I told all my friends that I would certainly marry now. When they asked me, “What’s happened?” I replied: “My first love has appeared in New York.”
Stella had not been my first love; and though I had been in love with her once, that was not why I decided to marry her. The real reason was a deep sense of duty, and I used the first-love theme to give it a light touch.
As a result of my decision, my life had once more become meaningful. My state of mind did not lead me to question whether Stella wanted to marry me. I took it for granted that being alone in the world now, she would let me brighten her life. Nor did I let myself think that she might bring me a little happiness, too. Why should I be made happy, I who had lived through the war in New York not only in complete security but also surrounded with comforts? Stella had gone through hell, and happiness was owed to her.
Each of us was forty years old—Stella one day older than I—but in my eyes she was still a young and beautiful high-school student. The image that arises in us at a lofty moment of decision is always stronger than any reality that contradicts it. Also, the illusion of her youth accompanied the illusion of my own youth.
And yet Stella’s laughter had actually remained unchanged; her voice had the same sound as before, and her nostrils quivered in the same way. Her freckles reminded me of dried flowers that you had once plucked and then placed in a book; like such flowers she still emanated a spring-like breath.
I had first seen Stella when I was sixteen. I was spending Christmas with her oldest brother Filko, who had stayed with us for two weeks during the summer vacations. Asleep in semi-darkness, covered with a colorful cloth, her face was pale, her hair golden, and there were tiny freckles around her nose.
I asked Filko why Stella was so pale. He said that Edek, the boy with whom she was in love, had moved to another town with his family, and that Stella was terribly upset.
I stayed with them for three days, and for those three days I was madly in love with Stella. During all that time I scarcely exchanged three words with her. Stella was always hidden somewhere, and was absent even during meals. She suffered because of Edek’s departure, and I because of her, as if I were trying to imitate her in her suffering. Filko had the greatest sympathy for me. He was not surprised that I had fallen in love with his sister, he worshipped her himself and told me that he dreamed of her double.
Stella was an only daughter; toward her five brothers and her father she behaved as if she were the only woman in the world. Her brothers and father were not jealous of Edek; they looked upon him as their deputy destined to perform a specific function with regard to Stella, and as having become for this reason a member of the family. When the family realized that I was in love with Stella, they began to regard me, too, as one of them.
They seemed to fancy that their family was a self-sufficient institution, which never needed an outsider; they seemed to live, as it were, on the brink of incest, and as a result, an atmosphere full of ardor and strength prevailed in their home.
They were extremely moral and subtle.
I knew Edek well. He was older than Stella and I by two years—he reminded us, his younger schoolmates, of Theseus on a Greek vase, while the older ones admired his relationship with his widowed mother, to whose support he had contributed from his earliest age. Despite his physical strength, Edek was unusually pale (this contributed to his “mythical” look), and despite his courageousness he was unusually subtle and almost girlishly gentle. It was this combination of delicacy and virility that made such a tremendous impression on us boys.
We found it hard to believe that Edek had fallen in love with Stella. We thought that the girl had no right to appropriate such an exceptional boy: he should belong to all of us, to the boys. We did not believe that Edek had fallen in love with her, she had merely forced him somehow to yield to her . . .
But whom could Stella have brought as an offering to her family, if not Edek? What other brother was she to give her handsome brothers? She had conquered Edek for her family. The family did not lose Stella, it gained Edek. That is why Filko welcomed Stella’s love so joyously.
After my visit I returned home to discover that I remembered it as three days of happiness. During my subsequent visits, I became convinced that between Stella and myself there had developed a tie which was a subtle kind of reciprocal love. Stella had somehow convinced me that had it not been for Edek she would have returned my love—and this became a form of fulfillment.
Our parents were great friends. The friendship between our fathers was animated, between our mothers quiet, even silent. Both Stella’s mother and my mother worked hard, our fathers amused themselves—it was nothing boisterous, they played at being active members of the community and leaders of society.
Stella’s father was tall, handsome, strong, and very elegant. He had once been a sergeant of the mounted police, but immediately after marrying he had opened a tavern—his father-in-law was the warehouseman of the local brewery. This was a tavern for artisans and successful peasants. Everyone advised Stella’s father to open a restaurant for landowners and the intelligentsia, but he was a proud man, he wanted his customers to look up to him, not the other way around. And actually, whenever he made a rare appearance in his tavern, all the customers bowed deeply to him. At such moments he always behaved as if he were not the owner, but an inspector on an official tour.
