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The Unbearable Lightness of Being (part 4 chapter 7)

2006-08-22 20:21

  7

  She went home and forced herself to eat a stand-up lunch in the kitchen. At half past three, she put Karenin on his leash and walked (walking again) to the outskirts of town where her hotel was. When they fired Tereza from her job at the magazine, she found work behind the bar of a hotel. It happened several months after she came back from Zurich: they could not forgive her, in the end, for the week she spent photographing Russian tanks. She got the job through friends, other people who had taken refuge there when thrown out of work by the Russians: a former professor of theology in the accounting office, an ambassador (who had protested against the invasion on foreign television) at the reception desk.

  She was worried about her legs again. While working as a waitress in the small-town restaurant, she had been horrified at the sight of the older waitresses' varicose veins, a professional hazard that came of a life of walking, running, and standing with heavy loads. But the new job was less demanding: although she began each shift by dragging out heavy cases of beer and mineral water, all she had to do then was stand behind the bar, serve the customers their drinks, and wash out the glasses in the small sink on her side of the bar. And through it all she had Karenin lying docilely at her feet.

  It was long past midnight before she had finished her accounts and delivered the cash receipts to the hotel director. She then went to say good-bye to the ambassador, who had night duty. The door behind the reception desk led to a tiny room with a narrow cot where he could take a nap. The wall above the cot was covered with framed photographs of himself and various people smiling at the camera or shaking his hand or sitting next to him at a table and signing something or other. Some of them were autographed. In the place of honor hung a picture showing, side by side with his own face, the smiling face of John F. Kennedy.

  When Tereza entered the room that night, she found him talking not to Kennedy but to a man of about sixty whom she had never seen before and who fell silent as soon as he saw her.

  It's all right, said the ambassador. She's a friend. You can speak freely in front of her. Then he turned to Tereza. His son got five years today.

  During the first days of the invasion, she learned, the man's son and some friends had stood watch over the entrance to a building housing the Russian army special staff. Since any Czechs they saw coming or going were clearly agents in the service of the Russians, he and his friends trailed them, traced the number plates of their cars, and passed on the information to the pro-Dubcek clandestine radio and television broadcasters, who then warned the public. In the process the boy and his friends had given one of the traitors a thorough going over.

  The boy's father said, This photograph was the only corpus delicti. He denied it all until they showed it to him.

  He took a clipping out of his wallet. It came out in the Times in the autumn of 1968.

  It was a picture of a young man grabbing another man by the throat and a crowd looking on in the background. Collaborator Punished read the caption.

  Tereza let out her breath. No, it wasn't one of hers.

  Walking home with Karenin through nocturnal Prague, she thought of the days she had spent photographing tanks. How naive they had been, thinking they were risking their lives for their country when in fact they were helping the Russian police.

  She got home at half past one. Tomas was asleep. His hair gave off the aroma of a woman's groin.

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