Birds Will Fly
Tall, wheat-colored grass bent in the wind as far as the eye could see. It stretched out into the horizon until she had to strain to see, where it bled into the gray sky. The storm-clouds churned above them, threatening to erupt at any moment, but Chava pressed on. Lazily, she stretched her hand out to brush against the wispy grasses on her way. Eyes clenched shut, she took several more steps until a strong, warm hand encompassed her own.
"Fyedka! Someone will see!" A smile slipped over her face despite her protests.
"There's no one for miles," he replied happily. "We're completely alone."
"Just when you say that, perhaps the rabbi will come strolling by…"
"Chava, I promise you, no one can see us all the way out here -"
"You can't know that," Chava warned, dropping his hand. "You can never know that. Remember, Fyedka. Remember there are eyes everywhere."
The young Russian frowned, shoveling his hands into the pockets of his over-coat. "You act as if this is a crime..."
"It is a crime!" Her dark eyes pleaded with his defiance. "What we're doing - what I'm doing -"
"We haven't done anything to be ashamed of," Fyedka said, his voice much softer. "We have done nothing indecent. We talk, we laugh, perhaps we hold hands. We have never committed an indecency."
"Our friendship is an indecency."
Fyedka sighed; air whooshed from his mouth in a raspy gust. "Let's not fight. Please Chava?"
One look at his sincere, wide gray eyes and hopeful face eased Chava. "Alright...so, what is it you wanted to show me?"
His grin returning, he reached into his overcoat. "Right - you're going to love this. Well, at least, I hope you to. It made me think of you..." he stammered on excitedly as he pulled out a rectangular object, wrapped in heavy brown paper. He handed it to Chava.
She took it gingerly in her grasp and pulled back the paper. She gazed in awe as she saw the expensive, leather bound book. She marveled at the gift, running the tips of her fingers over the gold lettering on the cover. "Fyedka...it's beautiful..."
"It's about two young lovers," he started to explain, "But they have to keep their love a secret..."
She rolled her eyes. "Sounds awfully familiar..."
Fyedka's eyes light up. "So we're lovers now?" he teased.
Chava ignored his small jest. "What happens to them? Why are they a secret?"
"Feuding between their villages," he explained, his voice tight. "Generations ago, they had been at war. When the young lovers met, the villages are at a stalemate; but even without open fighting, they are in a constant, bloodless battle."
"What are they fighting over?"
"Nothing really," Fyedka goes on, "They just hate each other. No one really remembers why, but there are stories, guesses thrown about as village gossip. Some say it all boiled down to hats."
Chava snorted. "Hats?"
"Hats," he repeated. "You see, the girl's village wore their hats with the wide-brim forward, while the boy's village wore their hats with the wide-brim back."
"And...they went to war...because of hats?"
"Well, people have gone to war over much more foolish things," he rationalized. "But, again, that is only one of the rumors. Whatever the true reason was, I think the villagers were just looking for an excuse to hate each other."
"Why?" Chava asked breathlessly. "Why would you choose to carry hate? To keep that evil inside of you?"
Fyedka gazed down at Chava, who was more than a head shorted than he, and sighed. "Fear, Chava," he said sadly. "People fear what they don't know. And the only way people deal with that fear is to hate; hate those who are different, ways that are different..."
Chava looked down. Taking a step to the side, she brushed the palm of her hand atop the grass stalks. "Are we still talking about the book, Fyedka?"
He cleared his throat. "Yes..."
She turned back to him, her eyebrows raised. "So, the village-feud is what reminded you of me?"
His dashing, warm smile returned. "Actually...it was the ending..."
"The ending?" she echoed. "Well, I guess I'll have to wait until I finish it to understand what this great comparison is..."
"Or," he grinned, "You can let me ruin it for you."
She laughed. "Alright, ruin it. I can't bear to watch you wait in such suspense!"
He laughed with her; when there giggles finally died away, he stepped closer. "They overcome their village's hatred...they cannot let their love be destroyed by their insanity, so they wed..."
A knot lurched in the pit of Chava's stomach. "Fyedka..." she warned wistfully.
"And when they wed," he continued, his voice stronger in his conviction. He took her free hand in his own, and placed it on his chest. Even through his heavy over-coat, much thicker than any frock or shawl in her household, Chava could feel his heart pound. "Their love brought their villages together. And they lived in peace, because of the love they wouldn't deny."
The young woman smiled through her anguish. "Our marriage can never bring our people together, Fyedka," she said solemnly. "It will tear my family apart... it will tear me away from my family..."
