Blesok no. 38, September-October, 2004

The Eagle and Agnija

Blaže Minevski

    — Methodius, my brother, today I want us to have a word, far from all else, about a nun, and this multicolored wind, now blowing in vain into our monks’ tunics, and I beg it gently not to broadcast my pleas – with faith in your respected discretion – I now add. For forty years now she had hidden in my memory – through many monasteries, so as not to be found by her bitter brother. But, she is not afraid for herself, brother – for she has already found her peace – but she is afraid for her brother, for he might transgress, and then God will have no mercy on his sinful soul. Now he must be an old man, brother, for she also is not the small bird that fled at night, wanting to dedicate her whole life to Him, our and the world’s almighty and omnipotent master. Now she is a abbess and alone in her monastery, but still she prays to God to save her brother from the sin that perhaps still persistently pursues him in his memories. And it was a long time ago, she was very young, she was a fresh rose that held the dew in its still unopened blossom. She was a bird that collects only fragrances in its gentle dreams, untouched by the wind, unmoved by the evil words of simple people in their truly pagan village. I say, she was so young, brother, so beautiful brother, and only God knows if she was then only sixteen or seventeen.
    — I was eighteen, and since I was nine I knew I would be a nun. Once I was cleaning the icon of the Virgin Mary, and the sun was dancing on my fingers. I was wiping the glass and prayed aloud for my brother to return from the front, and as I prayed, without my feeling it, a tear fell on the icon. I wiped it off, and there was a second one, and another appeared under it, and then I realized Mary was crying. I hung her on the wall and stood in front of her, to comfort her. She was crying, I was crying, she was praying, I was praying, and it became dark. I lay down to sleep and she entered my dreams, small, a little gourd like me, and she said to me: “Your brother will return, sister, he will return, but my son is far away. Only your pure tears and your strong faith can protect him, wounded, from evil eyes and infidels, sister!” And she melted away, naked, she flowed onto the reed mat, like foam that sinks into a thirsty furrow of an unplowed field. For a year afterwards I kept quiet, I was hiding, I alone prayed for my brother, and he returned to me. When he returned, he first drank some water from the well, and then he made crosses for my father and my brother Angele, and then he sat on the stairs and did not move for three days, he didn’t say anything, he was neither alive nor dead, he was just blinking and sweating, it was pouring off him, sweat was running down into his mouth. On the third day he stood up and he started fixing up the yard with some strange strength – he cleaned up the outdoors, the basement, the summer kitchen, the horse and mule stables, the stove, he replaced the rotted threshold of the stairs, he renewed the sticks on the porch and fence. Before sunset he dressed my mother and me in white, he sprayed the yard with spring water and got married. He was singing with his friends under the plum tree in the yard, and I told my mother what would happen next. I think that she also wanted to say something, but I think her hand just dropped in her lap and she started crying. Downstairs they were singing.
    — Do you have to do it, daughter? she said. I live just for you and your brother, now I have only you. So she said, and my brother stood up from under the porch and shook the plum tree. Blossoms fell on the table, and it turned white as if there were snow in our yard. A flock of captured stars hung above the gate.
    — That’s how he wants it, mother, and that’s how it will be! I told her. My mother got up, leaning on the two crutches my father Blagun made for her before he died, and she clung to me like a dry leaf.
    — How shall we tell him, see how happy he is! she whispered into my neck.
    — God will make him hear and he will have to agree! I told her.
    — As you have decided, she said, and the people below were shaking the white blossoms from their hair and singing. Then, she said, you should take your vows when you feel the temptation to be a woman. Now you are still a child. Wait for your blood to mature. Then your sacrifice will be much greater. It is difficult to be a woman and not know what a woman is. Now you still can’t understand how this sacrifice hurts! she said as if collecting her words in her soul, and then she was silent. That silent voice died, nesting in my soul like a bird at night. Her tears burned into my palm under her neck. I still remember that.
