(St. Nicholas Day Essay)

  Were it not for Petr Uhl’s little Pavlíček and the uniformed policemen guarding his door day and night for the past three months I wouldn’t have become an angel. Terrorism spreads in the West and our own police has placed a guard in front of the smiling Uhl’s flat. Plainclothesmen walk behind him to and from his work and they follow him in a car whenever he travels out of town on business. This is all because he takes Marx’s revolutionary ideas seriously. This is, one would think, allowed in our country, isn’t it? Although, truth be told, he sat in prison for that already, for several years. Someday I would like to ask him how it is possible for a revolution to murder the previous order but impossible to dispose of the corpse. And why does a revolution happen only when the order is so weak it would be quite easy just to talk some sense into it. I am sure he will give me an honest answer, and at the end we will stick to our own opinions and still stay friends. He is not a quarrelsome type; he’s always appreciated the power of an argument and blessing of tolerance. I can’t imagine how this free-thinking man could not value life of another and without hesitation murder or blackmail just to push his own ideas.
  Back to terrorism. It’s a modern sickness baked in a romantic oven where it is believed that to impose your own will on others in any manner possible is acceptable and not at all reprehensible. A fellow man jumps into my path, presses a handgun to my stomach, and says that unless someone else pays up or does something he’ll shoot me dead. And I pray that this someone else is responsible enough to give him the money because none of this is my fault for I’m just accidentally walking by. A terrorist is a coward, a parasite living off the innocence and vulnerability. Whether we’re dealing with passengers on an airplane or on a bus, shoppers in a market place, or just ordinary pedestrians, they are attacked, killed eventually, and the blame is shifted to the responsible people. In order to work terrorism needs a defenseless hostage, someone who feels responsible for him, and an insensitive creature who is capable of anything. They gave me this idea during an interrogation at the Bartolomějská Street when they asked me if I had children. I do have a son who attends the first grade. I had to listen as they tried to make me feel guilty for destroying his life for he won’t be able to get to college or get a decent job. Do I have the power to decide? They say I do, because of my stand and my opinions. Only my son attends the first grade in Paris. Therefore, we stopped talking about that. Alas, not every father is this „lucky” and we know far too well which way does the scale tip when someone places the destiny of your child against your own conscience.
  A terrorist is a parasite on something important to us. Therefore, even your own interest, your job, education, and housing opportunity can be held hostage. It can all be captured and held for ransom.
  It was December 5th and droves of St. Nicholases, devils and angels wandered through the old parts of Prague. We came out, as well. Pavel Kohout*) was St. Nicholas, Pavel Landovský **) was the Devil, and I went as the Angel. Kohout who is a punctual and responsible man transformed even his soul inside his costume and started to address everyone as „son”. I held a peacock feather and piped heavenly tunes on a wooden recorder. Landovský rattled his chains and mumbled : ”Where are those children?”
  We arrived at the Prosek Housing Quarter after dark. We were lost for a while among the monstrous panel-block housing projects where life consists of being devoured by a bus in the morning and vomited back in the same place in the evening. The housing projects without theatres, neighborhood churches, coffee shops, alleys, shop windows, craftsmen, without human corners where a child could observe in detail everyday flow of human life - how it works, with all its unique beauty , not some mindless repetitions. Everything here is made uniform and generalized. The impersonal, standardized world where a life of an individual could be overlooked and it shrinks to be a mere utility bill, a pair of working hands, a walking wallet in the dark. It could work like that till the end of times if it were not for the children who are born and who grow up here, children we feel responsible for. It matters a lot where these children grow up. As soon as we got out of the car about three hundred children surrounded us, creating quite a racket.
  „Hey look, the Angel has jeans under his robe!”
  „Dude, the angel’s the best. He’s got great hair.”