Stella’s mother managed the tavern. She did not serve; she stood behind the counter, acted as the cashier, and supervised the help. With her strikingly white complexion, clear probing eyes, and ash-gray hair, she was beautiful despite her stoutness, and had an imperious look. Her severity set her apart from the animated, playful customers; she was like the priestess of a temple, while they were the faithful. So, at least, it seemed to me at the time.
Stella’s parents were not rich, though their business was highly profitable. They spent a great deal of money on the education of their children, lived in grand style, gave parties and receptions, contributed to charities, and helped even the most distant relatives and friends. They also spent a great deal in wages for help in the tavern and at home.
They often hired tramps, and somehow were never disappointed in them. Their employees stayed with them for many years and even when one left, he never lost contact with them. The employees never stole; their masters did not watch them, they watched each other. . . Stella’s family was a tribe, so strong that each time I came to visit her I myself became a member, as if I had no family of my own.
After graduating from the gymnasium, Stella left for France to study dentistry. Edek had gone there some years before to study medicine (as a result of the numerus clausus he had been barred from medical studies in Poland, even though he had passed his baccalaureate exams with the highest honors). Stella and Edek lived together in France, and married only after returning to Poland. If someone had told her family that Stella and Edek were living together in Paris, they would not have believed it simply because they trusted in Edek’s tactfulness.
Edek finished his studies two years before Stella, and for those two years worked in a clinic; then both returned to Poland, and after obtaining confirmation of their foreign degrees, settled in Silesia, where Edek became the idol of the miners in his region. By then the Nazis had begun to infiltrate the province, but whenever someone informed Edek’s townsmen that their favorite doctor was a Jew, they laughed, either because they disbelieved this or because they did not care.
The war had found Stella, her husband, and her three-year-old daughter still in Silesia. From there they had fled the Nazis to Soviet-occupied territory. Her husband was appointed director of our region’s health department. Everybody around him stole; he controlled everything, but never took anything. Years later, Edek’s honesty was still the essential feature of Stella’s account of that period.
“I scolded him,” she would say to me, during our talks in New York. “I wanted him to steal at least as much as his subordinates, for we had a hard time. . . But you know Edek, to tell him to steal was like telling him, forgive the expression, to eat s—t.”
In 1941 the German-Soviet war broke out and Edek was mobilized. He could not permit himself to join the “strategic retreat”; he stayed with the wounded and sick, and was captured by the Germans in the very first days of the war.
He did not live long. It would not have occurred to the Germans that Edek was of Jewish origin, had he not several times defended Jewish prisoners of war. In the end the Germans simply could not afford such stature and behavior on the part of a Jew.
So Stella related the circumstances of Edek’s death. In the years that followed, she seemed to have grown angry at Edek rather than at the Germans, and spoke like a mother remembering an imprudent child.
In the very first days of the Nazi occupation she took Edek’s mother and sister to her home and her child to her parents. Her brothers were either in the Soviet army or hiding in the woods. (All of them were killed except for the youngest, who was saved by Hania, the daughter of one of their servants; though she was a Ukrainian, he married her after the war and at her suggestion they went to Israel.)
The wife of one of Stella’s schoolmates lived on the first floor above the apartment she occupied with her husband’s mother and sister. Stella often stayed with her friend, whose husband, a Polish officer, had been a German prisoner since 1939. The two bereaved women liked to be together; moreover, Stella felt safer in her friend’s home because she was a so-called “Aryan.”
One day Stella was about to leave her friend’s apartment, as usual very cautiously, when she heard on the floor below someone asking for her. She realized that Gestapo agents, accompanied by Ukrainian militiamen, had come to arrest her.
She did not linger, but rushed to her neighbor’s apartment, grabbed the latter’s coat and kerchief and walked down the stairs. The janitor stood in the doorway with a militiaman. Covering her face with the kerchief, Stella calmly slipped by, unrecognized by the janitor. In this way she escaped death for the first time. The Gestapo agents sent Edek’s mother and sister to their deaths, although they had come for her, as the wife of “a Bolshevik dignitary.”
Stella related this incident as though in the third person, obviously wanting me to share her view of her clever escape as a manifestation of brutal egoism and at the same time as a moment of inspiration, and to suggest that such was the nature of man and of herself.
