I never knew this then, but that’s what they called kids like me. During the war, little girls carried messages braided into their hair. They took them to and from groups of women and children, addressed to their partisan men who, for the safety of their families, lived in forests among the gypsies, hiding out first from the Nazis, then from the Soviets. My Grandpa took two bullets during the war. One from each side. Neither time was it from friendly fire. My country’s allegiance during the war switched from the Axis to the Communists when the Germans were pushed back on the Eastern Front. And so Pa did his bit for both sides.
In ’78 I shuttled papers inside the lining of my coat. In the summer I thought I’d be caught. No one walks around with a dark winter coat in the heat. I don’t know what the papers said but my Da constantly sewed them into the lining to be shuttled back and forth. It got to where they knew me at the consulate. They’d see me come down the alley and the Marines would raise the barricade and taunt and whistle. Always I thought they would blow my cover with their noise. I never wanted to be them, even though they always looked clean and sharp. They all seemed sad. And so solemn, standing by various doors or alcoves. I never wanted to protect anything that badly.
Sometimes, after the drop off one of them would take me to the consulate’s cafeteria and buy me a toast with butter and a Coke. Toast with butter was brilliant. Once, they bought me a hot dog and I thought I would melt. I don’t know what I carried inside the lining of my coat, but there was a whole lot of it. I learned quite early that grown-up life is made up mostly of paperwork. And secrets.
In the winter of ’80 we were finally released our passports and obtained visas. We were to go through Italy. Our new adoptive country would not take us from where we were originally born. It would not recognize us. And so we had to come from the West into the West.
I learned quite early that grown-up life is made up mostly of paperwork. And secrets. And borders. And stupid, stupid rules.