Bojan Bogdanovic stood outside of the airport in Zagreb, trying to hail a taxi. A darkening sky threatened to turn the unpleasant rain shower into a drenching downpour at any moment, so he was grateful when a cab finally pulled up to him. He threw his small amount of luggage into the back and climbed into the passenger seat, not knowing or caring how exorbitant the fare might be.
“Where to?” the cabbie asked. Even with these short two words, Bojan couldn’t help but notice that the man’s teeth were almost all missing.
If the final destination of his journey had been the home of his parents, then the cabbie’s question would have been very easy to answer, but that wasn’t his destination at all. Instead, Bojan’s answer to the man was another question. “Do you know where the gypsy encampments are?”
The man gave Bojan a appraising look before speaking. “Why do you care? You’re not one of them. Just leave them be.”
“I can’t leave them be,” Bojan answered. “Do you see this?” He lowered his head and pointed at his scalp.
“Hair’s a bit thin on top, but what’s that matter, anyway?”
“Long ago, my ancestors were afflicted by the gypsy curse of baldness. Only by visiting them and making amends can I hope to spare my lineage from the terrible fate which befell me.” Bojan dragged his fingers through his diminished hair in frustration at his.
“I can take you to the countryside where the Roma live,” the cabbie said. “But the fare will be expensive.”
“I have money,” Bojan replied. “Just take me there!”
Bojan stepped out of the taxi, feeling slightly woozy after the bumpy trip down the hilly dirt road that had split off from the main road many miles prior. There in the valley below him were the people he was seeking: the Roma. Their camp was primitive and dusty, and there wasn’t much activity in the afternoon heat. After tipping the cabbie generously and sending him on his way, Bojan carefully made his way down the path to the little settlement.
A young woman, seeing Bojan’s approach, quickly retreated into one of the huts. Apparently as a result of an unheard and unseen conversation, a different person emerged from the hut, an older gentleman with white hair and a crooked gait aided by a cane. He walked up to Bojan slowly. “We are distrustful of outsiders. What do you want of us?” he said in decent, if accented, Croatian.
“Over a century ago, my great-great-great-great-great grandfather reneged on a bet he had made with the Roma people,” Bojan began. “By the accounts of my family, he was a drunkard, a lowlife, and a swindler. Not once did that man make an honest living doing an honest day’s work. He was also a gambling addict, and spent many hours playing the games of chance offered by the traveling gypsy carnivals, making unwise wagers while drunk on cheap spirits. It was on one of these games that he failed to pay back what he owed, and as punishment, the Roma cursed his family line with early-onset baldness.”
The old man, who had been listening carefully, shrugged. “There are much worse things to be cursed with, boy. He was let off easy.”
For the second time that day, Bojan presented his balding head and pointed to it. “You say that, but my life has been ruined by this curse. My confidence has vanished. My happiness has turned to despair. I cannot even bear to show myself to my lovely Lucija, lest she cast eyes upon my baldness and leave me for another man. That is why I come to you. To help lift this curse once and for all.”
“I am well-versed in the magic of my ancestors, but you must pay my fee if you wish to harness my skills of sorcery,” replied the old man.
Bojan’s heart lightened and he reached into his pockets to withdraw thick wads of large-denomination cash in many currencies. “This money should allow you and your clan to live comfortably for many years,” he said.
“This is not enough,” the old man said, leafing through the bills after they were handed to him.
Bojan had expected that mere cash would not be adequate. He unzipped his bag and overturned it upon the dusty ground. Articles of wood, bronze, silver, and gold spilled out. “These are all my family’s treasures. Among them are trinkets and heirlooms stolen from the Roma people, now rightfully returned.” He watched anxiously as the old man sorted through them, sometimes nodding, sometimes shaking his head.
Finally, the old man stood back up. “Your payments are sufficient. I will remove the curse.” He lifted his hands and said words in the Roma tongue.
Bojan couldn’t tell that anything had changed. Then, he felt a strange sensation on his scalp. Within a minute, hair was hanging in his eyes. Another minute passed, and his hair was the length of a woman’s. The smooth brown locks spilled forth from his head like a fountain.
“It’s over! The curse is lifted!” Bojan yelled exuberantly, causing other villagers to peek outside to see what the fuss was. “My hair…my hair has returned!”