She hid in her parents’ home, where she had previously left her child. But she could not stay there long. The mass extermination of Jews had not begun, but Stella was a special case, for the collaborators had denounced her as a “Bolshevik.”
She found a place of refuge in the neighboring woods and stayed there for almost a year. Then a friend of the family, a Roman Catholic priest from a nearby factory town, obtained “Aryan papers” for her, and she was sent to forced labor in Germany with a group of village women.
I could sense that Stella was concealing something from me; something had happened during her period in the woods, which she was unwilling or unable to reveal. Several times she returned to that period of her story, but each time stopped abruptly after the words “yes, yes, for a year I hid in the woods,” and laughed helplessly. In fact she dismissed the whole episode with one sentence. She did not say with whom she had hidden in the woods, who had helped her, and in what circumstances. Or perhaps she did not remember, and did not want to remember. Such a defensive amnesia was possible. Had not Stella deserted her own child when going to the woods in order to save her life? Had she not left her daughter with her parents, and had not her daughter later been killed with them? It was best for her to let that period sink into oblivion. . . And yet she wanted me to realize that she had deserted her child. Well, both things were possible.
In Germany she had worked in a munitions factory, where there were workers from almost all the European countries. Next to her in the shop was a Pole; their foreman was a Spaniard.
“I somehow can’t believe that you are a peasant girl,” the Pole said to her one day, smiling ironically. “It’s not the way you look. There’s a war on, everybody looks refined; but you speak Polish like an educated person, and what would an educated person be doing here? I think you’re Jewish.”
“You’re having a hard time here,” the Spanish foreman told her a short time later. “Your neighbor is an unpleasant fellow. I’m sure you’d rather be a domestic servant. . .”
Stella did not answer him, but less than a week later she was sent to serve in the home of a German captain. When she was leaving the factory, the Spaniard asked her: “Is your neighbor a real Pole? He complained that your Polish is too good, and what Pole would complain that the Polish of a compatriot of his is too good?”
She served in the captain’s house till the very end, till the entry of the Soviet army.
It seemed, from her story, that she had saved her life by her own efforts only once, when she left her mother-in-law and sister-in-law at the mercy of the Gestapo, and calmly walked down the stairs. After that, everything had been a matter of accident, or else she had defended herself unconsciously, as when she had left her daughter with her parents and had gone to the woods.
After the war Stella had gone to live in Sweden. It was then that I first heard she was alive and would like to hear from me. I had not written to her, for I was skeptical about the whole thing. Perhaps I did not really believe that Stella had survived; perhaps I doubted that she wanted me to write to her. This was immediately after the war, and I probably doubted that anyone besides myself had survived.
Later I learned that Stella was planning to come to the United States, and after a few years she actually did. The friend who told me this gave me her telephone number, and said that she wanted me to call her. Now I understood why Stella had not written to me from Sweden but had asked instead that I write to her. What she wanted then was not a letter, just as now she did not want a telephone call: she expected me to come for her, to take her to my home.
Stella met me with her familiar laugh: it was like the intermittent, joyful barking of a dog, and one could perceive in this laughter the distant echo of anger, like that of a dog who had waited too long. Or was it merely derision? Her attire—suède shoes, a pleated skirt, a suède jacket, and a beret—suggested both the student and the society woman, a touch of the scamp, and a touch of the lady.
Stella had been brought to America by her former nurse, Rozia. When Rozia had emigrated to America, Stella was still a little girl. In parting Rozia had said to her: “If you ever come to visit me I’ll receive you as a mother.”
Rozia was small, the same height as her towheaded husband Semion who was of Byelorussian origin, and like her had worked for years in a women’s clothing factory where they had met. They had a daughter in her twenties who had been idle since an automobile accident. Her fiancé was a former medical student who worked as a masseur but often spoke of resuming his studies. He was of Italian descent—dark-haired, muscular, but with a gentle face. Without him, it seemed, this young woman would have disintegrated. Because she was tall, handsome, and outwardly unspoiled by her accident, her physical dependence on the handsome young man resembled a melancholy sexual passion.
Rozia and Semion knew that their daughter could have returned to work and to her interrupted studies, but rather than urge her, or display the slightest annoyance with her, they treated her with extreme tenderness. All their lives they had been factory workers, laboring hard and struggling to improve working conditions, and now the idle, comfortable life of their only daughter appeared to them as an act of social justice—it was high time for a worker’s daughter to enjoy a bit of luxury.
