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The Unbearable Lightness of Being (part 4 chapter 20)

2006-08-22 20:21

  20

  She had done her shopping and was on her way home. Karenin had the usual roll in his mouth. It was a cold morning; there was a slight frost. They were passing a housing development, where in the spaces between buildings the tenants maintained small flower and vegetable gardens, when Karenin suddenly stood stock still and riveted his eyes on something. She looked over, but could see nothing out of the ordinary. Karenin gave a tug, and she followed along behind. Only then did she notice the black head and large beak of a crow lying on the cold dirt of a barren plot. The bodiless head bobbed slowly up and down, and the beak gave out an occasional hoarse and mournful croak.

  Karenin was so excited he dropped his roll. Tereza tied him to a tree to prevent him from hurting the crow. Then she knelt down and tried to dig up the soil that had been stamped down around the bird to bury it alive. It was not easy. She broke a nail. The blood began to flow.

  All at once a rock landed nearby. She turned and caught sight of two nine- or ten-year-old boys peeking out from behind a wall. She stood up. They saw her move, saw the dog by the tree, and ran off.

  Once more she knelt down and scratched away at the dirt. At last she succeeded in pulling the crow out of its grave. But the crow was lame and could neither walk nor fly. She wrapped it up in the red scarf she had been wearing around her neck, and pressed it to her body with her left hand. With her right hand she untied Karenin from the tree. It took all the strength she could muster to quiet him down and make him heel.

  She rang the doorbell, not having a free hand for the key. Tomas opened the door. She handed him the leash, and with the words Hold him! took the crow into the bathroom. She laid it on the floor under the washbasin. It flapped its wings a little, but could move no more than that. There was a thick yellow liquid oozing from it. She made a bed of old rags to protect it from the cold tiles. From time to time the bird would give a hopeless flap of its lame wing and raise its beak as a reproach.

  She sat transfixed on the edge of the bath, unable to take her eyes off the dying crow. In its solitude and desolation she saw a reflection of her own fate, and she repeated several times to herself, I have no one left in the world but Tomas.

  Did her adventure with the engineer teach her that casual sex has nothing to do with love? That it is light, weightless? Was she calmer now?

  Not in the least.

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