The Old Women s Curses. Chapter 12
In the course of time Cardan fell into his usual habits of constant adventures and booze. He could not live a quiet life of a decent family man, and the marital relationships came up to the brink of precipice. The family life was approaching a disaster. At that time there circled a lot of rumours about his tricks in the village. The number of naive people had greatly decreased: everyone knew about the insidiousness of the cunning deceiver. "Ah, well, you'll be deceiving again," old women said. "We will not deal with you," was heard from the men. Cardan spun as well as he could, letting his talent off "the leash", but the results were minimal. Even at school children told one another about his tricks, and then, when they met him in the street, they pointed their fingers at him and laughed. He was a local star for them, a great con man, almost as smart as a famous deceiver Ostap Bender.
At noon several women gathered near the shop and were vividly discussing the latest rural news.
"Imagine," said one of them, "yesterday Cardan ran into my house with a saw in his hand and hurriedly, as if he had been doing something, said to me, "Quickly, give me a liter of vodka! A trailer of firewood is being delivered to you! Look, look out the window!" I took a look. Indeed, a tractor with the firewood went past my yard. "Let's go faster; we're in a hurry! We are preparing lumber for the collective farm, the guys wanted to warm up and sent me to you! Let's settle it quickly, and I'll run to help them to unload the trailer!" I paid off and waited. Five minutes passed by but there was no tractor at my house. I went outside – nobody there. I waited for half an hour more – silence. Well, I guess the bastard deceived me. Oh, my dear, God will punish him one day! Oh, He will punish him for such tricks!”
“Just the other day he comes to my house and says,” continues the second woman. "We are delivering manure to the collective farm field. The guys decided to get warm and sent me to you. Quickly, give me a liter of vodka, and I'll run back! I'm in a hurry - they are waiting for me! The tractor with the manure is already on its way!"
“I paid off, waited for a little while, then went to the garden - no one. I went out into the street – nobody there. Waited, and waited, and waited – no tractor, nobody. Oh, that scoundrel, oh, that bastard! God will punish him one day for his tricks, oh, He'll punish him!”
"My husband went to buy furniture to the district center," the third woman began. Cardan met him there and told him about his plans because of his naivety. Later Cardan came running to my house and said, "Has your husband returned from the district center?"
“No,” I answered.
“I helped him to load furniture. He said that if I came back late, my wife would pay you for it. So give me half a liter."
“Well, I paid off. My husband came back home and couldn`t understand what I was talking about.
Then I quarreled with him because of that accursed Cardan. I hope he will not escape God's punishment. One day someone will play such a trick on him that he will remember it till he dies!”
"He sold me salt instead of sugar," the fourth woman added. Suddenly, the women's curses started pouring on Cardan`s head like a terrential shower.
Cardan realized that he needed lie down for a while and actually fulfill several promises to regain the trust of some simpleton, and when he lost his vigilance, Cardan would make a move by a chess horse.
Such a simpleton, in his opinion, was approaching Victoria. He got his nickname for his predilection to men rather than women. Rumors of his victories on the love front spread far beyond the village. Cardan knew about his male attraction, but he ventured "to play with fire." He decided to take advantage of his hospitality and leave him "with a nose." Victoria was a master of his craft: if Cardan could deceive old women, Victoria knew how to defeat men. And who will be a winner in this fight, no one could say for sure – both were experts of the highest degree. Victoria invited Cardan to his house. They had a few drinks, talked about their lives, and said goodbye to each other.
The conqueror of the men knew that there was no need to rush, and as a cat, patiently awaiting the appearance of a mouse from a hole who forgot about vigilance, so he expected a favourable moment for the realization of his intention. The great deceiver of old women, in his own turn, like a sparrow, eating food put out to chickens, was indulging in his benefactor's hospitality. But one day he stayed at Victoria`s table longer than usual.
Magical effect of alcohol and a pleasant conversation brought him out of balance. The host poured and poured alcohol, and the guest drank and drank. The conqueror of the men realized that the client had matured. He intentionally touched the mug standing on the table with water, which fell on to Cardan`s lap and moistened his trousers in an intimate place. "Oh, you're all wet. Let me change your clothes, otherwise people might say that you wet yourself," Victoria offered benevolently. Cardan did not understand anything; he did not know why he agreed to the host's offer to change his trousers, and then did not know what was happening, where he was - in hell or paradise - all mixed up in a total blur. Their romantic meeting dragged on for three days.
Cardan's wife rushed to look for her husband all over the village. "He is nowhere to be found. Where did he get to? He has happened to spend a night somewhere but not three days in a row," she lamented. She walked around the whole village, but her husband seemed to fall through the ground. As it turned out, no one had seen him in the village for three days. Finally, she was recommendeded to check at Victoria`s. They said that he had been there recently. Cardan's wife came to his house. "If he is not here," she decided, "I'll call the police and inform them that he is missing."
