Publishing © 2018 Jakub Trpiš Copyright © 2018 Jakub Trpiš
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced
in any form or by any means without the prior written consent
of the Publisher, excepting brief quotes used in reviews.
ISBN 978-80-907044-4-2 (print) ISBN 978-80-907044-8-0 (ePub) ISBN 978-80-907044-9-7 (mobi) ISBN 978-80-907346-1-6 (PDF)
Part one: I
1/1 The car accident 9
1/2 Awakening 18
1/3 Problems 22
1/4 Difficult decision 28
1/5 Soul and ego 34
1/6 Open mind 45
1/7 Matěj 50
1/8 A fulfilled life 59
1/9 Freedom 65
1/10 Important news 73
1/11 Kohl’s family 79
Part two: We
2/12 The connector 88
2/13 The hooded boy 93
2/14 The team 99
2/15 In prison 110
2/16 Dream future 118
2/17 The miracle 129
2/18 What if? 137
2/19 Lost 144
2/20 All evil is for some good 150
2/21 A well-deserved holiday 158
2/22 The argument 167
Part three: The Choice
3/23 Between two worlds 174
3/24 Electoral system 186
3/25 Prime Minister 193
3/26 The interview 206
3/27 The key moment 217
3/28 Unquiet world 228
3/29 Bomb attacks 236
3/30 The final meeting 241
3/31 Escape from the shelter 252
3/32 The square 260
3/33 A new beginning 267 *
Prayer of the soul
Close your eyes. Stop perceiving the noise around,
And focus within.
Breathe in deep and slowly breathe out,
Like the ocean’s ebb and flow.
Perceive the vast oceans within.
Breathe in deep and slowly breathe out,
Like the wind rustling in the leaves.
Perceive the great mountains within.
Breathe in deep and slowly breathe out,
Like the sun’s aureola.
Perceive the endless universe.
Perceive the beauty here and now.
Savour this present moment.
Part one: I
1/1 The car accident
t came like a bolt from the blue. Quickly donning his jacket,
Tomáš could think of only one thing: If I’d guessed I’d be se
eing Eliška for the last time this morning, I wouldn’t have said
good-bye that way at all. He hurried to the door and told the
doorman what had happened.
‘My wife has been in an accident! I have to get to the hos
pit a l.’
Though he was trying to get a grip on his feelings, tears
welled up in his eyes. He couldn’t find his staff card to open the
door, but after an embarrassing silence that lasted some time
the doorman let him through. Tomáš managed to thank the do
orman, who called out after him sympathetically.
‘It’ll turn out all right, you’ll see!’
Outside it was raining. He turned up the collar of his
brown leather jacket to at least cover up his bare neck a little.
The small, cold droplets fell quietly on the chill earth.
‘Brrr, thank goodness I came to work in my car today.
Otherwise I’d have to call a taxi,’ he muttered as he rummaged
for his keys in his pocket. He dropped them a couple of times
before he managed to unlock the door. He couldn’t recall how he
got into the car, and he didn’t regain his presence of mind until
he’d been driving for several minutes.
That was a mistake. Better keep my eyes on the road now,
he thought. He tried to focus all his attention on his driving, but
various memories kept getting the better of him. He recalled the
day they had got to know each other, and another thought took
him back to the home where he had grown up. It was a cold
day like today, and he introduced her to his parents. She kept
checking to make sure she was doing the right thing – she was
‘Do you think they’re going to like me?’ she asked when
they were on their own.
He just smiled and answered, ‘Definitely not as much as
He was half-way to the hospital when he stopped at a cro
ssing for a red light. The rain pitter-pattered on the metal roof
– and from time to time the wipers creaked lazily across the
windscreen. Trickles of water streaked seamlessly across the
side window, each droplet going its own way, regardless of the
others. Or were they complying with some precise preordained
plan? His attention shifted from the droplets to the people cro
ssing in front of him. Their expressions were vacant, as if their
bodies were on autopilot, and their minds were somewhere else
entirely. When he saw two lovers he paradoxically recalled the
day he had confided to her that he wasn‘t sure if he still loved
her. If he’d only known what pain he would cause, he would
never have let those words pass his lips. It flashed through his
mind that he had to tell her what he felt about her and how
much she mattered to him. This thought was rapidly overshado
wed by all the others. His body filled with an unusually strong
urge to tell her everything. His heart beat twice as fast. He was
startled by a car hooting behind him: the lights were on green
and he was standing at the crossroads holding up the traffic.
When he had spoken to a hospital nurse on the phone she
didn’t tell him what had happened. He didn’t know how serious
ly his wife had been injured, or if her life was in danger. The
uncertainty was the worst he had ever felt in his life. He wanted to immediately be with her and feel she was safe. It took him
some time to find his bearings in the hospital complex. At the
emergency reception he told the nearest nurse his wife’s name.
‘I’ll just ring my colleagues. Just take a seat for a moment
please,’ she quietly said, disappearing through a nearby door.
The section was full of people, but nobody took any notice of
the distraught Tomáš, who was so on edge that he couldn’t even
sit down. Is she all right? Or are the doctors fighting for her life
at this very moment? Or perhaps...?! These thoughts kept going round in his head, as his mind taunted him with the darkest
scenarios. Then it seemed to calm down and show him some far more optimistic possibilities. Perhaps they had just taken
her to hospital for an examination, or maybe she just had con
cussion, he mused, letting his thoughts run their course. On the
one hand he felt agitated and confused, while on the other he
felt a sense of resignation. Eventually a senior nurse came up
and asked him his name.
