Translated and edited by Joachim Neugroschel


But the outdoors was even hotter. It was a day in July. The sun stood at its zenith, roasting and broiling mercilessly. On the wooden or thatched roofs of Mazepevke, it poured out thousands of rays, that trembled and hovered, like the waves of a river. Schoolboys say: "The Shekhinah (Divine Presence) is resting."
Rachel stood facing the market. It was vast and deserted. The shops with red curtains were open, and the women sat on rectangular stools, knitting stockings at a fearful speed. Troughs of berries, cookies, shortbread stood by their sides, and a goat kept sneaking up with a hankering to cause trouble, only the
women wouldn't let her. Far, far away, a pair of oxen were
trudging along, dragging a huge wagon filled with sheaves of grain and sending up an enormous swirl of powder. Behind it walked a little peasant boy, barefoot, with a big, warm hat, a bag, and a long whip; and a dog was running after him, with a lolling tongue.
Rachel stood there, gazing at the humdrum scene, and compared it with her sky-blue silk dress, with the pearls, bracelets, eardrops, rings - and she felt alien to the surroundings, to the whole of nature, she felt betwixt and between, neither a market vendor nor a countess -simply a Jewish woman, a daughter of Israel, that was all, she had a husband, she lived with her in-laws, never doing a lick of work, and her husband was either in synagogue or at the market, walking about with his cane and cracking jokes.
Now, standing there, close to nature, Rachel, for the first time ever, began thinking about her life, about who she was, and a new thought passed through her mind, she was lacking something she didn't know what, but something was lacking, something was missing ....
Rachel was a simple Jewish woman, devoid of tricks or dodges. In a word, what we call a "daughter of Israel." Growing up among a lot of children, she was nothing special to her parents in Skvirre: "A daughter, so what? Let her grow up as best she can . . . ." And so that she wouldn't wander about in front of them, and so that they might have one less child underfoot, they whisked her off to Hebrew school with her brothers. Then, when she got a hit older, they sent her to Mottl Shpraiz, the tutor for girls, and he taught her how to write. There, Rachel had her girl friends, of course, younger and older, but she liked hanging around the older girls, she liked hearing them tell stories, lovely, wondrous tales. And the girls, in turn, liked Rachel for her singing, her lovely singing.
"Sing for us, Rachel, darling! C'mon, sing! There are no boys around!"
Rachel was ashamed of singing in front of boys and adults, and her friends even told her it wasn't right to sing for big boys, a girl mustn't do that ....
"C'mon, Rachel. Sing! Just look at her! She has to be coaxed!"
And Rachel obeyed the big girls and crooned a song, a Yiddish ditty, in her soft, delicate voice.

On the mountain stood a dove,
And she so sadly did hum:
Where oh where is my sweet love?
To me he cannot come....
Rachel sang the song with great feeling, as though she understood the word "love." The others, however - I mean the older girls - did seem to understand, for they would sigh and grieve and, occasionally, shed a tear ....
They loved hearing Rachel sing these songs, and the one who enjoyed it most was Haia-Etel, a very beautiful girl, an orphan. She was not unusual. Her life story was that of many Jewish girls, and it can be reeled off as quickly as a blessing. Here it is:
Once, and not so long ago, there were two brothers in the town of Skvirre, one was named Aaron and the other Leyb. Aaron died while still young, and his wife died soon after, leaving their daughter Haia-Etel. Her uncle Leyb felt sorry for her and took her into his home along with her inheritance. But Uncle Leyb didn't act very decently towards the orphan, he kept the inheritance (some three thousand rubles supposedly) for himself and gave her the air (if you'll pardon the expression) - he married her off to a bigot, a philistine, the worst kind of scoundrel, who tormented the life out of her. And, while still young, only twenty-two, Haia-Etel passed away.
Now our Rachel was as close as could be to Haia-Etel, and they loved each other very much. One Sabbath afternoon, the two of them had been sitting together at a window, coiffured and wearing their Sabbath best, as is proper. Rachel, as usual, was singing her songs, and Haia-Etel was listening. The song went:
Ah, you're going away,
Ah, you're going away,
And you're leaving me behind! . . .
"Rachel, my dear, Rachel, my sweet!" said Haia-Etel. "Sing it again!"
"Again?" Rachel asked in surprise. "Well, I can start all over again, if you like."
Ah, you're going away,
Ah, you're going away,
And you're leaving mee bee-hiiiind!
