"Grandma, tell me my fortune, please!" asks the slim, nice grandson.
He is the only one who doesn't shy away from the old woman. He is the only one who is not disgusted to sit for hours with her and to ask about past lives, about her youth, bitter and evil, about hungry years of an adult life of a widow. To ask and as if an angel to look tenderly into her bottomless, transparent and withered old eyes. Although the granny has four children and ten grandchildren, she loves, in fact, him alone, who is always present. She waits for him. Wants to see him at the doorway, where he suddenly appears and starts asking about her health, about her life. When she feels bad and down, he comes and like a white bird seems to scare away all sorrows and sad thoughts with its wing. His help is better than powders, better than radio which the old lady liked to listen to so much when alone. She always gave him away in everything, always listened to him. Pleased him. She denied only one thing – never agreed to tell him fortune for love. Though she knew how to. However, she did not tell fortune to any of her family; she believed you could not do that to your blood relation, only to strangers. When the old woman used to live in the village, almost all people from the village came to ask her to tell fortunes. Men and women, the rich and the poor, believers and atheists. And she read their fortunes. All was true. Almost all. Sometimes a detail differed, but in general the cards she laid out were true to life. For diseases, for death, for happiness – but in most cases she read fortune for love. She was and stayed a “love fortune-teller” for the villagers. She was attracted to love. Since childhood love had interested her. She was eager to give love to everyone or at least a hope for it. She read fortune to strangers and never to her family. She was afraid. She believed in cards, in their might.
But the gentle, nice grandson would ask. Not at once but he won – for several months had he sweet-talked his granny into it and finally persuaded her. The old woman agreed then. She did read his fortune for love – in the room, where it smelled of powders, herbs and old rags and where the adults were reluctant to enter, but if they happened to, they seemed to be afraid to breathe there and behaved as if they had invisible spacesuits on them, as if fear and hatred of the old woman did not let them be honest and open with the matriarch of the kin.
She agreed. Though first she ordered to buy a new card deck, there was no way without it. A new person meant a new card deck. Only with a new card deck there was a chance to look into there, where it was better not to. He bought a new glossy card deck. Then the old lady laid out the cards. A surprise. She shuddered, shuffled the cards, laid them out again. But the same cards came – only kings and knaves were around her grandson, a knave of clubs. “There is some mess here," said the old woman. "Lucky cards they are but for a girl and I am reading a boy’s fortune here. Never have I seen something like this, never!” she thought without saying anything, not to scare her grandson, and first of all not to scare herself. Indeed, never in her practice did she have kings and knaves around a young man. She knew from her grandmother, who had given her the talent of fortune-telling, that cards, unlike people, do not lie. Never! That is why she became concerned – she knew it was not a mess, the cards showed clearly the life journey of her favourite grandson. It was not at once that the old lady solved that tricky pattern.
Three times she laid the cards, and three times they showed the same. The old woman raised her head and looked into the silent grandson’s eyes, and then she understood – all that mess was real, true. She wondered if he had already guessed what awaited him, if he saw what little spots appeared on his Sun. A tough life was ahead of him.
She felt sorry that she had agreed to read his fortune. Moreover, she had suspected it before hundred times and denied for several months as she apprehended something unexpected, something new in her grandson’s life, something new in her fortune-telling practice.
But her grandson’s eyes understood everything. Without cards. Without words. That is why he asked his granny to tell him his fortune: to open himself through cards, because he did not dare to be sincere through words. And he did not demand explanations. He saw the grandma sitting lost in front of him, in frond of mighty cards. She sat there and said nothing to her grandson – either truth, or lies. He guessed that some kind of fault had happened in the fortune-telling, he had got some kind of surprise there. The old woman looked at him and thought, "Who is telling the fortune whom here!? He doesn't need it, he understands it all, my dear grandson. Wise beyond his years. Why do I feel ill at ease, as if it is he who is a fortune-teller and not me? As if he is sending some message to me – that I am to open, to find out the truth ignored so far!?”
Again their eyes met, and they realized where the grandson’s love was directed. It ran down to happiness as any other human love, along a familiar path, well, maybe not quite a familiar one; it crooked slightly as it seemed to the grandmother. However, she was not a panic-monger, besides it was sinful to impugn the ‘diagnosis’ of the cards. She took life wisely, in a detached way, without surprise, without yelling. Their eyes met and there was the card pattern in them one and the same three times in a row, and they understood it could not be otherwise – this was how it should be. The wise fortune-teller did not make a fuss; she returned warmth to her grandson, having found what to say finally: “Loves await thee, majestic ones, challenging ones. This is how they are. That’s what the love is about.”
And her grandson’s brainy, somewhat cunning eyes expressed a surprise for a moment. And the secret of the fortune-telling, its outcome united the wise grandmother and her brainy grandson. Love. Another mystery between the old woman and the young man. The mystery, open to cards only...
From Belarusian translated by Volya Hapeyeva / Songs of the Trolley Poles”/ Песьні тралейбусных рагуляў), London: belarusians.co.uk, 2016.
Uladzislaŭ Ivanoŭ (pen name Harbacki), born in 1978 in Viciebsk (Belarus), is a Belarusian writer, politologist, sociolinguist, translator from French, researcher of the Belarusian Old Believers. In 2016, his debut prose book “Songs of the Trolley Poles” was published, it is considered to be the first gay-prose in the Belarusian literature. Uladzislaŭ translated the works by M. Yourcenar, G. Eekhoud as well as academic texts on sociology and political science. He is the author of the sociolinguistic feminist essay “The Belarusian Language Feminization Guide” (2017) and of the monograph “The Feminization of Old Belarusian and Contemporary Belarusian” (2019). He is the author of the short utopian novel “A Strange Strike” (2020), dedicated to the Lukašenka dictatorship. In 2020 he is preparing two new collections of prose: “When Bird Cherry Blossomed…” and “Shards of old love”.
Now he lives in Vilnius, Lithuania and teaches at EHU (European Humanities University).