Once there was a girl named Molly and she was all alone in the world. She didn’t live alone. She lived with her aunt in a broken down house on the edge of town. But her mother and father had died when she was just a little girl, and though her aunt was her father’s sister, she did not love Molly even a little bit. No one did. And that is how Molly knew she was all alone.
Being alone made Molly very sad, of course, but she always reminded herself that things could be worse. Her aunt told her so. She could be sold to gypsies. This thought always made Molly shudder. Her aunt told her often what that would be like.
When Molly was washing the dishes after dinner and accidentally broke a plate, her aunt said coldly that clumsy children would be sold to the gypsies, who would only give them bread and water to eat.
When Molly was bringing her aunt some tea in bed and accidentally spilled a bit on the covers, her aunt shrieked that the gypsies wouldn’t let her sleep in a bed, but make her wrap up in an old blanket on the ground in a tent.
When Molly’s aunt caught her singing while she pulled weeds in the garden, she told her to be very careful that no one ever heard such songs, or the gypsies would come and take her away and force her to stand up in front of many people and sing until her throat hurt and people booed and threw rotten fruit at her feet.
When Molly’s dress was torn by a dog on her way home from the market with the food for dinner, her aunt shrugged and said she must sew it up and wear it just the same. Ungrateful girls would be sold to the gypsies who would dress her in bright orange and scarlet, and everyone would stare and point and laugh.
This was the thought that made Molly shiver at night. She could be sold. Sold like the animals in the town market. Sold to dark and terrifying strangers who would carry her off to be seen by more strangers, and everyone who saw the little girl with pale skin and gold hair would know that she didn’t belong there, would know that her own family had not wanted her. Molly determined to work very hard.
She did her best. She cleaned the house without complaining. She learned to make the special cookies that her aunt liked to have with her tea. She made sure she did not complain and that no songs escaped when her aunt could hear them. In fact, she was all but silent. But still, nothing ever seemed quite right. Her aunt pointed out that there was still dust on the mantle, and the cookies were too sweet, and Molly’s smile did not seem grateful enough.
Molly’s best was just not good enough, so she was not really surprised to see the old woman draped in scarves in the front yard speaking to her aunt. She was not really surprised to see money passing from hand to hand. She was not surprised when her aunt called her out into the yard, but she was very afraid. She trembled as she closed the door carefully behind her, and could not look up even when her aunt told her to pack her things.
“No things,” said the old woman in a heavily accented voice. “No need things.”
Molly felt tears in her eyes, but she didn’t dare cry them. She wasn’t even allowed to have any of her own things. She didn’t own anything worth bringing, but surely having worthless things was better than having nothing at all.
Before Molly knew what was happening, the old woman gripped her hand and led her out through the front gate. Molly tried to find the voice to say good-bye, but nothing could get past the lump in her throat. For just a moment, she lifted her eyes, but her aunt had already gone back into the house. Molly swallowed a sob, but a little squeak came out anyway. The old woman tightened her grip. Her hand was very strong.
Molly hurried along next to the old woman, looking down at the ground, feeling misery all the way down to her bones. She just knew that everyone in the town was looking at her, watching the old gypsy pull her along, whispering about how Molly had been sold. It wasn’t until she saw tree roots under her feet that Molly realized they were walking into the forest and not through the town at all. She looked up and saw trees on every side. A few minutes later, they came out into a clearing full of wagons and people.
Molly had never seen anything like it. The wagons were painted bright blue and red and green and yellow. People were everywhere, setting up brightly colored tents, cooking food over fires, caring for horses, talking, laughing, children chasing around yelling. It was all so loud and strange, and Molly had never been more scared in her life.
Molly was led into one of the wagons. It was like a little house on wheels, and inside it was draped with brightly colored scarves and other brilliant things peeked out of cupboards. At the back, a beautiful young woman with rich, dark hair and was wrapping a shawl around her shoulders. The old woman said a few words that Molly could not understand and then left. Molly tried not to stare at the beautiful girl, but she didn’t know where to look.
“Sit,” said the girl softly, and Molly sat on the only chair she could see. She knew the best way to stay out of trouble was to obey without asking questions. “We must find you a new dress,” the girl decided. “That one will never do.” Molly held back her tears. It was just as her aunt had said. She would have to wear something that made everyone stare. And it was true that when the girl handed Molly a dress, it was colorful, brilliant green and golden yellow and pink. Fortunately, it was also soft and warm, and when Molly put it on, she did not feel as bad as she expected. In fact, she felt comfortable, and she couldn’t help thinking that the colors were lovely, even if they would make people laugh at her.
