This folk tale from Bulgaria was — in its Portuguese version, taken from an old encyclopedia of folk tales — the most read of all stories on my blog in 2021. I’ve translated it now, so that English speakers too can be touched by it.
Tuck felt very weary. His poor and penurious existence weighed on his shoulders like an unbearable burden. He had no home, no loves, nothing to call his own. Every odd day, he had nothing to eat. How tiring, and what suffering, to live like this!
Tuck plodded on through the countryside, following the dark thread of his lightless thoughts. And he spoke to himself:
— What is Tuck doing in this world? You must drag along all paths your sick body, your tired body. You can never obtain anything that’s good, poor Tuck. And the long days to walk, and the cold nights with no shelter! It seems that for you time has stopped, like the willow which, motionless, contemplates the lake. When the wind blows and the treetop rustles there’s an illusion that the tree moves. But no, it’s always rooted to the ground. And thus you, wretched Tuck, are deceived in hoping for the coming of better days; the better days, the beautiful days, are very far, beyond the dreadful wall of eternity. Your moments without end, o Tuck, are rooted in pain!
The man came to a well and leaned over the parapet. He saw the dark shining water deep down. It seemed to be an eye, a large eye that reflected, with his image, also his unhappiness.
He spoke to the image as he had just spoken to himself.
— You do well to remain there. It’s always easier to live in the shadow. The sun does not mock you, it does not come count the lines of your face with indiscreet rays. And you do not hear the children crying nor see the birds dying. There it is: I have a mad desire to join you!
He faced around abruptly, as if stung by a thorn. An old man had tapped him on the shoulder.
He was a very strange old man, very bent, very thin. His face looked like a skein of dark twine, so many were the lines that crossed it in all directions. Tuck was struck by the stranger’s eyes, shining as stars: there was in them a gleam of eternal youth.
— What do you want from me? — Tuck asked, somewhat curtly.
— I understand that the well seduces you. — The voice was harmonious, it sounded like a melody from an old violin discoloured by the years. — Your life is heavy, you want to throw it in the water, reduce it to shadow. But life is a gift from God, a terrible and sublime gift. It does not matter that you are tired. You must continue the journey humbly, bear the stones on the path that wound your feet, the thorns on the hedges that tear your clothes and skin, the dust of the roads in summer, the floods in winter, the mud, the hunger, the cold, the heat, the rain, the snow. I have been walking much along the roads of existence, and since long years. I will walk much still. You see? I’m decrepit. But I do not complain. I know that God, sooner or later, grants good repose from all weariness.
Tuck felt miraculously serene.
— How did you divine my despair, good old man?
— Within me speaks a great friend, he whom one day I accompanied along the paths of the world. Would you like to see my friend? His image has remained in my pupils.
Tuck gazed into the old man’s eyes and saw a shining image.
— I don’t understand — he said, trembling. — I don’t understand!
— It’s Jesus, the sublime Wanderer. And I am John, his apostle. By divine will, my poor body, ravaged by time, resists the passing of the centuries. I live wandering around the world since nearly two millenia. And whoever sees me, gazes into my eyes and is saved.
The old man moved away. He walked without leaving any footprints in the soft earth, soundlessly, softly, like a bird on the wing.
Tuck approached the well to look again at his image. But he saw another: the one he had seen in the luminous eyes of the Apostle. He felt light, he felt happy. And he set off again, looking up at the sky and reconciled with his destiny.
Translated by Beatriz Becker from the Portuguese version in the Enciclopédia Universal da Fábula, vol. XXV.
Image: The Old Well, by Emmy Thornam. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
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