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The night in Lisbon

Erich Maria Remarque














  Sale of this book without a front cover may be unauthorized.

  If this book is coverless, it may have been reported to the publisher as

  "unsold or destroyed" and neither the author nor the publisher may

  have received payment for it.

  A Fawcett Columbine Book

  Published by The Ballantine Publishing Group

  Copyright © 1961, 1964 by Erich Maria Remarque

  Copyright renewed 1989 by Paulette Goddard Remarque

  Copyright renewed 1992 by Richard L. Kay and S. Andrew Schaffer

  All rights reserved under International and Pan-American

  Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by The

  Ballantine Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.,

  New York, and distributed in Canada by Random House of Canada

  Limited, Toronto. This translation was originally published by

  Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., in 1964.

  Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 98-96092

  ISBN: 0-449-91243-4

  Cover design by Ruth Ross

  Manufactured in the United States of America


  To Paulette Remarque


  I stared at the ship. Glaringly lighted, it lay at anchor in the Tagus. Though I had been in Lisbon for a week, I hadn't yet got used to its carefree illumination. In the countries I had come from, the cities at night were black as coal mines, and a lantern in the darkness was more to be feared than the plague in the Middle Ages. I had come from twentieth-century Europe.

  The ship was a passenger vessel; it was being loaded. I knew it was going to sail the next afternoon. In the harsh glow of the naked light bulbs, crates of meat, fish, canned goods, bread, and vegetables were being lowered into the hold; stevedores were carrying baggage on board, lifting up crates and bales as silently as if they had been weightless. The ship was being made ready for a voyage—like the ark in the days of the flood. It was an ark. Every ship that left Europe in those months of the year 1942 was an ark. Mount Ararat was America, and the flood waters were rising higher by the day. Long ago they had engulfed Germany and Austria, now they stood deep in Poland and Prague; Amsterdam, Brussels, Copenhagen, Oslo, and Paris had gone under, the cities of Italy stank of seepage, and Spain, too, was no longer safe. The coast of Portugal had become the last hope of the fugitives to whom justice, freedom, and tolerance meant more than home and livelihood. This was the gate to America. If you couldn't reach it, you were lost, condemned to bleed away in a jungle of consulates, police stations, and government offices, where visas were refused and work and residence permits unobtainable, a jungle of internment camps, bureaucratic red tape, loneliness, homesickness, and withering universal indifference. As usual in times of war, fear, and affliction, the individual human being had ceased to exist; only one thing counted: a valid passport.

  That afternoon I had gone to the Casino Estoril to gamble. I still owned a good suit, and they had let me in. It was a last, desperate effort to blackmail fate. Our Portuguese residence permit would expire in a few days, and Ruth and I had no other visas. We had made our plans in France and drawn up a list of possible sailings for New York. This ship anchored in the Tagus had been the last on our list. But it was sold out for months; we had no American visas, and we were more than three hundred dollars short of the fare. I had tried to raise the money at least, in the only way still possible for a foreigner in Lisbon—by gambling. An absurd idea, for even if I had won, it would have taken a miracle to get us aboard. But in danger and despair you acquire a faith in miracles; without it you would go under.

  I had lost fifty-six of the sixty-two dollars we still had left.

  It was late at night and the quayside was almost deserted. But after a while, I became aware of a man not far off. First he paced aimlessly about, then he stopped and he, too, began to stare at the ship. Another stranded refugee, I thought, and took no further notice of him, until I felt that he was watching me. A refugee never loses his fear of the police, not even when he is asleep or when there is nothing to be afraid of— so I turned away with an affectation of bored indifference and started to leave the pier, slowly, like a man who has no ground for fear.

  A moment later I heard steps behind me. I kept on walking but without hastening my step, wondering how I could let Ruth know if I were arrested. The pastel-tinted houses at the end of the pier, asleep like butterflies in the night, were still too far away to make a run for it and disappear in the tangle of narrow streets.

  Now the man was beside me. He was a little shorter than I. "Are you a German?" he asked in German.

  I shook my head and kept on walking.


  I did not answer. I looked at the pastel-tinted houses, which were approaching much too slowly. I knew there were Portuguese policemen who spoke German very well.

  "I'm not a policeman," the man said.

  I didn't believe him. He was wearing civilian clothes, but plain-clothes men had arrested me half a dozen times in Europe. I had papers, not a bad job, done in Paris by a mathematics teacher from Prague, but they wouldn't have stood close scrutiny.

  "I saw you looking at the ship," the man said. "That made me wonder . . ."

