Now he could hear a buzzing on the line. A warm, dirty rain
ran down the glass. The air smelled of soot or of some
Tuesday, he thought. It makes no sense that it's Tuesday.
But nothing else makes sense either.
He could clearly hear the line buzzing in the receiver.
A boy in jeans and a tattered leather jacket stood at the next
booth. His white sneakers were soaked, and he was jumping
up and down as if he were dancing, with no sense of
rhythm, stupidly, mindlessly, as though he were trying to
warm his feet. He had red hair, small, slanting, malevolent
eyes, and bad teeth. He smelled of mint, chewing gum
maybe; he spoke into the telephone in a singsong accent,
using the secret language of the obtuse, unwashed chosen
ones of fate. He kept saying "like" the whole time, that was
pretty much all he said; and Kamil was convinced that she
was responding the same way, from the boyfriend's phone
he could hear the distant, muffled "like," they communicated
this way in the language of cannibals, or long-extinct,
fossilized animals, or maybe he was the one who'd
lost the power of speech, for these two said the word
"like," the keyword, it meant many things in their language,
maybe even everything, like they both said, like, let's
go, like, Hala, like, Dzidek, like, no, like, yes, like, Hala,
like . . . ; that was exactly how they spoke, as if they were
calling to each other from the chasm of sleep, and Kamil
concluded that they were the clever ones, like, they were
the clever ones, like, he should die by this pay phone, like,
so she had lied after all, like, not an hour ago, using that
same tongue of untruth in which she tried to enmesh me,
with that tongue of falsehood and betrayal she touched my
lips and at that time she already knew the hour of falsehood
and betrayal was coming. And what do You have to say
about that, God of poets and muleteers, like? Like, Hala,
like, Dzidek, like, Jesus Christ, Savior of the sinful, where
were You to watch over me, that better thief who was crucified
at Your right hand and to whom You promised the
kingdom? Like, Hala, like, Dzidek, like, Lord, where are
Your trumpets of Jericho, bringing down the walls of servitude
It was drizzling, there was a lot of traffic, the highway
was wet, it shone in the silver glare of the headlamps. Big
trucks passed by, the rumble of their engines filled the rainsoaked
air, and yet it was very quiet, as if the earth had died
or had fallen asleep, or had closed its eyes the way old, tired
people do when they want to wish others well or to bless
The car stood on the hard shoulder; the rain lashed
down, steamed-up windows, dusk, nothing but the headlamps
of the huge transcontinental trucks shimmering in
the wet air, a strange smell around, a certain unease in her
hands as she suddenly started stroking his face. In the dusk
he could see her ash-blond hair brushed back and fastened
behind with a barrette. He saw the indistinct features that
he knew from his dreams. She was wearing a crimson
blouse, jeans, high-heeled shoes; she was tall, slim, she had
warm hands, rather full lips, green eyes set in dark lashes.
Yes, thought Kamil, it was right then, in the moving
lights of those powerful headlamps, that she kissed me. But
when her mouth moved close, I thought she would touch
my cheek with her lips. That wasn't what I wanted. I
wanted a kiss from her, so I touched her lips with mine. For
a moment I thought I was in the world of first experiences,
when I didn't yet know the difference between a taste, a
scent, and a breath. A very gentle and pure feeling, such as
I've not experienced in years, for I'm a sinner and have
done many bad things, and I didn't deserve what she was
He stood motionless, still listening to the noise of the
dead telephone line. The dirty kid in jeans had gone back
off to his pit. The place stank of disinfectant. The worn
floor was covered with shoeprints.
I'm going to die, he said to himself, because I can't live
like this. I mean, who would have thought it? Me, about
whom it was once said that I have eyes like golden bees,
that's what Theophane said, look what's happening now.
Have you got the time? Nine. Seven minutes to nine. And
where am I? I'm in Warsaw, the capital city, which was
once sacked by the devil, but which survived with God's
help so as to go on sinning, still dissolute and degenerate,
and waiting for the Second Coming.
The ten thousand dollar question: Why did she lie?
