Unless you want to end up inside a horse

Hana KozurikováNymburkJuly 2000
When I was a little girl, my Dad told me a drastic story someone had once told him.
As a grown-up I heard it again. This time from a friend who didn’t see it himself either.
Then, not long ago, I discovered that in the village of Ratenice in Nymburk County lives a Mr. Josef Horvát who was actually there when it happened. And he wanted to tell me the story. I went to Ratenice to find out what happened that time long ago. By long ago I mean about half a century. I should begin by explaining that there are various groups among the Roma.
The Slovak Roma are the largest group, and then come the Vlachika Roma. It’s generally known that these Roma differ from the other groups. They have their own language and laws and live in a separate community.
You could write novels about them – but our limited space and time doesn’t allow for that. Let’s just say for now that the Vlachika Roma were nomads for the longest time until the Czech Communist government forced them to settle down in 1959. The officials simply took the wheels off the Romani carts and moved the people into old railroad wagons.
But our story takes place before that. It was the year 1952 and Mr. Horvát was twenty years old. He and his large family (a Romani family consists of both immediate and extended family members) led a nomadic life, traveling through southern Moravia. They wandered all over the place and sustained themselves by begging and by occasional thefts.
They would have been all right if it hadn’t been for Bán.
Bán was their cousin, and no one in the family liked him. That’s because a long time ago a policeman caught him stealing potatoes from a field and instead of arresting him made him a deal.
Bán became an informer and hurt the whole family. He took squealing quite seriously and thought it was fun.
Soon everyone was afraid of him, and Bán took advantage of that. It was impossible to throw him out because he would threaten to tell the police everything he knew – and then some.
The family was at a loss about what to do. Bán was a parasite who hurt them whenever he could – and he kept raping the women.
One day the cup ran over and one of the men stabbed Bán during an argument. The other Roma didn’t try to help Bán, and he died of his wounds.
Everyone was relieved.
But soon they were saddled with a new problem: what should they do with the body?
They were afraid to bury him near or far because of police checks. They knew the cops would come looking for Bán because he was their man. At that time one of the horses got sick and started to limp and that gave one of the Romani women an idea.
They killed the horse, cleaned out its insides, cut up Bán’s body and stuffed it inside the horse, then sewed it up and buried it.
From the horsemeat they made goulash and to improve its flavor added some meat from Bán as well. Sure enough, the cops began looking for Bán, visiting his family almost every day. Especially the cop who used to have business dealings with him: he could hardly wait to speak with him again.
The Roma tried to explain that he must have gone to visit some other relatives. But the policeman wouldn’t buy it. He had arranged for Bán to report to him every day, and Bán had never mentioned anything about leaving.
The policeman was persistent and started spending more and more time with them. They said he was more with them than he was at the police station.
Of course, the Vlachika Roma offered him a meal. As he was finishing his goulash, he shook his head. Where could Bán be?
Where? In the goulash!
The policeman told them not to leave town until they found Bán. When several days went by without any sign of him, the cop heard a rumor that his own people killed him and buried him.
He conducted a search through the area but with little result. All he found was a buried horse.
It’s a shame that the story doesn’t end here. But the cop wouldn’t let up and kept asking questions about Bán’s whereabouts.
It was only because a small child didn’t realize that the cop knew a few Romanese words that he said with a smile on his lips, "Bán is inside a horse.”
The policeman immediately understood what that meant. Many people went to jail for a long time.
But no one was ever sorry for Bán.
And the Vlachika Roma had learned their lesson: It’s not a good idea to hurt your family.
And all of you readers ought to learn that same lesson, unless you want to end up inside a horse.

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