  I mustered him with indifference. He didn't really look like a policeman, but the last plain-clothes man, who had nabbed me in Bordeaux, had looked as pathetic as Lazarus after three days in his grave, and he had been the most heartless of the lot. He had pulled me in even though he knew the Germans would be in Bordeaux next day, and it would have been all up with me if a kindly warden hadn't let me out a few hours later.

  "Do you want to go to New York?" the man asked.

  I did not reply. Twenty yards more would do it; then, if necessary, I could knock him down and run for it.

  "Here," said the man, reaching into his pocket, "are two tickets for that boat."

  I saw the tickets. I couldn't read the writing in the feeble light. But we had covered enough ground. It was safe to stop now.

  "What is all this?" I asked him in Portuguese. I had learned a few words of the language.

  "You can have them," said the man. "I don't need them."

  "You don't need them? What do you mean?"

  "I don't need them any more."

  I stared at the man. I couldn't understand. He really didn't seem to be a policeman. If he had wanted to arrest me, he could have done so without these fancy tricks. But if the tickets were good, why couldn't he use them? And why did he offer them to me? Something began to tremble inside me.

  "I can't buy them," I said finally in German. "They're worth a fortune. There are wealthy refugees in Lisbon; they'll pay anything you ask. You've come to the wrong man. I haven't any money."

  "I don't want to sell them," said the man.

  I looked back at the tickets. "Are they real?"

  He handed them to me without a word. They crackled between my fingers. They were genuine. Possession of them was the difference between ruin and salvation. Even if I couldn't use them without American visas, I could still try next morning to get visas on the strength of them—or at least I could sell them. That would mean six months' more survival.

  "I don't
understand," I said.

  "You can have them," he replied. "For nothing. I'm leaving Lisbon tomorrow morning. There's only one condition."

  My arms sagged. I knew it was too good to be true. "What is it?" I asked.

  "I don't want to be alone tonight."

  "You want me to stay with you?"

  "Yes. Until morning."

  "That's all?"

  "That's all."

  "Nothing else?"

  "Nothing else."

  I looked at him incredulously. I knew, of course, that people in our situation could go to pieces; that solitude was sometimes unbearable. I knew this dread of the void that attacks people whose world has become a void, and I knew that the company even of a total stranger could save a man from suicide. But in such cases people helped each other as a matter of course; there was no need to offer a reward. And not such a reward! "Where do you live?" I asked.

  He made a negative gesture. "I don't want to go there. Isn't there a bar that's still open?"

  "There must be."

  "Isn't there a place that caters to refugees? Like the Café de la Rose in Paris?"

  I knew the Café de la Rose. Ruth and I had slept there for two weeks. The patron would let you stay as long as you pleased for the price of a cup of coffee. You spread out some newspapers and lay down on the floor. I had never slept on tables; you can't fall off the floor.

  "I don't know of any," I replied. This was not true, but you don't take a man with two boat tickets to give away to a place frequented by people who would have sold their souls to get hold of them.

  "I only know one place," said the man. "We can try it. Maybe it's still open."

  He motioned to a solitary cab and looked at me.

  "All right," I said.

  We got in, and he gave the driver an address. I'd have liked to let Ruth know that I wouldn't be home that night; but as I entered the dark, foul-smelling cab I was assailed by so

  furious, so terrible a hope that my head almost reeled. Maybe all this was really true; maybe our lives were not at an end and the impossible was happening; maybe we were going to be saved. Once this thought had entered my head, I was afraid to leave this stranger out of sight for so much as a second.

  We circled round the theatrical-looking Praça do Comércio and after a time came to a tangle of sloping alleys and stairways. I did not know this part of Lisbon; as usual, I was chiefly acquainted with the churches and museums—not that I was so much in love with God or art, but simply because in churches and museums no one asks for your papers. In the presence of Christ crucified and the great masters, you were still a human being—not an individual with dubious papers.

  We left the cab and continued up the stairways and crooked streets. There was a smell of fish, garlic, night flowers, dead sunshine, and sleep. Under the rising moon, the St. George Castle rose up out of the night to one side, and the moonlight cascaded down the stairways. I turned around and looked down at the harbor. Down there lay the river, and the river was freedom and life; it flowed into the ocean, and the ocean was America.

  I stopped still. "I hope you aren't playing tricks on me," I said.

  "No," said the man.

  "With the tickets, I mean." He had put them back into his pocket on the pier.

  "No," said the man. "I'm not playing tricks." He pointed to a little square framed in trees. "That's the place I mean. It's still open. We won't attract attention. Almost all the customers are foreigners. They'll think we're leaving tomorrow and that we're celebrating our last night in Portugal before taking the boat."

