My Secret Friend  

Amanda Petrovic 

I have a secret friend. She lives within myself. I know her better than anyone else. She is Roma. She always has been. She is afraid to tell anyone. So, she is buried in my heart and soul. I need to hide her. If people knew she existed, I would have to say where I am from. She cries all day as I have to live her life for her. If I didn’t took over, she is fearing how she would survive, how she would cope with the injustice from the society. She is fearing to lose her livelihood. She has lived in me for as long as I can remember, more so the last twenty six years from when she first arrived in the island that is known to welcome all, for centuries, except for people like her. She learned immediately after arrival when she stood at the platform waiting on a train in to the city wearing her most beautiful skirt her mother had sewed for her, long, touching the ground, with summer flowers pattern. It was her favourite. ‘Gipsy scum.’ a group of middle aged friends shouted at her and spat on her. ‘Go home to your country!!’ She didn’t have a country. She is Roma. After that she never again wore that skirt. She put a pair of jeans on every day after and started to become probably one of the best actresses of all times but never heard of.

I now walk myself with a group of people who walks by another young lady who looks exactly like my secret friend. I don’t say nothing when they mock her and make her feel threatened and belittled. I pretend I agree because I don’t want anyone to know about my friend. When I go home, I talk to her and fight her thoughts as she is so unhappy being suppressed inside someone else’s body. She wants to come out. By now, I am afraid what will my ‘friends’ think of me if they find out. If I stand up to them, they will question why I’m protecting dirty gypsies. I already was asked that on a few occasions as when a flower man came to our table in a restaurant and handed us a flower. When they all asked him to leave, I tried to protect him by saying, ‘He is only making a living.’ Or when we were travelling on a tube journey and a lady with a long flowery skirt came on selling us pack of tissues.

Where I used to work, we served customers. One day my boss was working with us. She was serving a couple who, out of curiosity, asked her if she had Romany/Gipsy heritage. After they left, she could not express enough how offensive it was for her to be compared with ugly, dirty, thieving people like that. She was going on about it for hours, directly complaining to me. I took myself out for a few minutes to talk with my secret friend. I was standing in the locker room in front of a mirror judging myself and questioning my worth as human being. As I share everything with her, all the pain she is suffering, I decided to confront my then boss and ask her what she thinks of me.

I remember her looking confused thinking why am I suddenly coming down from a short break asking that. She said I am one of the most hard working, reliable, clean, good hearted, trustworthy individuals she has ever worked with. I looked at her and in twenty six years time, for the first time, I said, ‘I am Roma/Gipsy.’ and it felt good to release my friend and just be me. She was apologising and making things worse by saying I could never have said that, you are too clean. I experience situations like this all my life and, therefore, over this last few years I have done whatever I can to help society understand Roma/Gypsy people because I know there is still so many young, old, female, male Roma who is battling with the other part of them as it’s hidden deep inside and is afraid to live life being themselves.

 

Amanda Petrovic

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