Book 8, part 2. The Rites of Love (2006)
‘ Chastushka-go vorushka’
This ancient wedding game was the most complex of its kind. Modern chastushki, which people still sing today, are derived from it.
The game, known as Chastushka-govorushka, can be described as follows. Two rows of people stood facing each other. One row was made up of young men, the other of young maidens. The last girl in the row dedicated a four-line chastushka to the last chap in the men’s row, standing opposite her. Her singing would be accompanied by dance movements. Directly she finished, the rest of the girls quickly stamped their feet twice and clapped their hands three times. And if the lad standing opposite her did not succeed in composing or recalling from memory a worthy response, the girl started singing a new chastushka to the next young man in line.
If the lad managed to come up with a worthy answer in the time allotted, the conversation would continue between them with the use of poetic witticisms. But that did not happen very often.
In spite of the fact that young Vedruss people knew a great many verses, still, not everyone was able to think up a worthy reply in the brief time available, especially since their rivals were trying their hardest to distract them from the sidelines by all their stamping and clapping.
At one of these get-togethers of young people from different settlements, Liubomila was present. Radomir’s five friends who had caught a glimpse of this extraordinary girl at the fair kept stealing glances at her. His closest friend, Arga, could not take his eyes off her at all. 2
When the Rucheyok game began, the usually bold and decisive Radomir walked under the couples’ raised arms with the full intention of taking Liubomila’s hand and making her his partner. But all of a sudden he got ‘cold feet’. He could feel her as he passed by between the two rows. He would have felt her even if his eyes had been closed. But as he approached the spot in the ‘stream’ where she was standing opposite her girl-friend, he slowed down ever so little, and found himself moving as in a dream. He ended up choosing a lad from a neighbouring settlement.
His friend Arga, however, turned out to have more self-con-fidence. When it came his turn to pass through the ‘stream’, Arga picked Liubomila right away, grabbed her hand and took up a position with her at the head of the line of couples, much to the envy of all the other young men.
Afterward they questioned him:
“What was it like when she held your hand? Did she squeeze it tight or not?”
“I don’t know,” Arga replied. “I cannot remember aught. It just seemed as though my hand caught on fire. Touch and see for yourselves — it still feels hot.”
“What a gal!” the fine young lads exclaimed in amazement on the spot. “She’s so hot with passion, it’s as though she’s burning with a flame from some mysterious fire!”
Radomir in turn heard all of this without saying a word. His own internal yearnings had been burning for some time — ever since that day he first discerned this wondrous girl at the fair. He had been thinking about her day after day, first thing upon waking in the morning. She even appeared to him in his dreams, but even there, it seemed, he could not bring himself to touch her.
Always successful in any undertaking, Radomir had a reputation as a poet, but now all of a sudden even the simplest of words to describe her utterly failed him.
When the Chastushka-govorushka game got going, he stood in the middle of the row of young men, next to his friend Arga. Liubomila was almost at the end of the maidens’ row When it came her turn to sing and dance the chastushki, she began her song with ease. At once it was clear to all that here was an extraordinary maiden indeed, impossible to beat.
She switched themes in a flash. She sang couplets no one had ever heard before. One after the other she won out over all the young men, even though she herself was the youngest of all.
When it came Arga’s turn, he was still able to give a response to the crafty maiden, albeit not without a bit of a glitch. He replied to Liubomila with a quatrain, but she, without even waiting for the stamping and clapping, suddenly changed topic and offered up such a smooth new witticism in verse that Arga was completely thrown off the track and didn’t even attempt to counter with one of his own.
Next it was Radomir’s turn. Liubomila began singing to him, jauntily dancing to the rhythm of her verse:
Bold and eloquent you are,
Much you know, oh yes!
D’you recall how in the lake You once washed my dress?
Some listeners laughed, thinking Liubomila was making a joke with her couplet. Some, including Radomir himself, could not figure out what it was all about. And, not being able to figure it out, he found it impossible to offer any kind of answer.
So Radomir could give no response to Liubomila. When the stamping and clapping came to an end, signifying the deadline for reply was up, he realised that his time had irretrievably gone by This was something he could not allow. As though completely forgetting himself, he now began moving toward Liubomila — first one step, then a second, then a third. By this time he had come right up close beside her. Everybody fell silent, wondering why the rules of the game had been defied.
Radomir stood silently before Liubomila. And all at once, against this background of silence everyone standing in the rows heard Radomir utter, with audible aspiration, the Vedruss declaration of love:
“With you, my marvellous goddess, I could co-create a Space of Love to last forever.”
Everybody waited with bated breath to hear what response this fiery-tongued maiden would come up with.
But all of a sudden she became very meek. At first she def-erentially lowered the gaze of her fiery eyes, but then raised them again. Tears began rolling down her cheek and she whispered:
“I am ready to help you in your grand co-creation.”
Finally Radomir recognised in the maiden standing before him the same little girl whose dress he had washed in the lake so many years ago. He recognised her, and took her by the hand. As they walked along side by side, they no longer had eyes for anyone else. The two rows of young people stood facing each other in silence as they watched the couple’s love head into eternity.