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The Unbearable Lightness of Being (part 4 chapter 9)

2006-08-22 20:21

  9

  One day, a boy of about sixteen perched himself on a bar stool and dropped a few provocative phrases that stood out in the general conversation like a false line in a drawing, a line that can be neither continued nor erased.

  That's some pair of legs you've got there.

  So you can see through wood! she fired back. I've watched you in the street, he responded, but by then she had turned away and was serving another customer. When she had finished, he ordered a cognac. She shook her head. But I'm eighteen! he objected. May I see your identification card? Tereza said. You may not, the boy answered. Then how about a soft drink? said Tereza. Without a word, the boy stood up from the bar stool and left. He was back about a half hour later. With exaggerated gestures, he took a seat at the bar. There was enough alcohol on his breath to cover a ten-foot radius. Give me that soft drink, he commanded.

  Why, you're drunk! said Tereza. The boy pointed to a sign hanging on the wall behind Tereza's back: Sale of Alcoholic Beverages to Minors Is Strictly Prohibited. You are prohibited from serving me alcohol, he said, sweeping his arm from the sign to Tereza, but I am not prohibited from being drunk.

  Where did you get so drunk? Tereza asked. In the bar across the street, he said, laughing, and asked again for a soft drink.

  Well, why didn't you stay there? Because I wanted to look at you, he said. I love you! His face contorted oddly as he said it, and Tereza had trouble deciding whether he was sneering, making advances, or joking. Or was he simply so drunk that he had no idea what he was saying?

  She put the soft drink down in front of him and went back to her other customers. The I love you! seemed to have exhausted the boy's resources. He emptied his glass in silence, left money on the counter, and slipped out before Tereza had time to look up again.

  A moment after he left, a short, bald-headed man, who was on his third vodka, said, You ought to know that serving young people alcohol is against the law.

  I didn't serve him alcohol! That was a soft drink!

  I saw what you slipped into it!

  What are you talking about?

  Give me another vodka, said the bald man, and added, I've had my eye on you for some time now.

  Then why not be grateful for the view of a beautiful woman and keep your mouth shut? interjected a tall man who had stepped up to the bar in time to observe the entire scene.

  You stay out of this! shouted the bald man. What business is it of yours?

  And what business is it of yours, if I may ask? the tall man retorted.

  Tereza served the bald man his vodka. He downed it at one gulp, paid, and departed.

  Thank you, said Tereza to the tall man.

  Don't mention it, said the tall man, and went his way, too.

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