LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 41, No.2 - Summer 1995
Editor of this issue: Antanas Klimas, University of Rochester
Copyright © 1995 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
CALCIFIED PERCEPTION, OR?
Translated by Tadas Klimas
All of them can think what they want, can say what they want. I could care less. That's everybody's business and each to his own. But no one will convince me it never happened. Though even when they say, okay, it really happened, they still set it down to a dream, a delirium, your basic fantasy, self-deception or even self-hypnosis, like one young psychologist tried very hard to make me believe. She said that, especially at my age, all sorts of subconscious self-hypnosis can occur.
Well, I suppose it might have been some sort of a dream. Dreams can be completely outlandish, and I might have had one of those. But one muddle just refuses to leave me alone: you see, even the sharpest dreams fade away for me with time. The memory remains that it occurred, that I did have such a dream, but all of the acuteness, all the details, fade away; they entwine themselves into a fog of things forgotten until from the whole experience, which might have been extremely life-like, there remains just the simple thought that sometime something was dreamed. Finally, even this remembrance grows dull.
But nothing changes with this particular memory. Every detail, even every word is still as alive and clear as it was then.
I don't know anything about self-delusion or self-hypnosis, so I don't want to argue with experts in those disciplines. I don't want to afford them some sweet fun at the expense of my ignorance, but even they can't convince me that I could hypnotize myself as a result of just slipping into a reverie. Especially not me, whom a professional once tried and failed to hypnotize. She tried, too, that young psychologist I just mentioned. But she wasn't able to, either. She blamed her failure on my age-diminished capacity. Maybe some little devil tempted me into saying, "Guess I'm suffering from calcified perception." She thought about this for a moment and then smiled. "You know, that's not a bad name for it. Not bad at all," she added, and that's how we parted. She with my new term, which she may never use, and me with my doubts.
You know, sometimes I even try to make myself believe that it's possible to think so deeply about something, that one's thoughts become reality. Real, seeable, hearable, touchable. But I can't. I don't know about you, but me, I think up all sorts of nonsense. Some of it is even embarrassing to admit to myself. Especially at night if I can't get to sleep. Often this insomnia is in fact caused by these little things that one starts to think about. Some nothing gets into your head, something else joins it, then something else again. Entire histories begin to form, about which you'd never breathe a word to someone else; but with these, like some enchantment, you speed through the night. Of course, one always puts oneself at the center of these stories, and everything else revolves around you, like the spokes of a wheel around its hub. You wind up who-knows-where with that whole gang, but you always know what's happening, you always understand, perhaps with some regret, that it all is a hurtling, uncontrollable effect of your mind that has nothing in common with reality or with the flow of daily events. These ravings are strong enough to chase sleep away, but are far and away from any hypnosis, and they never become a reality which one could touch with a finger. But this time it was different. It was just as real as my sitting here, trying to commit this conundrum to paper. But, so that everything would fall into place, let me start from further back.
My childhood friend Chirbulis everybody used to call him Chirby back then for some reason was going to celebrate his eightieth birthday in Chicago and had invited me to fly over and celebrate it with him. He said in a few years he won't bow out from doing the same for me. He added that I should book a flight only one way, because after a week one of his friends would be driving to New York City, so he could take me and drop me off in Rochester. And if it wouldn't be too inconvenient, he would like to fly over and spend a day or two. It would be a good occasion for him to see a new city, and it'll save a good chunk of cash. He wrote me so himself, and while we were toasting his eightieth, his friend said the same. His friend, a cheerful dzukas* who never seemed to sit still and was always shooting his camera off in all directions, really wanted to see the city of Kodak and especially Kodak itself, on whose products he'd spent more than a few thousand dollars. But then everything changed. My suitcases were stuffed so full of Lithuanian sausages and books you can't get in Rochester that I could hardly lift them, when he, all of a sudden, ran off to Wisconsin to go fishing with who knows who and without telling me a thing. He only let me know through some third parties that hell wouldn't break loose if I were to wait in Chicago for another week or so until he'd return with some salmon, or maybe even some sturgeon. Rochester, he said, will still be there, but a man can't get up into Wisconsin just any time he likes. One has to luck out and find someone who knows where, when, and how.