Rozia and Semion were well-read, enlightened, sophisticated New York workers, had attended evening courses for years, and owned a fine collection of books and phonograph records. They had bought a house in Queens out of what they earned. Of red brick, and covered with tiles, it had white stairs, flowers beds in front, a garden and trees in back, and stood on a quiet, broad, tree-lined street. The spacious rooms had fireplaces, and were uncluttered by their furniture, suggesting something of the freedom, discretion, and seriousness of Stella’s former family house.
Indeed, Stella came to her former nurse as to her own mother: she distinctly recalled Rozia’s body, her arms, breasts, neck, and face. Nor was Rozia’s relation to Stella any less natural: nothing in it reminded one of the attitude of a grateful debtor to a noble creditor. They belonged to one tribe, and this was the basis of their harmony.
After a few of my visits, Rozia began to treat me as she treated her daughter’s fiancé—as the support of a young woman who had lived through such a terrible catastrophe. When I decided that it was my duty to marry Stella, I felt that Stella and I were close to each other anyway, that we belonged to the same tribe, so that our marriage would be a mere formality, sanctioning a previously existing bond.
During our first talk in New York in Rozia’s quiet garden, I recalled our childhood, our families, schools, and neighborhood, but Stella listened as if I were discussing matters entirely alien and even boring to her. Then we discussed what Stella could do in the United States. Rozia wanted her to obtain a license to practice dentistry in this country. She offered to support Stella during her preparations for the state examination. Rozia’s husband, daughter, and her daughter’s fiancé enthusiastically seconded her offer. Stella regarded it as completely natural, and was ready to take advantage of it, but she had plans of her own. She wanted to return to Sweden for a year, to work in a dental clinic for children, and only later to emigrate to the United States. At present she wanted to stay in New York for only six months and practice in a dental clinic for children, where she might learn a great deal. Stella’s patients in the Swedish clinic were mostly children who had been in Nazi death camps, and her sarcastic remarks suggested that only children were worthwhile caring for, only children were human.
Late at night Stella’s hosts left us alone in the garden. On the basis of some of my remarks, Stella must have guessed my decision in coming to her. Sitting beside each other on a stone bench, we heard, in the stillness, a piece by Debussy. Suddenly Stella burst out laughing in her doglike way and began to relate an incident that had happened to her shortly before leaving Sweden.
On the eve of her departure, a Swedish girl who worked in her clinic had walked her home, tenderly holding her arm. Entering Stella’s apartment, she had begun to cry convulsively, confessing that she had been in love with Stella for a long time, in fact, from the moment they had met.
When Stella tried to convince her that this was a delusion, that she must be mistaken, the girl replied that it was Stella who was mistaken, that Stella herself longed for a woman’s body; otherwise she would not have exerted this attraction so strongly and persistently.
Repeatedly sobbing, the girl spoke ardently, tenderly, as though in prayer. This was not her first love, but a love unprecedented in mind and strength; her feeling had been crucially influenced by Stella’s wartime ordeals, by the thought of her maltreated female body. . . .
Stella was teasing me, this was obvious. But it was also certain that she felt a physical dislike for me because I was a male and wished to convey this to me. She laughingly reminisced about how wonderful it had been to cuddle to her mother’s warm large breasts and neck. She often slept in the same bed with her mother even as a grown girl. Here in New York she was sleeping with Rozia whose body reminded her of her mother’s.
Later she told me in detail about a terrible operation that had been performed on her in Sweden. Her gall bladder had been removed, along with ulcers and parts of her intestines; she had been literally cut to pieces. She told me she had been sure she would die on the operating table, but when she opened her eyes and was welcomed by a garland of smiling friends, she had thought that only at that moment the Nazi occupation, and her torments, had ended.
Her doctors had been unable to understand how, with her ailments, she had lived through those terrible years of the Occupation.
Why did she tell me this, now, of all times, late at night, in this quiet little garden, amidst the chirping of crickets? Was she jeering at me—the man who had decided to build for her a warm family nest?
Each time I tried to divert Stella from her tortured past, she returned to it with passion. She seemed compelled to torment me, to say in so many words: “He lived through the war in comfort, and now he plays the angel. Come to your senses, man, realize what world you are living in.”