Maybe she couldn't help it. Not everyone can live in
He thought about how the women who had brought
him up had been different. Fire and water, flood and
drought, light and darkness, everything had been given to
those women, they had got the best parts. But they were
Maybe she couldn't help it, maybe she had been
brought up that way in this kingdom of falsehood, fraud,
and dissoluteness, so it wasn't her fault, look around, as far
as the eye can see the world is completely flat, Ptolemaic,
here no sin can surprise anyone since all sins have become
He thought to himself that her men were not to blame
either. They couldn't bear any responsibility for the degradation
of the whole world that was given to them. Was it
their fault that life had not tested them enough?
He thought to himself that these men were better because
they were quite simply not so tired, they still had
some chance of proving themselves, while his opportunities
had all been missed. And what about my freedom, he
asked, what about that, Lord? Thou shalt not kick against
the pricks, saith the Bible. And I never kicked. But what
kind of pricking spear is it, Lord, that You have aimed at
my breast? I deserved better. If I'm to be wiped off the face
of the earth, then it should be with more pathos. Aren't
You embarrassed, God of concentration camps and gulags,
by this pettiness? Where are you this time, Schubert, now
that you're really needed? Where have you gone to, Schubert,
right at the very moment when we should stand by
each other, shoulder to shoulder? And what use are you,
Schubert, when at such a crucial moment you desert me?
He stood and stared at the telephone booths, then at
the street through the glass, at the rain. Like, like, he
thought, like, like, I can't speak their language, it's the language
of savages, like, like, where were You, Lord, when
she was lying, You'll scream at a person and rail at them to
kingdom come when they're about to bear false witness or
covet their neighbor's wife, but You won't raise a finger
when she betrays a person quite gratuitously. When all's
said and done, she really didn't have to do it, she could
have told me to go to hell, like no, like I don't feel like
it, and several more likes, and in the end I would have got
the message. . . . But humans are creatures who are supposed
to take responsibility, so if there in the flash of lights
on the highway, in the rain and the pounding of the heart,
she kissed this poor wretch who had eluded all the tyrants
of the age, how was it that an hour later she was able to lie?
He stood alone in the dark, dirty hall with pay phones
lining the walls. Someone who had just walked off had forgotten
to hang up the receiver, and Kamil heard the insistent
buzzing of the phone, quieter, louder, quieter and
louder again, because the receiver was dangling loosely on
the cord, moving to and fro across the wall, Kamil liked its
shadow as it looked like a small, delicate, boyish figure
hanging from the gallows.
Like, like, he thought, why did my courage desert me
then? But he didn't know when his courage had deserted
him, or whether it had happened at all, and he seemed to
understand that in his life there had never been a moment
like this before, for up till now he had always felt a glimmer
of hope within him.
It was cold on the street, a fine, persistent rain was falling,
the sidewalks glistened, the traffic moved slowly.
Kamil decided that it might be a good idea to get a drink,
like no, like maybe it would, like yeah, so he set off toward
the square, towards the gigantic candelabras with their
blue, cadaverous light, between the cars parked all over,
every which way, anywhere, as if contemptuously abandoned
forever, in this new Polish shambles, which every
day, ever more brutally was forcing out the old Polish
shambles, no longer was there a barrel of sauerkraut by the
entrance to the poky little grocer's shop, already there were
a hundred different brands of toothpaste, two hundred
brands of washing powder, three hundred brands of tampons,
it was only misfortune that came in just one variety,
but they'd announced that that too was soon to change, he
walked slowly, past cars parked on the sidewalk, then it got
darker, the light of the street lamps was reflected in a puddle,
in the gateway of the apartment building there was only
a dim lamp, in the stairwell stood a plaster caryatid with its
nose broken off, this is it, thought Kamil, this is it, I'll go
and see her, I can't bear these lies, things can't be this way,
you have to pay for lies, people like me don't forgive other
people's lies, especially those of a woman, so I'll go and see
her, let her say openly what was on her mind, looking me
straight in the eye, I'm going to see her, fourth floor, the
door on the left, I wonder what her expression will be like
when she sees me on the doorstep, after that telephone call
she can't be expecting me, what a surprise, she'll cry with
hypocritical delight, and it really will be a surprise for her,
but not the kind, not the kind she thinks, all of a sudden he
stopped and listened, someone was coming heavily down
the stairs from the upper floors, it was a man's measured
steps, where's he coming from, thought Kamil, I bet he's
coming from her place, that would explain the telephone,
now he carried on upstairs, but slowly, one step after another,
he held the balustrade that had been smoothed by
thousands of hands, it probably remembered the Russian
tsars, the steps from above stopped for a while, then their
steady sound resumed, who is it, wondered Kamil, that
man must have come out of her apartment, suddenly he
saw him on the landing, coming down the stairs was a big,
broad-shouldered black man in a long, stylish overcoat and
a yellow foulard scarf, the scarf hung down all the way to
the ground, the black man passed him, his face was covered
in perspiration, the whites of his eyes gleamed, he had a
penetrating, foreign smell, this is a dream, thought Kamil.