Chirbulis halfheartedly tried to talk me into staying, but I just didn't want to use up any more of my friend's hospitality. I could have gone home by plane, but suddenly, for some reason, I got a hankering to try the train. I had plenty of time, and I couldn't even remember the last time I had ridden a train. I had the whole day before the train, so, poking around in my friend's giant book collection, I came across a book that he'd probably brought over from Germany: Thomas Mann's Joseph und seine Brueder. I came across it and was hooked. I had read many of Mann's books, but I had only vaguely heard of Joseph and his brothers. It would always somehow slide through my fingers. This time I got hold of it and turned page after page, although I knew I'd never even get it half done by the time I had to go, let alone finish it. Finally, I screwed up the courage to ask him if I could borrow it for the trip home, saying I'd send it back to him. You see, I knew very well he never lent any books to anyone, not even his closest friends. He would just say, "I'm not a lending library.," But this time, without even saying a word, he took the book, opened it up to the title page, and wrote:
"In memory of our days of youth and happiness." He thought for a moment and added: "And of what may be the last time we see each other on this earth."
When I tried to explain I felt bad, breaking apart the collection he had so carefully put together, he just waved his hand and gave me a sad smile. "A waste," he said. "Just a plain, old, selfish waste. You know, for the money I spent in loading my shelves, I could maybe have done some good for someone. But now... You think they'll ever be useful to anyone? One fine day I'll be carried out feet first, and they'll wind up in the garbage. It appears it's hard for a man to change. I started to collect them over there, when there was a reason, when the country had been pining for world culture.
And I continued to collect them over here, because I had started over there and couldn't stop. It never even entered my mind that no one here would have any use for them. Over there, I think they could still be useful. People over there are still longing to know world culture. Maybe even more so now, than then, when they had the liberty to obtain these books. They'd carry them all out and away like something holy. Some would even learn other languages, just so they could read what they had brought home from that old man who'd just croaked. Just like we used to do, a long time ago. How many languages did we learn, just so we could read the originals, and here... Believe it or not, sometimes I stand here and look at my bookshelves and say, "Lord, how have our people offended You, that You should punish them so? And if this is not according to Your will, then can it be the Manicheans were right, and You are not the most powerful, but that beside you the Evil one is just as powerful as you, and that the two of you vie with one another, as equal against equal?"
Having said that, he pushed the book into my 'hands, adding that he wouldn't read so boring a thing a second time anyway, and that I'd be able to savor Mann's long sentences not only during the trip, but that it should last me for a while even after I'd get home.
I took it. Not only did I take it, but I gave him my truly heartfelt thanks. Long sentences had never bothered me, but would always put me in a peaceful mood, like a wide river's flow. I even feel that deeper thoughts fit more easily into long sentences than into nervous bits of chopped up speech. Once, jokingly, I had called a friend's overly short sentenced writing "short stuff," and, of course, with those two words I had put quite a bit of a chill into what had been a pretty warm friendship. What am I saying, a bit of a chill. There was nothing left of that friendship other than a hunk of ice.
While accepting the book, one of my strange habits didn't even come to mind: while traveling, I like to look around, I want to see everything. So, between the passing scenery and the lurching of the train, I wasn't able to spare Joseph much attention. Having gone some little distance, I even decided I would have been better off if I had brought along some short, light, adventure novel instead, and I sadly closed the covers on that calm story, woven throughout with deep thoughts, which I had been absolutely unable to integrate into the rumbling of the train and the flashing by of the scenery. Having put the book away, I gave myself up to the fading, sunset colors of the fields, to groups of black-checkered cows, to roads which came from far off and then, cutting across the railroad, would continue on to who-knows-where. And all of them empty, as if all the inhabitants had gone off at the same time to have dinner. For a while, a large thoroughfare paralleled the train track, and there was some traffic on it. I began to count the number of cars the train out sped. But one little green car just did not want to give in to the train. And it didn't give in. It sped along so evenly with the train alongside my window as if it had become part of it. And the driver wasn't a man, but a fair haired girl. I began to like her risky game, but also I started to worry that she would not stumble upon some policeman lurking for plunder. Judging from the way the train was passing the other cars, its speed had to have been at least eighty miles an hour, and she was supposedly limited to only fifty-five. I was completely on her side, and I wanted to wave to her through the window, but she always had her eyes riveted to the road. Eventually, some woods came to separate the train from the road, and I was left alone with the green of the forest and the rumbling of the train, and wondered whether the thoroughfare would come back to parallel the train, and whether there would still be upon it that woman, who was so determined not to lose her race.
