Bantzia Shvayg (a fragment), by I.L. Peretz. Translated by Todd Warshawsky.
Alas! Bantzia Shvayg’s death made no impression whatsoever on the world. Don’t bother asking who Bantzia was, how he lived, and how he died. If his heart burst, if his strength left him, if his back broke under a heavy burden … Who knows? Perhaps he even died of hunger.
Should a horse succumb to a street car, people would be more interested. Newspapers would write about it, hundreds of people would run through the streets to go see the carcass, they’d consider precisely how its downfall took place…
Bantzia lived quietly and died quietly. Like a shadow, he moved through … through our world.
At Bantzia’s bris, no one drank any wine or raised any glasses. At his bar-mitzvah, no noteworthy words of Torah were given … He lived like a grey, little speck of sand at the edge of the sea. Among millions of others just like him. And when the wind picked him up and blew him over to the other side of the sea, no one even noticed it.
No trace of his footprint remained in the wet mud. Even in death – the wind blew away the humble plank covering his grave. The gravedigger’s wife found it far from his grave and there used it to cook a pot of potatoes … Three days since Bantzia’s death, there’s no point in asking the grave digger where he laid him down.
Should Bantzia have a tombstone, in over a hundred years, an archeologist might find it and the name of “Bantzia Shvayg” will once again fill our air.
A shadow! His image remains in no one’s mind, in no one’s heart. No memory remains of him.
Keyn kind, keyn rind – alone in the world. Alone he lived, alone he died.
When people weren’t making a commotion, perhaps someone would hear how Bantzia’s spine sometimes cracked under the burden. If there was more time in the world, someone might have noticed that, when living, Bantzia (a human being!), had two dull eyes sunken into his cheeks; that even when he didn’t bear a burden on his shoulders, he bent his head down low, as if even when living, he was looking for his grave! If there were as few people as horses lying in the road, perhaps someone would ask sometime: where did Bantzia disappear to?!
When Bantzia was brought to the hospital, his corner of the cellar wasn’t empty – ten of his kind remained and between them, auctioned off his corner “in advance.” When he was brought from his hospital bed to the morgue, twenty poor sick people remained … When he was brought from the morgue, twenty corpses from under a fallen house were brought. Who knows how long he’ll lie as a corpse in the grave? Who knows how many will wait for his little piece of land…
Quietly born, quietly lived, quietly died, and still more quietly buried.
Nothing like that came to pass in the world-to-come. There, Bantzia’s death made quite an impression!
The great shofar of the Messiah was heard throughout the Seven Heavens: Bantzia Shvayg has passed away! The greatest angels with the broadest wings flew and said to one another: “Bantzia was summoned to the heavenly Yeshiva!” There was a great rejoicing in heaven. “Bantzia Shvayg! It can’t be, Bantzia Shvayg!”