At that moment there was a cry that filled the stairwell and
the whole building, what is it, called Kamil, where did it
come from, at this point a man in a denim jacket, his face
dripping with sweat, out of breath from running, strangely
pale in the glaring light of the street lamp, gave a piercing
shout that a woman had just been hit on the road, she'd
been killed outright, he shouted and ran on, what's going
on, thought Kamil, where's that black guy, he must have
hidden behind the caryatid, but there were no more stairs,
he bumped into a passer-by, what are you doing, the other
man cried, watch where you're going, a woman got run
over a moment ago, do you want to finish up under a bus
too, of course I don't, shouted Kamil, but where did the
accident happen, you can see for yourself goddammit, said
the other man and disappeared, he couldn't see anything,
he kept hearing shouting, and he felt pain, something that
couldn't really be called pain, but all at once, almost mildly
and cheerfully he decided that any bar would do, so he
went into the nearest one, which until recently had been
called Kruszynka, and was now called The Pub, and where
you could get hamburgers, Guinness, gin and tonic, and occasionally,
like in the old days, into a fight.
In the bar sat Dr. Skalenko drinking a carrot juice.
"You don't say!" called Dr. Skalenko. "You don't
"I do," replied Kamil, and sat down by the doctor.
"Just today I wrapped up the whole business," said
"You don't say," said Kamil.
Then they both had a beer. Kamil said:
"I've got an interesting topic for comparative research
"Is that a fact?" exclaimed Dr. Skalenko. "And what
would that be?"
"About lying. Lying by age group, according to sex,
level of education, and attitude to God. What do you say to
Skalenko took a sip of beer. He looked like a wise old'
bird, but he gave an evasive answer, that that wasn't a matter
for his laboratory, that he didn't deal with such issues.
"Anyway, where did you get the idea from?"
"Brilliant, eh?" said Kamil. "People lie so rarely, don't
you think, Doctor? Where could I have got that idea . . .
"They do lie, they do," agreed Skalenko. "All the
time, everywhere. Poland is no exception. The Americans
once did a study . . ."
"The Americans have done everything," said Kamil.
"But nothing has ever come of it."
"Perhaps it has," said Skalenko.
"I don't think so," said Kamil.
He really enjoyed talking with this guy.
"So I should go? You think I should," he said.
"It'll be an interesting experience. Don't back out
now. Besides, I have your consent, it's too late now to
change your mind, they're very efficient, they've already set
in motion their little machine of preparation, they've
already committed themselves, no, no, you really must
go . . ."
"I will," said Kamil. "So you say that people lie everywhere,
eh? I'm really interested in the way women lie to
men. At what moments, and also with what purpose? You
should write a postdoctoral dissertation on that. Is that a
bad topic, Doctor?"
"An excellent topic," replied Skalenko. "Treat the
trip as a holiday, a form of rest, a few days' vacation. "
"Naturally," said Kamil. "Because I find it fascinating.