No longer attracted by the sameness of the twilight, I reopened Joseph and all his brothers and the not-too-smart Egyptians.
"Is this seat taken?" a voice interrupted my attempt at reading.
I raised my eyes. Next to the empty seat stood a man, who looked like he had come right out of Isaac Bashevis Singer's Satan in Goray or Leib Peretz's My Memoirs: he was tall and lean, with a dark goatee and eyelids which seemed to have a rosy blush. His eyes, dark brown and very serious, nevertheless scintillated with puckishness. The train compartment was quite unsteady at that moment, so he was holding onto the seat back with his left hand. His right hand's fingers were tucked inside his coat between the two top buttons.
I am rather shy and I don't know how to make the acquaintance of people I come across while traveling. I think that's why I feel very uncomfortable when I have to sit shoulder to shoulder with someone for hours and not say a word. Being by oneself is more comfortable anyhow: You can lean any way you want, and even lie down across two seats. I cast my glance about the compartment. There were only a few people in it, and there were plenty of spare seats. I was about to say that the seat was taken, but that strange glint in his eye made me think he had chosen me for some prank, maybe even a mean one. He obviously knew the seat was free, and when I would say, it's taken, he'd have the pleasure of embarrassing me in some way. Maybe he'd label me an anti-Semite, or who-knows-what.
So I said it was free, and returned to my book. I read the same sentence several times, but I couldn't make heads or tails of it. I kept wondering what experiment he had chosen me for and why he had chosen me, when there were other people in the compartment.
With his appearance a smell perhaps not a smell, but an oppressive miasma seemed to settle over the compartment. Perhaps not the entire compartment, but only over our seats but it was so real it seemed to push me straight down into Singer Goray's sauna. The sentence I was trying to read kept getting mixed up in my mind with a vision of Itse and his wild blond hair, who, before his wedding, was diving into the water seventy-two times. His diving was so rhythmic that it started to pull me in. I shut the book, I think I even shuddered, and turned towards the window. The woods had been left behind, but I couldn't see the road, only dark fields broken by black silhouettes of bushes and trees. Here and there a light would pierce the darkness, or automobile headlights would shine for a moment and then suddenly be gone. The headlights gave me a strange fancy, and I imagined that somewhere over there the blonde woman is still speeding along and is getting closer to a railroad station that is coming up soon. When we pull into the station, she'll run into my compartment and demand a seat, the one next to me of that traveler who seemed to be the author of that strange oppressive feeling.
"It must be pretty difficult to read such a hard book when the train is so unsteady. Maybe even impossible," my neighbor said, interrupting the ending of my reverie. I turned my head toward him.
"I really regret not having learned German while I was young. I read the English translation, but a translation is never the same as the original," he continued in the same voice, as if we had been old acquaintances. "I myself used to write a bit in Yiddish, and I'd be pretty pleased when I'd be translated into other languages. But some of them were translated into languages I could read, and when I'd read them, I often could hardly recognize my own stories. The nuances of my thoughts would disappear, many of the allusions would be different, and sometimes the thoughts I had had in mind when I had written the words in my native language would have been altered. In general, it was like a food that had lost its aroma."
I felt that my neighbor was not just an ordinary man, but perhaps somebody well-known, if his books had been translated into other languages. But my initial urge to caution had not yet passed. "The contents are the same, however," was my rather short answer.
He seemed to feel my caution, for he said, "I would like to ask you to forgive my wish to sit in this seat. If I had been in your place, I might even have said, why are you trying to squeeze in here when the car is half-empty. But you see when I saw old Joseph in your hands, well, I couldn't restrain myself. Nowadays very few people are interested in such books. As for its contents," he went on, not even waiting for any reply from me as to his apology, "Contents are facts. A mere recital of fact is not art. Even the lowest reporter can do that."
"But there can be art even in a news report," I interjected.
"Yes," he smiled, "but then it will not be truthful. Some truth will remain, of course, but it will be warped, made to be individual, no longer true."