I reminded her of the student ball, where we had danced a waltz that was like a momentary love affair. In response she told me of a party in the home of the German captain where she had been a servant.
This captain had a wife and two children, and had come on furlough one day from the eastern front, bringing with him liquor, meat, fruits, delicacies, and a mistress. Stella, who had been ill for a long time, suffered terribly that day, but she was afraid to complain, because she would have been sent to the hospital and liquidated. The guests ate, drank, and danced, and she served them. Suddenly, while working in the kitchen, she was seized with such fierce pains that she would surely have died had it not been for her extraordinary will to live. She lay quietly on the floor, telling herself that she would lie that way until she heard steps; and when she heard steps, she would get up, she would surely get up, for she did not want to die; no matter what might happen to her she would get up. . . . She heard steps, and before the captain had entered the kitchen she was on her feet. The captain stared at her for a moment, said polnisches Schwein and walked out, and she thought to herself, “I’ll live.”
“And you want to restore my faith in man?” Stella said. “Don’t you think that it’s rather I who should and can restore your faith in humanity? The very fact that I have survived is enough—this fact alone is proof of man’s greatness.”
Indeed, how could I restore her faith in humanity? I had generously decided to marry her—and that noble gesture on my part was to be an antidote to her horrible experiences! “I sat in a crowded car, on someone’s bag,” Stella said after a time, and began to relate the circumstances of her return to Poland after the Soviet army had entered Germany. “I sat there like someone who knows nothing and has nobody in the world. Perhaps everyone in that car felt the same. . . Suddenly I heard above me a man’s beautiful cry, repeated three times, ‘Stella, Stella, Stella!’ I raised my eyes: before me stood a tall, emaciated, former schoolmate in the uniform of a Polish officer—he was returning from German captivity. He stared at me for a long time, then said, ‘Stella, how beautiful you were,’ and began to sob. I didn’t cry, he was crying for me. His wife, who had lived in the same house as I until I ran away to my parents, had died. . . I imagined that this officer was Misio, who was so much like my husband, that Misio was alive and that I would marry him . . .”
I began to wonder if Stella had hoped in her heart that Misio would survive rather than Edek. Misio, who was a schoolmate of Edek’s, had fallen in love with Stella after her marriage, and Stella, Edek, and Misio had formed a triangle, though Misio played a Platonic part. But if Stella and Misio had been more grasping, their relationship would not have remained Platonic. Stella could easily have lived with two men as alike as Edek and Misio; to live with Misio would not have betrayed Edek, Misio was his double.
The evocation of this old triangle stimulated her, and since Misio had not survived either, it now began to seem that her choice had fallen on me. She was clearly more and more cordial toward me; as she unfolded the story of her experiences, she drew closer to me.
It was then that I asked Stella in unambiguous terms to marry me. At first she seemed very happy; she laughed a long time in her barking manner, then apologized, went inside, and returned with a photograph. Handing it to me she asked, “Do you recognize this?”
The picture showed a human corpse. The body of a man dressed in city clothes lay near a village fence; he was bareheaded, and there was a flower behind his ear. That he was dead was obvious from the face, though it had not been disfigured by death. I did not know that man.
“A corpse,” I whispered to myself.
“Of course, you can’t recognize him,” Stella cried as if this fact amused her. “This is Wasylcio.”
“What do you mean, ‘Which Wasylcio?’ Wasylcio the fool. . . It was he who saved me. He hid me in the woods, and took care of me for a year.”
Wasylcio had never looked like that. I remembered him very clearly. I had often seen him sweep the sidewalk in front of Stella’s house, now and then crying, “Arbeit, Arbeit!” He was always ragged and barefoot, with a wild growth of hair and beard.
He had appeared during the First World War, no one knew from where, found a broom, and at once began to sweep the sidewalks, punctuating his work with the cry, “Arbeit, Arbeit.” People would tease him, his flowers would fade, and when he had enough of all this, he would vanish again. It seemed that he ran away from people to the woods, and returned longing for people again.
Aside from the words “Arbeit, Arbeit,” he never said anything, never asked for anything. Women threw him some pittance, as to a starved dog, and occasionally a weeping drunk would thrust a piece of bread with sausage into his hands. No one knew his name. Someone nicknamed him “Wasylcio,” because, before he had come, there had been a meek fellow like him in our town who bore that name. How could the dead body in the picture be Wasylcio?
