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Radishes drawing


In my vegetarian days I studied in the Czech Republic. This was shortly after the collapse of Communism, and vegetarianism was almost unheard of, regarded more as a physical malady than a dietary choice.

One day my professor invited me to a feast he was hosting, to which a visiting theatre company and our own colleagues from Theatre DRAK were also invited. His house was in a small village on the outskirts of the town Pardubice.

The feast was a zabiacka, a celebratory pig slaughtering. There were about 20 people gathered, a truckload of good, Czech pilsner; and of course the slaughtered pig. It had been prepared into no less than 15 courses by the local retired butcher. He'd made the many kinds of sausages, prepared the cured items, and boiled those things which needed boiling. The first course was a soup made with the pig's blood. There were other courses which involved the cheeks of the pig's head, and some which drew heavily on the theme of offal.

It was the stuff of nightmares for a vegetarian, and so I sat happily eating pieces of dry bread (the Czechs make excellent rye sourdough), and compensating with lots of beer. Things were progressing very merrily indeed, and around the eighth course there was a polite knock on the door. My professor jumped up to welcome in the butcher himself. More beer, lots of toasting and exclamations of gratitude, satisfaction and delight. Until the butcher's eyes fell upon the pristine expanse of the plate in front of me, with its few crumbs of sourdough clinging pathetically to the rim. I squirmed with embarrassment.

His first reaction was one of concern. Was there something wrong with the sausages? Or perhaps the liver? Were the trotters or hocks not sufficiently jellied? His face paled. Was I ill? A silence fell over the feast. My heart thumped. I explained that I did not eat meat. The silence deepened. There was a nervous cough here or there. People whispered. The butcher rose, silently, nodded slowly and backed towards the door. I wished for the ground to open up and swallow me. It was awful.

The meal continued, albeit with a more subdued tone. My heart was sinking with every moment. I had ruined the whole thing, and eternally offended the much-loved village butcher.

Suddenly, the door was flung open. The butcher had returned! He had brought his wife. He had come to deliver salvation. He strode towards me and opened his arms, tumbling an almighty pile of radishes, freshly pulled from the ground of his garden, onto my plate. He was beaming. His wife was beaming. More beer was poured. People burst into song. There were toasts. I burst with animated gratitude. In my fledgling Czech I tried to conjure an abundance of thanks. More beer was poured.

I could end the story there. But I need to add that I hate radishes. I have always hated radishes. But in that moment, I ate every single one of the damn things from my plate, and even nibbled the greenery.

Zoë Zmitkova

Radishes drawing