"But what then is the true truth?" I asked, not letting up.
"The true truth?" he said, wrinkling his brow. Lights again flashed in his dark eyes. At that moment I stopped being sorry I had not relied originally that the seat next to me was taken. He continued:
"The truth, speaking in plain language, is that, which is, and it is in that way, in which it is, and not in that way in which all of us see it. The truth is the essence of a fact and its condition, and it is not our theories derived from the manifestations of that fact."
"So it would seem we are unable to see truth itself?" I interrupted. "But why? Are our eyes imperfect? Is our thought process defective? Or perhaps there really is no truth at all. Perhaps truth really is a mirage created by our ability to think and see that which we think about. In that case wouldn't truth be only something we fool ourselves with?"
My half-purposely thrown out series of questions clearly affected him: a shudder passed through him and even his whiskers rose up as if they were hung on an invisible string.
"You almost hit the bull's eye. Almost," he almost shouted and even made as if to jab me in the chest with his finger, but stopping halfway. He then continued to lecture in a completely calm voice: "It is probably not news to you, especially if you are a believer, that God made man in His own image. Not identical, but similar. No one has said just how similar. Perhaps only to the extent that He gave man the ability to create, to make something which had never existed before, but man perhaps this will be a novel thought for you man in his creative effort made a God who is exactly identical to man himself. Since there are no two human beings who are exactly alike, therefore everyone's God is always somewhat unique. Everyone's God is thus closer to the individual, but does that mean that there is no God?"
"Of course not," I quickly replied.
"You see," he gave a rather happy smile and stroked his hand over his thick beard. "If God's existence does not depend upon the many conceptions man has of him, that is to say, does not depend upon man's ability to see, to think, even upon the quickness of man's eye, then why should that determine the existence of truth, peace, love, and of many other eternal things?"
Here I had to do some thinking. I couldn't throw an intelligent reply together at once, but then he went on:
"Let us take that same Joseph for example. Everyone who wrote about him made him a bit different.
And Thomas Mann made him different from the other versions. Mann's translators also lent their own flavor to the matter. I would really like to know all languages into which Mann has been translated, then to get all of the translations and to read them all together. Line by line, page by page, chapter by chapter, and in this way to find out just how many different Josephs have been created and recreated in that same novel by man's creative capacity. Wouldn't that be an interesting experiment?"
But then my momentary block went away. "Yes, it would be interesting," I said, "But not for me. I have never been the type to splinter my toothpick so as to fill up an entire wagon with slivers. Having read the original, I doubt I would have the patience to read the translations. Even while reading the original, I am searching for something completely different. While reading the Bible, it came to me that Joseph is probably the first to institute slavery on a nationwide scale. And he did it in a very underhanded way. He did not create it through force or by some decree, like today's dictators would, but he forced the people themselves to become slaves so as not to starve to death. And isn't he the first person to have induced one entire nation to hate another. I wanted to see if Thomas Mann would confirm or disprove this idea, or would perhaps explain it in some other way, or perhaps, not having noticed anything, would touch upon it only glancingly."
These words of mine caused him to smile from ear to ear and he even slapped his knee.
"Come on, did you really think of that yourself? No one whispered anything to you?"
"No one," I answered, and feeling he had wanted to put me down on purpose with his question, I somewhat indignantly added, "Unless it were the evil spirit, so that I would understand where the roots of anti-Semitism lie."
Right after I said this, I became anxious, thinking that now he would really start in on me. But he didn't even blink and just kept right on going as if he hadn't heard me.
"The thing is, many never comprehend this. They read it and leave it alone. Everyone is happy that he saved not only Egypt but also his entire people. Even Joseph himself doesn't get it. By the way, do you know what happened the other morning, when Israel's politicians threw Begin out of office? But no, you wouldn't know... At that time the Lord God was walking with Joseph in the gardens of heaven. Joseph kept looking and looking at what was going on in Israel's parliament. He couldn't control himself any longer and turned to the Lord and cried, "Why do you allow your people to humiliate a man who had done so much good for them! Through his entire life nothing mattered to him but a free, independent Israel. How much did he toil and suffer for this, only to get this kind of reward from his countrymen?" The Lord smiled, "So what would you have me do?" he asked, shrugging his shoulders. Joseph shouted, "Stop these ignominious attacks upon a holy man of the people. Stop up the mouths of the demagogues, hypocrites, egomaniacs, and fools. Turn the liars' tongues to stone, open the eyes of the blind, so they would see the truth!" "Whose truth?" the Lord again smiled. Hearing this from the lips of the Almighty, Joseph became so amazed that his eyes turned into complete moons. "Whose? What do you mean, whose? Can it be this too must be explained to the Lord? Israel's truth. The eternal truth of Your chosen people," he answered all in one breath. "But the majority of Israel's parliament would be very unhappy," the Lord smiled again.
