A cross-eyed woman in a furry hat says something to me in Czech motioning at my table. I try smiling at her, which doesn’t get her to stop.
“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Czech,” I say in English, of course.
She continues to jabber away and I start to stand and pick up my things from off the table, which makes her say “Ne, ne, ne,” and walk away.
As I’m getting off the last daytime tram, before they switch to their night schedule and car numbers become fifties, I walk straight into a large group of young people. Literally a dozen wait their turn to file out of one door on an otherwise empty back car. I wait until they have all cleared out. As I cut across a street and a park, I notice the group is taking the long way to the same traffic light. Two girls walk far in front of the rest of the group.
“How’s it going,” I say when they get close.
“Good,” one says quickly, as if she were scared. Or maybe the girl just has bug eyes.
When the light changes I follow across the street, but slowly so the larger group will catch up. They are all speaking English.
“Hey are you guys from England?” I ask, and feel like a fucking idiot because I know my mistake as soon as I say it.
“No, Ireland,” one of the girls corrects me, but in a nice way.
We talk, and I find out they’re visiting a friend that is living here.
“What do you do?” she asks.
“I’m a drug dealer,” I say.
“Did I hear the D word?” someone in the back says, pushing forward.
They get excited and ask questions until I can explain to them that I was only joking. I’m not a drug dealer, just an English teacher, like everyone else. I learn that the boy who pushed forward is the friend they’re visiting. He’s a nice guy, and talkative, and only in the friendly way that isn’t confrontational. I keep talking with them as we walk down the street towards my flat. They stop about a block before mine, and I realize they are going to a flat party. We exchange some words as they wait to be let up, and as I expect they invite me to the party. I considering sleeping since I’m so close to home, but it’s an ERASMUS party so what choice do I have?
I do my best to blend into the group, which is difficult because I’m tall and have a different accent. But I keep the talking to a minimum and act like I belong. I get a few looks, but I do my best to ignore them.
I drink wine and talk about Chicago with a tall Irish guy.
“I had the best time of my life in Chicago,” he says.
“It’s a great city. I could live there again,” I say.
I realize as we finish the bottle of cheap white wine that, for the first time in a long time, I’m the only American. It’s fine and enjoyable, and really better than fine because the people are fun, and I laugh with them when they make fun of me. They seem to like that.
“My sister visited Canada and she would tell them she was from France and they wouldn’t say anything, and then when she started to say she was from Paris. ‘Oh Paris, I love Paris, isn’t France a city in Paris.’”
“No, you’re kidding,” I say, and try to be cute. “Maybe they thought she was French Canadian?”
I’m not even making sense, and thankfully her English isn’t strong enough to understand. After most of the people leave for Karlovy Lázně, the five story black hole of a club, we make out in a bedroom.
“I live just a block away,” I say.
She stops touching me when I say this. “I don’t go home with people on the first night,” she says, and starts to make for the door.
“Ok, ok,” I say, stopping her from leaving. “How about we go out this weekend?”
She seems happy at this, and we start kissing again. I sit on the bed and she straddles me. We make out hard with a lot of middle-school style above the clothes touching. It’s still enjoyable in that house party, drunk, boys getting their hands slapped away sort of way.
Eventually, the boy whose room it is interrupts us, and I’m thankful because I’m tired. She stays on top of my lap even with him in the room, and he starts to take pictures.
“Not on Facebook,” she says.
“Give me a kissing picture,” he says.
I pull her towards me. “Not on Facebook,” she says again. The boy nods and we kiss. He shows me the picture and I like it. It looks like those black and white photos of people kissing that were always taken in the 30s in Paris and New York.
“Don’t worry,” I say. “You can’t even see our faces.”
“Don’t put it on Facebook.”
“Your being bad,” the boy says to her.
She shrugs him away.
“She has a boyfriend,” he says.
“You have a boyfriend?”
“We have an open relationship,” she says.
The difference between Czech girls and Slovak girls on paper would appear to be marginal, but in reality almost all those cute girls you see walking down the street are Slovak. That’s not true, Czech girls are cute, but as far as striking, you can’t go wrong by assuming they’re Slovakian.