The question of choosing the moment. When does she
begin to lie? Is the cause spontaneous, I'm thinking of the
different types of reaction on the part of the woman. What
do you think, you ought to know about these things . . . "
"Yes," said Dr. Skalenko. "They provide extremely
decent conditions. I've never been there myself, of course,
but our institutes have collaborated for a number of years,
I've heard from important people, they really do look after
you properly, it's well organized."
"Exactly," said Kamil. "It's not about the lying itself,
that's banal, I hope you don't think I'm naive, when it
comes down to it there's no truth without lies, that needs
to be stressed, yet the problem arises elsewhere, I don't
mean to judge things in moral terms, what's important are
certain psychological mechanisms."
"Yes," said Dr. Skalenko. "So fly out tomorrow. Or
at least let's say in three days. Will you have another beer?"
"Thanks," said Kamil. "It is an idea, don't you think,
Doctor? You could administer a questionnaire to a randomly
selected group, hm?"
Dr. Skalenko became morose.
"It all comes down to money," he said. "You have no
idea how I'm struggling with the budget cuts. They want all
kinds of research findings, nothing is enough for them,
they're always on my back, but when I go and say that I
don't have the money for basic research, they throw up
their hands, I hear the old story about how there's a crisis,
and that's exactly why I place such importance on collaboration
with foreign institutions. I have to give them
something in return, hence my proposition to you, but I
think . . . "
All of a sudden he broke off, took a sip of beer, and
"That I should have lived to drink Guinness in Warsaw
is a real miracle. Twice in my life I've experienced a
miracle. When I was a freshman in college, Stalin died.
And now this Guinness."
"I have bad memories of that," said Kamil.
"You're kidding," said Dr. Skalenko. "You weren't
ever in their party, how can you have bad memories of it?"
"It's a personal matter," said Kamil. "But I'd like to
return to this fascinating question of lying . . ."
"Don't return to it," said Dr. Skalenko. "Returning's
a bad idea generally, in this day and age."
Suddenly Kamil found himself alone at the table, for
Dr. Skalenko finished off his beer, stood up, smiled guiltily,
nodded, and left.
Lord, thought Kamil, why did she lie? It can't be, in a
world that believes it's entitled to go on existing, that a
woman lies without any reason at all, something must have
happened, someone must have been to see her, or maybe
someone close to her died, in the end everything can be explained
in logical terms, but I need a clue, I don't even
know what I need, maybe her smile, her touch, or maybe
just death, that would really be an amazing story in Warsaw,
people would tell incredible tales about a guy who
died of love, he was alive, living as if nothing were the matter,
he was even planning a trip abroad, and then all of a
sudden he died in the middle of the street, or in a bar, he
knocked over a mug of Guinness, the beer spilt all over the
tablecloth, the guy smashed his head against the table, he
just had time to cry out that he was dying of love, but no
one believed him, even the good-looking blonde sitting at a
nearby table gave a derisive laugh, she probably had her
own reasons for not believing that a person could die of
love, no one believed it in this city, where for years now
they had lived exclusively off the bodies of their loved
ones, fallen prey to a blind hatred, and only she believed in
love, for at Kamil's burial she wept bitterly and called out
in deep despair that if she'd been able to foresee such a turn
of events, she would certainly have behaved differently, she
would never lie again, she called out at the cemetery, as she
wept she looked really alluring, she was wearing close-fitting
jeans, the crimson blouse with a broad turn-down collar,
high, almost knee-length boots, she looked a bit like a
beautiful jockey, a bit like a young SS officer, she stood
over his grave, slender as a poplar, her ash-blond hair blowing
in the wind, maybe it was also despair that blew it about
her head, she called out that he had died because of her lies,
then Kamil drew close, took her in his arms, and said, but
I'm not dead, I'm here with you, let's forget about all that,
my darling, that's exactly what he'd say to her, after dying
of love, but none of this answered the question of why she
had lied in such a stupid and cowardly fashion on the
So I'm leaving after all, he thought hopefully.
That hope was like a shard of glass in his heart: It reflected
some of God's light from the heavens, but it also
caused him terrible pain.