Joseph became even more incensed and now, completely enraged, shouted, "And what is it to You, Lord, if the unjust become unhappy? Let them take a lesson from this!" In answer to Joseph's explosion of anger. God answered very calmly, "And you, would it have been very pleasing to you if I had constrained you in the same manner?" Joseph was so shocked he drew back several steps on his heels and cried, "Lord, when? Why? When did I act not in accordance with your will?" "Why, when else but when you were saving Egypt from famine," God serenely reminded Joseph of the distant past, which in eternity is always very near. Joseph grew even more amazed. "But was this not your will, o Lord? Should I have disobeyed you and let the famine take the lives of the whole nation? And with them your chosen people?" "No, Joseph, no. Indeed, my will was for you to save them, but you substituted your will for mine. You gathered up, as I had instructed you, the fifth part gratis, but then you distributed it not as charity but for payment, until you had taken everything from the starving. And when they no longer had any possessions with which to buy their bread, you took their very selves. You enslaved free people to the state. You only raised up your own relatives. It was not enough for you to have saved them from famine, but you forced the enslaved true owners of the nation to serve them. In this manner you made the entire Egyptian nation hate your clan."
"And you know what happened then. I myself had to intercede that your clan would not be annihilated by the hatred you yourself had created. I had to send Moses. You see, Joseph, the relations of men are to me like the waves of an ocean. They arise, cast themselves upon the shore, then recede, sweeping much off with them and disappearing in the ocean's expanse. Sometimes I regret having given man not only the power to create, but also the will to create according to their fancy. But I never regret not having given them absolute power, for they would have wiped each other out long ago. Perhaps including me as well. Is it any clearer now?" He added, but Joseph would not have been a true son of his people if he had left it at that.
Joseph frowned and said, "As far as I am concerned, o Lord, all right. It was long ago, and I loved all my relatives very much. Even my brothers, who had sold me. Perhaps from this love I thought You Yourself want the same thing as do I. Through my love I did not understand Your true will. Nevertheless You did not punish me, you allowed me to die in honor and contentment. But what has Begin done that he must suffer abasement and rejection? Is it just that he loved his people, that he wanted them to be free?"
Shadows of sadness appeared on God's bright face. "So, Joseph, we have arrived at the heart of the matter. If you haven't learned from your experience even over so many ages, then what can one expect of poor Begin and from many others, a list of whom would stretch from the beginning of time to its end. They all love and continue to love themselves, but not man, their own people, but not people. Just their own. Just themselves. Only their own people, only their own truth. If I would not know this, I would not dare to claim that some wave would not come and sweep Israel away into the sea of mankind, like it came after the crucifixion of my son." With these words God turned away and went off into the vastnesses of heaven.
Joseph remained standing there as if nailed to the spot. He thought and thought, and still he couldn't understand how it could be bad to help one's kinsmen. And if it is evil, then why didn't God tell him so at once, but instead waited for who knows what? If Joseph were too simple to understand this, then what hope do we have?"
My neighbor finished telling his long story, lowered his head, rested his chin on his chest, and appeared to be deep in thought. He probably was thinking about his own truth, which perhaps is not everywhere identical to my own, just like it differs from that of the Lord God. He leaned back from his ruminations, lifting his head up, took his hat off, looked at its gray silk lining, and swiftly put it back on his head. I wondered whether while lost in thought he had forgotten that his religion forbids him to be indoors without his head covered. I don't know where the courage came from to ask him, "Do you know where Lithuania is?"
"I know," he said without batting an eye and added, "Probably not less well then you do."
