“Esmerelda” by John Goodie

Crows

Esmerelda’s tears flowed down her cheeks making clean lines down her ashen dirty face as she rocked her head from side to side with a low miserable moan. Her nasty feet, black from the soot of the ash bucket, folded under her skirts on a torn mottled blanket. She had three more light shawls layered over her shoulders and covering her bare feet and legs. The veil she wore halfway, clasped on one side, so her face, in all its hideousness, was profitably exposed for all to see.

Esmerelda hardly noticed the five-hundred Euro note placed in her cup by the banker. She knew him by sight as he passed her daily. Her spot was in the shade of the huge concrete, marble-pillared structure he worked in, in the center of Rome. Her spot was decided by her Papa, who controlled that whole block and all its beggars.

It took a great deal of effort for that banker to give her that much money, especially since he had seen her there literally hundreds of times and simply chose to ignore her as he was not normally a charitable soul. But that day, seeing her with her nose sliced completely off, hog-like snout, bloody and dried with no salve, his heart was touched. She had been one of God’s prettiest creatures on this earth with a natural beauty: olive complexion, green eyes to match her name, long flowing black hair, full red lips, a curvy figure who walked with a natural grace.

But Esmerelda had been sold as a child to an Italian gypsy, some call Romani, or travelers, who lived off the trade of begging, stealing, and conning. She ended up in the hands of a grizzled old Romani task master she called Papa on a corner in Rome. She felt like his daughter as she had been handed over to him and Mama as a baby. She thought of them as her own and she as theirs.

Sadly, Esmerelda’s sole purpose was to beg for money from tourists, workers, the citizens of Rome and anybody who might toss a coin her way for her to bring home to Papa. She had been doing this as a child with Mama. There was no schooling for Esmerelda other than the street. When she turned sixteen, a few days before the banker filled her cup, Papa, fearing her great beauty and the fact that she thought well too, being blessed by God with a superior intelligence in addition to her physical attributes, decided to fix Esmerelda. He taught her to use a prothesis, so they cut a fake nose from a rubber mask and she learned to put it on with her makeup to blend in with her olive complexion. And they dabbed red nail polish atop the frayed ends to make it look like a real sliced nose.

Her devious trick was working splendidly, as evidenced by the reaction of the banker. So, she would be able to gain more pity from the masses and contribute a lot more to the family than usual.

Shortly after that, though, a raven appeared next to Esmerelda. He croaked and he shrilled. Then he grabbed her begging cup with his beak and flew off with it about thirty feet.

‘Hey, you,” Esmerelda yelled at the bird as she jumped up off her blanket and chased it. It did not run. She got her cup back. But at that instant, an Italian sports car, out of control, came flying down the hill of the perpendicular street and smashed headlong into the pillar where Esmerelda had been laying. Her blanket was under the tires of the Fiat. Nobody was hurt but the driver, who had evidently had a heart attack before losing control.

In Greek mythology, ravens are associated with Apollo, the god of prophecy. They are said to be the god’s messengers in the mortal world. And they are also said to be a symbol of bad luck. But for Esmerelda, the raven was good luck. This was not the first time a raven had intervened in her life. His timing was perfect to save her from being killed by the out-of-control Fiat.

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