place,” my cousin said.
“They are happy to live there,” I said. “They sing all the time. How can you be sad if you are constantly singing? Besides, every year the Americans and British visit them around Christmas and shower them with food and presents.”
“I still feel sorry for them, don’t you?”
“The children, perhaps. They are so cute when they are little and by themselves. Of course, if there are more than three, watch your pockets. The adults make them work in gangs to steal things. Wallets, watches, necklaces, papers, anything. They take thievery with mother’s milk.”
I rummaged through my shirts, looking for an American t-shirt that would suit him. I thrust one out at him, a basketball shirt I didn’t particularly like for myself, but would do for him.
“Here, wear this so we can go outside,” I said.
He wrinkled his nose. “That shirt you’re wearing, do you know what it says?” my cousin asked.
“Of course. We have English classes in school.” I looked down at my shirt, with its buffalo and American football helmet. “It says this team won the championship game in 1993.”
“They call it the Super Bowl,” he said.
I stared at him. “How do you know?”
“We have a neighbor with a satellite dish, and we watch sports all the time. Have you ever seen American football?”
“No. Does it matter?”
My cousin frowned. “I guess not.”
“Good! If you don’t like basketball, I think I can find another American football shirt for you to wear when we go see my friends.”
“The Tennesee Titans. They won the – what did you call it? Super Bowl? In 2000.”
My cousin made the stink face. “Where did you get it?”
I shrugged. “Down in the market.”
“I hope you got a good price,” he said. There was something in his voice that made me think he meant the opposite.
“What does that mean?” I said.
He sighed. “The Americans made shirts for both teams before the game was played so the winning team could wear them right away. The shirts of the losing teams, they decide to give them away to a far-away charity.”
“But this was two Euros.”
“We have Internet too,” my cousin said. “You go look it up.”
“And my father’s cap?” I pointed to his birthday present, sitting on the shelf.
“The team that did not win the American college basketball tournament in 2007.”
“The hanging on the wall?”
“A favored race car driver that crashed in his last race.”
“Everyone in the city has these things.”
My cousin didn’t have anything to say about that. He didn’t want to wear the shirts I picked out for him, but I didn’t care. I looked out at the fine houses across the river, and wondered if there was someone like me looking back, thankful that she was not living in a brick box.
My name is Michca, and I live in the city of losers. I live in a flat across the river from the ski lodges, fancy houses, and expensive shops. Over a hundred other families live in our building, one of a dozen identical buildings the Soviets built many years ago. The Americans and British send us their clothes, but at least we are not Roma.