I was kidnapped in Colombia at the age of two by a gypsy. The woman walked by the front yard where I often played alone in the dirt, offered me her hand and I took it.
We simply walked away together, hand in hand, out of el barrio in Barranquilla where I was born as if we belonged together. It was not unusual for my mother to see me missing from the front of the house. I had a habit of roaming up and down the dirt road in the neighbourhood to other houses. My mother would find me with women neighbours sitting on their porches or eating a piece of buttered bread in their kitchens. But when she walked up and down the road looking for me on this occasion, no one had seen me except a man who worked in a tire repair shop at the end of the road."
"Vi una niñita caminando con esa gitana, la que siempre pasa por aqua", he told my mother. The man had seen me walk by him with a specific Romani woman holding her hand.
"La niña no tenia miedo. Pensé que era de ella", he continued. According to him, I did not look scared so he thought I was hers. A particular Roma dressed in long, layered skirts walked past the house everyday selling copper pots. The woman was familiar. Perhaps that is why I felt safe to go off with her. She may have even been watching me and my habit of wondering the neighbourhood on my own. Everyone knew the Romani people in Barranquilla set up camps in the margins of the city's neighbourhoods. The tribes were nomadic making it difficult for my mother to find me. But she transformed into a lioness. With her short, muscular legs, the lioness in my mother sprinted to every neighbouring town determined to find me. She searched for two hours. Two Hours. Terrible things can happen to a kidnapped toddler in two hours. The thought of my boys at that age going missing sends me into a silent panic that grabs me by the throat. I can only imagine what my young mother went through in those eternal two hours. She was without my father who had been living in the United States for a year settling us in Paterson, New Jersey with a job and a rented room in a relative's house. We were months away from immigrating to el Norte, when I went missing. How would my mother explain my disappearance to my father. The way my mother describes what happened next, seems like something out of a Latin American soap opera or a surreal moment in a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel. She heard rhythmic clapping and singing, music she did not recognise as the traditional Cumbia of the Caribbean, Colombian coast. It was a blend of Cumbia rhythms and Spanish guitar music mixed with the accordion, Indigenous flutes and African drums. Guided by this music as it grew louder, she found the tribe, some sitting in a circle clapping and singing in a sort of a celebratory chant while others stood moving their feet in the limp-like step of La Cumbia but instead of hands on hips, their hands were circling over their heads like Flamenco dancers. In the centre was the Gypsy Woman on her knees holding me upright by the hands with two fingers, raising my arms high over my head. I was dressed in a little, long skirt and blouse covered in necklaces. Around my wrists were bangles and jingling ones around my ankles. I was wearing a silk scarf around my head knotted to one side underneath one of my ears. The scarf dangled longed down the side of my torso. They were teaching me to dance, showing me how to stomp my feet to the syncopated beat and I was following them, stomping my feet in the ground as they were, blowing dust in the air and spinning slowly around myself. Despite the disguise, my mother recognised the bewildered frozen expression on my face instantly; large, dark eyes wide, full arched eyebrows, lips slightly parted with the corners turned downwards. She recalls me dancing without smiling. When I saw my mother, she said my expression changed and I began to wail my arms outstretched toward her. Like that lioness pouncing forward on her prey, she slapped the woman hard across the face simultaneously pulling me tightly against her side. With one hand she grabbed the woman by the top of her blouse, pulled her to her feet and slapped her a second time with the back of her hand which made her lose her balance and stumble backward. But she regained her stability and lunged towards me, grabbing underneath both armpits and pulled me into her skirt while my mother grabbed me at the waist and held the bottom half of my body. I became the rope in a tug of war. They screamed profanities at each other. I imagine myself screaming and crying, hysterically. The gypsy growled at my mother like a wild animal, her long, black hair a tangled mess, tears streaming a clean path down her dirty cheeks, "Es mí hija! Es mía! Esos son sus ojós." The Roma woman was telling my mother that I was her daughter and I belonged to her, that I had her daughter's eyes. Then she said, "Me a regresado!" The woman's daughter was the same age as me and she had died. The Roma believed her daughter had returned to her and I was her reincarnation. As if that was not enough, my mother casually added that the Gypsy cursed me: I would forever roam; a restless soul relieved only by The Dance. My mother had no idea fifty years ago what that meant or what it would come to mean. I was spared the day my birth mother got me back. I was given a blessing in the Gypsy's curse. I became a dancer, a Creative with a restless soul and mind. I have known The Dance my whole life, since my first Flamenco lesson amongst my Romani tribe. Wherever I roam today, I must always find my tribe to feel at home. I was initiated on the day I was abducted and adopted by a Woman, a Mother, who celebrated the return of her little girl, if only for a short time.
Liliana is a Columbian born woman, raised in the American, North East urban city of Paterson, New Jersey. She is dancer, writer and creative mother of two; now living in North West London.