‘Come with me, Mr Jedlička,’ she said, heading towards
a dimly lit corridor to the right. He followed her into a small,
bright room that clearly served as a doctors’ office. A thickset,
gray-haired doctor was sitting at a computer. Next to the mo
nitor there was a photograph of a woman holding a small boy
in her arms (they looked very happy). When the doctor noticed
how distraught he was, he immediately put him at his ease.
‘Don’t worry. Your wife is going to be fine.’
His eyes moistened and he felt an enormous sense of joy.
Suddenly he felt several years younger.
The doctor continued, ‘Your wife has had a severe shock,
but fortunately there are no signs of any serious injury. Just to
be certain we are going to perform some more tests on her to
make sure she doesn’t have any internal injuries. We’ re going
to keep her in for another couple of days. You can see her if you
want. She’s in Ward C. Blanka here will tell you which room.’
Tomáš offered his hand and stammered, ‘Thank you very
The doctor just smiled and walked into a side room, where
his colleagues were evidently going over a diagnosis.
Tomáš asked Nurse Blanka how to get to Ward C and
headed off for it at a swift pace. On the way he could not help
but notice the unhappy scenes that were taking place in one of
the waiting rooms. A young doctor was telling relatives that
their loved one had died. A fair-haired woman went into hyste
rics, while the man nearby tried to comfort her, without much
success. At this moment Tomáš realized just how awfully fortu
nate he had been. Suddenly it was of no importance that there
was a leak behind the chimney flue, that he had not received
a bonus at work and that he had problems with his car. He wal
ked through the door into Ward C and asked a nurse where he
could find Eliška Jedličková.
‘Room 7,’ the tall young blonde answered, smiling at him as
she continued to pass out medicine. He practically ran to get to
Eliška as quickly as possible. So agitated was he that he did not
even knock on the door. Before he managed to reach her she had
sat up in bed. They embraced, and it felt like the most beautiful
feeling in the world.
She burst out crying and blurted out, ‘I didn’t see it. That
car. There were children inside.’ And she began to sob again. He
stroked her hair.
‘It’ll be all right, Eli. They’ll be okay, you’ll see.’
They kept hugging for a while without saying a word. Af
ter some time Eliška spoke.
‘Karolína at work was supposed to come with me, but she
was late and didn’t answer my phone call, so I left on my own.
When I eventually drove out, everything seemed okay.’
She then confusedly described the crossroads (while
attempting to gesture, even though she could barely move her
arms) where the collision happened. She should have given way,
but she only spotted the other car at the last moment. At length
‘It hit me from the right. I don’t know what would have
happened if somebody had been sitting beside me.’
Tomáš listened to all this. It was extremely fortunate that
Karolína had not gone with her that day. Then he told her eve
rything he had been thinking about in the car.
‘I don’t know what I’d do if anything happened to you.’
‘Just don’t think about that, dear,’ she answered, stroking
his unshaven cheek. She loved the way he always put on a face
when she did that. Then they carried on talking and talking.
About important matters and silly things. They had not had
such a good chat for a long time. Eventually a nurse appeared at
the door with lunch, stating with a gruff expression:
‘Your wife must get some rest. You should be on your way
now.’ She pointed at her watch. He kissed Eliška goodbye and
disappeared through the doorway.
– • –
The next few days were of no great interest. It rained non-stop
outside. Tomáš’s family and friends often asked him about Eliš
ka, who was released from hospital two days later. The passen
gers from the other car were also all right. Perhaps it was be
cause of the accident that they both decided to take off for the
mountains that weekend. They were able to spend three days
at their best friend Ondra’s chalet. Ondra always had a strange
sense of humour. When he saw Tomáš’s wife (with the scar hea
ling on her forehead) he immediately started ribbing her:
‘Why do you give us such worries, Eliška? Didn’t you see
the car or something?’ and he started laughing. Tomáš now
found this quite amusing.
On the Friday they headed off for the Jeseník Mountains.
The chalet was quite high up with no road leading to it, so they
parked the car in a parking lot below and they had to keep going
on foot for another two hours.
Several rained-off days later the sky was cloudless, and it
grew warmer. Having walked for about five minutes they met
a young woman with an Alsatian dog running free without
‘Don‘t be afraid, she’s never bitten anyone,’ her mistress
‘The fact she has never done it before doesn’t mean I won’t
be the first,’ Tomáš retorted, smiling to cover up his fear.
They walked deeper and deeper into the forest. Not a living
soul to be seen. The further they got from civilization, the better
Tomáš felt. The trees around them seemed to light up. He left
the path a little when he saw a young fir tree some three metres
tall. The ends of its branches had beautiful green needles. This
year’s growth, he thought, pulling one of the branches to his
face. It had a magnificent smell, reminding him of his youth. He
had spent a lot of time with his grandfather in the mountains.
He was naive in those days and thought he could change
the world. He wanted to visit every single mountain, as well as
places that were not even on the map. To be the first where no
one had gone before. As he thought of his carefree childhood,
he remembered the children he taught at school. He sudden
ly regretted the fact that he always removed their rose-tinted
spectacles whenever they described what they wanted to be
when they grew up. If I didn’t do it then somebody else most
certainly would, he had tried telling himself. Somebody has to
tell them how the world works. He looked at the trees again, but
now they just looked ordinary again. One more time he sni
ffed the young fir and set off at a rapid pace along the path
after Eliška. By the time they arrived back at the chalet the sun
had already set behind the ridge and the air had grown chilly.
