An Excerpt from Zizkov

The evening sky was turning lavender as the light faded behind the buildings.

I was ready for work and I waited for Marco to take a shower so he could walk me to the Joyce. I was brushing my teeth in the kitchen sink and heard the large explosion from the water heater. “Shit!” I heard Marco yell. I spit into the sink and watched, mesmerized by my own spit and foam, as it spun and swirled into the drain.

I could hear Marco talking to himself in the bathroom. “What are you doing tonight that you are able to walk me into old town?” I yelled to him.

Marco stepped out of the shower room wrapped in a dingy grey towel with frayed edges. He rushed into his bedroom and shut the door. A few minutes later he opened the door and sat down on the side of his bed while pulling on a pair of boots. “I have to meet my Korean student for English lessons.”

“Oh right. Kim.”

“She better not fuckin stand me up again or I’m chargin extra.” He stood up and threw his bag over his shoulder. “Let’s go.”

We walked out of the kitchen shutting the door behind us. Francisco’s door was open. He was lying on his bed, wearing a tiny pair of blue and beige boxer shorts, and reading a book.

Marco stuck his head into the room. “Hey, you going out today?”

Francisco looked up from his book and glanced out the window behind him then back to his book. “When the sun goes down.” He said.

“A’ight. See ya.”

Marco led me to the Joyce. As we walked through the confusing streets he pointed out important landmarks: the strip club with the live sex shows; the alleyway with the crying gargoyles hanging over the rounded archway; all to help me find my way back home. We had arrived early, and I had time to walk with him to the place where he was to meet his Korean student. We walked up Wenceslas Square to the statue of St. Wenceslas sitting on his bronze horse frozen in a forward march. The great horse’s front hoof permanently poised to strike the earth. Standing at the top of the square, which was more like a long boulevard, I stared back down the hill toward the buildings that stood like a Titan’s army flanking both sides. My eyes followed the long street to the cluster of buildings at the base of the boulevard pass the green tree-covered hills and on to the pendulous soft lilac clouds in the distance.

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Everything was so old, so immense, so…so— resplendent. I had the sensation of standing on the edge of a diving board like an Olympic diver. I felt the impulse to raise my arms over my head and dive a perfect swan dive into the thin line of a pencil falling until the tips of my fingers broke through the green grassy hills and I disappeared into them without leaving a ripple. I felt my body heave a great sigh and my breath drop into my feet feeling the concrete beneath my rubber soled shoes, which reminded me that I was still standing under the shadow of St. Wenceslas, and his great metal horse. All these statues and monuments to the dead, the great men, the conquerors, and the leaders, dead so many year’s before my country was ever discovered by Europeans. What would have happened to someone as small as me? I knew nothing about St. Wenceslas except that he was murdered by his brother and cut into pieces, the stuff that inspired Shakespeare. I always learned the gory details before the history. The square was crowded with people taking pictures and pointing in various directions. Marco tugged at my shirt and we wandered down to the photos of the two students Jan Palach and Jan Zajic. They did not have a statue. My fingers traced over the dates of their deaths. I remembered reading about them when I was younger. Prague spring. I remember learning about the Prague spring, not in school, but from a movie. I had been in high school when the Berlin wall came down, but even then we never learned about the velvet revolution or the orange revolution. I learned about these revolutions from movies and then from my own curious research. I knew about these boys. They had set themselves on fire right where we were standing. It didn’t stop the tanks and no one was able to save them. To end the regime, to have freedom. That’s why they did it, but they weren’t carved into bronze. I stared down at the black and white faces of the young dead men. I didn’t know oppression; not real oppression. I was not willing to die for anything at this point in my life, to kill myself in protest. I hoped I would never have to feel what they felt. I wondered what they were like when they were little children. Tourists snapped photos of the photos, and then turned to take photos of the statue.

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“Can you imagine setting yourself on fire?” Marco asked standing beside me.

“No.” I said, without taking my eyes away from the Jans.

“I mean you gotta be certain that’s what you wanna do. Fire, kerosene, burning flesh, shiiiit. I’d be like, I changed my mind somebody throw some water on me. Somebody get a bucket.”

We walked back to the statue and sat on the steps beneath the hooves. Marco had told me this was the best place to meet anyone and that was why there were always so many people standing or sitting around the statue. Kim, his Korean student, was nowhere in sight.

I left him alone and grumbling about tardiness, and how much he was going to charge her. I had time to kill so I decided to walk over the Karlov Most and wander into Nove mestro. Hordes of people crossed the bridge daily. I knew it was best to avoid the bridge during spring break, but I couldn’t help myself; I had never walked over a 14th-century bridge before, in Prague anyway, and I wasn’t going to be deterred by a small crowd.

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I wasn’t able to make it to the other side. Between the tourists, the artisans, the buskers, the suits, and those just wandering around, it was impossible to walk in a straight line. I found a space between a craftsman selling jewelry and a woman selling photographs of the bridge. They were set up beside the statue of Christ hanging from a cross with statues of a kneeling Mary Magdalene and Virgin Mary on either side of him. It was too crowded to enjoy. I leaned far over the bridge to stare down into the dark water of the Vltava. A couple of jet skis shot out from under the bridge. They chased after the waves that were created by a large tour boat that carried people dressed in bright colors and flashing cameras that sparkled in the darkening purple sky. This was my Prague right now.

 

 

One of the very few photos of Jan Palach

One of the very few photos of Jan Palach (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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