Monday, July 07, 2008

"The Big Windfall," by Sholom Aleichem, translated by me, part two

As I wrote in part one of my translation, I'm working on this for Scott Davis, proprietor of and author of "Souls are Flying," with the sage counsel of Musia Lakin.

The Big Windfall, (A Groyse Gevins) part two
Sholom Aleichem

referring to the end of the last episode, " 'who keepeth faith with them who slumber in the earth...' even the one who lies in the earth and bakes bagels..." Musia explained that "lying in the earth" can mean actually dead or it can mean - so down and out you might as well be dead. "Lying in the earth and baking bagels," she explained, "is to be extremely poor."

"Oy," I'm thinking, "lay ME in the earth! Oy, one gives up the last of one's energy! Not like those guys, for instance - those rich folks of Yehupets, I mean - who sit all summer in Boyderik, in their dachas, eating, drinking, swimming, everything good... Oy, Master of the Universe, why is this what I get? I am, it seems to me, a Jew like any other. Gevald, Gotenyu, 'see us in our affliction,' please look at it through our eyes, see how we slave, take the part of the poor people (oppose the injustices), poor things, or else who will look after them, if not you?

" 'Heal our wounds and make us whole,' send us healing - the scourge (plague) we already have - 'bless the fruits of this year' - bless us with a good year and a good harvest - although strictly speaking, looking back over what we've been talking about, what difference will it make to me, a poor shlimazl? For example, what difference will it make to my horse if oats are expensive or cheap, I can't afford them either way...

"But feh, we don't ask God any questions, a Jew must accept everything for the good, 'this also is good,' probably God knows what he's doing.

" 'May the sinners (criminals, defilers of God's rules),'" I sing further to myself, 'have no hope' - and may the aristocrats who say there is no God in the world - well, won't they be embarrassed when they get THERE. They'll suffer, with an extra percent, because He 'destroys the defilers' - He's a good accountant, with Him you don't fool around, you should behave well with Him, beg Him, cry to Him - 'Oh, Merciful Father' - hear our voices - have pity on my wife and children, they are, poor things, hungry! You should, I say, take care of your people of Israel as long ago in the days of the temple, when the Kohanim and the Levites..." suddenly - STOP!

The horse stopped suddenly. I ran quickly through the last bit of the shimonezra and lifted my eyes to take a look. Coming towards me, straight out of the woods, are two very strange beings, presenting themselves in unusual clothes.

"Robbers!" a thought flew through my head, but quickly I took it back again: "Feh, Tevye, you're a blockhead! Really, you've been riding through these woods for so many years, day and night, why suddenly now does the thought of robbers come to you?"

"Giddyap!" I say to the horse, and taking up my heart, I give him a couple little lashes from behind, as though I'm not afraid. (Musia explains, "as though I'm not the one the disaster has come for.")

"Fellow Jew! Kinsman!" says one of the two beings with a woman's voice, and she beckons to me with a kerchief. "Stop for a little moment, wait a little while, don't run away, we won't do anything to you, God forbid!"

"Aha, a nogoodnik!" I think but then say very quickly to myself, "Cow in the form of a horse! (he's scolding himself) what, all of a sudden in the middle of things demons and ghosts?" and I stopped the horse.

I began to look these two beings over very carefully: Women! An older one with a silk kerchief on her head, the other a younger one with a wig. Both red as fire and perspiring.

"Good evening," I say to them with a strong voice, as if feeling courageous. "What is your desire? If you mean to buy something, you certainly won't get anything here, from me - unless it's indigestion (it should fall on my enemies' heads), or a full week's worth of heart's vexation, or a little mental anguishing over life's tormenting puzzles, or dry pain, wet troubles, cascades of worries pouring down like salt..."

"Calm down," they say, "See how he's falling apart! A Jew, he takes your words wrong and gets upset, you're not sure you'll come out of it alive. We don't want to buy anything," they say, "we just want to ask you if perhaps you know where we can find the road to Boyberik?"

"To Boyberik?" I say and laugh a little. "Do I have that kind of a face, that you're asking me this question? You might as well ask if I know my name is Tevye!"

"So? Your name is Tevye? Good evening to you, Reb Tevye! We don't understand why this is a laughing matter. We're strangers, from Yehupets, staying here in Boyberik at a dacha. We went out," they said, "for a little walk and got ourselves so turned around here in the woods, rambling around slowly since morning, lost, we can't drag ourselves up onto the right path. Meanwhile," they say, "we heard someone singing in the woods. At first we wondered, is this perhaps, God forbid, a robber? Only just then," they say, "we saw, when we were closer by, that you are, thank God, a Jew. We felt a little easier in our souls. Now do you understand?"

"Ha, ha, ha, a fine robber," I say. "Have you ever heard the story of a Jewish robber who fell in with a passer-by and asked him for a bit of tobacco? If you like," I say, "I can tell you the story..."

"Let's leave the story," they say, "for another time. Better you should just point us towards the road to Boyberik."

