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Only that, and just so! He didn't even catch the other woman's answer, if she made one at all. Firm, not caring where they were stepping and not avoiding the puddles in the road, both women walked hurriedly, as if marching, and Alimpije Markovic had caught in the moment only that fragment of a sentence that met his ear in an instant, just as their passing had caused a current of air to brush his face and his nose was assailed by the smell of garlic from the cheap sausages the women had eaten that morning in their homes, or along the way . . . in some canteen.Skip to next paragraph
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''Merciful heavens,'' Alimpije Markovic said to himself in his depressed, worried, and downcast mood, splashing through the mud puddles, already feeling his feet getting wet in his thin, worn-out shoes, ''Who can be so happy on a day like this, going to work early in the morning along deserted streets, with only an occasional chilled and rain-drenched pedestrian walking along, bowed under his cares, wanting to take shelter in a dry, warm room as soon as possible?'' And why, for what mysterious reason, would a woman like that, not young, not pretty, not rich or idle, be happy and satisfied? Even more than that, why would she be so very happy?
''For love?'' he asked himself, accustomed to judging a woman's happiness by newspaper stories and office chatter. He didn't think so. From what he had seen at a glimpse in passing, she hadn't given him that impression.
Even if she were married, it seemed, judging by her appearance, and her age, that she had been in wedlock too long for her union to be the cause of such happiness on her part. After all, Alimpije Markovic knew this for himself, by looking at himself and his own wife. Admittedly, he had no cause to complain about her, but she certainly gave him no reason to seek to unburden his feelings to others, and that in the street, on a morning such as this.
What was it, then? What was it about, and what had the woman been thinking of , saying what she did?
Suddenly, to his great wonder, that one single, isolated sentence, which he had heard in passing and with the flimsiest particle of his attention as the women were walking past him, came to embody and disclose so many unusual, secret , and fateful issues, as if, like some magic conjuration from a tale of the Orient, it had suddenly unfastened and drawn wide open the great doors of the heavenly, universal firmament, with all its endless, infinite, and incomprehensible reaches, with room for as many human destinies as there were heavenly bodies in the Milky Way in the summer. And what seems to us a simple whitish path in the night sky proves, when viewed through the narrow funnel of a telescope, to be a teeming multitude and indecipherable network of different, autonomous stars, as if we had peered into the seemingly uncomplicated life of someone else's inhabited rooms and discovered, to our surprise, the complex life of a family unknown to us.
And with all the cold, unpleasant damp that was increasingly gripping him, and his own troubles which weighed him down as he walked, bending his back - discovering in the words of that unknown woman passing by an intimation of the pleasant echo of distant silver sleigh bells, of happiness - he, Alimpije Markovic, felt how that accidentally intercepted sentence was beginning to excite and to warm him, lifting him from the numbness into which he had sunk, and from the dreariness of daily life.
If the woman had said she was unhappy, worried about her work or concerned about her daughter or son; if she had complained of her small salary, of the high prices at the market, or her shabby apartment, he would not have noticed her words.