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The Unbearable Lightness of Being (part 4 chapter 3)

2006-08-22 20:21

  3

  He always tried to get her to stay in bed and let him have breakfast alone. She never gave in. Tomas was at work from seven to four, Tereza from four to midnight. If she were to miss breakfast with him, the only time they could actually talk together was on Sundays. That was why she got up when he did and then went back to bed.

  This morning, however, she was afraid of going back to sleep, because at ten she was due at the sauna on Zofin Island. The sauna, though coveted by the many, could accommodate only the few, and the only way to get in was by pull. Luckily, the cashier was the wife of a professor removed from the university after 1968 and the professor a friend of a former patient of Tomas's. Tomas told the patient, the patient told the professor, the professor told his wife, and Tereza had a ticket waiting for her once a week.

  She walked there. She detested the trams constantly packed with people pushing into one another's hate-filled embraces, stepping on one another's feet, tearing off one another's coat buttons, and shouting insults.

  It was drizzling. As people rushed along, they began opening umbrellas over their heads, and all at once the streets were crowded, too. Arched umbrella roofs collided with one another. The men were courteous, and when passing Tereza they held their umbrellas high over their heads and gave her room to go by. But the women would not yield; each looked straight ahead, waiting for the other woman to acknowledge her inferiority and step aside. The meeting of the umbrellas was a test of strength. At first Tereza gave way, but when she realized her courtesy was not being reciprocated, she started clutching her umbrella like the other women and ramming it forcefully against the oncoming umbrellas. No one ever said Sorry. For the most part no one said anything, though once or twice she did hear a Fat cow! or Fuck you!

  The women thus armed with umbrellas were both young and old, but the younger among them proved the more steeled warriors. Tereza recalled the days of the invasion and the girls in miniskirts carrying flags on long staffs. Theirs was a sexual vengeance: the Russian soldiers had been kept in enforced celibacy for several long years and must have felt they had landed on a planet invented by a science fiction writer, a planet of stunning women who paraded their scorn on beautiful long legs the likes of which had not been seen in Russia for the past five or six centuries.

  She had taken many pictures of those young women against a backdrop of tanks. How she had admired them! And now these same women were bumping into her, meanly and spitefully. Instead of flags, they held umbrellas, but they held them with the same pride. They were ready to fight as obstinately against a foreign army as against an umbrella that refused to move out of their way.

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