Everywhere peace and quiet. The orange glow on the horizon
gradually faded into grey and a frosty autumn night settled over
When they opened the creaking door they first checked to
see how clean and tidy it all was.
‘We mustn’t leave it any untidier than we first found it,’ she
‘It’s not that bad,’ he decided, having gone over the chest of
drawers opposite the fireplace with his finger, while flashing
his usual little-boy smile. He lit a fire in the fireplace, while
Eliška prepared a modest supper.
‘Tomorrow we can go up to the lookout tower. What do you
think?’ he suggested.
‘Do I have a choice?’
‘Ah, you and your fear of heights,’ he smiled slyly.
‘Ah, you and your fear of dogs,’ she retorted.
Tomáš rather enjoyed the evening. They reminisced about
various incidents from the past.
‘And do you remember what your father said when you
brought me home?’ she asked him.
‘How could I forget? He yelled, ‘‘Thank God. I thought you
were gay!’’ Then he fell on his knees and gave you a hug.’ They
both burst out laughing.
‘It was only later that I understood your dad’s really weird
sense of humour.’
‘Just like you have got used to mine,’ and he stuck his finger
up her nose.
‘Hey,’ Eliška laughed, as she defended herself. ‘You are a du
But then she grew serious and her voice quivered. ‘Whene
ver I close my eyes I see shards of glass flying everywhere, and
my ears are shattered by the grating metal sound of those cars.
I can’t get the noise out of my head.’
He stroked her chestnut hair and embraced her, placing her
head on his chest. The beating of his heart soothed her, and she
soon felt safe. Her memory of the crash slowly dissolved, like ice
thawing in spring sunshine.
Outside it was really cold and dark. The windows had mis
ted up. The wood in the fireplace crackled as it gave off a plea
sant warmth. The fire lit up the cosy room’s walls with its hand
-painted pictures of chalets and log cabins, which had hung the
re for over a century (each painting was dated). They chatted
for a while and then made love. Over the last year their sexual
life had not been all that passionate. They had tried to conceive.
Recently his doctor had told him the worst: he couldn’t have his
own children. Perhaps that was why over the last few months
their relationship had cooled. Perhaps that was why they didn’t
enjoy sex that much. They had tried so hard for a pregnancy
that they’d forgotten what fun sex could be.
A thought passed throughTomáš’s mind as he fell asleep: It
wasn’t that bad at all today.
omáš awoke to a chilly morning. It was still dark. The lights
in the shelter did not turn on until seven o‘ clock, enabling
him to at least tell if it was daytime or not. A strange smell
wafted through the air, stinging his eyes. Like every morning
he ‘made himself’ a glass of water, pouring it from a jerrycan
into a little cup with an engaging faded kitsch picture of a dog
on it, and tossed a chlorine tablet into it. It didn’t go down very
well, but he had become quite used to the peculiar taste, and it
always made him think of the taste of clean drinking water. Of
course, he was still a lot better off than on the surface, or even
in an adaptation camp. Thousands of people that had been cau
ght and successfully identified by the police and the army were
taken off there every day. The civil war had been raging throu
ghout Europe, and he had lost sight of who was fighting whom.
He put his feet on the rough floor and shivered. It was cold and
damp. He quickly put his shoes on and stood up.
He noticed his neighbour was not lying on his bed. It took
him a while to realize he had perished in a roof-fall a couple of
He walked out of a medium-sized dormitory, where some
twenty of them were sleeping, and headed down a dark corridor
towards the showers. The walls were dirty and wet. The hum
of a giant ventilator pumping fresh air from the surface down
to this part of the complex echoed along the empty corridor. It
once used to be the underground Metro. During the war the
underground tunnels had been used as shelters for hundreds
of thousands of people. The fighting had rampaged all over the
world. Dozens of atom bombs had fallen on China, the USA and
Japan, while a new kind of virus, probably a biological weapon,
raged across Africa. Europe had been ravaged by civil war, while
Asia had seen a once-in-a-millennium famine and the continual
waves of refugees could barely be contained in Australia, which
as the only country that maintained neutral status was now
struggling with huge overpopulation and pirate raids.
Nobody could now remember when the war had started.
Nobody was sure which side this nation or that was on. Some
countries changed sides during the conflict as often as their go
vernments were replaced by various insurgent factions. People
worldwide were plagued by fear and mistrust. Nobody could be
sure if the next faction to seize power would find them incon
venient. The Czech Republic was now in a tug of war between
movements made up of military personnel from Russia before
People stopped saying what they thought and started
parroting the opinions of those in power. Too many of their
relatives had disappeared after they tried to change things. To
máš’s thoughts were suddenly interrupted by a scream. Perhaps
someone has been robbed again, he thought. Eventually he got
to the showers. The queue was shorter than usual, so it was
soon his turn. Alas a five-minute shower a week barely patched
up his ailing, languishing body, and he took care in the shower
not to touch anything much with his bare skin, as various skin
diseases were rife throughout the shelter. After showering, he
went off to the canteen for breakfast. He bent over the dirty, gre
asy hatch and muttered between clenched teeth: ‘Thirty-four.’
Of all the meals served there, this one was at least edible, even
if it bore about as much resemblance to ordinary food as chess
did to other sports. As he ate he looked around. Everyone was
staring at their own plate in silence.
