To have called him a devil would have been a rhetorical exaggeration, but, to put it mildly, Bachelor of Philosophy Jan Kirdey Biront had some personal accounts to settle with God, and the fact that he would gladly have met Him on some dark evening in a narrow Vilnius alleyway and used his fists to come to an understanding as regards his relationship with the Lord was in spite of everything the surest proof of his faith. First and foremost he would have looked that all-seeing scoundrel in three persons, without whose knowledge not a single hair falls from anyone’s head and who proclaims that He is the arbiter of retribution and righteous vengeance, straight in the eye and asked where He was and in general what He was doing when a Cossack, called Bohdan by his accomplices, took his five-year-old brother and threw him with such force against the wall of the Biront family children’s room, on which Noah’s ark had been painted with all kinds of birds and animals climbing aboard it, that Antoni Hieronim’s brains were splattered all over the fresco in an instant. He would remind God, if He no longer remembered, where he, Jan Kirdey, was at that moment—in a hiding place in another wall behind a door hidden by wallpaper across which his father and mother had hurriedly pushed the heaviest Danzig armoire one could imagine; in a narrow stone-dark hiding place where he spent five days and nights, upright, where, petrified, he had emptied his bladder and bowels for the first two days listening to the screams of his mother being raped and his father tortured by the Cossacks from Muscovy, and later to the sound of blows, of furniture and dishes breaking, of wallpaper and wall hangings being torn down, then someone, who had emptied out the wardrobe that had been pulled across his hiding place, not content with that, had pierced the wall with his yatagan so that the tip was just a couple of finger spans from his face, then everything calmed down and after a little while all that was heard was the frighteningly quiet sound of the floorboards under the feet of the marauders who would just come by to have a look since, to tell the truth, everything had been carried out, torn out, or pulled down from the home of the Biront family on Horses Street. It was there that his uncle, Teodor Biront, found him five days later. Ignoring the Cossacks running rampant in the city, he had come to his older brother’s house to pay his last respects to the bodies of his family members and furtively had decided just to be sure to check out the hiding place known to him in which, in addition to his older brother’s savings and valuables, his last will and testament, as well as documents relating to the Biront family’s property, lands, and estates were kept; and when he pulled aside the damaged armoire, he found his twelve-year-old nephew Jan Kirdey, with his extremities numb and deprived of speech, the only barrier to him, Teodor Biront, inheriting the wealth of his Biront relatives; a sickly being, annoyingly alive only in the eyes of the law. Teodor Biront was a God-fearing Christian and so he dismissed the sinful thought that had fleetingly crossed his mind not to find his nephew alive who could have disappeared in the heat of the attack or who knows how, and so he took the half-dead boy to his home, but, to tell the truth, it would be a lie to say that he tried particularly hard to have his nephew nursed back to full health, believing the good Lord would find a way for his honor to be protected in the eyes of others and the inheritance to come to him of its own accord. Jan Kirdey lay for, it must have been, half a year on a bed in the servants’ quarters, visited only by his uncle’s housekeeper and a refractory servant woman who, if she did not forget, would bring him some broth once a day and, muttering under her breath, change his sheets and turn him so that he would not develop bedsores. All of that time he lay half-dead or, as the doctor, who had come to visit him, put it, adflictus, paralyticus hypnopompicus. However, he did not lie there completely alone, since he tried for days on end to speak with the Christ at the foot of his bed, in the picture of the Resurrection on the wall. He most often put questions to Him and the questions he most frequently put to Him began with “why?”, “what for?” Why his parents? Why his brother? Why him? Why were his hands and legs not moving? Had the two most hateful persons in his life, Bohdan, the Cossack, and Teodor, his uncle, been sent to him by Him, by God, on purpose, and if so, what did He wish to say by sending them? Why? However, Christ, seen dressed in pink between the clouds, had His eyes directed solemnly to the top of the picture frame and had not the least intention of answering any of Jan Kirdey’s questions, and for this reason when the doctor, who as usual would nod his head to say that his condition was unchanged, only now one could add with full confidence atrophia muscularis progresiva to the diagnosis, and that was undoubtedly the beginning of the end, it was his uncle Teodor who would answer those questions with: “What can one do? If that is how things are, may God’s will be done . . .” It was then that the speechless boy lying there like a wet rag became deadly angry and made the decision that he, Jan Kirdey Biront, whatever happened, would not become the instrument of the will of that heartless man, and may the devil take him, but he would get up from the bed—not because he particularly wanted to live but only to challenge God; out of anger with Him and anger with his uncle Teodor.
From Silva Rerum. © 2008 by Kristina Sabaliauskaitė. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2017 by Romas Kinka. All rights reserved.