“During the occupation a miracle happened with Wasylcio,” Stella said, and burst out laughing. “He shaved, had his hair cut, got himself shoes, a decent suit, a necktie, and began to talk; whereupon, to make him a real man, the Germans shot him. But before then he had saved my life.”
After the Germans came, Wasylcio suddenly stopped sweeping the streets, but instead of running away to the woods, he wandered about the town for a few days, moaning in a low voice, and occasionally his body, which had usually been so calm, would tremble. He walked around watching the cruelties committed by the Germans and their local henchmen. Then he vanished and for a long time did not reappear—as though he had sniffed the presence of death.
When he finally returned, he was transformed by his cleanliness and his decent clothes, and he talked—in three languages, Ukrainian, Polish, and German, though best in Ukrainian. Instead of sweeping sidewalks, he now began to polish boots for German officers.
He continued to behave like a meek little lamb, except for the fact that he had acquired human speech and appearance. Yet his two new characteristics were distinguished by such natural gracefulness, that everyone began to suspect that he came from some extraordinary family.
Rumors also spread that Wasylcio somehow helped people threatened by the Nazis, and that he helped women exclusively; either because he pitied them as weaker creatures, or because he remembered that women had shown him pity instead of tormenting him as men had done. One night he came to Stella and told her that he would take her to the woods, to a hideout where she would be completely secure. His miraculous metamorphosis aroused her confidence: there was something sublime in it. Moreover, Stella had nothing to lose, and so she followed Wasylcio. The hideout was perfectly camouflaged and equipped, and protected against the elements. It turned out that Wasylcio had many such hiding places scattered in the woods. He had prepared them for himself, for his own protection against people, but at the same time he had foreseen the advent of terrible times, when the weak would have to hide from the cruelty of the strong, as he himself had hidden.
And now Stella found shelter in one of Wasylcio’s hideouts, and other women in others.
From remarks made by Wasylcio, Stella conjectured that he had emerged alive from some massacre during the First World War, in which everyone around him had been killed. His stupor had probably been the result of the shock caused by that incident; he himself had lost all memory of it.
For Stella, Wasylcio’s sudden rebirth, his sudden flowering amidst the general decline and degradation of man, was a revelation of a new faith. Wasylcio visited her only rarely, and each time he entered her den, she received him with almost religious reverence.
“You can surely guess to what consequences such a cult led in those circumstances,” Stella said in a whisper.
She began to have relations with Wasylcio; in the hideout this was the only possible form of ecstasy. Or was it gratitude? Or had she perhaps tried to attach him to her in this way, to secure his return?
Wasylcio was so subtle that he was almost absent in this love; Stella had been unaware each time of his part in the sexual act. Everything seemed to be done by her alone, it was like an intimate prayer. She was convinced that the women in the other hideouts had a similar relationship with Wasylcio; that all of them had wanted to repay him a debt, to attach him to themselves, as she had.
“Do you think that after Wasylcio I need someone to restore my faith in man?” Stella exclaimed, and she laughed like an amused child.
When Wasylcio was shot, Stella was in Germany as a slave laborer. One of Wasylcio’s hideouts had been tracked down by a police hound. He was not there, but the woman was taken into custody and had revealed under torture his other hideouts.
The town commandant found the whole thing delightful: Wasylcio, the fool, his shoeshine boy, had a harem in the woods! He handled the case personally, and personally shot Wasylcio.
First he had ordered Wasylcio dressed elegantly, and Wasylcio did this willingly. Then the commandant ordered all women of the nearest village to be assembled to witness the execution. Before the shots had been fired, Wasylcio bent, picked up a flower, and placed it behind his ear. The commandant shot him, and then photographed the body. After the Germans’ retreat the photograph had been discovered by Stella’s brother.
When Stella took back the picture that I had been holding while she told me her story, it suddenly seemed to me that the photograph of the dead Wasylcio was all that she had left as a woman: Wasylcio had been her last male—there was an expression of guilt in her eyes, as though she had devoured her last male.
I felt an unbearable tightening of the heart. “When are we going to marry?” I asked.
“We should not marry,” she said. “We mustn’t exaggerate, the fact that you are willing to marry me is enough.”
Stella and I had ceased to belong to the same tribe; more than that, I felt that I was not a man in her eyes, not even a living human being. In her eyes only those who had fought for their lives were alive, only they belonged to the human race.