Again he became absorbed in his thoughts. It might well
have been awful in the shelter, but he was still very lucky. He
was a healthy man with a decent background and an outstan
ding teacher. They had found him a job at the central shelter.
Originally it was the Prague Metro, but that had stopped ru
nning soon after the first bombing raids had become a regular
part of life. His job was now to teach the children of the leading
politicians (that is, the ones currently in power) at a local school.
He glanced at his scuffed old watch, gulped down a last mouth
ful and hurried off to his lessons.
The children in his class wore careworn, grown-up expre
ssions. They should have been enjoying a carefree childhood,
but they barely smiled and only spoke among themselves when
it was really necessary. One little girl in a blue dress looked at
him differently. When he looked her over he noticed bruises on
her hand, while her face was greasy and almost expressionless.
She looked like a doll that had been thrown into the gutter years
ago. He often had to give her a shake to bring her round. Apart
from teaching the children he also had the task of providing
his biological material for selected women. Here his thoughts
returned to Eliška. She should have been in the shelter with him,
but something had gone wrong. The transport hadn’t made it.
Now she was almost certainly dead. He bowed his head and
started to pound his forehead with his fist. Two children on the
first row raised their heads for a moment, but then got back to
their copying work.
Tomáš lost all hope when he found out about his wife’s de
ath. He would never forget that day. Everywhere was dark, dank
and terribly cold. The frost and despair crept into the marrow
of his bones, as if iced water were being pumped into his veins.
There was nothing on earth to console him. He used the last of
his money to buy adulterated alcohol and a rope, but at the last
moment he was rescued. Nobody said anything to him. Suicides
were frequent here. No one wanted to live like a rat underground.
Nobody wanted a life without hope any more. The world had
become a dark place. This darkness could be felt at every step
and could be seen in the eyes of everybody he looked at. The
little girl in the blue dress, who he had just been watching, stood
up from her desk. Her pitiful, greasy face leant over his shoulder
so she could whisper to him:
‘The darkness is drawing in. The world will die, because
you have stopped fighting for it. The world will be consumed
‘What darkness? What are you talking about?’ he cried in
horror. He woke up with these feelings and thoughts. It was all
just a dream!
He tried to catch his breath, but with the same sense of de
spair as in the dream. He pressed his head to his knees, as tears
ran down his cheeks. His heart thumped as if his life were in
danger. He must have awoken Eliška too, as she began to stroke
his sweat-soaked back: ‘It was only a dream, dear. It’s alright
‘Uh-oh. I thought those dreams were over.’
he weekend in the mountains was a pleasant interlude, but
now he had to get back to the everyday routine of loan repa
yments, arguments with colleagues and giving his pupils a good
talking to. Still, things were a little simpler now. On the Monday
he was teaching until late in the afternoon. During the day his
colleagues often asked him how Eliška was getting on after the
accident. He always answered smilingly that everything was
now just fine.
After lunch, which was not up to much, he could look for
ward to a civic studies lesson with 4A, his favourite class. One
way or another they got round to a discussion on helping other
people. One girl told a story about her cousin Jakub. He was
twenty-five years old, in and out of work, expecting a child with
his girlfriend and now they were deep in debt.
‘Auntie and Uncle don’t have much money themselves, and
if anything their situation’s getting worse. Who knows what
they’re going to do now?’ she added.
‘I’d leave them right in it,’ Robert, the class smart-guy, smu
Lenka, the local hippy, snapped, ‘You’ve always been clu
Tomáš often gave his pupils some leeway for an exchange
of views, which was another reason why most of the class natu
rally held him in great respect.
‘What would you advise Jakub to do?’ he asked, inviting
them to engage in open discussion.
‘Jakub’s girlfriend should get an abortion,’ said Lukáš, Ro
bert’s best friend.
Then Beáta floored him: ‘You’ll probably never get a bloody
girlfriend,’ and she added in a calm voice: ‘I think they should
go round all the banks and explain their situation. The banks
would definitely agree to reduce the instalments.’
Dominik, Tomáš’s favourite, joined in the discussion:
‘Banks are only interested in profit. The women behind the
counter will smile at you to persuade you that you need a loan,
but when you go and tell them you can’t pay it back they won’t
help you .’
‘You’re right, Dominik. You can’t usually negotiate a re
duction in payments, even though the banks’ attitudes towards
this have been changing in recent times. What would you reco
mmend for Jakub?’
‘The banks’ attitudes are changing, because the banks re
alize it’s better to get less money back from the clients than no
money at all, so they’re willing to come to an agreement. Jakub
should ask his parents if he can move back in with them for
a while. Then he could use the money he would otherwise have
paid in rent to pay back his debts.’
Robert and Lukáš started laughing out loud at this, and Ro
bert commented, ‘Smartass, they’ll be glad to get rid of a failure
of a son like that.’
At this point the calm class debate turned into a pub brawl,
as some five pupils started shouting at each other (while Lenka
banged her textbook on the desk) and of course none of them
could be heard. Tomáš looked sternly at Robert and Lukáš.
‘Your parents must be really proud of you. Come out to the
blackboard, both of you. I’ll cut you down to size! The discu
ssion’s over, thanks to these two.’
The room resounded with a murmur of disapproval, more
because the discussion was over than because the class smart
-guys were being tested.