“Are you from Slovakia?” Followed by something like, “all the cute girls are from there,” is usually enough. The one thing to watch out for is their sense of style. It’s not that Czech girls have a great sense of style, but you will see some skater fashion mixed with tomboy low cut Chucks, which can be adorable enough. The Slovak girls tend to dress much more gender specific, which sounds like a good thing, but in reality doesn’t fit, because they’re not sexy like the Mediterranean women, or tall and elegantly beautiful like the Scando-Germans. They are just pure and simply- cute.
The plus with gender roles is that they all know how to cook, and their food is better than the Czechs.
I’m giving up drinking for a week. Well 5 days. The weekdays.
It’s not so hard except in the wine aisle at Tesco. I can partially rationalize only buying a small bottle of wine to have with dinner. ‘It’s better than buying a normal bottle.’ But I’m strong enough to resist it for the time being. I try to hit on two girls giving away Coke Zero. They don’t speak any English, and I’m just an embarrassment when I try to speak Czech.
The Coke makes me want wine again so I leave the store in a hurry. Outside I avoid what must be the most persistent beggar in Prague as I walk to the tram stop.
I hear banging coming from the next room. I make a mad dash for the bathroom. The washer must be on the spin cycle. I jump on top of the thing, using my weight to hold the bastard in place. Even with me trying to hold it the thing makes a terrific amount of noise, and I think about how the neighbors must love me.
With my feet resting on the rim of the tub I wait it out, and look around for something to do within arms length. The front of the washer, where the dials are, is mostly rubbed off so the first several times I did laundry it was trial and error: no, this one is boiling hot water; ok, no water now; forty minutes of spin cycle, perfect. I now for the most part have it memorized, so the whole experience really isn’t that bad except I can’t leave the house during the wash because the machine will literally run forward and crash itself into the plaster wall.
Once in awhile the door on the thing will open and I will have a nice little lake where my bathroom used to be. But if I kick the door shut hard enough it usually doesn’t give me any problems.
There’s an overwhelming smell of piss in the air. At first I thought it was the smell of the homeless, but it has gotten worse as I’ve left the coffee shop and moved into the metro. What the hell is that? Because of the wind the air is not as stagnant as usual, but the smell is foul, and much worse than the usual stale smell the train pushes toward you as it nears your station.
I board the metro and leave the smell behind after half a minute. I get off at Vyšehrad and breath deeply on the hill that looks over the city. But even here the air isn’t right. It doesn’t have the stench, but it doesn’t feel clean, not even recycled, just thick with something. Pollution maybe? My imagination?
Eventually she stopped me from calling him, her ‘boyfriend’.
“Don’t call him my boyfriend,” she said, as we were lying in bed naked.
“Sorry, sorry, former ERASMUS lover.” She wasn’t really upset, and she continued to stay close to me under the covers. I was getting sleepy, but she was wide-awake so I tried to continue talking with her. She must have noticed because she told me it was ok if I went to sleep, which I did almost instantly.
Roxy has no cover on Monday nights. I’ve never been there, even though an ex-girlfriend went all the time while we were dating. Several times I had been out front when literal clouds of smoke coming up the stairs and rolling into the street had made me reconsider. The place is bigger than it looks from the outside, and when I lead a group of fresh study-abroad students to the club I’m surprised. They have only been here for a week so they are amazed by everything, and more importantly do everything wrong. I don’t blame them, I was there, but I lose them quickly because they take forever.
In a corridor I notice three girls sitting alone. They don’t really look Czech, it’s not so much their faces, but more their clothes. I try to get one of the students to come talk to them with me, but he gets embarrassed and leaves me when I get close. I talk to one that has short hair like a boy, she is cute though, and I like her grey dress. She tells me they’re from Denmark, and all from the same school.
“Hootie?” I say, when she tells me her name. That can’t be right.
“Well…” she tells me her real Danish name, which I don’t even catch a fraction of, “but yeah, everyone just calls me Hootie.”
