Palm Sunday by Ruwen Rouhs

Palm Sunday Magic

by Ruwen Rouhs


Jannis lived in a ramshackle house at the end of the single street of a small northern village. Indeed, he lived in the smallest and most run down house of all houses in the small village at a small creek running to the south. Here he lived with his mother, two cats, twelve hens and a rooster and an always starving pig. His father had left his family years ago, not even promising to come back.

Jannis’ mother made their living by sewing clothes for the farmers and mending worn ones, tending sick neighbors and whiny toddlers, cooking at weddings and christening ceremonies, even washing bodies of deceased before the funerals. She had to be busy all day long, seven days a week, three-hundred-sixty-five days a year just to make enough for food for both of them. Nonetheless Jannis went to bed hungry every other day.

Jannis was the smallest teen of his age group. Having a tender frame at fourteen he looked like nine or ten years of age, sporting unkempt blond curly hairs, his bright blue eyes often concealed by a hair flip. Jannis liked to dream up adventures of brave knights rescuing sweet virgins from the claws of fire spitting dragons, and strolling along the banks of the fast running creek regardless of the season. Nearly as much as daydreaming he liked to read. They didn’t have a library at home, not even a book case. Anyway he didn’t need a book case because the only books besides his old primer and a dog-eared prayer book were some outdated almanacs handed down to him by pitying neighbors.

*****

The village had a small school building with a single classroom. The feeble, nearsighted teacher was giving lessons to the eleven to fourteen year old students in the morning hours and the six to ten year old ones in the afternoon. 13 boys and 15 girls attended the morning classes. As already pointed out Jannis was small for his age while all the other lads were sturdy-looking, stocky lads, all of them sons of farmers. While Jannis liked school and earned best grades, the other hated school and when they left school to become farmers they were almost illiterate.

During school breaks and on Sunday afternoons after church service, the village lads played rough games like cops and robbers, wrestling and rugby or went in the woods hunting for small game. Jannis would have loved to join in, but the others lads didn’t let him take part, or even kicked him out after he joined unasked. They liked to mock him, especially Arun, a bully, the head of the lads, and the idol of his peers. “Hey Blondy” he and the other lads laughed him down, “Go play with the girlies or pamper babies! Don’t dare to join us wise ass, if you do you will end up in the manure pit.” These threats scared Jannis, but not too much, because he was as fast as a thunderbolt and could outrun all of them.

*****

Often Jannis was unhappy, he wanted to play with the others, roam the field and woods with the others, in short be buddy to the others. He especially wanted to be Arun’s best buddy. Arun was the strongest of them all, a square lad with dark hair and dark eyes, the second son of the most successful farmer. Arum was not only a roughneck but also was cruel. He didn’t care for Jannis at all. He was the one who picked on him the most especially after he became aware Jannis was adoring his strength and desperately longed to be his friend. From that moment on Arun despised Jannis and treated him like shit.

Arun had a brother about five years older, a slender nearly grown up young man. His name was Bardo. Jannis was even more scared of Bardo than of Arun. This was odd, because there was no actual reason to this. Jannis’ fear was the result of Bardo’s clumsiness as a boy of seven. Bardo had always liked children, especially the fair haired, delicate Jannis. Once as he took Jannis for a walk in his carriage, the stroller turned over, the two-year-old Jannis dropped to the stony ground and suffered a head injury.

Bardo, or Bardolino as all the girls called him, was the young man every girl in the village had a crush on, not only because he was heir of the biggest farm in the village, but also because of his good looks and his nice manners. Bardo didn’t seem to mind the stares he got. He even was flattered and liked to flirt. He was self-confident and daring but gentle, like the gentle giant of the old tale. Unlike his ruffian brother, Bardo was polite to everyone. At the country fair he used to dance the night away, making all village belles sick with desire.

At the New Year’s dance, Bardo spotted a shock of sparkling blond curls at the ball room door in midst of a bunch of curious, dark haired lads. The curls grabbed his attention while he was flinging one girl after the other high into the air. After the dance was over Bardo rushed to the door, but the blond hair was nowhere to be seen. Asking Arun who the girl with the beautiful hair had been, he got the mocking answer: “Dear brother, out for another love adventure? Bad luck! It was Blondy, the little wise ass I have to put up with in school every day. That poor rat lives in that ramshackle hut at the end of the village. That sissy is not a girl, it's a boy; it’s just that smartass Jannis.” than he tried to mock his brother, “Hey dear brother, I never expected you to lay an eye on a boy, especially not on Jannis!”