The test ended as expected. Robert got a bottom mark and
Lukáš not much better, ‘since you did at least try, Lukáš,’ Tomáš
The rest of the day’s lessons were by no means ideal. He
was supposed to go over the increasing incidence of bullying at
school with the first formers, but they did not want to go along
with this at all, and if anything actually defended bullying. To
máš completely lost control of the discussion. The headmistress
had warned him the previous time that if the situation did not
improve between him and the class then another teacher would
ta ke over.
‘Phew,’ he came out of the class, exhausted. The corridor
was empty and cold, with the same pictures hanging on the
walls for years. Now he was feeling old and forlorn. Several pu
pils walked past and greeted him, but he only managed to gri
mace back. He then headed off to the staff room, where a week
ly meeting was taking place. On the way he reconsidered Robert
and Lukáš’s test. Perhaps I was a little harsh on them, he thought.
The meeting was really seething. The school was having
financial difficulties, and Honza was explaining why the gra
mmar school was getting less money from the local authority
than they had anticipated. Tomáš joined in the argument by re
sponding to the idea that the local council could be given a fri
ght by warning them that pupil numbers might be reduced: ‘We
can’t just blackmail the council like that.’
‘You’ve always been soft, sunshine. I can see you’ve never
been in the army,’ Karel challenged him, and Tomáš suddenly
realized just how much he couldn’t stand him. He only needed
to bump into him in the corridor and his mood was immediate
ly ruined. And now he was putting Tomáš down in front of his
colleagues. Instantly he counterattacked: ‘You’re so henpecked
you have to make up for it here at school!’
Karel was taking a deep breath to deliver the final death
blow when he was stopped short by Jindřiška.
‘Now, now, gentlemen,’ she said with the calm and expe
rience of many long years as headmistress. ‘You won’t resolve
the issue that way. We have to be united. I suggest we meet up
with the mayor to explain the situation to him. We can tell him
that pupil numbers may be reduced, because that’s the way it is.
There’s nothing else we can make savings on. Honza is well in
there, so he can go over it all with him. But he is definitely not
going to blackmail anybody,’ and with these words she looked
sternly at Karel.
The meeting came to an end, so Karel came to wind up
what he had started: ‘We haven’t finished yet, mummy‘s little
Tomáš wanted to respond somehow, but he couldn’t man
age any more than ‘Sure’. The incident had robbed him of the
last vestiges of his good mood.
On the way home he got wet. Apart from his damp socks
he was beset by other problems that had been bothering him
for some time. All afternoon and evening, in fact, he was wei
ghed down with debilitating thoughts: debt repayments, hatred
of Karel, his bad nutritional habits and other issues. What was
more, he felt worse and worse physically.
He was irritable because he had to smile at everyone and
act as if he were doing just fine. He was distraught, but couldn’t
tell anybody. Everybody wanted something from him, but he
couldn’t please everybody. He felt like a student at college. Eve
ry teacher thinks his subject is the most important, but these
weren’t teachers, these were his family, friends and colleagues.
He had the feeling that somewhere along the way he had
lost an important part of himself, but he couldn’t remember
where and what it was. Then his thoughts started revolving
around his nightmares. His throat dried up and he had to sit
down. The very thought of them almost paralysed him. Eliška
was not at home, so he felt all alone. The ticking of the wall
clock was the most interesting thing in the apartment and inde
ed in his entire life. He went off to the local for a beer. When he
came back home late in the evening she was already asleep. As
he lay down beside her, he no longer had any doubts...
The feeling he had been fighting for so long, which had
vanished after the car accident, had come back. He was lying
beside his wife, and yet he felt so enormously remote from her. No matter how hard he tried, he could not get rid of the feeling. He felt like he was in his dream. Everywhere it was dark, dank
and horribly cold. His bones and joints started to ache. A part
of him had died. And then a little later it died again. This repe
ated death, return of hope and then death again was wearing
him down. Depression engulfed his entire body. Thousands of thoughts raced through his mind. He couldn’t remember when it happened. When he stopped loving her. The girl he wanted to
spend the rest of his life with. That feeling of love following the
car accident was only a side effect that covered up his problems
for a while. Now he was forcing himself to love her like he used to. He didn’t want to break her heart, as he had once long ago
promised himself never to hurt her.
It had been going on all that year. He hadn’t said anything
to her. He had tried to once, but it didn’t work out. Eliška gu
essed it when a month previously she’d asked him if he loved
her. He hadn’t been able to answer her properly then. She was fretting over him, but then she was pretending nothing was the
matter just like he was. They were playing a game of happy
couples, so that nobody around them ever found out it was all
over. Eventually he had realized. He didn’t want to hurt her,
so they were acting out a performance of Look Everyone! The
Happiest Couple in the World. Except the charade was actually
hurting her far more.
The entire truth weighed down heavily upon him, pressing
on his chest like an enormous boulder. He had betrayed her. He had betrayed himself. She would be a lot better off on her
own than with a husband who didn’t love her. Three months
before that he was actually thinking of being unfaithful, and it
was only his principles that had prevented him. He had finally
understood that it was better to live alone than to live in a re
lationship that didn’t work. But he didn’t have the strength to
Tomáš was now entirely engulfed by a feeling of total
emptiness, self-betrayal, alienation and sadness. Financial pro
blems at school, dreams of despair and his total torment regar
ding his wife meant that everything he thought of upset him.