  I looked over their heads around that desolate place. What do they do around here, all day long? How could such a great number of them gather around us so fast? The average age here is ten, today. In ten more years it’s going to be twenty. Did the sociologists think this through before the investor paid for the construction? Did they learn nothing from the history of the American cities and the origin of teen gangs on the peripheries? Fathers were given housing here and they feel responsible for their children. For them it is a home, already. Will they feel responsible for this home to their fathers? Who will teach them that? Right now they are pulling on my paper wings and cheer us on as we march in a most dignified manner to one in the pile of the panel boxes where on the eight floor lives a small girl by the name of Monika Ledererová. Her daddy is in prison for the third time in her young life. This time because he intended to write a book.
  Here and there we were encountered by mommies and daddies. They have children, too and will give us a hundred koruna bill if we stop at their flats. Instead of gluing beards to their faces they much rather pay a hundred korunas. We climbed slowly to the eight floor, I played the recorder, and the beardless wallets were left on the floors below us with a hundred koruna bill in hand, envious.
  Monika is a beautiful little girl. St. Nicholas found out she does well at school and so she was given presents. Several hundred children yelled under the windows. We stepped out on the balcony. Joyful noise of the children echoed over Prosek. Only St. Nicholas sadly remarked between his blessing of the crowd:
  „If they only knew whom they’re waving to.”
  The children, of course, like in so many cases, did not know. I was waving with my peacock feather, thinking about hostages, terrorism, innocence, responsibility, and about a way how to live in this world so I that my soul would wear what I’m wearing now on my body.
  Later, our car broke down. I had to get out in my angel garb and crawl under the hellish machine to change a hose. St. Nicholas caught a chill and he was coughing and pacing around. Several cars had stopped. Not to help an angel but to tell us they have children at home and would pay a hundred korunas. They just can’t weight their conscience against their child’s happiness. All they have is a hundred koruna bill - a reward for their tipping of the scale. We continued on our way to the Uhl’s household. We entered the building and completely out of style we took the elevator to the fifth floor. As soon as we opened the elevator door the lightning began. Satan (sorry, mistype) State Security had posted a photographer in the stairwell. Two six-foot uniforms in front of the door had brown eyes. The Devil wanted to ring the bell. The policeman covered the bell with his body and said:
  „Show your I.D. first.”
  „What for? I don’t know of such a law. We brought St. Nicholas for the children.” The Devil was pissed.
  „Your Identification Card.” The one-color costume said to our multi-colored costumes, standing his ground.
  The photographer in the stairwell was shooting away, one flash of lightning after another like before a major storm. I piped heavenly tunes on my wooden recorder, dodging the evil encounters. Petr’s wife heard the noise in the hall and opened the door, holding little Pavlíček on one arm. The two-year-old boy started to cry. Dad Petr was not at home. Who are they guarding, then? It gave me chills. I’m thinking about that all day long. When they started to guard the home of little Pavlíček, the police decided no more than three persons could come visit their flat at any given time. There were three of us so three other folks who were already inside had to step out into the hall for the duration of the St. Nicholas’s visit.
  „But I’m just in the middle of nursing my baby,” protested a girl as she was leaving the flat, buttoning up her blouse.. The brown-eyed law in green cloth did not budge. People leaving and entering the flat caused a congestion in the small hall. We came in. There was a very small child laying on the couch. Hanka with Pavlíček sat down next to the baby. Neither could be pacified. Even our Devil took off his mask.
  „Pavlíček, I’m not a devil, it’s all just for fun.”
  The child kept on crying, somehow sensing the presence of the evil one. Totally out of character I lighted up a cigarette, and walked to the bathroom to wash my hands. It occurred to me that, according to the Old Testament, even an angel has a right to hate. Only St. Nicholas did not fall out of his character, calmed Pavlíček down, and gave him the presents. In the meantime, more beings arrived from downstairs with an official inquiry:
  „What kind of a bordello is this?” ***)
  They interpreted the folk tradition in their own way. Not one of the innocents in the crowded hallway felt the need to dignify them with an answer. One only needed to look around.
  A terrorist thrives as a parasite on that which gives our lives a meaning: the innocence, vulnerability, and freedom.

  December 10, 1977

*) a prominent dissident writer
**) a burly character actor who had appeared in films banned during the years of the Normalization.
***) Czech word bordel used to depict a chaotic mess