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￭ in return for your navy blue shirt
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by Sergiu Somesan,
He would descend from the mountains with the fall‚Äôs mist and, at a first glance, one would say he was brought down by the mist itself. He was tall and quite old, not necessarily because of his appearance but because he kept on asking all the children he might have met occasionally how they‚Äôve been doing, calling them ‚Äúhis dearest tots‚ÄĚ. When being asked that, all the kids were looking down very shy, never being able to come up with an answer. Only after a while they were raising their eyes, looking at him with a sort of dumb happiness. The children and animals enjoyed his presence. And women as well ‚Ä¶
After a few years, some people found out that his name was Anatol. As he never admitted or denied it, people got used to calling him like that, although many of them doubted this was his real name. Anyway, he was a quiet man who rarely changed a few words with the householder for whom he was chopping the wood.
Like in a strange ritual, every household of the little hamlet prepared a pile of logs each so that he could chop them in one day. He never asked for money, but would eat together with respective family; at night he did not sleep in the house, but in the stable together with the animals, covering himself with a thick cloak. The animals were happily accepting him with a pleased snorting.
Sometimes, once in a few years, when he delayed his arrival in the little hamlet at the foot of the mountain, the whole community was covered in a strange restlessness. It was as if the whole living soul was frozen in a strange, long time lag, and the rhythm of life itself was gradually slowing down as days were passing by, and soon would stop down for good. But then, his greyish shadow appeared from amidst the fogbanks and a collective sigh accompanied his arrival in the small hamlet. His large and strong steps were spied by greedy and full-of-hope eyes from behind the gates and half-drawn curtains. Although they did not know much about him, the mountain villagers noticed one thing: the first house the lumberjack stopped at, was touched by God‚Äôs hand of luck. If someone fell ill, when a fire was lit from the wood chopped by him and the smoke rose up in the air the sick man would sit up as if he hadn‚Äôt ever suffered from anything. And that was not all. The smoke coming from the burnt logs was aiming straight up in the sky, no matter how strong the wind was. It was like a secret link between the earth and the sky.
If a family was living rough and could not make the ends meet, from one year to another, after the lumberjack entered their house that family‚Äôs luck changed all of a sudden. All cattle were growing in number like rabbits, and the calves and the colts were growing up over night. And those who decided to trade them found a buyer shortly and got a really good price. Then people started to talk about him in other neighbouring hamlets, but many of them did not believe a word, because the man was rarely seen by strangers. And the locals were not willing to give details to anyone, thinking that anyone else could convince him to visit their places to split the logs that would mean he would visit them more rarely. So they only shrugged their shoulders, pretending they did not know anything about that and that is how the lumberjack‚Äôs secret was kept like a treasure belonging to their community. While the locals were not talking to strangers at all, they did not shrink from talking to each other in the long winter nights spent by the fireside, were the lumberjack‚Äôs logs were burning.
‚ÄúHe‚Äôs a saint!‚ÄĚ Tanase said once, but everybody knew he was very religious and on every Sunday he was going a long way to the neighbouring village to stand gaping about the services held by a drunkard and a woman chaser priest.
‚ÄúPhew! A saint? I don‚Äôt believe that!‚ÄĚ Trofin gave him a pause, bluntly cutting his enthusiasm. ‚ÄúI believe you did not see him drinking the brandy and eating up the lard. The saints do not drink brandy and do not eat lard. They only eat roots and herbs.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúIt is you that ate roots and herbs which made you talk about that‚ÄĚ Chirila straightened things up, as he had seen life and was smarter than the others. Saint or not, the thing is that he brings luck wherever he goes. Why do you split hairs? Aren‚Äôt you happy with what you‚Äôve got? Do you want to upset him and chase him away to another village? He will be received with open arms anywhere else, mind that‚Ä¶ And if that‚Äôs not clear enough, remember Grancea‚Ä¶‚ÄĚ
Everybody was thrilled as if they had seen everything again with the mind‚Äôs eyes. Grancea was a tight-fisted and quarrelsome villager who would cavil at everybody‚Äôs doings. He was doing fine/prosperous, but never contented. He believed it was not fair that someone else‚Äôs fortune was growing in value in one year as much as his in a lifetime‚Äôs toil. In one of the falls, when he saw that Anatol was passing by his household indifferently, just like the previous years, he approached him with a sawn off shotgun he used to poach wild boars. He was heavily drunk and was speaking thickly.
‚ÄúI had enough of you, my friend! This year you are coming to my house or to any house at all‚Ä¶‚ÄĚ
The villagers that were watching this hidden behind their gates froze and held their breath. After this knotty tale finally came to an end, and the villagers started to put the blame on each other for not taking any action, and all recalled that they felt the earth would open to swallow the wicked man.
‚ÄúI thought God‚Äôs rage would strike him.‚ÄĚ Tanase the God-fearing added, making a cross as big as the church‚Äôs steeple‚Ä¶
But nothing of all these actually happened. The lumberjack followed Grancea into the orchard and, threatened with the sawn off shotgun, started to split the logs. But with the stark sound of the first log split by the axe a cow‚Äôs bellowing could be heart in the stable. Another log being split, another cow‚Äôs bellowing. Grancea run quickly to the stable and made a cross. The cattle were collapsing one after another with their swollen bellies as if they had eaten fresh lucerne. He turned towards Anatol, green with anger. He cocked the gun, unforgiving.
