Two boys

Palm Sunday Magic

by Ruwen Rouhs

Iannis lived in a small house at the end of the single street of a small village. Indeed, he lived in the smallest and most run-down house of all houses in the small village at a small creek. He lived with his mother, two cats, twelve chickens and a rooster, and a lean pig. His father had left years ago, not even promising to come back. Iannis’s mother made their living by sewing new clothes for the farmers and mending worn ones; tending sick people, old and young; cooking at weddings and christening ceremonies; and washing the dead at funerals. She had to be busy all day long, seven days a week, 365 days a year, just to get enough food for both of them. Even so, Iannis went to bed hungry every other day.

Iannis was also the smallest teen of his age group. Having a tender frame at fourteen he looked like he was nine or ten, sporting unkempt long blond curly hair which often concealed his bright blue eyes. Iannis liked to invent new games, to swim, and to read. He hunted for books all over the village, but all he could get were outdated almanacs or torn up newspapers.

The village had a small school with one classroom only and a rude teacher teaching the 10-to-14-year-olds in the mornings and the younger ones in the afternoon. Thirteen boys and fifteen girls attended the morning lessons. The other lads all were sturdy, stocky teens; good at milking cows, feeding pigs and doing hard farm work; hating school and being nearly illiterate. During the school breaks and on Sunday afternoons, when they had some spare time the boys played their rough games. Iannis would have loved to join in, but usually they kicked him out or tossed him around. They mocked him, especially Arun, who was the idol of the others. “Hey Blondie, go play with the girlies or pamper babies! Don’t you dare join us, or we’ll throw you into the creek.” Iannis was scared, but not too much, because he was as fast as a thunderbolt and could outrun all of them.

But Iannis was unhappy. He wanted to play with the others, roam through the fields and woods like the others, and be a buddy to the others. He especially wanted to be best buddy to Arun, the head of the gang. Arun was the strongest of all, a big lad with dark hair, the second son of the biggest farmer, and a real rascal. But Arun didn’t care for Iannis at all. He was even the one who picked on him the most. Even so, Iannis adored him and desperately longed to be his friend. But Arun despised him and treated him like shit.

Arun had a brother about five years older, a slender, nearly adult young man, much stronger than Arun. His name was Bardo. Iannis was even more scared of Bardo than of he was Arun. This was odd, because there was no actual reason for this. Iannis’s fear was the result of Bardo’s clumsiness as a small boy of seven, when he tipped over Iannis’s carriage and the two-year-old Iannis suffered a broken arm.

Bardo, or Bardolino as the girls called him, was the young man every girl in the village had a crush on, not only because he was the richest heir in the village, but also because of his good looks. Bardo didn’t seem to mind the stares; he even seemed to be flattered. He was self-confident and daring. Unlike his brother, Bardo was polite to everyone, especially to girls, and at the country fairs, he danced the whole night, making all of the village belles sick with desire.

At the New Year’s dance, Bardo spotted sparkling blond hairs at the ballroom door with the bunch of youngsters. This grabbed his attention while he was flinging a girl high into the air. After the dance, Bardo rushed to the door, but the blond hair was gone. Asking Arun who the girl with the beautiful hair was, he got the mocking answer: “That was Blondie, the nosy little bastard I have to put up with in school every day. That poor rat lives in that rundown shack at the end of the road. But that sissy is not a girl; that’s just that smart-ass Iannis. Hey, brother, I never expected you to lay an eye on a boy, ha!”

But Bardo had. He didn’t know why. He just couldn’t get the sparkling hairs and the small frame leaning at the doorpost of the ballroom out of his mind. He wracked his head to find an excuse to get to know Iannis, but as soon as Bardo caught a glimpse of Iannis, the boy would run away. Bardo started to spy on Iannis. He tried to find out everything about him. He started to ask his brother all sort of questions about his schoolfellow: about his habits, affectations, and his preferences. However, Arun brushed his brother off and mocked him. “Are you in love with this little shit?”

Bardo grew restless and for the rest of the winter period he tried feverishly to trap Iannis. The more Bardo tried, the more Iannis got scared and would hide away as soon he suspected Bardo to be close. When spring came round, Bardo got even stranger. He became impolite at home and to the other villagers, did his chores at the farm rather unwillingly, acted up against his parents, and finally started to retreat into a shell. At the same time, his curiosity about Iannis increased. It rose like the snow whites popping out of the snow at the end of the winter. Bardo even acquired habits known as Iannis’s, like reading books. He 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 the Palm Sunday Magic. This magic was actually intended to work for girls trying to catch the boy they adored. But Bardo said to himself, “Iannis is so cute and he is so desperately looking for a friend that my idea may work out.”

Being well aware of Iannis’s fondness for reading and his lack of books, he slipped the old almanac through the door of Iannis’s shack. Bardo had deliberately soiled most of the pages of the almanac leaving clear only one part: the lore of the Palm Sunday Magic. Hungry, exhausted and in low spirits, Iannis came home after school. Again, the other boys had ridiculed him because of his good performance in school, and then they shooed him a good part of the way home. He just wanted to creep into his bed, slip under the bedding, and cry. And now there was this book. Who brought it? Certainly not his mother. She would never have placed a book on the lime floor. Still quietly sobbing, he turned the pages. There were only three pages left, and one story, so he started to read.

