When I was about 5 or 6, my parents didn't really make it a point that I should be spotlessly clean or tidy after school. Afterall, I had to wear an uniform and tie from 8:30 untill the end of the school-day.
It was probably with this untidy appearance - my fingernails dirty, my hair longuish and dishevelled, my trousers showing traces of a football match - that I entered with my father into the new shopping mall near our house.
The shopping mall was big, huge...I remember that its limits were unknown to me. The corridors just carried on deeper and deeper into the building - into areas where my father had no need to go for most of the important shops were closer to the entrance. Beyond a certain point it definitely became a maze and I was not allowed to wander there for fear of getting lost.
Now the entrace to the mall was a large atrium turned towards sunset...from here, three or four corridors thrusted into the interior of the building...which was otherwise quite closed to the exterior. In the late afternoon, the sunrays would spread along these corridors upto a certain point. Beyond, the narrowing and meandering corridors became darker and traces of direct sunlight were rare.
Somewhere in between these two worlds was a small coffee place where my father entered for a quick snack or drink. I followed him in a few seconds later, probably delayed by na enticing shopwindow.
Just as I took two or three steps beyond the door - and before I could establish eye-contact with my father, who was probably already ordering at the counter - a fierce lady throwed me out again, saying briskly: "There's nothing for you here!". She didn't use the word gypsy or beggar although, with the benefit of hindsight, I know that's exactly what she meant. With "you" she meant "your kind".
In a blink, I was back in the corridor, quite dumbstruck. Standing in front of the coffee shop's door, I couldn't react...wanting to reach my father but terrified of the wicked lady....my face blushed, a lump in my throat, tears forming in my eyes, I staggered and swayed like in a trance.
This agony lasted between 5 and 10 seconds...for the same lady came back to fetch me, arms open wide, smiling and speaking words of apology with an altogether different voice. And as she brought me back inside the coffee shop towards my father, who was standing at the counter, I could feel the stares of the other customers sitting at their tables...a mix of pity and reprehension...
And I felt ashamed...ashamed beyond rational thought.
She delivered me back to my father, kneeling slightly and looking at me close, saying: "Such sweet, sweet eyes you have..." I clutched my father tight, he said everything was ok, but I didn't feel much better.
As we walked back home, I asked my father why the lady had thrown me out, why was she so angry, and why had she changed so quickly...I don't remember getting a satisfying answer...nor would I have understood, no matter how hard my father might have tried to explain.
It took me more than 10 years to figure that lady out...
Still, the damage was done.