‚ÄúThis is what you are up to, my friend?‚ÄĚ Grancea laughed cruelly and fired, but the gun flourished in his face like a blood-stained flower.
After everything was over and Grancea was buried, the lumberjack moved on to another house, Pamfil‚Äôs house, where he started to chop the wood as if nothing had happened. The villager was lying in bed for quite a few years with his legs crushed by a fallen tree, now black and blue and full of pus. But as soon as the smoke coming from the freshly-chopped wood raised straight up in the sky, the man got off the bed. He came out of the house and nimbly run after Anatol, and made an attempt to throw himself at his feet to thank him. With a gesture, he stopped him and although he rarely talked, said these words:
‚ÄúI was fully honoured for my work. But for the other things, only God knows why you want to thank me.‚ÄĚ
Pamfil did not say a word; he only followed him with his eyes in tears, till he lost sight of him. The, turning back to his house from where the smoke was going up in the sky, drew a deep breath and said as if for himself:
‚ÄúI really believe this smoke is incense and not plain smoke‚ÄĚ‚Ä¶
Time passed by, and Grancea‚Äôs animals recovered, and the villagers remembered that Grancea‚Äôs shotgun was very old and, tight-fisted as he was, he refused to buy a new one, despite the fact that many people told him that the old rack will blow his own head one day. As nobody enjoyed remembering this story, it was soon forgotten.
Though, the women in the hamlet had a different opinion.
‚ÄúThis man suffered from love,‚ÄĚ the passionate Paraschiva used to say. ‚ÄúThis is my feeling and I‚Äôm never wrong in this matter. He lives alone, isolated up in the mountains, but the man inside him will not give him peace. When he looks at me, a shiver passes over me‚Ä¶‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúDon‚Äôt tell me that, Paraschiva. A shiver passes over you as well when you look at the saints painted in the church‚ÄĚ, the women would answer, envious.
‚ÄúThat‚Äôs true, I don‚Äôt deny that‚ÄĚ, Paraschiva run them close. ‚ÄúThey are passed over by shivers, no matter how painted they are‚ÄĚ.
‚ÄúYou, sinner!‚ÄĚ the women laughed indulgently, and walked away nudging each other and making small crosses. In such a small hamlet, it was not hard to find out that for the past few years the young widow had been initiating the young lads in the sweet art of loving‚Ä¶ Moreover, even some earnest villagers were also had visited her orchard at dusk but, as there was never a scandal; everything was passed over in silence.
And it appeared that Paraschiva was finally right, although many could not believe it. For a couple years, after choosing a household or another according to his own rules and logic, as if he had to get rid of a duty that could not have been postponed, he would then walk straight to Zaharia‚Äôs house. This was an earnest, hard working and witty man. Everybody gave their opinions, but Paraschiva came out to be right:
‚ÄúI am sure Zaharia‚Äôs youngest daughter resembles the woman he loved so much long time ago. Listen to me: in one or two years, when this lass will grow mature, he will become a married man‚Ä¶
‚ÄúYou must be crazy‚ÄĚ everybody were saying, hoping she would be wrong. ‚ÄúCan‚Äôt you see how old he is? Zaharia‚Äôs daughter, Irina, is so unripened‚Ä¶‚ÄĚ
The year this actually happened, everybody were still hoping that Parashiva was wrong, but everything happened so fast, that anyone had the time to say something, not to speak about doing something.
When he entered Zaharia‚Äôs orchard to chop the pile of logs prepared as usual, all the children and dogs gathered around him. The children were sited in a circle around him, watching him in amazement how he took every log, put it on the chopping block and then, with a precise movement, split it into two or four, according to its size. And, if the children‚Äôs behaviour was quite justified, nobody could explain why the dogs were drawn close to this man. They were thronging themselves through the children present there, gazing curious at the man in front of them as if he was chopping sausages and not logs. Anyway, it is for sure that nobody ever heard a dog barking. Outside the circle made by the children and dogs, Irina, Zaharia‚Äôs daughter had stopped. Tall and slim, she was leaning against the lumber room, and was staring at the man chopping the wood very anxious, biting his nails.
After everything ended, the children tried to tell what happened but each of them had a different story, so that not much of that could be found out. But mostly sure it was that, while trying to fix a log that won‚Äôt stand on the block, Anatol raised his eyes towards Irina. The same moment, the axe started down the valley, the children were all dumbfounded, and, for the first time in Anatol‚Äôs presence, the dogs snarled with pain. Staring at the log on which big, red blood drops were leaking, Irina came closer to the man. He had covered his face with his hands, and all the onlookers believed he was crying, cause his shoulders were shrugging in wide, large movements. Only when Irina moved his hands away from his face, everybody could see that Anatol was laughing from the bottom of his heart. When the girl tore off a piece of her top to tie his wound, looking into his eyes, happy, as if the spell was broken, the children scattered away to their playgrounds, while the dogs left away, playing ‚Ä¶
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