Mar 24, 2021
Tsilke finds out. . .
Froyke kept quiet about the whole incident and no-one in the village learned of his defeat. Froyke himself had made peace with the fact that the young Lurie had beaten him up.
It was Lurie, after all. If Froyke had been attacked by somebody else, someone more like himself, it would have pained him considerably more, and then he would not have held his tongue.
But after that day Froyke changed. He became calmer. From time to time he might still have a few too many drinks and lose the run of himself, but he no longer chased after every shikse that crossed his path. He had also stopped ridiculing everyone, and began giving his father a helping hand with his business, helping him transcribe his papers and doing everything that old Barash asked of him.
He could often be seen sitting by himself outside the house. He would sit silently with a cigarette in his mouth, thinking, thinking . . .
Over there, three kilometers away, was the Lurie’s forest . . . Over there . . . She was running around barefoot in a light little dress . . .
And the Lurie boy, who had given Froyke a hiding, was at that very moment feasting his eyes on her bare legs, her uncovered neck. They stay alone for hours on end and no one says a word to them . . . He’s Lurie’s son after all, the rich man’s son, the educated “foreigner.”
Froyke smoked in silence, plagued by anger and pain, staring down at his boots which were no longer as polished as they had once been. Somehow he’d lost interest in everything, the whole world and all the girls in it too.
The girls of Mistebove for their part felt that their “Samson” was no longer the hero he once was; they gathered in corners to joke about him, and then said to his face:
“Froyke, you’re in love . . .”
“Froyke, Tsilke is a nice girl, but she prefers Grodno to Mistebove, doesn’t she?”
He would respond with anger, before running off to play cards, with the municipal clerk, with the baker’s son. In the summer they played in the wheat-fields just outside the village. The wheat had already been cut there, while elsewhere the work had only just begun. In the shadow of a tree, a couple of wasters lay playing cards for long hours.
Froyke almost always won, but on the way home he would become distant from his friends. His winnings, clinking in his pockets, no longer gave him pleasure.
Something nagged inside him—he yearned for Tsilke.
But Tsilke did not even want to speak to him.
There in the forest, not far from Iser’s house a family of gypsies had set up camp: ten or so adults with a whole gang of young little gypsy children who ran around as naked as animals . . .
They settled in the forest under the trees. Large canvas tarpaulins lay on the ground, and there were two carriages with untethered horses, several dogs lying quietly nearby, along with piles of brass cauldrons, pitchers, buckets and strange, tattered garments of old velvet.
One gypsy sat nursing a baby. She uncovered her breast entirely and in the shadows of the forest her body seemed even darker.
Tsilke could not help but stare at the mother gypsy the most; Tsilke felt an overpowering curiosity toward her. Meanwhile the little baby kept its eyes closed, and suckled.
The older gypsies wandered around the area, exploring the nearby villages. The little naked ones tore around through the forest, dancing in the stream and it seemed as though at any moment they would start clambering like the squirrels in the trees.
Tsilke was overjoyed that the gypsies had come to the lonely forest; Sasha had been in Grodno for several days already.
Why had he gone away?
She did not know, she did not understand him.
One minute he would come to her, and say the kindest words to her, telling her many things—not all of which she understood—and the next minute he’d fall silent, like a stranger, and run away from the forest.
Clearly he must be getting bored here, or perhaps there were other people in the city he was drawn to.
Tsilke now spent whole days with the gypsies, though her aunt angrily insisted that she shouldn’t have anything to do with them: they eat tobacco and perform witchcraft—you need to watch out for them!
The locals were afraid that they would steal things. Shleyme from the distillery came to stay at Iser’s house. The road watchman was also keeping an eye on them.
At night the gypsy campfire lit up the forest. They cooked food and smoked pipes around the fire.
Black-beared men with matted hair spoke in their strange, harsh language, often they sang all together in unison. But one of them, the old man, blind in one eye—Karaho, they called him, which in gypsy language means “blind-man”—always remained silent and one had the impression he was harboring many terrible secrets.
Tsilke would come to talk to them, to study with open, curious eyes the “strange folk” as her aunt Nikhe called them.
From Mistebove and the nearby farms, girls and boys would come to see the gypsies and have their fortunes told.
Froyke also came from Mistebove, he quickly befriended the whole bank, drinking with them and playing cards. One time he accepted an invitation to dance with a young gypsy girl. She wore several thick necklaces with red beads around her neck and her speckled floral dress reached all the way down to the ground.