When he was twenty he’d always thought that by this time he’d
have a well-paid job which he would enjoy. He imagined a wife
he would love above all else, and marvellous children. Instead
he was deep in debt with a tiny apartment and a relationship
that was falling apart. He no longer enjoyed his work. And he
had failed as a man since he hadn’t managed to give his wife
I’m thirty-two, I’ve achieved nothing in life and I hate my
self, he concluded.
He felt like disappearing. He wanted to jump out of bed
and get away somewhere. Anywhere. Just away from there.
Away from that screwed-up life with nothing to grasp hold of
and nothing to support him. It was over! The final performance.
He no longer even had the strength to be annoyed.
I might just be better off if I don’t wake up tomorrow, he
thought as he fell asleep. It was dark, dank and horribly cold all
1/4 Difficult decision
hen Tomáš woke up in the morning, it took him a long
time to decide to open his eyes. He wasn’t feeling any be
tter. Fortunately the night had gone by without any more ni
ghtmares, or did he just not remember them? On the way to work
he considered the situation again, with hundreds of thoughts
gushing from his unquiet mind, until he was suddenly roused
from his total lack of focus on his surroundings by a little girl.
‘I can’t find my little doggie. What am I going to do?’ she
sniffed. He couldn’t guess where she’d come from. She wore red
tracksuit trousers (muddy from the knees down) and a coarse
yellow jacket. She held an empty leash, her nose was running,
her freckled face was tear-stained and her ears were burning
red – the perfect picture of misfortune.
Marvellous, my entire life up the spout, and now I have to
go looking for some mutt, when I totally hate dogs! Whose idea
was that, to send a little kid out to walk a dog? Probably so
mething wrong with her parents, he silently vented, surprising
himself at just how much anger he was holding in. He looked
at the little girl smiling at him and did not even know why he
offered to help her.
‘He might have run off down to the river. Come on, let’s go
and have a look.’ It was as if someone else were talking. They
went down to the river in silence. The morning mist, which was
now increasingly frequent, had thickened so much that visibi
lity was down to a few paces. The little girl happily and noisily
ran over to the nearby trees, where her carefree dog was taking
itself for a walk. This cheered Tomáš up. Well, at least that’s one
problem sorted out, he thought as he hurried off to work. On the
way he realized: I really must do something about that. I can’t
remember the last time I felt happy. I can’t go on like this.
During the lunch break he had the idea of going off to visit
the school psychologist, but then he immediately had second
thoughts: I don’t trust him that much. What if he told Karel?
They’re good mates. I really don’t need any of that.
Suddenly he realized: Hold on! I could call my friend Klára.
She had once mentioned someone she knew who helped her out
of depression after a miscarriage. She said he was a marvellous
guy, and ever since he’d helped her she looked far happier and
more balanced, and she was determined to have another baby,
which turned out to be perfectly healthy. He didn’t want to say
too much to her, so he preferred to sort it out using text me
ssages. She gave him an exact address and arranged an appo
intment with Kohl for Thursday afternoon. That’s what he was
called. I’m feeling better already, he thought and the corners of
his mouth lifted slightly.
Over the next few days he kept wondering if it made sense
to go off to see some stranger and tell him his problems. Could
it be a mistake? But then again this man had helped Klára come
to terms with something as awful as a miscarriage. At length
he told himself he would at least give it a try. He lied to Eliška
that he would be held up at work and he headed off for the
city centre, where Kohl had his office. It was a sunny autumn
day. He ran up the stairs to a door marked Dr Martin Konečný,
Psychologist and Healer, just as Klára had described. At the last
moment he hesitated, but at length he knocked and went in.
He instantly caught the scent of marijuana. The battered
cabinets were covered in odd pieces of paper, while the floor in
the middle of the office was covered by a faded Persian carpet.
Fresh, cold air wafted in through an open window, but other
wise the room was quite tidy, and everything there seemed to
belong. In an old leather armchair a man was sitting, seemingly
as old-fashioned as the rest of his office. He wore a loose, dark
printed t-shirt, the kind that used to be worn years ago. His
thinning curly hair fell down around his rather bronzed com
plexion. He must have been around fifty years of age. Going off
Klára’s description, he was the one.
Tomáš introduced himself.
‘I am the light,’ the man answered, taking another drag.
Tomáš stood there, stunned. He did not know what to an
swer, which clearly amused the man.
‘My light greets you and the light that shines within you,’
the man said with a smile, adding: ‘Now come and park your
Eventually Tomáš managed to come out with a few words:
‘And where am I to sit?’
Kohl took another drag, fixed his gaze on his guest for
a while, making him rather nervous, and then retorted, ‘There’s
enough room on the floor, but I’d recommend that Persian car
pet. It’s good to sit on, and we’ll be able to see one other.’
Tomáš had expected all kinds of things, but not that! Fee
ling quite hard done by, he objected, ‘What, am I to sit on the
floor like some kind of menial of yours? I deal with people equal
to equal, and I expect that from others.’
‘You shall sit on the floor as my pupil. Your reaction surpri
ses me. I thought you were further forward.’
He could not understand this at all. ‘Your pupil? Further
forward? You don’t actually know anything about me!’ he yelled,
thinking some very unpleasant thoughts.
‘I could smell your ego even as you were coming up the
stairs,’ Kohl struck back, yet all the while he had a singular
ly affectionate expression. And that was not all: ‘You let your
self be governed by your ego – you are its prisoner. The ego is
a good servant but a bad master. You’re just thinking of your
own problems. You have the feeling that the entire world has
been plotting against you. You’re unable to eat, sleep or make
love properly. You commute to and from work like a zombie.
