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O Beng: Latzo & His Son

Everyone knows that Latzo’s son could have died from his injuries. His story might, once upon a time, have begun on a dark and brillig night – but it didn’t. It is on a grey day that I run into Latzo on the street. We exchange greetings and he asks me for a lift to the bank. I agree and I drive him out of Page Hall, past the steelwork canyons to the nearest bank, an anonymous place, the one everyone uses. I wait in the car, but after a while I’m called in to translate for him and confirm the cancellation of a host of direct debits. Heading back to the car I ask after his son, who had been knocked down by a speeding car back in Slovakia over the summer. I ask what had happened and Latzo explains, "The car just came out of nowhere and knocked him right through the air. Have you seen it?" I’m shown a video on a mobile phone of young men appearing to argue at the edge of a settlement. One young man is seen at the roadside gesticulating and looking to his left before being swept over by a speeding vehicle. "He was completely smashed up down one leg. 20 metres, he was thrown. I didn’t know what was going to happen. But I knew he would be alright, because Jesus was there. When I saw that Jesus was there, I knew that he would live." We look at the clip again and Latzo stops the video at a point where the terrace of a house is in view, beyond the young men. He points to a tall shadow on the balcony, looking down on the scene: "There! There’s Jesus." Several days later I’m at Latzo's cousin’s house, where I ask: "Did you hear what happened to Latzo’s son?" "Yes," the cousin has seen the video. He locates it and we watch it together on my laptop in the dining room. I continue, "Latzo told me that Jesus was there on the balcony and that was why he knew that his son would be alright." The whole family join in then, crowding around the laptop. Latzo’s cousin pours over the clip, correcting me and inching the frames forward, following the invisible body through the air, until he stops with a distant forest in frame and points at the trees: "He saw Jesus there..." "You see," continued his cousin to me, "Jesus wasn’t on the terrace. It was the Bad Man. Didn’t you see him, just before the car hit? It’s because of the Bad Man it happened. You know… the Bad Man. You know who I mean?" He looks intently at me as if he’s stating the obvious: "The bad one, you know. We can’t say his name…" "You mean the devil?" "Yes…" Nobody blinks an eye. We look again at the video and I slow it down frame by frame. Just before the impact, from the grass verge behind the young man, a dark shape emerges. We watch it several times and I agree that I can see him, the Bad Man. Then we watch the video all the way through and I try to follow the young man’s trajectory through the air. The cousin insists that Jesus was there somewhere over in the woodlands and sky, behind the young man as he flies invisibly across the screen, but I can’t see Jesus anywhere. We try stopping the film several times so I can see him, but I can't. We couldn’t see the young man land either, obscured as the road was at this point by a high hedge. Latzo’s cousin explains, "He’s recovered. He was in hospital for a few months, but his legs have healed. I don’t know what work he’ll be able to do though." Latzo’s son didn’t die from his injuries, even though the Bad Man was there, emerging from a ditch on that brillig day in Slovakia in late summer. A friend told me, "We never say his name. It brings bad luck. The old Roma didn’t say the name of Jesus either. They just didn’t." )

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