While we talk she smiles a lot and she is easy to talk with. One of the girls sitting with her is a cute blonde that reminds me of someone. More of her friends come by.
“There’s a lot of you here, you‘re all in the same university?”
“Yeah, there is about twenty of us from my high school.”
“What?” I say immediately. I’m shocked that she’s in high school, and also by the fact that she actually used the phrase “high school”. She must be the first European to call it that.
“How old are you?” I ask without any subtly. I can tell my head is tilted to the side and my eyebrows raised.
“Eighteen,” she answers without any questions of her own. She has to know why I’m asking, and seems not to mind.
She explains to me how high school works in Denmark: they have an extra year compared to us, thirteen grades. ‘Ok,’ I tell myself, ‘so she’s like a freshman in college.’ That makes me feel better.
Hootie excuses herself for the bathrooms and I find some of the abroad students. They’re wasted. One of the girls is touching me, asking the same questions over and over again. ‘Wait, so you’re Simon?’ I slip away from her, and get a drink. The Danish girls find me close to the bar. The blonde girl from the bench is named Katherine, and she’s acidly funny. I tell them I’m part Danish, which is true, and then lie for no reason about having been to Copenhagen.
We walk to the club floor and a tall, pretty, Danish redhead starts to talk to me. We all dance in a circle, spread apart from each other, because that’s how they dance on the continent. The redhead continues to talk to me as we dance, and after about a half hour we are making out. I’m still trying to dance, but it doesn’t really work, and I’m stepping on her feet and tripping on strangers. She asks me if I want to leave and we run out of the club without saying goodbyes. We take a taxi to my flat, which she has to pay for because I realize I’m out of money.
In the morning I walk her back to the hostel she’s staying at. Hootie and Katherine are downstairs with bottles of water getting ready to go explore the city. I say ‘hi’, talk to them for awhile, and then exchange numbers with the redhead and kiss goodbye. I stop on the way home for a coffee and a bagel, and watch the people in the cafe plan their days on maps of the city.
I’m waiting in front of the KFC at I. P. Pavlova for an Italian girl I met at Vagon. I’m surprised because I haven’t received a text from the Danish girl from Roxy.
Vagon is a bar close to Nardoni Trida. It’s big, has no cover, cheap beer, and a lot of students. The negatives are that it’s disgusting, standing water in the bathroom, everything sticks, and ugly shirtless people make out on the dance floor. But you come to expect that and it doesn’t detract.
I made my attraction obvious when I met the little Italian, picking up a chair and setting it beside her. Earlier in the night I had crashed and burned when I hit on a Czech girl who had a cute face but fat legs. She wanted nothing to do with me, and turned to talk with her Czech friends who had horrible haircuts. As I was walking away, I did manage to snag a hundred Korunas sitting in a glass at the edge of the table. But with the Italian it went better. We got along well, and when the bar closed I walked her to the metro, and we kissed for awhile before saying goodbye.
As I stand here the thought goes through my mind, maybe she will be late? Aren’t Italians supposed to be late? Did I just generalize an entire people? So what, I do it all the time.
I step inside the KFC to get out of the cold. A few minutes later I see her walk by.
“Hi,” I say as I step outside. I surprise her a little.
“Were you eating in there?” She asks, and I can tell she would be disgusted if I had.
“No, no, just waiting.” I tell her how I was unsure if she would be late, and she finds it funny.
“It’s true, we can be late. I try really hard to be on time.”
We walk to a bar that’s close by. They have Stella on tap, which is refreshing because I’m sick of Czech beer. We talk there for a few hours, and it’s easy and there aren’t any breaks. I feel my phone vibrate in my pocket and I go to the restroom. It’s the Danish girl telling me that this is her last night in the city and that they are getting ready to go out. At the end she puts her name- ‘Sina.’ The entire night I thought she was saying ‘Xena’. I had avoided saying her name, because I couldn’t bring myself to call someone ‘Xena.’
I write her that I will meet her at whatever club they decide to go to, but shortly after it becomes clear that I won’t meet Sina tonight.