That’s not life, but slow death. You hate yourself for what you’ve
become, but you’re unable to admit it. You only look at yourself,
and you don’t notice the world around you. You have lost your
spark. You’ve forgotten everything else completely. Everything!
Do you still have the feeling that I know nothing at all about
Again he was lost for words. He did not know how to react.
The creaking of the armchair now just made him feel even more
embarrassed. He decided to leave to escape the humiliation, but
before he managed to say anything, Kohl smiled at him: ‘You
may go – our first lesson is over. Come back when you think it
appropriate. My doors are open to you every Wednesday from
two in the afternoon.’
‘What? Come back here so you can put me down like that?
Sure thing,’ he retorted, silently adding: you moron, you! He did
not even look at him, but just left without saying anything else.
As he stood in the doorway, Kohl called after him: ‘You can
be more than that!’
He thought he would explode with anger as he walked
down the stairs. So distraught was he that he had no recollecti
on how he actually got home. When Eliška tried to prize out of
him what the matter was, he just fobbed her off.
‘Oh, I’ve just got some problems at school.’
‘Is it that Karel again?’
‘I don’t want to talk about it just now,’ he snapped and
went off to have a strum on his guitar. That was the only thing
that could calm him down. His mind was focused on just one
thought: I’m never going back there!
– • –
The next day he was unable to think of anything else. The ma
n’s a drug addict, who should never have been given medical
accreditation, one part of him said. And what on earth did he
have in mind when he called himself the light? Another part
of him was asking. And what else have I entirely forgotten? Se
veral voices were speaking together in his mind, but these two
were uppermost. He was no longer so sure that he would not go
back. The crank had something that he did not have. What was
it? He wanted to know the answers to his life and he felt that
Kohl could provide them.
Should he remain proud and never go back there or... seek
for some meaning to life? As always, when he was unable to
make a decision, he headed off for the mountains, where the
re was no one to bother him with constant worries, stupid co
mments and pretences. Today there was fog all around. The city
was covered in smog and the sun looked like a full moon – ba
rely visible. It looked just as cold and burnt-out as he felt. What
was more, the city air smelled awful. Tomáš looked forward to
get t i ng away.
As soon as he got above the smog level, he was met by
a marvellous view of an emerald cloudless sky. Up he went
I’d almost forgotten how beautiful it is here, he thought.
He took a drink from his bottle. He did not know anything that
tasted as good as ordinary water, and he relished every sip.
He walked on even higher. The sunrays stroked his fatigu
ed body. He was even able to take off his jacket because it was
far warmer here than in the smog-drowned city. Autumn was
drawing to its end – these were the last warm days of the year.
When he got to the top he was almost a mile above sea
level. He settled down in his favourite spot. There was a good
view from here, and no hikers ever wandered by. What he saw
looked more like an impressionistic painting than reality.
There wasn’t a single cloud up above, although the river
that flowed down into a valley to the south was lost in a sea
of clouds below. The peaks that grew out of this ocean had as
many colours as he could possibly imagine. The sun warmed
his face pleasantly, and a gentle breeze blew. He did not know
how long he was ‘out of it’, but he fell entirely under the spell of
this artwork. He went back to his childhood. When he was ei
ght years old he had once got lost in an unknown town. To this
day, years later, the same horror would seize him. He wandered
around streets that all looked alike, turning his head this way
and that in search of his mum. Exhausted, he sat down on some
grimy steps, buried his face in his little palms and whimpered.
A short while later he heard her velvet voice: ‘Here you are, my
l it t le a ngel.’
Little angel, he smiled.
Why am I so dissatisfied? Why can’t I say goodbye to Eliš
ka? Where have all those dreams gone? What actually happe
ned at Kohl’s? How come he knew so much about me? What is
drawing me back there like that, damn it?! The feeling that he
had to go back was all the stronger up there. When his mind
had calmed down, only one thought remained: I must go back.
1/5 Soul and ego
everal days had passed since his trip to the mountains. To
máš was beset by the same old apathy, slowly gnawing away
at him and showing itself for the most part in his irritability.
His colleagues and friends noticed that he was feeling down, but
he always kicked their questions into touch. He knew he had
to see Kohl on Wednesday, otherwise he would never dare go
back. Now or never. On Wednesday he’d had normal afternoon
lessons, but today they had been called off. So he could go. Now
his dreams were repeating with almost daily regularity. Identi
cal with just small variations. As if the needle had stuck.
He couldn’t bear squeezing into public transport, preferri
ng a brisk walk to Kohl‘s office in the centre. He ran up the
stairs to the second floor. There was a slight whiff of marijuana
in the air, but it was too weak to be recent. As soon as he walked
through the door he was met by a similar sight to the one he
had previously faced. The faded Persian carpet, the battered ca
binets and Kohl sitting in an old leather armchair. As Tomáš en
tered the room he raised his head and smiled at him. Tomáš was
surprised by something he had not previously noticed. Kohl’s
features were very distinctive. His eyes were wise and kindly,
sparkling like those of a young boy.
‘I’m very glad you’ve come,’ Kohl began in a tender voice.
‘I know it wasn’t easy for you, but you have mastered the first
Tomáš was taken aback. It was only after about thirty se
conds that he let slip:
‘What? What first lesson?’