But Bardo had. He didn’t know why. But he just couldn’t get the sparkling shock of curls and the small frame standing out between the other boys out of his mind. He began to wrack his head to find an excuse to get to know Jannis better. But as soon as he caught a glimpse of Jannis and Jannis of him, the blond boy would run away. So Bardo started to spy on Jannis. He tried to find out every detail about him. He started to ask his brother all sort of questions about Jannis, about his habits, his preferences, his pastime hobbies, he even asked if Jannis had a girlfriend. But Arun brushed his brother off and mocked him “Are you in love with this little shit? You can have him. All the girls are laughing at the poor wretch!” Bardo ignored Arun and turned his back on him.

*****

After the New Year’s dance Bardo grew restless and for the remainder of the cold season he tried feverishly to trap Jannis. The more Bardo tried, the more Jannis got scared and would hide away as soon he suspected Bardo was around the corner. When spring came around, Bardo got even stranger. He became impolite at home and to the girls ogling at him. Now he did the chores at his father's farm rather unwillingly, acted up against the old man and finally retreated into a shell. At the same time his curiosity for Jannis increased with every day. His curiosity rose like the snow whites flowers popping out of the snow at the end of the winter. Bardo even acquired habits known as Jannis’, like strolling alone along the banks of the swift running creek and reading books. Bardo actually started to read books for the first time since he had left school.

*****

Brooding over an old almanac, Bardo finally decided for a ploy. The almanac featured old rural customs. The one that struck Bardo the most was known in this part of the world as the “Palm Sunday Magic.” This magic was actually intended to work for girls trying to win the heart of the young man they longed for. But Bardo said to himself, “Jannis is so delicate and cute, cuter than any of the girls near and far. I know he is desperately looking for a friend, let it be me! He even prayed every night, “Please dear Lord, please let Jannis and me become friends!”

Being well aware of Jannis’ fondness for reading and his lack of books, he slipped the old almanac through the crack of door of the house Jannis lived in with his mother. Bardo had deliberately soiled the pages of the almanac except for those with the lore of the “Palm Sunday Magic”.

Hungry, exhausted and in low spirits, Jannis came home after school. Again, the other boys had ridiculed him because of his good performance in school and then shooed him a good part of the way to his home. At home he just wanted to get into his bed, slip under the cover and cry away his pain and frustration. But now there was this book! Whom had it belonged to? Who had slipped it through the crack in the door? Certainly not his mother, she never would have placed a book on the lime floor of the house, even a soiled one. Curious but still upset, he began to turn the pages, but there were only three clean pages left, three pages and one story only. Jannis started to read the story immediately.

*****

Was this story a good omen? Was it a gift from heaven? He contemplated. Should he try the “Palm Sunday Magic” to make Arun his friend? His mind warned him, “Don’t believe such silly stuff; that’s just lore!” On the other hand, what had he to lose? He needed a friend, a strong friend. He needed a friend now, more urgently than ever before.

There were three more days to go until Palm Sunday. Jannis used the time for preparation. He checked out the best suited place to do the magic at the small creek, a place as close to the farm of Arun’s father as possible. He prayed that Arun would know the lore of the “Palm Sunday Magic” also and walk down to the creek so they could meet at the crack of dawn. He prayed that Arun would accept a drink of the creek water from his jug. He prayed that this would happen. To promote his luck he switched from the Lord's Prayer to rosaries.

Jannis had to find the appropriate jug for this crucial endeavor. He decided for the tin jug his father had left behind when he abandoned him and his mother. The jug was his only heirloom. It was already slightly dented, nonetheless it was still his most valued possession because of the roaring stag on the one side and the dogs fighting a boar on the other.

Jannis was hardly able to close an eye on the evening preceding Palm Sunday, nor was Bardo. Deliberately Bardo went to bed very late. Despite his fatigue he tossed and turned in his bed impatiently awaiting the morning concert of the birds. Bardo jumped out of bed as soon the song of the first redstart bird was heard. In the twilight before sunrise, he secretly slipped out of the house and hurried down the sandy path running from the farm to the creek. Here he hid behind some shrubbery by a hay-shed just off the creek.

Sweat-soaked Jannis woke up out of his dreamless sleep in dead of the night. There was no sign of life heard in the old house, just the cracking noise of the dry wooden beams. He tossed about under his blanket until the redstarts began to sing. Barefoot he sneaked down the creaking staircase, slipped through the grating door, crossed the open countryside and was close to the creek as he remembered with terror he had forgotten the jug at home. He hurried back, praying that the roosters wouldn’t start crowing before he was back at the creek.

