Male heifers and cow suicide

This unique reality in which we live helps a lot when it comes to writing literature. Each small detail of our everyday life breathes fantasy, fiction and paradox. From there we read a selection of stories, such as Male Heifers and Other Absurdities by Angel Pérez Cuza, a walk through the injustices of every day. We accept that one of the characters in this book tells us that “Brave Bull and Stud Ox are cows even if they have names of oxen,” because that’s the trick that farmers have found to get around the obligation to sell milk to the State.

The beef issue is one of the most surreal in Cuba today.  This animal with udders and horns is as sacred in these parts as it is in India. If, in the Asian country, the motives are magical-religious, in this little island in the Caribbean, bureaucrats – with their regulations and prohibitions – have enshrined the “cult of beef.”  We are so accustomed to it that, when we think of a ruminant, we can read a paragraph like this one without surprise:

“Do you know since when I don’t like beef?  No?  Me neither.  And I could, because I have cattle and I can still inseminate Mazorra and Josefina.  But I cannot sacrifice my animals.  If one were sick or if I have an accident with one of them, I must call the Plan, to send a veterinarian and an inspector, to give me permission.  Carefully butcher it to eat! None of that!  It should be incinerated with papers and everything.  And if they are calves, even worse.  They’ve really got me there, you’re looking for trouble. Complete investigation, experts from the police.”

Reading the pages of this Guantanameran, a professor of mathematics, has reminded me of an anecdote from more than twenty years ago.  I used to ride in the Soviet locomotive that my father drove, back in the eighties.  From the driver’s seat I saw something that moved on the line, a hundred meters in front.  It was a cow, tied up in a way that only the head remained at the mercy of the train.  The animal mooed and tried to break loose but didn’t manage it. With my innocent ten years I yelled at my papá:  “Stop! There is a cow tied up on the line.”  But a train with thirty cars does not stop so easily, much less for an animal.  My father, with the serenity of having seen worse things on the iron track, told me:  “Don’t worry, the owners themselves tied it there so the train will kill it and they can eat it.  Only when I run over her can they enjoy their meat.”  A few seconds later the sharp blow confirmed to me that the sacrifice had been made.  Looking out the window I caught sight of a mob of smiling guajiros who ran toward the corpse.

I suppose that in the two decades that have passed since this “suicide,” the Cuban peasants have become more skilled at tying their cows to the rail line. Pérez Cuza, then, has a lot of material for his stories.

Veal male and other absurdities

Angel Pérez Cuza

Ediciones Espuela de Plata, 2007

Seville, Spain

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