The big city lights were glittering and the sounds of the night could be heard. It was a clear spring night, cool and pleasant. Above the blooming tree-tops of the tree-lined streets the stars were blinking peacefully and eternally as if suggesting peace and restraint. All the rest may be hard and painful but nevertheless transient. Pavle watched them for some time, as if trying carefully to grasp their silent massage and then sighted almost with relief, and waked off. He decided to return home on foot, so what if it was late.
He was thinking: Oh, Mishko, Mishko! He was obviously irritated. He even felt bad about it and was upset. It was the simple truth, the unadulterated reality, indeed a necessity bat it was as if he had torn out his heart. Pavle sighed again. Oh well, it was probably because Mishko was still a child at heart. He still believed that they, Pavle and himself, had been bound by fate to fight for a happier and more dignified life for man, in which consideration and honesty would prevail over evil and injustice. As if all that it took was their good will. That this was most important of all. All the rest was treason from which man jumps like mad. You wouldn't believe the patience with which he explained to the little gypsy beggar. How that affected human dignity, even his own by begging, how one must work, deserve in an honest and proud way, how one ought to clean streets, shine shoes because every kind of work was worthy and it is only when the dinar is wet with one's own sweat that we fully appreciate it. And the little gypsy beggar listened most attentively, hoping to receive a dinar or two. Mishko did not give him anything. He was enthusiastic about having helped with his sincere words of advice, about having cleansed his soul and ennobled him with the desire to work and that was enough. Actually, he didn't get anything from Pavle either but at least he did not lecture him, nor did he believe that he was able to help him, he least of all. True, it is unfortunate — if this were the only unfortunate thing! - but there are certain things that one must take as they are, however vile they may seem, whether we like it or not. For, if they really exist then they are a part of reality. And that is not all. There is a whole concatenation of circumstances lurking in the background, known or unknown, and this too is a reality, the various expressions of reality are there not only because someone said a kind word may otherwise appear nice and an ugly one ugly. Reality is forever and its expression closely dependent on circumstances. There is nothing one can do about it. In any case, not as individuals and not with a handful of dinars. The most one is able to achieve is make that expression understood. And again only so that man can become more easily reconciled with it.
Pavle was aware of all this although thinking about it did not make him especially happy. Still, he was unruffled. Things are as they must be if not what they should be. Despite everything Pavle was not unhappy and his serenity could be, in a person so young, considered a virtue. It sprang from every movement he made and every word he uttered. This time too, his voice was sober and calm: "Pardon me!" Hurrying along deeply engrossed in thought he nearly knocked into a girl at the first corner. She had been standing in the shadow. She was all-alone. As he passed by he repeated "Pardon me!" more to himself and quickened his pace... This was something life had taught him: Pavle will simply not do anything in vain. Nothing that any idea of what is noble and moral would justify. This would simply not do purposeful. Had Mishko's lecture to the small gypsy boy been meaningful? Naturally, not! Work alone is purposeful, not just any kind of work, only that recognized by society, paid work, work which may be eaten and put on — while nobility and morality are merely means of ensuring its respect and defense. And these means are not even enough, which is often a miserable consolation, a consolation to dreamers and weaklings. Pavle did not regard himself a weakling... He listened... There really was the sound of clicking heels following him. The streets are empty, not a soul about. It must be that girl whom he had nearly bumped into... However, one must of course carry on with one's work and mind one's own business. That's the only right thing to do. Is not it the height of morality and nobility to see to one's own self? That is exactly what Pavle wishes to do. There is no reason to be angry or to speak harsh, strong words. He will go to Germany and try his luck. It won't be easy, Pavle knows that. It won't be bed of roses, there is no such thing anywhere. However, Pavle is a grown up man. All he is asking is that his work should be properly appreciated. His knowledge and thought, the effort he was invested, the work he enjoys. What he is in fact seeking is a more just setting for his work. Once again in the interest of Janko and Marko or in that of some Wolf and Rudolph. There ought to be enough bread for all. If there is not then without much beating about the bush and without much talk, there is not. It is inhuman, possibly cruel though honest — society simply has not need for your work, there is no money for you, at best a mere pittance. So what, Pavle will return, settle down in some godforsaken village and repair short-circuits, change fuses — if that be the demand and need of life and society. Down the drain with one's wishes, in that case! Just like that! Still, for the time being, Pavle is convinced that his knowledge and capabilities are worth something and able to generate money and therefore wants to earn well. He'll see!... He strained his ears once again. The girl he could still hear seemed very young. Pavle slowed down. He felt like seeing whether she was pretty, good looking. He stopped in front of a shop window. The girl approached and brushed him from behind in passing. She stopped:
— Sorry! — she said, hesitantly.
She was indeed very young. Both beautiful and attractive.
— That's al right! — replied Pavle.
The girl stood beside him. She was obviously in a dilemma. Then she looked down, as if she were guilty of something. Pavle was silent.
— Then, good-bye — she finally uttered and walked off.
Pavle was slightly surprised. He watched her slim white legs while she moved away. He went after her. So, he would feast his eyes on something beautiful on his way home. They walked in this fashion for some time. Then the girl once again stopped by a shop window. As he went by her, Pavle caught sight of the pinkish corner of her ear protruding beneath her blond silky hair. She seemed delicate. Pavle passed her.
— Oh, please! — she suddenly called after him.
Pavle stopped and turned around. The girl walked hurriedly in his direction.
— Um... — she began and then stopped.
