I left home at seventeen, and before that books and the occasional movie were what I had used to travel outside of my insular hometown. All that was ever expected of me was that I’d stay put, have a family, and go to church. I was disappointed. I did not want that to be my life. In my heart that life was stifling. I didn’t know what to do with my life, but remaining in small town America was not on my bucket-list. I wanted more out of life, but I was never sure of the definition of the word more. I wanted something to happen to me. Something great that changed my perspective of my place in the world. Years and countries later I was still wondering what it was that was supposed to happen. I did not know how to distill life to its finest points. Somehow I had missed out on the joy of the discovery of place. I was one of those lost wanders; there was no Tolkien in my soul.
Marco got it. The big ephemeral IT. Marco loved his life in every tiny detail. Good or bad he was grateful. He was the person that suggested I move to Prague. He was already settled into the city after only being there for a few months. He was my European brother even though he was also an American. We had met traveling; in fact, he was the first person I met in Europe, and we clicked.
I made it back to the corner where the Americans had left me. I had been wandering back and forth on Bořivojova and did not see anything that looked like a bar or a hostel. Old-stone-ancient residential apartments lined the street. It wasn’t a lively area with bars and people milling about looking for nightlife. And there certainly wasn’t a blaring sign for a bar called Feste’s.
I turned and was startled by a guy who suddenly appeared on the street next to me as if he had just materialized from the buildings.
“Have you heard of Feste’s? Do you know where it is?” I asked without hesitation forgetting the possibility that he might’n speak English.
He pointed to a wooden sign hanging directly over my head and then walked away.
The sign was hanging from two thin chains attached to each top corner. It stuck out like a flag and hung over a rusted brown metal door. Painted on the wood was the pensive face of a cartoon minstrel and the name Feste’s. I noticed a large window by my feet. I kneeled down to peek inside. It was dimly lit, but I could make out some of the décor. There didn’t appear to be anyone in the place. Several chairs and a bar filled the space at the far end of the room, which looked like an old wine cellar with the walls painted white. Directly beneath the window where I was standing, I could see a red couch with a scalloped back like the top half of a valentine’s heart next to another small green couch that was long and rectangular. They both looked antique and worn. If I wanted to I could push the window open and slip down onto the green couch without much of an effort. I pulled myself to my feet, and pushed the heavy door open, and walked down a short half-spiral staircase.
I with an abrupt jolt I stopped on the bottom step. Sitting with his back to me was Marco. The rich dark brown skin of his neck wrinkled slightly as he turned his head as though he were listening to someone. It had been over a year since I had last seen him. His hair was shaved close to his round head. He liked to change his hair color often. I never knew if it would be blonde or blue or his natural ebony. This was the most conservative style I had seen so far. I watched his black fingers flick in dramatic gestures as he spoke to an albino woman with braided hair. His movements were fluid like a dance. He loved to dance to the music that seemed to always be playing in his head. If he found a situation to be too dramatic or boring he would mentally check out and slip into a music trance, but most of the time he was rapidly engaged in the moment telling some story or instigating some great plan.
He laughed loud and deep at something the woman had said then reached for his beer. His fingers curled around the glass, the condensation breaking and running like tears, leaving a ring of water on the wood.
His laugh was comforting, Falstaffian, and deep like he had the laughing Buddha in his belly. I felt at ease just listening to him. Marco had always been my anchor. Something in his composure lightened my anxieties and moods. I believed he had this effect on most people he met.
The albino woman was dressed from head to toe in pale blues with a large butterfly pendent hanging from her neck. She noticed me standing on the stairwell holding onto my bags. Her white lashes fluttered toward me. She examined me for a second, and then, with moderate disinterest, looked back to Marco.
I didn’t know exactly how to start the conversation: Hi I’m not dead. Sorry I stood you up two weeks ago. I took a deep breath.
“I hope you are not mad at me,” I said.
Marco set his drink down. The glass made a loud thump against the table. He turned his body around to look at me. He stared at me with a blank hard look. His dark eyes darted in a single upward movement. He pursed his lips, shook his head, and turned back to his drink. I tugged at the daypack I held in my limp grasp. I wasn’t sure if he was really upset. He never took anything too seriously, and was preternaturally easy going, but I hadn’t called, no word, not one message. I think I would be pissed if my friend stood me up at the station. I looked to the albino woman who gave me another once over. She had no interest in my affairs.
“You are dead. Oh you’re dead.” He said this without looking at me, then turned in his chair to face me, and shook his head once again. His face was stern and serious, “You’re fuckin’ dead,” he said and then clapping his hands together he gave out a hearty laugh, and smiled a huge grin that showed off his white teeth. He sprang to his feet to pull me into his arms.
“Where you been? We were just talkin’ about you,” he gestured to the albino woman. “Here take your things off.”
He reached for my pack, and gently jerked my shoulders as he slipped the straps down my arms.
“Put ‘em in that corner over there.” He pointed to a spot behind a registration table nestled under the stairs. I dragged my bags to the corner then I took off my jacket and placed it over the back of a chair.
“Annabelle,” he said putting his hand on my back and gesturing to the girl with his other hand, “this is Rachele. Annabelle’s the friend I was telling you about.” He said to Rachele. She gave a slight nod then took a drink of her beer.
“You wanna beer?” he asked, as he came in to peck me on the cheek.
“Sure.” I said and he left me alone with Rachele as he headed to the bar that was in the other room.