Fyedka nodded; he understood, more completely than Chava knew. "You know I could never ask you to choose between me and your family," he said. "And I never will. It is your choice, Chava. Yours and yours alone. Do not let anyone or anything pressure you: not me, nor anyone else." His words were slow, careful. "But you need to know, I need to let you know everything I feel, so that when you choose, you have all possible paths before you."
Chava's heart fluttered in her chest fearfully as Fyedka lowered to the ground, on one knee. "Oh my..." was all she managed to choke out, one hand clutching the book to her chest, the other firmly in Fyedka's grasp.
"I love you, Chava," he began. "I love you, and I would be honored and blessed to call you my wife."
The fluttering in her chest turned to booming strikes. Her palms sweated, her breathing quickened, and her mind swam helplessly.
"I will love and honor you until the end of time," he swore, like a prince promised the young, dazzling princess. That's how Fyedka made Chava feel, like a princess. Chava, the daughter of a milkman. Chava, the middle-child; never the beautiful one like the eldest, nor the quick-witted Hodel, nor the precious youngests. Chava, once over-looked, once chastised for being an oddity, now a princess.
"I can give you a good life," Fyedka continued. "I can provide for you, really provide for you...get you a real coat so you wouldn't shake like a leaf whenever we have to meet out here..."
She couldn't help but laugh a little, even through her terror. Yes, she was absolutely freezing, even as her heavy black shawl was much stronger than last year's hand-me-down.
"We won't need to sneak around, we won't have to hide...we can be together, really together. I will give you all the love in the world."
Before Chava could stop herself, before she could drop his hand, before she could hear her father's ancient voice drumming in her ears, she craned her face forward, and in one swift swoop, her lips pressed against his own. It lasted less than a moment, but it was the brightest, fullest feeling she had ever known. Fyedka never had the chance to kiss her back; she broke away, racing back to heart of Anatevka. He rose shakily to his feet, the feeling of her warmth still lingering on his mouth. She did not turn back.
Chava walked through the same field, a mere week later, to find the grass changed. It was withered, wrangled in despair; the stalks drooped to the ground in a final defeat. Chava leaned down and plucked one, frost-bitten stalk from the earth. It limply hung in her fist. The grass had not been able to withstand the blistering winter. Most years, the field appeared to be in dire state, but it always fought against the weather and won. The stalks always stood tally; while they may sway dangerously in the winter wind, they could not be blown down. But now, with this week, this blast of winter, the grass surrendered. Seven days had changed everything.
Seven days ago, Chava knew what her life was. Her family, her chores, her books, her village, her home. It was simple to some, but it was hers. Now, what did she have? It a few hours, it would all be gone. No matter how she hoped, no matter what lies she told herself as she tread across the naked field, she knew she would lose Anatevka. You could not marry outside of the faith: it was written in stone. More than in stone; it was written in tradition. Tradition was the air Anatevka breathed, it is what gave them life, gave them purpose. With this one act, she would be throwing that tradition into their faces.
Her father had always called Chava his "little bird." She was always much smaller than her two older sisters, and as her two younger sisters grew, it was nearly certain that they two would one day tower over Chava in stature. She had delicate, light features and the dark eyes her father so adored. Whenever she felt ignored, over-looked as the middle-child, he would chuckle, a laugh the pounded at the very inside of his belly. He would call her "everyone's favorite child" and bounce her one his knee until she abandoned her frown. Even as a nearly-woman, she knew she still looked younger, still sweet and bird-like. He found her fascination with reading delightful; while her mother scowled at her books, her father could not get enough of watching her, straining to read the small print of each page by the fireside. He never called her odd; or if he did, it was always teasingly, affectionately. She was his Chavaleh, his little bird. What would she be to him once he found out what she had done today?
But as she cast her eyes off the ground, off the dead brush, her fears vanished. The man that waited for her, the man that reached out his hand, even though she was still far, far in the distance, was what she knew was right. The love that swelled inside her whenever he came into view, and whenever he wasn't in view, was what she knew as truth; it was her air, her life-force. It was the love God had put in her heart; to deny it would be throwing that blessing in the mud. She did not love Fyedka out of a hate for her people, or her ways, or her father; she loved them all so dearly, so completely it was unbearable. She loved her family, she loved her faith, and she loved Fyedka. And she had been raised that the way you honor love, you share love, was through marriage.
As she reached Fyedka, she grasped his hand tightly. He squeezed her fingers assuredly, and his eyes swelled with joy and strength. "The priest is waiting for us," he said.
Chava took a long breath in.
"Are you ready?" he asked.
Little bird, little Chavaleh...
But she wasn't little anymore. She wasn't the frail bird she had once been. She was grown, she was ready. She was ready to fly.