They liked my being so honest

Author: Eva Bajgerová
Location: Usti nad Labem
One sunny afternoon we had my auntie Marta over. She is sixty-seven, and one of my dead father’s sisters. Sipping soda, she was remembering her youth.
"Evicka, my girl, life was much different when we were kids. Often we helped out on farms in return for bread, flour, lard, etc. : our parents didn’t take care of us very well. I will never forgive my mother for not being better to me.
I had to drag my younger brother to school on my back because he had no shoes. I didn’t go to school myself: I just took him there. The teacher too didn’t understand why, once I was there, I couldnt stay. But I had to go home, clean, do the laundry, cook, and run back to school to bring my brother back.
I really liked the school. And the teacher was very nice. Unlike my mother.”
She had drifted into the past, and I saw her face turn contemptuous. I didn’t want our discussion to end like that, so I said: “But, auntie, you can read, can’t you?
She smiled at me and continued, more cheerfully: “I was a clever girl. I just learned on my own. Especially after we had arrived in Bohemia. My husband was a smart guy. He was with a railroad company. He was an electrician, and I had to work to keep up with him.”
Then I asked her to tell me how it happened that she moved to Bohemia. I knew that she had not been happy about having to move.
“Well, Iêll tell you – but don’t laugh. It was because they said that my father was driving whores in a tram.”
Of course I burst out laughing. It was a funny thing to imagine.
“After the war, my father, your grandpa, moved to Usti nad Labem, Bohemia, to look for work. There were lots of jobs, and they paid well. Many Gypsies from villages in Slovakia were going to Bohemia to work. Our father was a hardworking man: he took good care of us.
One day a man who worked with our father came to our village and told our mother that our father was doing really well: he had a job taking whores around in a tram. So our mom left us kids at home with our grandparents and went to Bohemia to see what was going on. Later she had us come there too.”
This made me realize how easy to influence the Roma are. They believe things people tell them and it can ruin their lives. My auntie had strong roots in Slovakia and she did not want to leave.
“Tell me more about Slovakia, Auntie.”
She smiled and said: “Well, Evicka, it wasn’t t that bad. At least not for me. I had started working for white families when I was a little girl. We helped at harvests, washed laundry, and ironed. One white family got to like me and invited me to work in their house in the town. Once they even tested my honesty.
They told me to tidy up while they were at work. They both worked in a hospital. I started cleaning, and I found a golden ring under their bed. Of course I was tempted to keep it. But when they came home I told them I found it. They liked my being so honest. They even bought me a new dress.
They didn’t want me to wear my old clothes from home. Imagine: they even did my hair their way. Living with them was very nice. I didn’t feel like leaving for Bohemia, but I had to join my parents.”

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