That not-less-well just about took my courage away. I thought perhaps he was from Vilnius, perhaps some professor from Telπiai, with whom I might fall into some meaningless argument as to who shot whom and who didn't shoot whom, who betrayed whom and who didn't betray whom, but having started I determined to keep going.
"And do you know that a red wave has washed over Lithuania? Has washed over her and is striving to wash the entire nation out into the wastes of Russia? Wash her there and sink her."
"I know that very well.",
"From your story of Joseph's conversation with God I understand, that Jews suffered and are suffering from an exaggerated concern for themselves. Let me tell you that when you asked me if that seat was taken I wanted to say it was taken, because who wants to sit squeezed together with a stranger when half the compartment is empty, but I was afraid to. I was afraid to open my mouth, so that you would not accuse me of being that which I am not. That you would not raise your voice and tell the whole compartment that here is yet another anti-semite, probably some Nazi accomplice. And who wants that. Perhaps you yourselves don't know you have really frightened people with that anti-semitism, that some are afraid to open their mouths even when they really should. At this moment a rather funny thought has come to my mind, but taking courage I'll tell it to you: if Israel's parliament knew what God said to Joseph the other morning, they would even call God an anti-semite. But forgive me. I have gotten away from what I had wanted to say. When I started, this is what I wanted to ask you: As far as I can see, Lithuania has never done anyone any sizeable hurt or evil. Indeed, through the ages Lithuania has herself suffered much. So what is the reason for her having to undergo such suffering? After all, even towards the Jews through the ages Lithuania has done only good, although they are trying hard to make her the scapegoat for the sins of others. If you heard what God said to Joseph, then perhaps you might have heard what God said, for example, to Vytautas, Mindaugas, perhaps even St. Casimir?"
My fellow traveler suddenly smiled as if he knew a great deal which I couldn't even begin to guess. He didn't even become angry at all the worn-out comments I'd made. He just rubbed his hands together in delight, and his eyes lit up as if to say, "Well, buddy, now you're going to hear something beyond your wildest dreams."
"You see, my friend, that's a whole different story," he began, taking hold of his beard with his right hand. "Completely different. The engines of every particular nation's life and death are somewhat dissimilar, but that of your nation is altogether unique. Many nations and even individuals suffer for what they have done, but very few for what they should have done, but did not do. Your nation is one of those few which did not do something which would have put them on a completely different path. This is hidden in the secrets of history and pre-history, but if God allows, I will tell you," taking hold of my shoulder with his hand he began whispering in my ear as if afraid someone might overhear this great secret, "But only you. No one else. And if you tell anyone else, don't tell them who told you. No one would believe you. Tell them you thought of it yourself. And now brace yourself," he said and gripped my shoulder even more tightly. He even gave me a little shake.
"Get ready. Rochester."
I lifted my eyes up to see the conductor leaning over and waking me up. Where my mysterious fellow traveler had been sitting was just an empty seat.
"Where did my friend get off? Buffalo?" I asked.
"Rochester," he repeated, and I understood he didn't know what I was talking about.
He couldn't understand, because I had spoken to him in Lithuanian. The same language in which I had just been speaking with the stranger. That's when I remembered that we hadn't even introduced ourselves. Neither had told the other who we were, and now he had disappeared without even leaving me his name.
When I asked the conductor again, this time in English, he became somewhat astonished and said, "I walked by here several times and I didn't see anyone sitting there. You were sleeping all the way from Toledo."
I tried to explain. "There was a rather dark haired man here, with a beard, sideburns, and a hard black hat."
The conductor made a face and shook his head. "I haven't seen anybody like that on the whole train."
Turning away, he added, "Here's Rochester."
I felt the train begin to slow. I grabbed my coat and suitcase, and noticed Joseph which had fallen to the floor. I picked it up, put it in my pocket, and carefully looked around the compartment. It was half-empty and my eye found no one even remotely similar to him who had sat next to me. The conductor can say what he wants, but I know what I know. For a moment considered I might have been dreaming, but I put this thought aside at once, because there aren't any dreams like this. There can't be. Everything was too clear, A dream wouldn't have occurred in that same compartment, even in that same seat. But where did he disappear to? Who was he? What's the truth?
