Ari Belenkiy
Couple, p.2

The people walked many days and nights. (Some count this time in months, others in years.) They crossed a sea and a desert, they were exhausted and disappointed. To strengthen discipline the couple introduced certain laws. They maimed the hand which spilled water on the fire and cut out the tongue which spit curses. They forbade people from gazing at the clouds and ordered them to break necks of the first-born donkeys fallen out of their mother's wombs with their heads down.

The strongest ones rebelled and tried to turn back but the will of the couple was stronger than these occasional rebels. And the people went further and further. Many perished and died and children took the place of their parents, but the couple still led them onwards. Once more they crossed a desert and once more crossed a sea. And the time came when the people did not want to go further. They saw a fertile valley and a river and grassy meadows for their cattle. There they stopped because the river meant life and because they were tired. They built their houses and fortified their village with a thick stone wall and started to plow their fields and bury their dead. They did not need the couple anymore. And the couple disappeared…


"Our museum acquired the statuette recently. An old man sold it to us for very little money."

I turned my face to the right. A museum curator, a tall woman with spectacles - it seemed she had been watching me for some time. I politely nodded.

"Where are you from?" she asked.

"Israel." I answered.

"Oh! There is a legend that the Japanese are one of the ten lost tribes."

I shrugged.

"Would you join me for lunch? There is a small Japanese restaurant nearby."

"No, I have other plans. Besides, I do not like seafood. Let me take a rain check." A shadow of a smile passed over her face and disappeared. To cover an awkward pause I asked: "What happened with the couple?" Her eyes sparkled.

Legend says, she told me, that the couple went up to the top of the mountain and there, in a small cave, the tall carrier carefully put his burden on the ground. The short-legged one asked him to arrange a small fire and give him a piece of scroll; it was done. A confused arc of the story suggests that upon leaving the cave, the tall carrier did something unusual - some versions tell that he said a few encouraging words, others that he lifted his hood for a second. The short-legged one laughed, pressing the scroll to his chest. Then he wrapped himself in a short coat and, looking at the fire which would soon die because the wood was damp, began to sing a song.

A passing caravan caught a refrain of the song and sang it down in the village. Recognizing the song, a group of people arose and went to the top of the mountain to find the short-legged one to give him a proper burial, but found only a pile of ashes encircled and guarded by a snake.

The legend continues that for some inscrutable reason the men from the village still continue their search, though none knows exactly what he is looking for. Long ago they were dispersed across the world, but their descendants still easily recognize one another. The legend also says that the village they left was doomed to destruction and that its revival depends solely upon completing this search. The end of the story is sunk in obscure arithmetical computations on when this might happen, and a crucial role is attached to the length of the stone wall around the village.


I thanked the curator, made one more circle around museum and went out. Now every face in the crowd seemed to me important.

A year later, while cleaning my desk, I ran across an entrance ticket with the museum's name on it and immediately recalled that ivory statuette: grinning Tenaga and gloomy Ashinaga. I reached for the telephone and asked for any nearby Japanese restaurant, then made another call and ordered a table for two. I picked up my pen.

[1]       2
Image: Anonymous netsuke, Ashinaga and Tenaga (19th C.)

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From previous issues:

Strasbourg Cathedral
Michael Shurkin

Wagner in Israel
Margaret Strother Shalev

The Truth about the Rosenbergs
Joel Stanley

No Pulp
Dan Friedman