Kohl closed his notebook and settled himself comfortably
into his armchair, which gave out a long creak. He then started
‘Above all, you have to regain control of your ego. It took
you exactly twelve days. With time you will learn to handle it
‘I was in quite some doubt, but in the end I decided to come.
I really was very angry.’
‘Doubts are quite normal, but you must not allow them to
overwhelm you. Anger, feelings of guilt and fear are a gift. They
tell you that you are dreaming a bad dream. They show you that
you are living a false story. They warn you that you are living
an irrelevant situation.’
Tomáš did not know why, but he poured everything out:
‘Everybody has moved on, everybody has moved somewhe
re, but I have the feeling I’m going back. I feel lost. I have this
feeling I’m in some kind of game, but I have no influence over
its result. I don’t have the remote control in my hand. As if I can
‘People often have it encoded somewhere inside them that
life has to be a fight. Try putting your hands behind your head
and waving them.’
Without thinking, he placed his hands behind his head and
waved them, while asking: ‘And is this going to he-elp?’
Kohl smiled broadly: ‘No, but it gives me a good laugh.’
‘You’re just playing around with me again. Just like last
time,’ Tomáš retorted.
‘Last time I did what had to be done to help you get out of
your personal hell. Now I am trying to get you to learn to laugh
at you rsel f.’
‘What did you mean when you said I had mastered my ego?’
‘That will be a long story. Now sit down on the carpet and
listen carefully. Of course, you may ask if you do not under
stand anything,’ and Kohl pointed down.
‘Why do I have to sit on the floor like some menial?’
‘I see you have no problem with honesty. That’s good. You
have to sit on the floor. That is the only way you are going to
learn how to master your ego.’
He just grimaced and reluctantly sat on the floor beside
Kohl, who began to explain:
‘When you were born, your soul and your ego wished for
the same thing – to breathe. This was the first and the most
difficult task that we all face in life. Your entire being focused
on this single objective. All your cells had to learn within a few
seconds to live in a different world, in a world without your mo
ther. The world of the womb was full of security, certainty and
love. In the womb your soul and your ego were as one. Just as
they were in the first months after you were born.’
Tomáš interrupted: ‘And what does this have to do with my
pre-sent difficulties in life?’
‘Absolutely everything. Even months after your birth your
soul and your ego were as one. You no longer felt as secure,
because your mother sometimes went off, leaving you alone.
Occasionally she would not feed you, when you were hungry,
so you no longer felt that security. Sometimes something bad
happened, you had a twinge of pain, so you no longer felt the
safety of your mother’s womb. One part of you automatically
started to ask why. Soon afterwards the same part started to say
that you had to somehow ensure that sense of security, safety
‘The ego – so that is when my ego was born!’ Tomáš in
terrupted him again. This suddenly made him realize why his
pupils would occasionally interrupt him.
‘Exactly,’ Kohl nodded. ‘That is when your ego separated.’
‘You’re even worse than I am when it comes to hairsplitting.
And that is saying something!’ Tomáš grinned.
Kohl did not respond to this comment, but carried on with
his explanation: ‘The ego began to look for ways to make sure
it had that feeling of security, safety and attention. It took com
mand of your soul. The soul is able to obtain energy from itself.
It is a kind of perpetuum mobile. The ego cannot do that, so it
has to acquire its energy from the outside – from people. It tri
ed all kinds of ways. Really, all kinds! At first it was still quite
undeveloped, so it only knew one way – crying. Whenever you
didn’t like something, you started bawling. Many people stay
that way all the way into adulthood.’
‘So the ego steals energy from other people. It cannot pro
duce energy itself. Just like my sister. Whenever she doesn’t like
something, she bursts out crying and draws all the attention to
herself. She really annoyed me that way when I was younger!’
‘Yes, that is a very popular way. Even though it is very
primitive, it works again and again on a lot of us. Some have
attained a second level. If they don’t like something, they start
banging and smashing things until they get what they want.
Unfortunately, their parents are too weak to stop them, so their
children remain that way into adulthood. Aggression is a very
popular way to acquire energy in today’s patriarchal society.
But then some children get even further. They keep asking their
parents the same question until they hear a favourable answer.
Some parents fall for that. Anybody who has stuck with this
method of acquiring energy can be a very persistent debater in
adulthood. They will pressure you into what they want to hear.’
‘Yes, that is exactly how my father does it. And I know ano
ther aggressive type. Karel, a colleague at work. He harbours
this tremendous resentment against me, I think. He would de
finitely very much like to smash my head against a wall, if it
weren’t socially frowned upon.’
‘Oh yes, he’s certainly done that a few times in his mind’s
eye.’ Kohl smiled. Leaning back in his armchair, he looked out
of the window for a while and continued:
‘As a boy, Karel certainly tried other approaches – he tried
to ask and he tried crying, but he succeeded most with aggre
ssion. Crying, asking and aggression – these are all ways to
obtain energy. When you have enough energy you feel strong.
That is the task of the ego. To construct the strongest stronghold,
so that others cannot get at you, since the ego conceives all be
ings as separate. It considers each individual to be a danger to be
protected against. This is a relic of our animal ancestors.’
‘But there’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone tries to pro
tect themselves and their family.’
‘But then I didn’t say there’s anything wrong with that,
Tom, but it is bad, when this yearning for security makes you
control yourself so much that it holds back your soul. Remember,
when you were born, your soul and your ego were as one. They
harmonized together. Then the ego separated, began to build
its stronghold and unf