I exited the compartment looking over my shoulder. I even checked the bathroom while walking by. I said to myself, maybe he went off with someone to have a cigarette, or, just to play games with me, was hiding somewhere. But the bathroom was empty and he wasn't in the smoking car. There wasn't anyone resembling him on the nearby empty platform, either. But a strange feeling had come over me and wouldn't let me go. A feeling that he was somewhere close with his Cheshire grin and that he was staring me right in the eyes with his own eyes, brown eyes behind reddened eyelids, eyes strangely sparkling as if to say I have never, ever, seen, not even in my wildest dreams, anything like what those eyes have seen and what they know.
The train car had stopped pretty far from the door of the station and my suitcase, crammed with books and Chicago-style sausages, was pulling my arm down more with every step, so, seeing an open path, I turned and went directly over to the parking lot, hoping to find a taxi still waiting there. I turned and stopped short. I even put my suitcase down and wiped my hand across my face. For a fleeting moment I wasn't sure whether I wasn't still sitting somewhere on a train and dreaming one of those strange dreams during which one wakes up and falls back asleep several times, because from over in back of the train station I saw an automobile pull out and drive away the same light green car with the same blonde driving it whom I had seen through the window racing with the train.
Suddenly the green car stopped and its blonde driver turned her head towards me. She looked at me a moment, then waved and jumped out of her car. She hurried over to me, and I, not knowing what to do, probably just stood there open mouthed.
"So hello there," said a happy and familiar voice, and I could feel the veil dropping from my eyes.
My friend's young wife Brone was standing in front of me.
"Why didn't you let us know when you were coming back? We would have waited for you. As it was, we didn't really know when. Good thing I saw you standing there, or I would have blown out of here by myself. I just dropped Vytautas off. He's on his way to Boston for one of those organizations of his, a conference or something. Here, let me grab your suitcase."
"No, no, I'll handle it."
But she grabbed it first, lifted it off the pavement and dropped it back down.
"What's this?" she laughed in surprise. "Did you bring some bricks with you? Well, don't kill yourself. I'll bring the car closer."
She ran off, brought the car over, we lifted the suitcase in, and moved out from the station.
She was talking of what was new in Rochester and asked me what I had seen in Chicago, and I kept feeling that the perhaps-dreamed, perhaps-real stranger was sitting quietly there in the back seat, waiting for a chance to tell me the reason Lithuania is suffering. What she had not done and so earned her punishment. Not able to control myself I looked over my shoulder several times/although I knew I wouldn't see anyone there. Wanting to dispel this unnerving feeling, I decided to tell her what I had seen on the train.
"If you weren't really here beside me, I'd swear I'd seen you racing with the train," I said, and she shot me a look of astonishment.
"Really?" she asked.
"Absolutely. A car just like this and a woman who looked exactly like you were racing the train. I can even say now that your hair styles are identical, except that maybe hers was a little more tousled by the wind."
"It probably really was me," she laughed. "I was also racing."
"But not all the way near Chicago," I objected in surprise.
"I don't know. Maybe I was somewhere close to there. After I packed Vytautas' things for him, I sat down on the sofa. Suddenly I got so sleepy, it was even sweet. I drew a pillow down under my head and, I guess/I fell asleep and even dreamed. I'm driving down a road and a train is rushing by next to me. It wants to pass me, but I say, no, no way. It speeds up, I speed up, it speeds up, I speed up. Then the road ran into some woods and it ended. All I saw in front of me were trees. I let go of the wheel, covered my face with my hands, screamed and woke up. I guess I really screamed pretty loud, because Vytautas even rushed in from the yard. He thought somebody had gotten in and was trying to kill me. He was afraid to leave me to go to Boston. He finally did leave, but ordered me to lock everything up tight and be careful.
That dream of hers mixed me up even worse. Where did this coincidence come from? While I was traveling she never came to mind. I don't even remember thinking about her while I was in Chicago. Unless my whole trip on the train was nothing but a dream, or "self-hypnosis," that catch-phrase that can explain anything. If this wasn't a glimpse by a mortal, standing on the edge of eternity, of those vast spaces in which there will be no mysteries, then I'll agree to put this episode down to simple calcification of the old frontal lobes, or perhaps just to the beginning of their calcification.
But if so, then who of us can ever tell what is and is not the truth?
* Translator's note: "dzukas" denotes a person from a southern region of Lithuania.