All at once, Rachel saw the orphan cover her face with her hands, her shoulders were heaving. Rachel stopped singing when she heard her sob.
"Goodness gracious, Haia-Etel! You're crying!? Why in the world are you crying? What's wrong, tell me, Haia-Etel? Why are you crying so suddenly?"
"Oh, Rachel dear!" she answered with a sob. "Oh, Rachel dear.. That song, that song of yours!"
"My song? What's the matter with it? Why is it making you cry like that?"
"Oh, Rachel, don't ask, don't ask a bitter heart! There's a fire burning in me! An infernal blaze, right here, can't you see!"
And Haia-Etel pointed at her own heart, and Rachel looked at her, amazed and confused.
"Why are you looking at me like that, Rachel? You don't understand, you can't feel what's in me. My heart is so heavy, I'm so miserable, so devastated, I have such awful troubles - I really have to tell you everything . . . everything!"
And Haia-Etel told Rachel a story, a sad story, an ordinary story, that occurs so frequently among Jews, but still a very sad story - about how her Uncle Leyb had treated her so hideously, and most of all, that wicked woman, her aunt, and if it weren't for their young son, Benjamin, she would have run away long ago or else thrown herself into the river. .Benjamin was her only consolation in the world, they had grown up together, he was like a brother to her, a blood brother - but now he had gone away, leaving her with all her cares and woes, as though he were a stranger, a total stranger.
"I don't understand, Haia-Etel. Why would anyone be so grief-stricken if their very own brother had gone away, and he isn't even a real brother!"
"Oh, Rachel. You don't know how close I felt to him, how much a part of me he was, really, just like my own brother, even more than my own brother, I tell you! Whenever I saw Benjamin, there was a light in front of my eyes, and when he went away . . . ."
"Benjamin had to go away, Haia-Etel. He got married!"
"Oh, Rachel darling, don't say that, I can't hear it. The word 'married' tears my heart out! When I hear someone say 'Benjamin got married,' then I don't feel like living anymore. .You just don't know, Rachel. And I hope you never ever know anything like this .... Why are you looking at me like that? Benjamin promised, he swore he would marry me."
"But then why didn't he marry you, Haia-Etel?"
"You're like a child, Rachel. How can you ask? He probably wasn't destined for me. He was probably meant for her!"
"But he swore he'd marry you."
"So what! He was getting ready to tell his father, he kept putting it off day after day. He was afraid of him - you know what Uncle Leyb is like - until they arranged the engagement with her. And when I tried to talk to him about it, he told me the wedding was still a long way off, he'd be able to talk to his father - and so the months went by and the years, until the day came, that awful day, the most wretched day in my life .... I was at the wedding myself, I saw everything with my own eyes, everything, I watched him put the ring on her finger, I heard him say the things a bridegroom has to say .... The cantor and choristers were singing, and Benjamin looked at the ground to avoid my eyes - but I know he saw me .... Oh, Rachel! How can I go on living? How can I endure it?"
"If that's the way he is, Haia-Etel, then he's a big liar and absolutely worthless."
"No, don't say that, Rachel. You don't know Benjamin. You don't know how wonderful he is, you don't know what a good heart he has! . . . It's all Uncle Leyb's fault that monster! My father's blood upon his head, oh God, oh God!"
"Goodness, he's really gotten to you, Haia-Etel!"
"Gotten to me?! I'm dying, I'm at the end of my rope - and you say he's gotten to me!"
"Well, and what about her, Haia-Etel? Is she pretty?"
"Benjamin's wife."
Haia-Etel turned crimson at these words, and then pallid, and then all sorts of colors. Rachel couldn't understand why her friend didn't answer. But she did sense that she mustn't repeat the question. "She's probably uncomfortable, so she's not saying anything, she's upset, she doesn't want to talk about it . . . ."
Some time later, Rachel saw her friend at a wedding, at Haia-Etel's own wedding. She was a bride like all brides, she sat the way a bride ought to sit, kept silent, walked to the canopy, put her wig on the next day, had a wan face, a brooding look, she didn't seem cheerful .... But so what, it didn't matter: That's the way a bride has to be. What is she supposed to do? Dance a jig? . . .
Who could tell what was on her mind, in her heart? A Jewish woman's heart is a secret, a big secret. A box, a closed box, and it's not proper for any man to peek inside, it's not really very respectful ....
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