She had a dark round, dark face, and large green eyes like two unripe wild apples. Her neck seemed as black and shining as if it were smeared in pitch. Her figure was slim, her posture stiff. She threw her arms around Froyke and dragged him off to dance; shouting something to her friends who responded, between puffs of smoke, with roars of laughter.
Tsilke approached them. She felt somehow drawn to the dancing pair. In that moment she was jealous.
They danced one karahod, then another.
Froyke and the gypsy girl danced slowly, drifting away from the group, deeper and deeper into the tangle of the forest.
The other gypsies took no further interest in the two missing dancers. But Tsilke’s heart began to beat faster with a bewildering curiosity.
She gazed constantly in the direction where Froyke had gone, but she could not see or hear a thing.
That had been in the evening. Meanwhile night had fallen and there was still no sign of Froyke and the gypsy girl.
Tsilke was restless and agitated. She was thinking about Froyke, about the gypsy girl. All the girls loved Froyke, and they all let him kiss them—why, when Tsilke had kept him at arm’s length, was she now thinking about him, pictured him now tossing his head and dancing?
She spent an unsettled night.
Several times, she approached the window and gazed out.
She saw the road watchman come and stamp on the last sparks of the campfire, grumbling and cursing to himself.
The next morning Froyke returned. He lingered outside Iser’s house but when he met Tsilke he pretended he just happened to be passing.
“Why don’t you come to Mistebove?” he asked.
Tsilke lost her temper and said:
“Go! Go to your gypsy girl!” and she went to find her aunt Nikhe.
Froyke stood for a moment, deep in thought. Then he let out a triumphant whistle.
Ha ha ha, it bothers her. That’s good!
And he set off to join the band of gypsies who were wandering the forest searching for berries.
That afternoon Tsilke began to wish Sasha were there; the fact that Froyke was lurking around in the woods with the gypsies made her uneasy.
Her father came home for a few hours before heading off again. Her aunt did not leave the house—she was keeping her distance from the gypsies.
Tsilke felt a heavy tedium and she decided to visit Prudne.
It was already late-summer. New melodies had arrived in the forest, brought by the fledgeling birds. These new notes were easily distinguished from the old, yet the forest’s song was constant. The birds let out bursts of song, long and short, lasting seconds and minutes, happy moments and nostalgic ones. It sounded as if one bird were calling out to someone, while another punished them with its noise . . . and there, a cricket in a dark corner, believing it was evening already, was about to carve the air with its chirping, only to stop abruptly—it was still day.
Tsilke walked to Prudne. She reached the road, glancing in both directions along the white band which seemed to stretch off into infinity, and reentered the forest on the other side. Suddenly she saw a pair of bare feet, and next to them more feet, these ones wearing boots . . .
It was Froyke and the gypsy girl . . .
They were lying next to each other. The girl’s hair was unbound and disordered, her green eyes fixed Tsilke with mocking hostility . . . Froyke let out a whistle.
His black shirt was unbuttoned revealing a portion of his hairy torso. He noticed Tsilke turn away and leave. Springing to his feet, he ran after her.
“Tsilke!” he shouted.
“What do you want?”
Froyke appeared to be drunk and she was ready to defend herself if needs be. They called her Tsilke the Wild after all, and she had a strong pair of arms—just let him try anything, that Froyke.
“What do you want?” she asked again, not quite sure why: she was waiting for an answer; she wanted him to say something.
Froyke wanted to explain it all in one scream . . . to let everything out, all of his sorrows, to tell her that his life was meaningless without her. She only had to say the word, and he would give up the gypsy girl, and everyone else. But instead he said:
“Lurie, that foreigner, will drive you crazy: he’ll make you unhappy . . .”
Just then, the gypsy girl rose to her feet. She ran toward Froyke, grabbed him and would not let him go.
Tsilke backed away. Taking one last glance she saw the gypsy’s arms wrapped around Froyke. He too stretched out his arms and fell on her with kisses . . .
Tsilke walked on. She wanted to think about Sasha . . . Yes, tomorrow, or the day after, he would come and stay for several days, he would . . .
But as she was thinking, she felt two pairs of eyes on her: the gypsy’s eyes and Froyke’s.
Froyke’s eyes . . . “He’ll only drive you crazy, that foreigner.” Why had he said that to her? She drove the thoughts away, but as she was nearing Prudne she once again pictured them lying together, arms entwined.
Tsilke was disconcerted, her heart beat faster . . .
She arrived in Prudne.
