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The Unbearable Lightness of Being (part 2 chapter 14)

2006-08-22 20:20

  14

  A young woman forced to keep drunks supplied with beer and siblings with clean underwear-instead of being allowed to pursue something higher -stores up great reserves of vitality, a vitality never dreamed of by university students yawning over their books. Tereza had read a good deal more than they, and learned a good deal more about life, but she would never realize it. The difference between the university graduate and the autodidact lies not so much in the extent of knowledge as in the extent of vitality and self-confidence. The elan with which Tereza flung herself into her new Prague existence was both frenzied and precarious. She seemed to be expecting someone to come up to her any day and say, What are you doing here? Go back where you belong! All her eagerness for life hung by a thread: Tomas's voice. For it was Tomas's voice that had once coaxed forth her timorous soul from its hiding place in her bowels.

  Tereza had a job in a darkroom, but it was not enough for her. She wanted to take pictures, not develop them. Tomas's friend Sabina lent her three or four monographs of famous photographers, then invited her to a cafe and explained over the open books what made each of the pictures interesting. Tereza listened with silent concentration, the kind few professors ever glimpse on their students' faces.

  Thanks to Sabina, she came to understand the ties between photography and painting, and she made Tomas take her to every exhibit that opened in Prague. Before long, she was placing her own pictures in the illustrated weekly where she worked, and finally she left the darkroom for the staff of professional photographers.

  On the evening of that day, she and Tomas went out to a bar with friends to celebrate her promotion. Everyone danced. Tomas began to mope. Back at home, after some prodding from Tereza, he admitted that he had been jealous watching her dance with a colleague of his.

  You mean you were really jealous? she asked him ten times or more, incredulously, as though someone had just informed her she had been awarded a Nobel Prize.

  Then she put her arm around his waist and began dancing across the room. The step she used was not the one she had shown off in the bar. It was more like a village polka, a wild romp that sent her legs flying in the air and her torso bouncing all over the room, with Tomas in tow.

  Before long, unfortunately, she began to be jealous herself, and Tomas saw her jealousy not as a Nobel Prize, but as a burden, a burden he would be saddled with until not long before his death.

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