Ukrainian Halloween. Chapter 5

UKRAINIAN HALLOWEEN

The main holidays that Ukrainians observe are considered to be New Year, Christmas, Easter and a birthday. One can add to this list of the most important events of the year the day of remembrance of the deceased relatives, or as the people call it - All Saints Day or simply Ukrainian Halloween.
 Almost all of the young men try to leave the village in search of better life: they go to earn money, get married, enter educational institutions… After that, they try to hook at least at something in the city. Having served in the army, some of the guys stay on extra time there signing a contract. A person, who has seen other, more civilized living conditions, is no longer in a hurry to return to his father's house.

Usually, on All Saints Day most of the people who had left the village and live in different parts of Ukraine and even abroad, if they have a chance, come to the place where their loved ones are buried in order to honour their memory. This is the day when you can meet your classmates and acquaintances who left the village many years ago.
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Of course, it is not every year that they can afford such a trip. Many of them live hundreds and even thousands kilometers away, and such a long journey takes precious time and requires travel expenses. But one day there comes a moment in life when an irresistible desire to see the native land, meet friends and former classmates, talk with them about their fate, achievements, forces them to see their homeland. They are ready to spend time and money just to feel the emotional enjoyment of the warm memories from the past.

A certain man, who has not visited his native land for decades, is looking at the familiar houses, trees, people; the same road, the same forest, the same Cardan is passing by. Oh, goodness, what an interesting guy he is. How would the local people amuse themselves if not for his tricks? Very few people take offense at him. He is a nice guy, just a joke of a man. It is even hard to imagine how much variety he introduced into boring rural life! Sometimes people in the village laughed for months discussing his tricks.

There is the house in which the man grew up, a bench in front of the fence, his former neighbors ... It seems to a person that he really is in the past. The most pleasant moments spent in these streets warm his heart and soul.
       
On All Saints Day weather is usually warm and sunny giving the nostalgic reverie bright and pleasant sensation. From all ends of the village people flock to the local cemetery. This is the only day of the year when you can see so many familiar faces. It is quite difficult to recognize some people who have not visited their village for a long time: they have grown up, changed...
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Some of them have come with their children. But the facial features that they inherited by the genes from the father and mother give out their roots. A local elderly resident will take a look at the running boy and recognize in him the features of his father and grandfather.
 
The cemetery is gradually filled with people. Around the graves of the deceased gather their relatives. They bring with them alcohol, sweets, cookies... First of all they pour the alcohol into a glass and put it on the grave, gently pressing the bottom of the glass in the ground for better fixation. Nearby they put sweets and decorate the cross with them too. "His soul is now with us. We do not see him, but he watches us and takes part in our meal. It's a sin not to treat him with alcohol too."

They cross themselves and have a drink; it starts spinning in their heads, the tongues loosen. They recall the deceased, talk about their deeds, achievements, interesting moments of their lives. Everyone knows that one may talk only about good things connected with the deceased or to be silent. "Well, fill one more glass with alcohol - we ought to have three drinks today. You cannot have more than three drinks, less than three too - it is a big sin. There's already a priest coming up; you need to give something: money or some sweets," a good man says. The priest serves the service and goes on. The people are tipsy, inspired by the memories, which seems to have no end at all.

Cardan also has come to pay an honour to his deceased relatives.
"Cardan, come here," his acquaintance calls him. "Here`s a glass of vodka, drink and honour my father and mother."
Then he fills him one more glass with vodka.
"Let them rest in peace," he says sympathetically, crosses his chest and drinks.
"Well, well, well, one drink is a sin. You ought to drink three glasses," the man reminds him.

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Cardan crosses himself. "Let earth be down for them," and has a second drink, then a third one. You cannot drink more than three glasses - it`s a sin. What kind of figure will you cut if you get drunk on such an honorable day; you ought to have respect for people. Otherwise, tomorrow they will condemn you. There will be rumors around the village that you were drunk even on All Saints Day - it is a terrible shame. Cardan speaks with the man sympathetically and goes home. In the evening all the people go out of the cemetery leaving some sweets and filled with alcohol glasses on the graves.
 