*****

Jannis was lucky. The concert of the roosters started just as his bare feet touched the cold sand of the bank at the creek. Reluctantly he jumped into the knee deep water. The icy waves stabbed his legs like needles. He began splashing cold water into his face and over his hair as the lore required. Cleaned by the icy water he filled the jug mumbling quick prayers.

Jannis suddenly shivered. The cold started creeping up his lean legs and up his skinny body, up to his fast throbbing heart. Would he be the first to meet Arun? Jannis looked around. Where was Arun? Jannis began to panic! He had prayed Arun should show up on the bank of the creek! But the bank was empty. Jannis repeated the Lord’s Prayer he had done the evening before. He repeated the pledge of an offering to the virgin St. Mary. He repeated his vow to be chaste for all his future life. However Arun didn’t show up at the bank of the creek! Nobody was there! Had all his prayers been in vain? He became desperate.

With chattering teeth Jannis waited for the sun to rise. Then he dragged himself along the path back to the village, freezing, tears of frustration running down his cheeks, defeated!

*****

Bardo hadn’t noticed Jannis coming down to the creek. Now, as the sun was up, he was pretty sure his ploy had failed. Surely Jannis was securely sleeping in his cozy bed. Bardo's plot had been in vain. He was a miserable failure! All chances had been lost. Gutted, he decided to walk back home. Just this moment he sensed the tapping of feet and a muted sobbing approaching from down at the creek. Alarmed, Bardo stepped out from his hiding and crashed into the sobbing, devastated Jannis.

In the first moment Jannis beamed. His blurred vision making him believe he’d run into Arun’s arms. When he realized his mistake, he winced. It wasn’t Arun! It was that frightening Bardo. Jannis broke down, he lost balance, part of the Palm Sundays' water spilled out of the jug, he fainted in the flutter of an eye. Bardo was afraid that the dream he was chasing after for months now, was in the process of going terribly wrong. Supporting the fainting Jannis with his arms forced an immediate decision upon him. Bardo lifted Jannis' limp body up and carried him into the hay-shed, put him down onto the fragrant hay and started hesitantly to revive his past-out dream.

Slowly Jannis’ mind drifted back into consciousness, enjoying soft touches of delicate hands on his chest, feeling his cold feet wrapped in a warm cloth and after a while gentle kisses on his forehead and cheeks. Still somewhat dizzy, he heard a tender voice whisper, “I love you so much, my Jannis, my dear Jannis! I love you so much, please wake up!” He felt cared for like he had never felt in his life before. He felt safe. Slowly he opened his eyes and gazed into the worried of a young man, of Bardo, the one Jannis dreaded since he was a boy of two. And just this young man was whispering again and again, “Dear Jannis, I love you!” Then the voice asked the inevitable question “Do you love me back, my dear Jannis?”

*****

Both of their lives changed in just a moment. Jannis left behind his fear and suddenly was sure Bardo was his destiny. And Bardo? Bardo knew that wherever Jannis was he had to be too. Both stayed in the hay-shed for a long time in silence, holding each other, caressing each other, kissing each other. Hours later, church bells began to invite the villagers to the Palm Sunday service. For the two however these hours between sunrise and Sunday Mass had passed like a minute. As Bardo shared the last drops of creek water from the jug with Jannis he asked “Do we see each other again tonight, Jannis my love? I need you more than bread and wine.”

*****

During the Easter week Jannis and Bardo met every night on the banks of the creek, sitting there in silence, holding hands, leaning in each other, exchanging kisses timidly and listening to the fast running water. At home Bardo returned to his former blameless behavior. He was polite to everyone again, willing to do all the work necessary on the farm, joking and laughing all the time, even flirting with the girls passing by. His mother was happy again, having back her wonderful son. She expected some great change was ahead and when she asked, “Do you have a girlfriend?” She just earned a big smile.

Easter Saturday came around and the big Easter Dance was ahead in the evening. Bardo dressed up in his best clothes, hitched up his black stallion to his two-wheeled barrow and shook hand with his father and kissed his mother Good Bye. “Bring your girlfriend around after the dance is over. I would like to meet her soon!” his mother called at him when he left. However Bardo only waved back at her.

At the banks of the creek Bardo picked up Jannis. When the carriage crossed the swift running water Bardo asked “Did you kiss your mother Good Bye, my dear Jannis?” He nodded and they kissed, “I told you my love there is a long way in front of us, a way we do not know anything about. Maybe we are on the route to the far end of the world!”

 


This story is Copyright © and has been revised by Ruwen Rouhs as of 2007 - 2017. The original image is Copyright © by karelnoppe | Dollar Photo Club File #52701852. The story and image cannot be reproduced without express written consent. Codey's World web site has written permission to publish this story and include this image. No other rights are granted.

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