I am rescuing Roma children from the Gestapo. They have, I discover, a marvelous gift for silence. We escape to the forest and live off whatever their quick fingers can find: eggs from hidden nests, truffles from the roots of oaks, frogs and arrowroot and wild carrots doing their best to masquerade as water hemlock. They are good at helping each other. Whenever I make a suggestion, they tilt their heads to the side, and on rare occasions when one of them speaks, it’s a single word, phrased like a question, in a language I don’t understand.
A little bit of hunger can sharpen the wits, but too much makes you dull. When dullness threatens to overwhelm us, we launch a night raid against some nearby farms, first drugging the dogs, then slipping in among the sleeping cows, their steamy breath, their hot stink, to liberate a gallon or two of milk from some rubbery teat, while the stealthiest child goes into the shed and eases a chicken from its perch without waking it up.
It’s a tricky business. The pasture is nothing but mud and we struggle to hold on to our prizes as we slip and fall and grow mired. The smaller children flail; the older ones settle exhausted onto their haunches and wait for dawn. The moon comes up and everything is illuminated: this is not mud but oil. These are not children but seabirds robbed of flight. And whatever you call this foaming about our feet, it is not the sea.