Aadu Vassel had once lived in city, studied mathematics at Tartu University, played flute in an early music consort and made big plans for life, until one day he was struck by love – that first and true, grand and pure love which always strikes a person like a lightning bolt out of a clear blue sky. Aadu had been dating his loved one for three months, when he finally plucked up courage to reveal his true feelings to the girl - but she rejected his words, laughing.
After that the wounded man swore to himself that if the most beautiful words one can ever say in this world were trampled into mud like this, no other words should follow either. And indeed – from that day on Aadu Vassel didn't say another word to anyone.
Disappointed in people, life and himself, the young man moved in Tuhkja farm in Soomaa. That was the place of peace and silence, still out of the reach of noise made by people, with no culture or newspapers, nor electricity. He was surrounded by nothing but dozens of kilometres of woods, bogs and meadows, where wolves and bears wandered around. Aadu Vassel started a new life there in solitude, planted a garden around the house and ate food given by the Raudna River and the surrounding woods and bogs. Later, when the circumstances called for it, he started doing odd jobs in the nearest farms, reaching an agreement in everything by means of facial mimic and hand gestures. The people in Soomaa, never a particularly talkative crowd, were completely fine with such a way of communication.
During the first couple of years, some friends from Tartu used to come to visit, and Aadu Vassel was always happy to host them, even though he still remained silent. He served them tea, fish and oven-baked potatoes, and in the shadows of mighty oak trees they drank wine and played joyful music around the fire. However, after one or two years Aadu was gradually forgotten, as the lives of his city friends got busier with the passing of time. Work needed to be done, children had to be raised, and quite frankly – it was a rather complicated undertaking to visit Aadu in the middle of the deep woods far away.
Sixteen years passed.
One beautiful spring day Maarek, Aadu's classmate from university, remembered his friend who had been left behind in the solitude of woods, and he decided to go to visit his old buddy after a long time. His wife and kids had other plans with the nice weather, but Maarek resolutely postponed all other, more important things and set out.
He drove from Tartu to Viljandi and then headed towards Kõpu. He continued along the narrow forest roads for as long as he could. But he could not drive as far as sixteen years ago. For quite a while he had to tread along a road that was grown over with nettles, goutweed and burdocks as high as a man's chest, then cross an old dilapidated bridge, holding his hands out for balance, stagger through a swampy meadow full of filipendulas and globe-flowers, and pass trough a thick fir forest, before finally reaching the old house underneath the oak trees.
There everything was like it used to be. The clear Raudna River slowly ran beside the house, and he sighted his old friend sitting at the riverside, drinking tea and smoking tobacco. Aadu's clothes were rather ragged; he had grown a huge beard underneath his gloomy face, and his hands and even his face were weather-beaten in the harsh conditions. At first, when noticing Maarek, he jumped behind a bush to hide himself, but then his face broke in a smile with recognition. The eyes of both men became damp, when they were hands after such a long time.
Aadu proudly showed his friends the reconstructions he had made around the house, as well as sophisticated tables and chairs he had carved during long winter evenings. He took his guest to the vegetable garden behind the house, where he grew tobacco among other things, and also introduced him to the domesticated blackbird called Mikk. The bird stood on the kitchen table and looked at the newcomer, his head tilted to one side.
When evening came, they lit a fire by the river. Aadu put on a bowl of buckwheat and Maarek extracted three bottles of red Põltsamaa wine from his bag. Soon the friends brought out a flute and a drum and started playing music. Mikk the blackbird too skipped around the fire and weighed in with what he could. Around midnight the men put a kettle on and lay on the ground with their hands behind their heads and gazed at the stars through oak branches high above, each thinking their separate thoughts. When Maarek finally carefully asked about Aadu's doings and thoughts during all those years in the solitude of woods, his friend frowned and looked away, into the darkness of the woods on the opposite side of the river, as if seeing something very interesting... The hermit must have had seen and heard a great many things in the midst of woods and swamps, but he still refused to break his oath of silence.
They spent two more days together, fishing in the river, drinking tea and wine, eating roasted perch and playing music.
In the morning of the third day Maarek proposed they drive to Tartu, so that his friend Aadu could spend a few days in the city. They could meet up with old friends and visit pubs they used to go to. And he wouldn't even have to say a word – Maarek would speak for him, if necessary. At first Aadu started waving his hands in reluctance. However, it may have been the wine Aadu had drunk or the nostalgia he felt for his youth, but Maarek still finally managed to persuade his friend. It was already on the very same day that the two old companions in fight headed for Tartu.