  The place was a kind of late restaurant with a small dance floor and a terrace, made to order for the tourist trade. Someone was playing a guitar, and in the background a girl was singing a fado. On the terrace several of the tables were occupied by foreigners. There was a woman in evening dress and a man in a white dinner jacket. We found a table at the end of the terrace. You could look down at Lisbon, at the churches in the pale light, the streets, the harbor, the piers, and the ship that was an ark.

  "Do you believe in survival after death?" asked the man with the tickets.

  I looked up. I had expected anything but that. "I don't know," I said finally. "In the last few years I've been too busy worrying about survival before death. I'll think about it when I'm in America," I added, to remind him of the steamer tickets he had promised me.

  "I don't," he said.

  I sighed with relief. I was prepared to listen to anything, but I couldn't have stood a discussion. I was too restless. Down there lay the ship.

  The man sat there for a time as though sleeping with his eyes open. Then when the guitar player came out on the terrace, he woke up. "My name is Schwarz," he said. "That's not my real name; it's the name on my passport. But I've got used to it. It will do for tonight. Were you in France long?"

  "As long as they let me stay."


  "When the war broke out. Like everyone else."

  The man nodded. "So were we. I was happy," he said quickly and softly, with bowed head and eyes averted. "I was very happy. Happier than I had ever thought I could be."

  I turned around in surprise. He really didn't look like a man who would talk like that. He seemed rather nondescript and retiring.

  "When?" I asked. "In the camp?"

  "No. Before."

  "In 1939? In France?"

  "Yes. The summer before the war. I still don't understand how it all came about. That's why I have to talk to somebody now. I don't know anyone here. But if I tell somebody about it, it will come back to me. It will become clear in my mind. And it will stay. I simply have to. . . ." He broke off. "Do you understand?" he asked after a while.

  "Yes," I said. "It's not hard to understand, Mr. Schwarz."

  "It's impossible to understand!" he replied with sudden violence. "She's lying down there in a room with closed windows, in a hideous wooden coffin; she's dead, she doesn't exist any more! Who can understand that? No one! Not you. and not I, no one, and anyone who says he understands is a liar!"

  I said nothing and waited. I had often sat with a man in a similar situation. Losses were harder to bear when you had no country of your own. There was nothing to sustain you, and the strange country became so terribly strange. I had been through it myself in Switzerland when I received the news that my parents had been killed and cremated in a concentration camp. The thought of my mother's eyes in the fire of the crematorium had haunted me. "I assume," said Schwarz more calmly, "that you know what refugee jitters are."

  I nodded. A waiter brought us a bowl full of shrimp. I suddenly realized that I was very hungry and remembered that I hadn't eaten since lunchtime. I looked hesitantly across, at Schwarz. "Go ahead and eat," he said. "I'll wait."

  He ordered wine and cigarettes. I ate quickly. The shrimp were fresh and well seasoned. "Forgive me," I said, "but I'm very hungry."

  I watched Schwarz while I ate. He sat there calmly, looking down at the great stage-set called Lisbon, and showing no sign of impatience or irritation. It gave me a kind of affection for him. He seemed to realize that whatever the book of etiquette might say on the subject, a man could be hungry even in the presence of unhappiness without being unfeeling. If there's nothing you can do to help, you might just as well eat your food before it's taken away from you. Because that can happen any time.

  I pushed the dish aside and took a cigarette. It was a long time since I had smoked. I had gone without in order to have a little more to gamble with.

  "The jitters got into me in the spring of '39," said Schwarz. "I'd been a refugee for more than five years. Where were you in the fall of'38?"

  "In Paris."

  "So was I. I had given up. It was just before the Munich Pact. My fear had exhausted itself. I still hid and took precautions out of habit, but I had given up. There would be war and the Germans would come and get me. That was my fate. I was resigned to it."

  I nodded. "That was the time of the suicide wave. It was a curious thing:
when the Germans really came a year and a half later, there were fewer suicides."

  "Then came the Munich Pact," said Schwarz. "That fall we won a new lease on life. Life was so sweet, so light, that we got careless. The chestnut trees actually blossomed a second time that year in Paris, do you remember? It went to my head; I began to feel human again, and, what was worse, to act human. So the police caught me and locked me up for four weeks for repeated unauthorized entry. It was the old game all over again: they pushed me across the border at Basel, the Swiss sent me back, the French sent me across at another place, I was locked up again—you know the routine, this game of chess with human . . ."

  "I know. It was no joke in the wintertime. The Swiss prisons were the best. Heated like hotels."