The man from Praha

ales

The Czechoslovakian dream boat who taught me the power of silence.

It was to be a drunken night, that first moment I laid eyes on him.

I was staying in one of Prague’s wildest hostels while hunting down my first teaching gig, an old gymnasium housing 60 bunk beds that lodged young internationals wanting to experience the Bohemian city. I had to sleep on my suitcase because there were no lockers to store anything larger than small valuables. Getting a good night’s sleep was also unreasonable. I recall one evening when I endured an intoxicated pair propping themselves up against my bed post, slobbering all over each other mere inches away from my sleep-feigned face. They graduated to humping in the bed below mine, jarring me and the entire bunk for as long as it would logically take two wasted people to reach a sloppy climax.

The place reeked of hangover. It was an adventure, I kept telling myself.

But it was worth it. One Friday evening after a week of job searching, I sat in the hostel bar with two very drunk Italians who thought it a funny idea to take a disco flyer they’d produced from a nearby table and catch it on fire. They didn’t understand a word I said, nor did I understand a word of their slurred Italian.

And then there he was, sitting gracefully at the far end of a corner table. His friends chatted while he soberly looked on as if he didn’t belong on the scene, or on Earth, for that matter. He looked like an elongated elf, well over six feet tall, stick-thin and with the cheek bones a man-angel.

I conspicuously watched him for about an hour, drinking myself into a stupor so as to courageously approach him. I finally pulled up a chair and proceeded to ramble, and thankfully he welcomed my company with a coy smile, revealing a row of perfect teeth. I mean, they were the most perfect teeth I’d ever seen. Who knows what sort of idiotic conversation I was trying to engage him in, but in the end it didn’t matter because after about ten minutes, he smiled and said simply:

“Sorry, I don’t speak English, and I don’t understand you.”

DOH. Was that not exactly why I’d come to this city, to teach its gorgeous inhabitants the English language? I felt entirely silly despite the super women cape I had donned hours earlier. I tried to recover by mustering the few Czech phrases I knew:

“To je škoda. Mluvim jenom trochu česky.”

What a pity. I only speak a little Czech. To be precise, I spoke only two phrases, and they would be the ones I’d just tripped over in the presence of this stunning man. What is one to do when one meets the most beautiful man who ever existed, and there are no words?

The evening carried on with me chatting with his female friend who did speak some English, and he opened up further with every beer. He eventually got up to leave, and at the last minute, I scrambled after his friend to give her my number. As I rattled out my digits, he spouted random numbers into the night air – IN ENGLISH.

“Ah, so you can count in English!!!” There was hope yet.

The next morning was a Saturday, and I took a stroll through my new city, trying not to think too much of the previous evening’s encounter. Later that afternoon, I joined up with a few Swedish hippies, and we ended up discussing Bush’s “Shock and Awe” campaign launched after September 11. It was 2003, and it was definitely not the greatest time for an American to be venturing abroad, especially a squeaky clean white girl who’d never experienced a shred of discrimination.

It was decidedly an un-fun conversation. I was feeling ill-equipped and down-trodden, when low and behold, there the tall elfin man appeared. He walked straight toward me with a determination that I could only recognize as a good thing, and I smiled under my eyelashes, each quantum particle of my being squealing with delight. I didn’t care if he didn’t speak English. This man was smokin’ hot, and words were suddenly irrelevant. We could teach each other a great many things, namely the power of non-verbal communication.

We went to a nearby park, and we stood under a tree as it began to rain. He gripped a low branch and looked down at me with a subtle smile I’ll never forget. I swore he wanted to kiss me, but we were both too shy to do anything. We went to a little pub a few days later, got drunk and ended up back at his house to practice further the few Czech words I knew and the few more English words he knew.

The next morning, I freaked. I put on my dress and sneaked down the the spiral staircase of his flat complex, letting the door to the court yard latch behind me. I walked to the front door of the complex, pulled down on the handle to release myself into the city, only to realize that Czechs lock doors from the inside. Waaaaaaah….

I therefore found myself locked in this man’s courtyard at six in the morning; a cold, concrete area with nary a soft spot to perch upon. I had his number, but I was not about to call him and admit that I’d run away in horror of realizing that I’d slept with a man after exchanging 50 words at best. I resolved to wait for a neighbor to wake up, and when I heard the first morning alarm through an open window, I heaved a sigh of relief.

We spent the next two years falling in love, much of it in utter silence. He taught me how to shut up and just be, and I taught him English. He was a saxophone player and a lover of his city’s underground scene, and he would drag me along to places where no international dared to creep. On more social evenings, I would sit through hours of him and his friends wildly debating in Czech while chain smoking, one lighting up just as the other would smother a cigarette butt out. I met his Czech father and his Slovak mother and his little brother who would steal his weed. We shared our secrets and fought as couples do.

I was a pauper in that time, barely getting by on my teaching salary, riding the subway black and sometimes sustaining myself solely on bananas and rohlíky. It was a time of dark adventure, and Aleš was my sort of dark knight, a introverted soul that held my hand through a time of deep culture shock. I was young, and he was young, and we loved each other just as the days fell upon us. He once told me that when he first saw me, he didn’t think I was very pretty, but after ten minutes of my rambling, he thought I was beautiful.

We still see each other now and again. I try to get back to Prague every other year or so, and just recently he met me in Amsterdam while on a break from a work conference. We went to a pub and just drank together, talking about those things that adults talk about. He took some pictures of me at a near by monument like he used to do, and we laughed together, all the while knowing that at one time in our younger lives, we opened to each other completely.

11 comments

  1. This was so nice that it could have almost been the start to a magnificent novel.

  2. Oh my gosh. I recently wrote a post about being on the bottom bunk of a hostel-love-making-session and I was kind of surprised that no one could relate to my story… but here you are, I have found you.

    Also, I love your writing style and this story. I was in Prague a few years back but it was with a large pack of friends so I didn’t have the opportunity to sneak away for any trysts 😉

    • Hahaha maybe we should form a virtual support group, surely we are not alone! Yeah, Prague is gorgeous, maybe next time it will bring you a different kind of adventure? 😉 And thanks so much for the compliment, I am happy to have entertained you with my love story!

  3. This is marvelous. It always moves me when people recall past loves with fondness for the story, instead of just bitterness at how it ended.

  4. Ahhh, that’s my dream to teach English in a foreign country! I was actually looking into the Hello Academies program that teaches a 4-week TEFL course in Prague – are you still teaching abroad?

    • I’m not, but you should totally do it. Opened up my world. Just be careful not to stay away too long, as you might just never go back. 😉 I’ve been in europe for nearly 13 years with no end in sight. I miss home, but I LOVE europe – it suits me. Anyway, prague is still a great place to get your sea legs in teaching – i say go for it!

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