Aadu became friends with Maarek's children right away, but his friend's wife was staring at him with a frown, as if he were a degenerate savage. Somehow Maarek still managed to placate the two and avoid trouble in the house. Aadu took a bath and washed himself, combed his hair, and because the men were more or less the same size, one of his friend's suits fitted him nicely.
The next morning they set out for a walk around Tartu. In great astonishment, Aadu was staring at the new modern buildings that had been erected in the meantime, during the years of wealth. They visited places where many rather juicy incidences had occurred in the past. At night they arrived in the Illegaard pub where Maarek had invited several old classmates from university and other acquaintances.
Many of them were highly surprised to see Aadu Vassel who had vanished such a long time ago, and they inspected at the peculiar, disorderly appearance of that primitive man with great excitement. They ordered beer and wine and started chatting, recalling their university years and telling others how many kids they have, where they had built a summer house and which exotic countries they had visited during holidays. They drank and laughed and rejoiced in seeing each other again. Aadu silently drank wine and beer with the others, eagerly listening to city news and gradually getting drunk. However, his former classmates kept buying him new and even stronger drinks, because it was comforting and amusing for them to treat their old friend who seemed to have been less fortunate in life than themselves and who was sitting there like some exotic animal among the crowd, astonished at everything he heard or saw.
Many people were curious about Aadu Vassel's life in the meantime, but every time someone quietly asked him a question, the hermit shook his head, frightened, and looked away. They wondered whether the poor fellow was still able to speak at all – or whether he had completely forgotten that skill over the years.
At some point they started making toasts. One by one, they stood up, raised their glasses and made a toast to love, wished one another strength, good health and long life or said other beautiful things. When it was Aadu's turn to make a toast, he too stood up, holding a glass of wine and looking at his former classmates and friends with a frozen smile. An uncomfortable silence took hold. Everyone was secretly hoping that the freak would sit down again, so that the next person to make a toast could release the group from the tension of silence.
It may have been the amount of drinks he had consumed or all the things he had stored in himself over those long years, but Aadu indeed suddenly looked like wishing to say something important and beautiful to his old friends and the love of his youth who was looking at him with a tense smile. He seemed to wish to say something to every person in the room, and the man who had kept his oath of silence for years suddenly opened his mouth wide, as if about to sing or shout something... And yet, no words exited from his lips. People looked at Aadu's face frozen in idiotic grimace and were thinking to themselves how silly an uncivilised man could become when he gets drunk.
But the very moment when a more active member of the group decidedly stood up to save the situation and asked for attention, clinging his glass with a spoon, something extremely strange started seeping out from Aadu's nostrils, ears and mouth: it was the evening mist of meadows that slowly rose over the chairs and tables, filling the entire pub with damp, fresh air of the dawn and wrapping the greatly astonished people in milky light. Breathing in the long, silent years of a lonely man, the smell of the woods and the silent flow of river, the minds of all people in the pub were gradually filled with serenity and peaceful strength. Suddenly they understood what Aadu was saying and nodded at him. They heard the falling of acorns in October-fresh river in their souls, the silent flow of water through the humming summer and wistful tranquillity of long winter days. Some of them closed their eyes and started swaying gently from side to side like spruce tops in April wind. Others slowly stood up from their chairs like water lilies rising towards daylight from the darkness of the river bottom. They opened their mouths like blossoms and let out the startled birds: greenfinches, yellow wagtails, robins and chaffinches. Others released dragonflies and cockchafers. Soon the entire Illegaard resembled a springtime meadow that was filled with the humming of insects and anxious singing of birds. Bumblebees, dragonflies and cockchafers were flying around with a low hum, bouncing against the walls and people's heads; birds were singing, perching on bottles and the backs of chairs and standing on tables. It was not before wood ferns and blossoms with intoxicating smell broke out from the cracks in the floor and ivies and hop vines intertwined around the swaying people, covering their daydreaming eyes, that Aadu Vassel shut his mouth. He had made his toast and left the pub with lightness in his heart.
By the dawn of the new day, the man rushing toward Viljandi had already reached near Puhja. A blackbird flew to greet him. He landed on the man's right shoulder and perched there, gazing at the sunrise and swaying from side to side in the rhythm of his walk.
Photo: Siim Vahur
is a Southern Estonian writer, the author of six books.
See also his texts from the previous issues of Epifanio.