Then, she asked how to get to a certain street.
What a coincidence, it was the same way he was going.
They walked together. They advanced in silence. Pavle felt that he should start a conversation.
— Are you alone? — he inquired vaguely and slowly as if intending to pursue the subject.
— No, I'm not alone! — she interrupted quickly and gently caught him under the arm. — There, you see! — she laughed impishly. Then she went on hastily as if she wished to avoid further questions: — I'm going to see a girlfriend of mine. I don't know the neighborhood, but I do know the name of the street and the number. Then she stopped to look at him as if to make sure that he would not ask any further questions.
Pavle really wanted to ask her: so late? He refrained, however. Anyway, he hated poking his nose into other people's business.
— She's really wonderful, that friend of mine! — continued the girl. — She promised to lend me five thousand. — Then she fell silent. She glanced at him inquisitively as if expecting something. Pavle said nothing. — Well, I was thinking... — the girl went on uncertainly. She hesitated. Then she made up her mind: — If you could lend me that money, I wouldn't have to go to my friend? — she said and stopped, letting go of his elbow as if afraid not to get it dirty. She did not look at him in the eyes. She bent her head and looked down.
All of a sudden things became clear to Pavle. So that's it. She is truly beautiful and attractive, one might even say exceptionally good looking. Anyone would desire her. Why should he be an exception? Well, he certainly wasn't going to lecture her like Mishko the gypsy beggar?! Anyway, she looked clear and tidy. He gave her a careful once over. She was really clean, modestly dressed but clean nevertheless. That's what counted. It will cost five thousand. Five, but, damn it, it was worth it. At least as much as five dinners. He needn't go to the cinema for a month, big deal!
— If you haven't got it on you, I'll come along with you! — said the girl, fearing that she hadn't been explicit enough.
I know, I know thought Pavle and stated briefly:
— I'll give it to you!
They went on separately one beside the other. They were silent. The deal had been made and there was no need for further conversation.
As they entered his room, Pavle first switched on the lamp on his bed-night table. Then he made up the bed and took off his clothes. In the meantime, the girl obediently slipped off her blouse and skirt and took off her shoes. She remained in her slip. They were quiet. Then Pavle lay down. The girl made a few steps towards the bed but went no further. Pavle watched her for some time. Then he got up and without a word drew her into bed. Their legs intertwined and his hands sought her body under her slip. It seemed all of a sudden that her naked thighs and breasts spilled their youth all over the white sheets. Pavle started kissing her. At first, she appeared to be embarrassed and then her cheeks became flushed, her breasts firm and her whole body stiffened and she burned with passion. Nature cannot distinguish between love and ordinary giving of oneself. Nature was roused in her and she began returning his kisses. Pavle kissed her and caressed her with his body and hips as if he had forgotten where and how he had found her.
In the morning, Pavle woke up before her. The girl had spent a restless night and only fell asleep at dawn. Pavle cautiously got out of bed so as not to wake her. He was in the habit of drinking tea on Saturday and Sunday mornings when he didn't have to go to work. He was thinking. Well, he would make tea for two. Then he glanced round the room. Her clothes and underwear were strewn all over the place. Pavle began to pick them up carefully. In fact, he had spent a night with her. One might even say a pleasant night.
At that moment, the girl sighed deeply and opened her eyes. She slowly raised herself from the bed and stared at him. Pavle had been putting her bra on the chair when he noticed her looking at him. He went to the bed with the intention of kissing her good morning. The girl moved away from him without removing her eyes from his face.
— Silly, I only wanted to kiss you — said Pavle — cupping her chin with his hands.
She tore herself away from him and all of a sudden started screaming: — Go away! I'm a virgin. I'm a virgin! — She was out of her mind. Her eyes were flashing with hatred and despair. Her face was contorted with pain. She was waving her arms and shaking her head wildly. As if she were afraid. Her hair was in a mess. She leaped out of bed, and seized the pot of boiling water from the stove: — Don't come near me I Don't come near me, I'm a virgin! — she hid in the corner of the room. She was quite naked underneath her slip. She seemed to be unaware of it. She was breathing more and more quickly. Then she stopped for a second as if to muster enough courage and shouted out shrilly and in desperation, for the last time: — I'm a virgin, — and collapsed on to the floor. The pot of boiling water spilled next to her. She didn't even feel the boiling water. She was sobbing. Her shoulders were shaking as if they were going to fall apart. She bowed her head and was moaning and moaning.
Pavle was first amazed and confused. He stood motionlessly, while his eyebrows were moving up and down. His face relaxed and his heart went out for her. He paced up and down the room slowly. The poor thing, in her present state she certainly would not take the miserable five thousand. The most that Pavle could do was to wait for her to calm down. She would gradually calm down. She had to be left alone, that was all. There was no use crying over spilt milk, what happened, happened, there was no changing things now. She must pull herself together and she will pull herself together. Then he would give her the money.
When she was about to leave, Pavle stuffed eighteen thousand into her hand: all the money he had at the moment. The girl didn't even bother to count the money. She only looked at Pavle painfully for a long time.
Still today, Pavle wondered why he had given her all that money. To help her, he knew he was unable to do that. To appear noble and generous? The sum was a paltry one. And, after all he hadn't said a word about honesty and integrity.
Yet, he had given her all Ms money. He didn't regret that. Despite this, there was something that worried him for some time but even that had passed. Pavle had known it would.
(FIRST DAYS, chapter XIV,
translated by Spomenka Ninčić-Šoć)
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