STEMPENIU: A JEWISH ROMANCE
- SHOLOM ALEICHEM
STEMPENIU AND HIS BAND
The sensation made by Stempeniu and his band when
they came to a little town, the turmoil they aroused, simply cannot be
"Hey look! There's a four-horse wagon coming
round from behind the mills. It must be the in-laws!"
"Nope! It's the musicians. That's Stempeniu and
"What? Stempeniu? Stempeniu's here already? Now
that'll be a merry wedding for Haym ben-Tsion-damn his eyes!"
Jewish wives blushed. Jewish girls set about
combing their hair and weaving their long braids. Boys rolled their pants
up to their thighs and ran to welcome Stempeniu. And even grown men, bearded
husbands, let out smiles, which meant they were thrilled that Stempeniu
had come to play at Haym ben-Tsion's wedding. Fine! Why not? Why should
they care? It wasn't costing them any money, was it?
By the time the wagon fetched up at the inn,
the street was chock-full of people. Everyone was curious to catch a look
at Stempeniu and his gang, and so they stood there for a moment.
"Just look at them shoving!" everyone yelled,
and shoved to the front, as Jews are wont to do. "Just look at him elbowing
his way, he wants to be the first! What's there to look at? Haven't you
ever seen musicians before?"
That's what each Jew said, pushing his way up
to the wagon, while the musicians emerged one by one.
The first to step down was Yokel the Bassist
(who played the contrabass), a nasty man with a squashed nose and with
wads of cotton in his ears. Next came Leybush with his clarinet, a drowsy
mannikin with thick lips. He was followed by Haykel Hump, tile Haykel Hump,
the hunchbacked wedding jester. Then out jumped a man with a tangle of
black hair and with hair all over like a wild man from the desert, and
terrifying bushy eyebrows. That was Shneyer-Meyer the back-up fiddler.
A couple of boys came leaping after him, ferocious-looking creatures with
swollen cheeks, blackened eyes, dreadful buckteeth the size of shovels.
These were the apprentices, who were still working for nothing, but later,
in time, they might turn into respectable musicians. Last but not least,
who should come rolling out on crooked bowlegs, but red-haired Mekhtshi
the Drummer, with a drum that was twice his size. His face was beginning
to sprout a beard, a reddish growth, but only on one side, the right side,
while the other half of his face, the left side, was naked, as barren as
a steppe. Mekhtshi the Drummer, you must know, had first married at thirty,
and rumor had it that his wife was a hermaphrodite ....
The town scamps had probably spread the news
that Stempeniu was coming with his band. Every so often, a schoolboy sneaked
in and gave the drum a bop or twanged the G-string of the contrabass.
The boy got a whack in the nape of his neck from Yokel the nasty bassist.
And little by little, the street began boiling and bubbling, for the bridegroom
had also arrived in town with dozens of young men who had driven out to
meet him on the other side of the mills. And the town of Yampeli did
shout and was glad.
And: like Yampeli, like Stristsh, and all the
other little Jewish towns that had the privilege of having Stempeniu at
a wedding, and that's how it was in Mazepevke, where Stempeniu made his
home. In short, the whole world was in a turmoil over Stempeniu!