When the Acacias Take Your Breath Away

Waiting for summer break is a tough challenge for a student, the one which needs a lot of patience and energy. During the academic year, pretty much all the mental strength is used to survive until the break. It’s the top prize and the key goal, a sweet dream and a cherished hope. A summer break is not the same as a vacation in adult life. A vacation is planned beforehand: we submit a leave request, get holiday entitlement, buy tickets to this or that destination. We are often bothered with phone calls or even asked to come back in the middle of it. A summer break is a different thing. It happens all by itself, dropping from the skies like a large bundle of happiness. That’s why in childhood, time is much more logical than in mature age. In childhood, time has a cast-iron structure—the waiting for the summer break and the break itself. Despite the skepticism of the adults who already forgot about it, that time was deeply polarized: “hell” vs. “heaven”, “happiness” vs. “misery”, “before” vs. “after.” And I am understating it, let along exaggerating.   

In late May, classes let go slowly, retreating, calming down like a storm. “Go to the blackboard. Failed. Bring your grade book”—the same phrases sounded over and over, devoid, though, of their destructive potential. “The entire curriculum has not been covered yet. You still have to learn…” the math teacher said in mock strictness and paused with a sigh. She knew best that it was impossible to learn anything in late May. It was hopeless. The acacias put out their blossom during that time. Its scent spilt over the village, so dense and supple, that everyone knew—the Act of Grace was coming. No force could stop it.

You couldn’t fall asleep on the eve of the Last Bell ceremony. Tomorrow, you’d be able to throw away your damn notebooks, ripping them to shreds; tomorrow, you’d commit your grade book to the flames by the cellar; tomorrow, you’d grab the fishing rode, the canvas shoes, the paddle… You’d smash the ruler over your knee or make a fragrant smoke grenade out of it. Tomorrow, all the rules would become void, all the spells would break, all the beauties would wake up. This “tomorrow” stood right behind your door, breathing, unable to come inside yet. How could you fall asleep like that?

Oddly enough, almost all of us attended the ceremony which had and still has nothing of interest—barely anything has changed since my 1980s-1990s in that respect. We could have skipped it easily, though, since no one could recall any of it by September 1. Yet, we never did! Not because someone was eager to listen to the boring speeches of the school administrators or the district officials. Not because someone enjoyed standing motionlessly for two or more hours. The reason is that there was something symbolic in that ceremony. Something ritualistic. A funeral of an academic year. The relatives bid a final farewell to the departed, bringing plenty of flowers to lay on its grave. An entire hill of flowers, so it wouldn’t stand up, God forbid. How could you skip such a holiday? A holiday when all the expectations came true. A holiday of terrible revenge. The teachers looked grimly, barking: “Stand up straight! You’re at the ceremony!”, while we kept slouching, since their authority almost expired, and we knew it. It was over! The third, the fourth, the umpteenth cock had already crowed. Very soon, in some twenty minutes, we’d part company, stepping on the petals of white peonies on our way. They would roll up their flags and banners, building plans for the next year, but we didn’t care about that at all.

The first five days of the summer break were the sweetest. It was not even the summer yet. You woke up in the morning, thinking: “Oh God! Three months of holidays! An entire summer! And it hasn’t even started yet!” You could swim, fish, play tag, walk in the woods, read, or just hang around—no one would tell you off! You had a well-earned right. You won it after the whole year of suffering in the goddamn school. They didn’t send you to any stupid summer camp, thanks God. You put up a good fight. You threatened your mother you’d run away. You didn’t let yourself be talked into or even intimidated. You wouldn’t give up your freedom: not even a day of it, not even a millimeter. Finally, Mom waved her hand and let you run away to the village: “Other people have normal kids who dream of a summer camp every year. And this one here is a wild thing.”

You walked between the fields, looking at the young, green wheat. If you plucked its stalk carefully and tasted it, it would have a sweet flavor. It would be only later on that the acacias would finish blooming and turn auburn, the wheat would become yellow, the summer reaching its golden midday, its crown—the fifteenth of July—and starting its decline. In August, your faraway rural kingdom would begin to fade away, smelling of burned potato stems and stubble. The Cinderella’s carriage must have smelled like that, once it turned into a pumpkin.

It was only later on that you realized that few things in life repeat, even fewer come back. Barely anything comes back, actually. Today, when you plan your vacations carefully, figuring out the off-peak seasons and the cost of flights and accommodation, getting disappointed by the dirty sea or the noisy neighbors, the Last Bell ceremony—with a girl from the first grade ringing the bell, perched on the school-leaver’s shoulder—seems especially vivid. These children set off into their first—or last—summer break, breathing the scent of acacias, so poignant after the rain. They don’t realize yet how good it feels when the time is logical like a ruled notebook.

Sergiy Osoka

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