Black Amongst the Auburn Shades

On the train, Rob and I sit across two boys whose other siblings sit in the other aisle. While Rob and I talk, I notice the boy across from Rob fidgeting, trying not to stare. We’re on the way to Constanta, from Ploiesti. The Romanian sky is beautiful, and the weather is pretty consistent. Beside him, his brother reads, quietly tapping to the music coming from his headphones. For the first couple hours, the boy across from me barely lifts his head, eyes always on his book. The siblings from the other aisle are less quiet, making conversation in what sounds like Bulgarian.

Come dinnertime, there is more movement. The boy across from Rob gets up to distribute sandwiches amongst the siblings. While they eat, the boy across from me returns to his book. Beside him, his brother is on his cell phone. Out of the four of them, the boy across from me looks like the youngest, and is the only one with black hair. His siblings all have shades of auburn and brown.

While Rob and I struggle to find something to eat since we were both asleep when the trolley came by, the brothers seem to have short conversation. The boy at the window mumbles something, and it is answered with soft movement of the lips and some huffing sound effects. At the window, his brother nods, and they are back to doing their own thing. A few minutes pass before the boy at the window looks up again, watching me. He mumbles something, but I can’t hear it over the train’s rattling. Once he has my full attention, he mumbles more loudly in what sounds more like Romanian, ‘’We have tons of food, if you would both like some.’’

I decline the offer, not wanting to be a pain, ‘’No, thank you. We’ll figure it out.’’

He smiles at me, ‘’Feel free to ask for some later, if you change your mind.’’ He says. In front of me, the boy stops reading to watch the conversation. His eyes move back in forth between the both of us as we exchange words. Deaf?

Curious by the way he suddenly changed languages I ask, ‘’Why are you all going to Constanta?”

‘’To visit our mother. We were visiting my father’s family last week,’’ he explains.

‘’We’re visiting my family as well,’’ I reply with a smile. ‘’I’m Kristina.’’

‘’Darko.’’ He replies as we shake hands. ‘’This is Iliya,’’ he adds as his brother waves. Mute?

‘’This is Roberto,’’ I say, pointing to the sleeping form in front of Darko.

By this time, the other siblings turn their attention to me as well. ‘’Zora,’’ The girl says, also shaking my hand. Yan is the last of brothers. ‘’It’s nice to meet you.’’

‘’Is Bulgarian your first language? Were you all born there?’’ I ask curiously, wondering whether the questions are too personal.

I get a chorus of yes, along with a nod from Iliya. ‘’We have also lived in Macedonia,’’ Zora says after a moment. ‘’How long were you in Ploiesti?’’

‘’Just a few days visiting the city,’’ I reply. Conversation goes on, and Iliya is quiet, following with his eyes. Every once in a while, he fiddles with his book as if wanting to get back to it. He also nods or makes huffing sounds every now and then when I ask questions. I inform them that I’m studying civil work in northern Romania.

Zora smiles, and tells me she studies environmental sciences just outside of where they live. ‘’We haven’t visiting our mum as much since I started university,’’ She adds with a sigh. ‘’I’m nineteen.’’ She clarified, which encouraged the others to tell me about themselves. She was the eldest, two years older than Yan. He and Darko were a year apart. Iliya was the youngest at fourteen. Zora, Darko and Iliya have glasses. Iliya and Zora have rectangular frames, but Darko’s are wider and rounded. Rob wakes up and properly introduces himself, they exchange a short conversation in Bulgarian, and Rob acts much like Iliya in his quiet manner. Eventually, he goes back to sleep.

The rest of the trip goes relatively well, I make short conversation with Darko and Zora every so often, and Rob remains asleep. Yan pulls out his own book, though his phone stays close. Iliya’s attention goes back to his book, but twenty minutes before the train is due to stop, he starts to fiddle and lifts his head often. He sighs and stares out the window as an attempt to get his concentration back. He smiles as he watches the sunset. Tapping Darko’s shoulder every now and then, they watch the sky together.

When we are to get off, Rob has just reawoken. He bids then a good trip in Bulgarian, and Iliya forgets his book in the chair. I rush up to him, but he doesn’t turn. Following Darko’s example from earlier, I tap his shoulder lightly to get his attention. He looks apologetic as he points to his ear, and nods his thanks.

We walk behind them, and wave as they stand near the parking lot. Rob and I wait for a taxi at the curb. I look back to the family, smiling to myself. The blur of auburn makes it harder to distinguish one sibling from the other, but they all look to be having fun. Darko and Yan fool around with their luggage, spin it it until it threatens to fall. Zora watches Iliya’s hands move, but unlike his earlier fidgets, they move with purpose. ‘’He’s signing,’’ Rob says, following my gaze.

‘’Is he deaf?’’ I ask, wondering whether that’s what he’d been talking about with Darko.

Rob shakes his head. ‘’He’s hard of hearing. Notice how he fiddled with his left ear a lot?’’ I nod. ‘’He was playing with his hearing aid. Darko told me in noisy places, he often hears background noise better than the rest.’’ Darko is now sitting on the luggage, and Yan reads beside him. Zora and Iliya are still talking, but the conversation falters as I watch.

‘’Is that why he wasn’t talking? I saw him talk to Yan, though.’’ I question. Earlier in the train ride, they had been talking but, the longer it went on, the louder Iliya’s voice was.

‘’He’s also mute, but sometimes he talks to his siblings. That’s why he mouths a lot. It was also harder for him to sign in public ‘cause he’s shy.’’ Rob explains. ‘’Darko told me he’s usually okay with it all, but gets overwhelmed by crowds. It makes him quieter.’’

A taxi arrives ten minutes later, and the family isn’t gone yet. Zora and Yan are talking now, and Darko dances around as Iliya plays with the luggage. The taxi pulls away, and my attention is drawn back to the cab. Rob sits quietly, and reaches over to rub my knee affectionately. My family better behave while I’m there.

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