Tuesday, February 19, 2008


    The thing with Tonda went like this. Once our aunt came over, my wife's sister, to ask for my advice. I think it was on account of that horse. She wanted to buy this horse for the farm, and so see says:, "Brother-in-law, you know as many people as a stationmaster, even horse traders who go to market, so what if you looked for some handy horse." I talk about the farm, and this and that, and I see aunt has a bag full of something. That'll be a goose, I reckon. Frantík, you're going to be having goose for Sunday dinner, I think. We finish up talking, but all I can think of is that goose, I could get eight pounds for it, I'm thinking, and even some lard for baking--wise woman, your aunt. And then she says I came here and brought you something for your help, brother-in-law. And she pulls it out of the bag. It starts squealing as I jump back like a scaredycat. A live piglet, as I see it, screaming like it's under the knife. A very nice little pig, I must say. Well, our aunt is a simple person; like a conductor, but a country woman sees the authority in it. A conductor opens his mouth and gets people to go here and there, shouting until he's red in the face, well, with his authority. So our poor aunt thought she had to show it somehow, to show me that it was true and that she liked our children like her own--I tell you, she brought us that pig. "Here you are, brother-in-law, here's a piglet from us."

    You know, when it started to scream, the wife and kids ran over at once--such joy. The boy grabbed it by its tail and couldn't get over how curly it was. Andula took it into her lap and held it like a baby; the pig calmed down, started to grunt happily, and fell asleep, and that girl sat there like a statue, pig wrapped in her apron, and her eyes were suddenly so wide and blessed--I can't understand how a little nipper like that can be so maternal. So I say no problem, kids, we'll just have to clean out the shed and make a little sty for Toníček. I don't know why I called that pig Toníček, but the name stuck as long as he was with us. Only when he was over ten kilos, we started to call him Toník, and then he later that became Tonda. Our Tonda. You wouldn't believe how quickly such a little oinker can grow. When he's seventy kilos, I reckoned, we'll have the sticking; some to eat, some to render for lard, and the rest will cure nicely for the winter. So we fed him and tended him the whole summer, looking forward to the slaughter, and Tonda, he followed us right up to the table and let himself be scratched, I say, everything but talk. No one can tell me that a pig is a stupid animal.

    And so around Christmas I say: "Wife, I should call the butcher soon."

    "Why?" she says.

    "Well, to stick Tonda."

    My wife looked at me so surprised, and I felt that it sounded somewhat strange too. "To kill the pig," I said at once.

    "Tonda?" she says, staring at me so strangely.

    "We raised him for that, right?" I shoot right back.

    "Then we shouldn't have given him a Christian name," she snapped. "I couldn't bring him to my lips. Imagine, Tonda blood sausage. Or eating Tonda's ears. You can't expect that from me. Or the children either. It would seem like cannibalism to people, forgive me."

    You know, man: stupid woman. I told her that too, don't ask me how: but when I thought about it myself, I started to feel odd too. Christ, kill Tonda, quarter Tonda and cure Tonda, that doesn't sound good; I wouldn't want to eat him myself. A man can't be so inhuman, right? If he hasn't got a name, he's a pig like any other, but suddenly if he's Tonda, then you have a new relationship to him. What can I tell you: I sold Tonda to the butcher, and I still feel like a slave trader. The money didn't even do me any good.

    So I get to thinking, people can only kill one another if the other guy doesn't have a name. If they knew the man they were pointing a rifle at was František Novák or Franz Huber or Tonda or Vasily, I think something in their soul would cry out: Don't shoot, that's František Novák! If everyone in the world could address each other with their own first names, I think, a lot would change between them. But people and nations today cannot get at the names. That's the tragedy.

LN, 11 April 1927

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