Angelika had no memory of the event. Members of her family had told her about the incident over the years and it had been embroidered with numerous opinions until it formed the basis on which they all lived their lives.
She was only a baby at the time. Lying in a Silver Cross pram; decked out in pink and white ruffles that matched the festoons of her own christening outfit. Her mother, father and three brothers were taking her to the church; walking through the streets, proudly showing off the new baby to neighbours who came out to watch or to join in the procession because they had been invited to the ceremony too.
It was to be a grand affair. A baby girl after three boys and her mother was in seventh heaven. A baby girl to dress in lace and loveliness after several years of mending blue and boisterous. After the christening the guests were walking across the graveyard to the church hall for refreshments. Money was tight so any hard-drinking would be done in the local pub by the men, once the women and children had gone home for the evening.
Unlike her older brothers, Angelika was quiet throughout the ceremony. Her big blue eyes fixed on the priest’s face as he anointed her with the holy water, then she smiled and in response he kissed her forehead gently. Her parents smiled at each other. This was a gesture that the priest saved only for the most blessed of babies and the congregation heaved a collective sigh of relief at this good omen.
The celebration party was a great success; there were plates of cakes, pastries and sandwiches made that morning by those in attendance. A special christening cake had been made by Angelika’s aunt and it was surrounded by a pile of pink-wrapped presents containing silver rattles, mugs, bangles and more frilled dresses.
The men folk, fairly sober despite some smuggled bottles of beer, were jolly and tolerant of the children who were running around the hall, sliding on their knees and eating far too many of the lurid pink-iced cupcakes.
The older members of the family – and congregation – sent those with children back to their homes so that they could clear up the hall in peace, and indulge in some gossip about the outfits worn by the younger women. Angelika’s mother gathered her boys together and with the pram loaded down with cake and presents, they set off for home.
It was as they were walking down the High Street that they passed an old lady dressed in black. Angelika chose that moment to wake up and sneeze.
‘Să te binecuvânteze copilul.’ said the old lady.
Angelika’s mother shrieked, crossed herself and hurried on down the street the boys who, confused by her behaviour, scurried after her. The old lady stared after them and shook her head in bewilderment before going on her way.
By the time they arrived home, the children’s mother was almost hysterical and the usually placid Angelika was wailing in sympathy. Kindly neighbours helped them into the house and put the kettle on.
They listened to Angelika’s mother’s tale of having been cursed on the way home by an old gypsy woman. As one they crossed themselves and looked heavenwards for help. One of the older boys was sent to fetch the men folk back from the pub. Some of them came home, others roamed the streets looking for the old woman but she was long gone and safe.
Things seemed to go wrong for the family from that moment on. Angelika’s sunny temperament disappeared, replaced by a child who no longer tolerated the pink frills and embroidered frocks. She tore them and dropped her food on them and by the time she was walking, her mother had to resort to putting her in her brother’s hand-me-downs – which she never damaged or soiled. Her golden curls had to be cropped after she became entangled in a thorn-bush, a thorn-bush that her older brothers were wise enough to avoid.
Every time Angelika deviated from what was expected of a ‘girl’, the tale of the gypsy’s curse was resurrected, repeated and embellished.
Angelika didn’t feel cursed. Well, only when she was forced into clothes she felt uncomfortable in or had choices made for her that she didn’t like. She proved to be a force too powerful for her superstitious parents, and by the time she became a teenager, Angelika was pretty much given a free rein.
She knew that she could take advantage of the situation – and sometimes she did – but as well as being blessed with big blue eyes she also had quick wits and intelligence that left most of her extended family way behind.
Exams came and were passed with ease. With the backing of her teachers, she informed her parents that she intended to go to university. No one argued with her, although it stretched the family finances to the limit. and they would have been much happier marrying her off to one of the men who had been boys at her christening.
Now that she was old enough to understand the curse – and the situation surrounding it – she demanded that someone tell her exactly what was said. Her oldest brother, refusing to repeat the words, wrote down what he thought the old woman had uttered.
University was a revelation for Angelika. She met people who were not bound by superstition and old wives tales. No that she was away from her family and with access to computers and books, there was something she needed to find out. What did ‘Să te binecuvânteze copilul’ really mean?
The library provided the answer. Angelika learned about the concept of ‘sympathetic magic’ and how it creates in the believer a self-fulfilling prophesy. Someone grows up thinking they are ‘lucky’ or ‘unlucky’ because they are told that.
On her first visit home from university she assembled her family in the kitchen and held up a card with the words of the curse on it. Her mother shrieked and crossed herself. The older members of the family looked heavenwards.
Angelika turned the card over and showed the words she had written there.
‘Bless you my child’.