The door was locked and the curtains on the windows were drawn. She walked around the house trying to find an apparture between the curtains. In the end she got lucky. She looked in and couldn`t understand what was happening. Her hands themselves began to pound at the window. "Open the door! Open it, you scoundrels!" She cried in frenzy, but the door was not opened to her. Having done everything she could to get into the house, she ran to the neighbours, so that they helped her to take the husband from the winner of the men. Victoria, sensing the wrong, quickly dressed Cardan, led him out into the street and put him on a bench near the yard.
The men came running. The great deceiver of old women could neither sit, nor stand, nor, especially, walk after such a friendly visit to Victoria. They took him under his knees with their hands putting his arms on their shoulders and carried him home.
Thus ended the party arranged by two lovers of a game of chance. Nobody knows what really happened there. Someone would blurt out some nonsense with his black tongue, and rumors would spread over the village, and then it would turn out that it was just slander. Therefore, I don`t want to fantasize here as well. But people in the village laughed and said, "There's definitely God in heaven. How deservedly he punished Cardan! He could deceive almost anyone in the village, and who could imagine that he was himself deceived like a child.”
His wife broke up with Cardan and returned to her mother`s house. Cardan, having spent a couple of weeks in bed, recovered and got outside. "Either my intuition failed me, or it all happened because of the old women`s curses," he mumbled but quickly cast aside sad thoughts. "Will I stay in a house forever? It is necessary to be always on a turn! Cardan (driveshaft) is spinning - the car is running." He flung his coat over his shoulders and straightened up, raised his head high, and went around the village "to conquer the world."
Inadvertently, I have recalled the words from the Ukrainian cartoon There Was a Dog, "And Cardan began living as before, even better; forgotten were all his past troubles - all forgotten."
At the time when I was writing this book, I was lucky to meet Cardan. One morning, when the sun just started to rise over the tops of trees standing in a distance, he came to my house tuning into the rustle of awakening nature. “What a great piece of luck,” I thought.
“Do you need mushrooms?” he demonstratively extended a full bag in my direction. I accepted a weighty load.
“Wow, such beautiful mushrooms!” I sniffed in the forest flavour. “And how do you manage with things so early?” I expressed genuine interest.
“You have to be always on the move. Cardan is spinning – the car is running.”
“Yes, It is necessary to spin,” I agreed.
The barter took place. Again he comes to me in half an hour.
“Do you need fish?”
“Yes, I do.”
"I'll bring some more tomorrow," he promised.
"All right, do it."
And this time I paid him.
Again he comes for the third time.
"I`ve just thrown the net; I'll bring some fish in the morning. I came to say that I did not forget about you, otherwise you may think that I got drunk and fell asleep. Give me half a liter, and at the dawn, as soon as the net is pulled out, I`ll come to you immediately.
I knew that he was lying but how beautifully: everything was laid out on the shelves. What kind of net he threw, how he got into the water, what kind of fish were there, he would tell everything to the minutest details.
"You know, I might deceive anyone but you."
“Tell me is it true that when you served in the army near Moscow, you exchanged 100 trucks of sand for booze?”
“Yes, it is, Andrey. I was sent to Kazakhstan to serve up the rest of the term for a punishment.”
“Have there been many interesting things in your life?”
“Oh, Andrey, there have been a lot.”
I couldn`t extract more details of his life from him: a man will not saw off a branch that he is sitting on. He just kept promising that he would help me do any work about my household when I asked him. I listened attentively to him and was glad that there were such funny people on earth. One might have called him a liar, a deceiver, but every person who had ever met him, probably, somewhere in the depths of his soul wanted to be deceived. Otherwise, why those people, who knew his deceptive, always stepped on the same rake? There must have been a kind of inner attraction in that man, some kind of purely human charm ... As a child is forgiven for his pranks because of a lack of inexperience and ignorance of life, so Cardan was forgiven his tricks, because you wanted to see him again, to listen to him, to have a laugh, to enjoy life.
I wanted to believe in his promises, and I gave him half a liter. Although I knew that he would deceive me, but he told me everything so beautifully, so vividly painted his actions, so sweetly promised that there was nothing to be offended of.
I stood looking attentively at Cardan, who was walking away by a quick and confident gait. Sad and warm thoughts filled my head: so much enthusiasm was in that man, so much ostentatious virtue towards people, so much life!
He was able to inspire a person with hope, even if it was temporary, that the world was not without good people; he was able to raise people's mood by talking, to fill with rainbow colours the boring and monotonous routine of a rural worker. Probably, exactly for those positive emotions, received after a conversation with him, he always was forgiven.
"Wow, and what a nice guy he was, just a joke of a man!" I stood and reiterated those words in my mind, which aroused a friendly smile on my face, while Cardan was disappearing behind the corner of the "deserted" street.
Nowadays Ukrainian villages are dying out. I remember how a few years ago I visited one of them. Life was boiling there: people planted vegetable gardens, kept cows; at that place are dilapidated houses now, and only wind flies through the ruins, - the evil wind of change. In that village there was their own "Cardan", and in hundreds of the similar villages that have remained only on the map of the former Soviet Union. There, too, were token men about whom you can write whole volumes, but nobody remembers them now. That's why I decided to leave a memory of Cardan and the stories about his tricks that amused people in the village smoothing their heavy and gray life for dozens of years.
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