"To Boyberik?" I say, "how is it possible? Exactly here, you are on the true road to Boyberik. Even if you didn't want to, you would, by following this unpaved path here, come straight into Boyberik."

"Well why didn't you say so? they ask.

"Why should I shout it out?" I say.

"Well, if that's the case," they ask, "how far is it to Boyberik?"

"To Boyberik," I say, "it isn't far, a few versts, five or six, maybe seven, perhaps actually as many as eight."

"EIGHT VERSTS!" shrieked both the women at once, wringing their hands and almost bursting into tears. "How is it possible? What are you saying? Do you know what you're saying? As if it's nothing you say it straight out - eight versts!"

"Nu, what should I do about it?" I say. "If it were up to me I'd make it a little shorter. A person should," I say, "try every experience in the world. Try dragging yourself up a muddy mountain, with Sabbath evening on its way, the rain smites you in the face, you're helpless (your hands falling off), a fainting heart, and then - crack! - the axle breaks..."

"You're talking sort of like a madman," they told me. "You're completely out of your mind. Why are you telling us these old grannies' stories? These tales from 1,001 Arabian Nights? We don't have the strength to stand on our feet - the whole day we haven't had even a cup of coffee with a butter-roll, we've had nothing in our mouths, and now we have to listen to your stories!?"

"If that's so," I say, "it's a different situation. How do they put it, 'you can't dance before you eat.' I understand the taste of hunger very well. Don't tell me about it! It could very well be," I say, "that I haven't looked upon coffee and a butter-roll for a year..." and as I say this, right before my eyes I see a cup of hot coffee with milk and with a fresh butter-roll, with other good things. "What a shlimazl," I think to myself, "Were you raised on coffee and butter-rolls? Would a simple piece of bread with herring sicken you? And now the Evil Inclination (let him not appear to you) leads you to coffee, tempts you with a butter-roll - fresh, tasty, refreshing your spirits..."

"You know what, Reb Tevye?" both women said. "What if, hypothetically, as long as we're standing here, we should just jump up there to you on the wagon? And you yourself should be so kind as to carry us, forgive us, home to Boyberik? What do you say to that?"

"It's an example, I say, of 'broken pot.' I'm traveling FROM Boyberik and you're traveling TO Boyberik. How does the cat get over the water?"

"Nu, so what?" they say, "You don't know what one would do? A Jew, a scholar, would himself give this advice: 'Turn around and go back the way you came.' Never fear, Reb Tevye, rest assured that if God is willing he will bring us home safely. We would take upon ourselves the trouble we cause you."

"They're talking to me in Aramaic," I thought. "Weird garbled speech, completely unusual!" And it comes into my mind: ghosts, witches, pranksters, a drawn-out illness... "Blockhead, son of a woodpecker!" I think to myself - "Why are you standing here like a stick? Jump up in your wagon, show the horse the whip, and fly out of here."

But as bad luck would have it, unwillingly the words came out of my mouth: "Crawl up into the wagon."

Having heard my words they wasted no time, they didn't wait to be begged, they barged right into the wagon! And I right behind them into the driver's seat, turning the wagon shaft, whipping the horse, and one-two-three we're off!

Who, what, where? It's no use - the horse won't budge from the spot, no matter if I cut him in two.

"Nu," I think to myself, "today I really understand what kind of women these are. Just my luck to have to stop in the middle of things and have a chat with women!"

You understand? On one side, the woods, the stillness, gloomy night approaching, and here - the two beings, seemingly female... strong imagination played upon me with all its strings. I recalled a story told by a coachman who once traveled in the woods all alone and saw, lying on the path, a sack of oats. My coachman saw the sack of oats, he wasn't lazy, he jumped down from the wagon, hiked that sack of oats onto his shoulder, he staggered, barely able to shove that sack of oats up on his wagon, and - away, let's move it. He traveled about a verst, had a look back at the sack of oats - no sack, no oats, now there's a goat in his wagon, a goat with a beard. He goes to touch it with his hands, it sticks out its long tongue, lets loose a crazy wild cackle of laughter and disappears...

"Why aren't we moving already?" ask the wives.

"Why aren't we moving already? You can see why," I say, "the horse won't pray, he isn't in the mood (inclined to cooperate)." "Give it to him with the whip," they say, "you have a whip." "Thanks," I say, "for the advice! Good, it's good you reminded me. The only problem," I say, "is that my boy isn't afraid of such things. He lives as intimately with the whip as I do with poverty." I say this to them as if it were a joke, and the 9-year-ague is shaking me.

But in brief, why should I go on and on? I unleashed my whole bitter heart on the horse, poor thing, so long, so wide, until God helped me and the horse is on the move again, he's unstuck from Refidim (a place in the desert where the Jews got stuck) and we're on our way straight through the woods.

Traveling this way, a completely new thought flies through my head: "Oy, Tevyeh, you're a horse's ass! 'When you start to fall, you fall.' You've always been a pauper and you'll remain a pauper. Look here - God sent you this encounter, such as comes along once in a hundred years, how could you not have settled on a price right at the start, then you'd know what you're getting out of this!"

on to part three...

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