    — She remembers even now, brother, those hot tears in the pit of her throat. And then she spoke no more. Her brother just shook the plum tree once, but the blossoms had already fallen, along the ridge of the yard wall, the day was coming. Eight years later, to the very day, Annunciation, she left with a small bundle of clothes under her arm, and then she switched monasteries, hiding from her brother’s pain. Only the star that stood guard that night above the gate of their yard, and which now always followed her on her travels, pierced through the branches and leaves of the nearby forest, and it saw her leaving. And now, brother, maybe you already know that I speak of sister Agnija, and you perhaps know that she is here.
    — Now I’m here. And I have no news from my brother. I know that his wife died quickly, and I know that he was sitting alone on the stairs and the well overflowed with sorrowful water. When my prayers are done, I go down to the lower stable and there I speak with my tame doe. I only have it left, and last year I had three. Two died of fright in the winter. It was a blizzard, a storm, the trees fled from the cold, and in the stable in the night, a pack of wolves gathered and they howled, they gnawed at the door, they ate splinters, thorns, splinters from the threshold. In the dawn the two does were found dead – they died of fear. The one that I have left was crouched under them, its muzzle in the mud, and we barely revived it, with sweet water and mint tea. See how gently it eats from my hand now. Animals know what love is. From far away they feel if somebody loves them. The way I call the sheep, they come here in a second from the lower meadows, to the sheepfold – nobody has to herd them. Only the eagle that comes to the bell tower and strikes the bell with his beak – only he never listens when I call him.
    — That eagle, brother, her monastery eagle, always comes, wherever she is. He won’t let her sleep, he strikes the bell, and he screeches. I told her yesterday, sister Agnija, I said, let’s call somebody to chase him away, it’s not good that he strikes the bell, and he strikes it horribly, like a dead man, once, then it goes on, another time, and again, and then again, like bad fortune, and she again throws him bread crumbs in front of the gate and says to me: “He also suffers, brother Stephen, maybe he doesn’t know how to love. Maybe he strikes it for himself!” – she says this and enters the church to pray and consecrate the night’s healing water for tomorrow’s feast day – Annunciation. And my heart is filled with sorrow, the aquiline beak strikes me in the middle of my heart, and it scratches, it screeches.
    — One day I entered the church and lit candles for health and happiness, for prosperity and peace, because Christmas was coming, with its observance. I finished praying and was ready to leave, when all the candles went out – like a miracle, as if in a dream. I have never seen such a sign, nor have I believed that such a thing could happen. Later, two years later, I found out that on that very day, just as I prayed for her blessed soul, my poor mother died alone, at the gate. Completely alone, though among people.
    — And then it happened, brother, the thing I started talking about before that multicolored wind stopped me. I called a man, and he caught the eagle quietly one morning in a fishnet of entwined strings and took him somewhere far into the mountains. Sister Agnija thought that the eagle had left on its own, having grown weary of the heavy sound of the bell. But the miracle happened the next day – when she went out to toss bread crumbs in front of the gate, the bell started tolling as if the eagle were still there. It happens like this every day, every day, brother Methodius!
    — Did it toll today?
    — It did, brother Methodius…
    — I heard nothing!
    — I should have kept quiet, brother Methodius.
    — And sister Agnija? Where is she now? Either I can’t see her or she’s gone…
    — She’s here, brother Methodius, I see her!
    — You can see her, but I can’t. How come you can see her, when I can’t?
    — She was my sister, brother Methodius.
    — So she’s not alive?
    — She might be alive, brother Methodius. For fourteen years she has been switching monasteries to save me…
    — All right, brother Stephen, it’s time, toll the bell!
    The old monk Stephen stood up on his two crutches of oak, and he dragged himself to the bell tower. When the bell rang, the blossoms of the plum tree in front of the south gate started falling. Above it, in the damp fishnet of the night, a flock of stars hovered.

Translated by: Elizabeta Bakovska

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