That night Molly sat by the fire with the gypsies and listened as they talked and laughed. She tried not to tremble, but she couldn’t help it. She could not understand most of what was said. She did not know where they were going to travel or what they were going to do to her. When people started singing after dinner, she was careful not to let herself sing along, even though the music seemed to go inside her and swirl around and push against her throat. She thought she could stand to work hard for these strangers, but she could not bear to be put in front of people and made to sing.
That night she slept in a tent with the beautiful girl. It was just as her aunt said. She was given some blankets and told to make her bed on the ground. But it was not hard and dirty as she had thought. Molly was cushioned by a pile of leaves which had been laid down under the tents. Her blankets were warm, and she could hear the wind blowing in the branches outside, a soothing sound which lulled her to sleep almost immediately.
As the days went on, Molly found many things like that. It was as if the gypsies were exactly what she expected…and yet not at all like she expected. She was given work to do, sweeping and sewing and washing, but everyone in the camp seemed to work with her. They all sang as they worked, and she found it very hard not to sing with them. It was true that they all ate very simple food: bread and cheese and water to drink. But Molly thought the bread was the tastiest thing she had ever had and the water came from a forest spring and was fresh and cold and wonderful. No one tried to atlk to her. Molly didn’t blame them. She had been sold, and even the gypsies who bought her must know that she did everything wrong. It didn’t matter anyway. Everyone spoke a language that Molly didn’t understand. Secretly, she thought it was beautiful, almost like music, and it made her want to be quiet since her own language was so ugly by comparison. Only the lovely young woman spoke to her in her own language. Molly was often with this girl, and she thought she must be some sort of gypsy princess, and Molly was meant to be her servant. She tried hard to do things just as the girl asked, and she thought maybe she was succeeding since the girl seldom complained.
Things went on like this for a week, and Molly felt herself relaxing. Everything was strange and she was still all alone, but she was used to that. And there were some things that were wonderful here. The best of these was the singing after dinner each night. The music was so beautiful that Molly would forget who she was, forget that she was all alone and that she had been sold. One night she even forgot that she must not sing, and her voice carried out and mixed with the other voices and she felt as if she had never lived before that moment. When the song ended, she saw that everyone was looking at her. Their smiles seemed terrible to Molly. How they must be laughing. Molly jumped up and ran to her tent.
A few minutes later, the beautiful girl stepped inside. She was humming softly, and she got ready for bed quietly, without looking at Molly. Molly was relieved, but she was also worried. Was the girl so angry that she wouldn’t even speak to her? Or worse, was she happy that Molly could now be used to sing on the street corners, thinking of the money she would bring in? The girl blew out the lamp and laid down on her own bed.
“You have lovely voice,” the girl said into the darkness. “The song was better tonight than it has ever been.”
Molly felt tears running down her cheeks. She tried not to sniffle.
“You must sing more often,” said the girl.
This time a little sob escaped before Molly could stop it.
“Why do you cry?” asked the girl with concern, sitting up in bed.
Molly whispered into the dark, “Please don’t make me sing on the corners.”
“The corners?” said the girl, astonished. “Oh. I see. You have seen the people singing on street corners. Perhaps you were told that when you were sold, you too would be made to perform.”
Molly knew the girl could not see her nod, but she couldn’t talk.
“I was told such stories, too,” said the girl. “I was told I would be made to dance before strangers who would laugh at me. I was told I would be kept chained in a gypsy wagon and only let out for the dancing.” She laughed. “You can see that this is not true.”
Molly was so shocked she spoke without thinking. “You were sold?”
“Not sold,” said the girl. “Bought.”
Molly could not see the difference.
“I know it is hard not to be afraid,” the girl said. “I know there were those who did not want you. I know you feel alone. But look around you. Here everyone was unwanted once. Here everyone was sent away. And here no one is alone. Were you sold? Perhaps. But you were also bought. Bought by someone who wanted you here with us. Who knew you would belong.”
Molly lay awake all night, thinking. She could not quite believe what the girl had said, but for the first time, she felt a bubble of something inside her chest. Something that felt light and hopeful.
The next morning, the thing Molly had dreaded, came. The gypsies all began packing up the camp to travel far away. Molly helped with the packing, and found that it was like everything else, different than she had expected. She found that the idea of new places and new things did not feel frightening but exciting. She found that the bubble inside was growing bigger.
That morning, Molly sat on the seat next to the beautiful girl as the wagons rolled through the forest and away from the life she had known, and off into a world that was never exactly as she expected, never quite what she had been told.