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A Rural Tragedy
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A Rural Tragedy
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A Rural Tragedy
A RURAL TRAGEDY
The carter flourished his whip and viciously lashed the donkey. “Move, you sluggard.”
In the cart was a cheap wooden coffin. A few bunches of flowers lay on the dead man’s chest. For his journey to the next world, he was clad in his uniform of a colonel of the Yugoslav army, with all his decorations.
Three elderly women, a middle-aged couple and an eight-year old boy were walking in the cart’s wake.
The boy reached down for a handful of mud, made a ball and flung it at the black bird that was cawing on a roadside tree. Startled, the crow flew off.
“Stop it! How many times do I have to say it?” The young woman, her face haggard with grief, slapped the child’s bottom. “Look at you. You look like a chimney sweep. I can’t believe you did this to your new clothes.”
The urchin made a wry face and sobbed aloud. His wails startled a small lonely sparrow.
“Shut up! Shut the hell up!” The man gave him a fierce look and the boy froze, whimpering quietly and trying to wipe his tears.
“Don’t cry, honey.” The woman wiped away the child’s tears and hugged him. “Be a good boy.”
The child threw his hands around her neck and stopped sobbing.
“Move, Marko!” The carter lashed the donkey and adjusted the hood of his raincoat. “Damn funeral!”
The rain kept pouring. The sad procession finally reached the old Christian cemetery. The carter jumped off the cart and opened the rusty iron door. The hinges gave a painful creak. A crow flew over the cemetery and perched on an overturned gravestone.
The carter led the donkey by the reins. The child started to cry again. “I want home!”
“Be patient, honey,” said the women and kissed him gently on the cheek. “We will be going home soon.”
The man frowned and raised the collar of his cheap overcoat.
“Can’t you make him stop whining? He’s getting on my nerves.” He glared at the boy. “What a mollycoddle he is!”
“Why don’t you leave the kid alone,” she flared. “He’s cold and he’s soaked to the skin, that’s why he’s crying.” Suddenly her voice was no longer soft, it now had a steel ring, and the woman’s beautiful brown eyes flashed angrily.
The man muttered something and hurried on. He stumbled into a stone and fell flat in the sticky mud.
“Damn it!” he swore, spitting mud. “Fucked weather!”
He tried to stand up but he slipped and fell back on his face. He swore angrily.
The child laughed, staring at him wide-eyed. For an instant he forgot he was hungry and wet and a smile flashed on his face.
“Mom, look,” he laughed. “A scarecrow.”
“Hush, be quiet,” she reproached him and gave him a gentle slap on the back. “Your father…”
“He is not my real father,” the boy interrupted and frowned again.
“How… how did you know,” the mother gasped and looked at him suspiciously.
“Granny Maria told me: he is not your real father, your real father left your mother when you were three years old… Is that true, Mom?”
“Listen, honey, we’ll talk about it later… I can’t carry you, you are too heavy…”
“Let him walk,” the man broke in. “Look what a big boy he is.”
The boy splashed happily in the mud and started humming a tune.
“That old hag Maria told him you were not his real father,” spoke the woman, watching his face closely.
“Sooner or later he would find out,” he replied coldly and frowned.
The sad procession finally stopped. The gravedigger was waiting, rubbing his freezing fingers. The grave was ready. The crow shook his wet body and gave another croak.
“… and let the light of God illuminate your way. Rest in peace. Amen,” said the old woman and crossed herself.
“Amen,” echoed back the other old women and crossed themselves piously.
The boy threw the bunch of flowers into the grave. His eyes were wet with tears. His beloved grandfather who had been bringing him sweets and who had allowed him to ride on his back was dead. The boy did not understand what it meant to die. His mother had explained to him that this grandpa would go to a place called “heaven” where it was always spring, angels as white as snow wandered above, birds sang in the trees, there was no winter and there were no evil men in black limos.
The boy touched his neck where the wound had not yet healed. “The bad guys will go to another place called “hell” and hairy devils will boil them in huge cauldrons full of hot tar and will prick them with their tridents. The bad guys will moan in pain…” The child smiled. He would have liked to be the big bad devil…
The gravedigger threw a few handfuls of earth on the coffin and said:
“That’s it, I’ll come back to bury him tomorrow.”
One of the old women tried to protest but he snapped at her:
“He’s dead, right? He’s not going anywhere. If I don’t get home quickly, someone will have to dig me a grave.”
He dropped the shovel and ran to his house.
No one attempted to stop him. The rain was trickling into the grave.
“Farewell, Dad.” The young woman wiped her tears.
The dead man was not her real father but he had raised her as if she had been his own daughter. She had been only 45 days old when her real father was run over by German tanks in Berlin. The woman only knew him from the photographs. A modest-looking man, his hair cut short, wide forehead, gentle brown eyes. Just like her eyes.
The woman threw a last rose into the grave and turned round, sobbing. She felt naked, lonely and abandoned...
The boy saw his mother crying, walked up to her and took her hand.
“Don’t cry, Mom!”
“Let’s go home, honey.” She wiped her tears. “You’ll catch a cold.”
She put an arm around the child and walked through the mud behind the grim tall man…
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© 2003 Nik Siromah
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