Was this story a good omen? Was it a foreordination of God? He wondered: should he try the Palm Sunday Magic to make Arun his friend, and with him all the other boys? His mind told Iannis, ‘Don’t believe such silly stuff; that’s just a superstition.’ On the other hand, what had he to lose? He just needed a friend, and more urgently than before.

There were three more days to go until Palm Sunday morning. He used the time for preparation. He checked out the best place for the magic on the small creek and the shortest way to the farm of Arun’s father. He was not sure that he would meet Arun at the crack of dawn, or how to get him to drink from the creek water in the jug. To increase his luck, he switched to prayers.

The easiest job was to find a suitable jug. He decided for the tin jug his father had left behind; his only valuable possession. The jug was slightly broken, but it was still his best piece because of the roaring deer on the one side and the dog fighting a boar on the other. The problem he was hardly able to influence was meeting with Arun. But he somehow had to meet Arun first, before anyone else, and persuade him to accept a drink of cold water from the jug.

Iannis was hardly able to close an eye on the evening preceding Palm Sunday. Neither was Bardo, who went to bed very late, tossing and turning, and waiting for a redstart to begin the birds' morning concert. Bardolino jumped out of bed as soon the chorus of birds started. In the twilight, he slipped out of the house and sneaked down the sandy trail running from the village to the shallow ford through the creek. He hid behind some shrubbery close to a hayshed.

Iannis woke up out of his dream in the dead of the night, to no sound of living things, only the creaking of the dry wooden beams of the old shack. He tossed under his covers until the redstarts began to chirp. He crept down the creaking staircase barefoot, crossed the open countryside, and was close to the creek when he remembered with terror that the jug was still at home. He hurried back, praying that the roosters wouldn’t start crowing before he was back at the creek.

He was lucky; the concert of the roosters started just as his bare feet touched the cold sandy bank at the creek. He jumped into the water. The icy waves stabbed his legs with needles. He bent down and splashed ample water into his face and over his hair. He filled the jug with the clear water.

Iannis shivered. The cold started creeping up his lean legs and his skinny body to his heart. Would the first one he was to meet really be Arun? He had prayed that Arun would show up on the bank of the creek. The evening before, he had whispered ten Lord’s prayers, he had pledged an offering to St. Mary, and he had vowed to be chaste for all his future life. However, Arun didn’t show up at the bank of the creek. Nobody came; all his prayers were in vain. With chattering teeth, Iannis was waiting for sunrise. Then he dragged himself along the path back to the village, freezing, tears of frustration running down his cheeks.

Bardo hadn’t seen Iannis coming down to the creek. Now, as the sun was up, he was sure his ploy hadn’t worked out. Surely, Iannis was securely sleeping in his cozy bed. The plot had been in vain. All chances had been lost. Gutted, he wanted to turn back home, when he sensed tapping feet and muted sobbing approaching from the creek. He stepped out his hiding and crashed into the sobbing, devastated Iannis.

In the first moment, Iannis 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 Bardo. He broke down, spilled nearly all the water of the jug and, in the blink of an eye, lost consciousness. Bardo realized that something he had dreamed of for month was in the process of going terribly wrong, but the fainting boy forced a decision upon him, an immediate decision. He carried the limp body to the hayshed, put him down, and started to rub the shaking body.

Slowly, Iannis drifted back into consciousness, feeling warm hands all over his body, feeling his feet wrapped in a warm cloth, and after a while soft kisses on his forehead and cheeks. Still slightly woozy, he heard someone whisper, “I love you so, dear Iannis. I love you so much, please wake up!” He felt cared for like he had never felt before. He felt safe. Slowly he opened his eyes and gazed into the peering eyes of a young man, of Bardo, the guy he had been afraid of since he was a boy of two. And this guy had just stammered ‘Dear Iannis, I love you’!

Both stayed there for a long time in silence, holding each other, caressing each other. After hours, the bells began to invite the villagers to the Palm Sunday service, but these hours seemed to last only minutes. Bardo sipped the last drops of water from the jug and asked, “Will we see each other again tonight? I need you more than bread and wine”.

During Easter week, Iannis and Bardo met every night at the banks of the creek, sitting there in silence, embracing, and listening to the gurgling water. At home, Bardo returned to his former behavior. He was polite again, willing to do all the work necessary, joking and laughing all the time. His mother was happy all over again, having such a wonderful son. When she asked, “Do you have a girlfriend?” she earned a big smile.

Saturday came around and the big Easter Dance went ahead. Bardo dressed in his best clothes, put his black stallion to his small carriage, shook hands with his father, and kissed his mother goodbye. “Bring your girlfriend around after the dance; I would like to meet her soon!” his mother shouted, but Bardo only waved back at her.

Bardo picked up Iannis down at the creek. When the carriage crossed the ford of the creek he just asked, “Did you kiss your mother goodbye, dear Iannis? I told you already, my love, we have to go a long way, all the way to the far end of the world!”


I would like to express a special thank to Sable for doing a great job by correcting all the wrong prepositions and punctuation used by a non native English writer.

~ Ruwen Rouhs