It was a place she visited from time to time. She had friends on the farm there—the shepherd’s daughters.
Two tall, solidly-built girls with coarse faces. They looked ten years older than they really were. Always somewhat drowsy, their clothes hung on them gracelessly. They worked a great deal, but always slowly and drowsily, as though half asleep . . .
Tsilke visited the “sleepy girls,”—as they were called—in search of company. Every now and then she was overcome with a yearning to run off to someone, to hear another person’s voice, another person’s laugh.
Despite how bound she was to the lonesome forest, how used she was to the silence, she would sometimes run to Mistebove, or to Prudne.
She divided her visits as follows:
In winter she went to Mistebove, where they plucked feathers day and night. And in summer, she went to Prudne.
The shepherd had a large house with many windows. During the summer all the windows were open and swarms of flies laid siege to every morsel of food. Several American photographs hung on the whitewashed walls, along with two tefillin pouches. The house was always empty, doors and windows, always open. Every member of the family was working somewhere. The shepherd and his son would drive into town while the sleepy girls and their sleepy mother washed the milk cans. They were always busy, always bustling.
A little further on from the shepherd’s house there stood another house with painted shutters and brown ledges over the windows. In that house lived the Arendar, the leaseholder of the whole farm, an angry Christian with a pointy moustache and beady, scornful eyes. He always walked around with two large dogs and you could hear him shouting from one corner of the yard or another.
There was also a large orchard, a gardener and other laborers.
For Tsilke, coming from the empty forest, there was a lot there to see and hear. That alone was reason enough for her to come.
Sometimes a spark of youthfulness would flicker within the two sleepy girls in the mischievous Tsilke’s company.
They would tell her things that happened in Mistebove or in Grodno—they spoke often about the “big city”.
Tsilke often followed them out to the field. In Summer—wheat-fields stretched into the distance, punctuated by dark copses of trees, which appeared like black ships on a sea of gold.
The woods looked like fences, like black palaces. Young rascals would walk by, laughing and joking, assailing the women with curses.
And once, in early summer—Tsilke remembered it well: one of the shepherd’s daughters was separated from them and hid herself amid the tall wheat. Tsilke heard laughter from inside the wheat, she trembled, and kept silent, asking the second sister nothing . . . she did not understand, while at the same time she almost understood. There was still something that she didn’t know.
Why did Froyke Barash try to kiss all the girls with such ardor? And why were the girls ashamed to be kissed?
And those nasty Gentile boys of the Prudne fields . . .
They stare with such curiosity at the girls’ bare legs . . . why is that?
And Tsilke herself, when she heard the shepherd’s daughter laughing in the wheat, her entire body trembled, and the blood began to surge inside her veins.
She strode across the sun-warmed ground, walking alongside the second sleepy girl, who bent down towards the ground, plucked a flower, unwilling to speak.
Two women sharing a silence, while a third laughed out there in the wheat-field with the young farmer . . .
Now Tsilke was back in Prudne once again
She approached the house and heard wild cries coming from inside. She looked in through the window and saw the following scene: the shepherd and his fat wife, his son, all of them together were beating the sleepy girl who had hidden that day with the young farmer in the wheat-field.
Her clothes were tattered, her body bleeding, her hair disheveled. She stood before them, large and ungainly with exhausted eyes and sluggish movements; it looked like all she wanted to do was sleep.
But her parents and brother continued to beat her and beat her: “A bastard, she’s going to bring us a bastard!
The other daughter was hiding behind the house; Tsilke went to her.
“Why are they beating your sister?”
“Why? You don’t understand? She’s going to have a baby.”
“A baby? She’s going to have a baby, and that’s why they’re beating her? And if I have a baby will they beat me too?”
“You’re an idiot . . .” the girl said angrily.
“Explain to me then, why are they beating your sister?”
“Her child will be a bastard. Do you remember at the start of the summer, in the wheat-field , she was with that peasant . . . you remember how they laughed?”
Tsilke remembered all too well, but she did not quite understand what it all meant. The cries could still be heard coming from inside the house; they screamed like drunkards. The whole scene left Tsilke shocked and disconcerted.
To the forest, back to the forest.
Trees and the shadows of trees—she lost herself in the shadows. Night was falling. It was almost dark, but she knew the way back to her father’s house; there wasn’t a path through the trees that she didn’t know like the back of her hand.
But the ways of people, their confusion and passions, were so alien to her, so unfamiliar.
She came home that day with a heart full of questions.