          Cardan, like no one else in the village, was glad that night was approaching. "It's time," he thought, and strode toward the deserted cemetery. In the gathering twilight he saw the graves decorated with flowers and sweets. The goal was quite clear: he would go to the cemetery, pay honour to the deceased and leave this horrible place before the total darkness comes. And what is here to be afraid of? Has anyone ever got up from the dead? Cardan had not believed in fairy tales for a long time. A brutal reality had taught him to perceive life as it is.

He approached the first grave, gently lifted the glass with vodka that was pressed into the ground, crossed his chest, “Let earth be down for them,” and drank. "There is nothing horrible here,” he reassured himself. “We need to fear the living ones not the dead: they can`t cause any harm anymore. No one has ever returned from the other world." He picked up a few cookies from the cross and had a bite to appease the alcohol reaction in the stomach and then continued to conjure up soothing thoughts. Then he went to a second grave - the procedure was repeated. Then to the third, fourth - it began to spin in his head, the afterlife thoughts went into the background.

Cardan was so absorbed in his ritual that did not even notice how quickly he got drunk. He continued to look for glasses with vodka like a mushroom picker looking for mushrooms in a dim dense forest.
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Here`s another one, here`s one more, here`s again, and then - his consciousness failed him. Sad but true, it turned out that Cardan was not the smartest guy in the village. Gray was nott a simpleton too. Like two ships coming towards each other they gradually shortened the distance between themselves for an imminent encounter; one of the ships cast the anchor and drifted halfway - Cardan fell asleep near the grave in a sepulchral slumber. He simply had not calculated his strength succumbing to the temptation of an easy binge. His clothes were of a dark colour and he seemed no different from the nearby abandoned graves. Cardan, hearing someone's steps and waving his arms, tried to get to his feet to see who was there and grabbed Gray`s ankle who was wandering among the tombs. Even before he had time to understand what had happened, frightened Gray started away from the cemetery. His head was throbbing wildly, his heart was beating like a bell, and his legs could not handle his fast flight.  A huge tree that stood in the way of his movement stopped his rapid progress. Suddenly, he was thrown back by a dreadful blow. Falling on the grave, he as a gymnast, in an instant, found himself on his feet again and rushed off. He did nott see double now as a result of intoxicating alcohol effect but three times double from fear. The barrier made up of the tombs crosses encumbered his rash movement. Once again he bumped into something, fell, jumped to his feet and continued the race. Again and again trees, crosses, grave fences hampered his progress. It seemed to him that he did not run from the cemetery, but the graves surrounded him and wanted to catch him in their nets. At last he managed to escape the cemetery. Running a hundred meters beyond the graveyard, Gray stopped and squatted. He was stiff scared of what he experienced and he trembled as if from freezing cold. "And why did I run?" he thought at last.
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"Probably someone got drunk and fell asleep near the grave. Everything happened so spontaneously, automatically that I did not even have time to think. Should I come back and see who's there? No, I think I'd better go home. Enough for today."

Slowly, taking a breath, Gray headed for the village. The darkness came to replace the departing twilight, but he was not afraid of anything anymore. Indeed, he panicked inadvertently: everything happened so unexpectedly. He acquired the former mood, calmed down and thought, "There`s a lot of vodka on the graves left there. It's a pity, what a pity."

         Speaking of Cardan, he did not even intend to flee anywhere. He continued to sleep quietly near the graves and in the morning, waking up, drank "to peace of soul" of one of the deceased, then of another one and went on a visit to Gray who was still sleeping. He woke up his comrade who was lying in bed in a sweet, morning slumber. Both of them, trying not to give out their yesterday's adventures, spoke on abstract topics and glanced sideways at each other. Both guessed who was at night at the cemetery, but none of them wanted to confess first. Finally, their oblique glances cut into a straight line and Gray, smiling, said, “Did you go to the cemetery last night?”
Cardan smiled back.
“So, you were there too?”
Suddenly they both burst into a loud, uncontrollable laughter ...
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