When I got to the front there were already beers poured and lined up on the bar. The bartenders were pouring them out assembly style. I got nervous and sort of grunted out a mish mash of sounds while holding up two fingers, but it was so loud I don’t think the bartender heard me anyway. He pushed the beers forward then asked for crowns. I hadn’t thought about money. I’d been so panicked about talking I forgot I had to pay. I had no idea what was what. I pulled out a bill hoping it would be enough, but not too much. The bartender slammed the change in my hand before I knew the bill was gone. I slipped the coins into my pocket, grabbed the two beers, and rushed out to meet Marco at one of the exit ways. I would have to ask him to explain the currency. We stepped out onto a patio with people in nice spring attire, dressed in white and peach colors, crisp clean businessmen and women having a drink after work, the gatherings of friends, people laughing, and smoking. Each round table was full each ornate metal garden chair taken.
“Where are we going to sit?” I asked.
“Just follow me.” Said Marco as he walked off the patio into the park area.
Not too far from the restaurant, under a canopy of trees, several wooden picnic tables were set out. Next to the picnic area there was a large sandbox with children playing. Groups of punks, teenagers, and working-class folk met around the tables, sitting, talking, and drinking beers. People were dressed in blacks and browns. There were flashes of red, bright blue or green hair color that was dirty, gritty, and unkempt. Mullets or shaved heads with one or two long multi-colored dread lock hanging from the back of the head were popular with the park’s occupants, as were pierced lips, multiple earrings, plugs, nose piercing, and homemade body adornments.
We found an open table under a tree and sat. We prosted to one another then hit the top of the table with the bottom of our pint glasses before taking a drink, something we had learned as a custom in drinking while living in Germany.
“This is really nice.” I said almost sighing. The air was warm and the mood felt relaxed. There was a sense of ease that settled under the blue sky.
“Ya, we come here a lot.” He said. “God I can’t wait till school’s out and I can just have a beer at eleven in the afternoon under a tree all blissful an’ shit. Of course I probably won’t get here till four in the afternoon cause I didn’t get my ass home till six or seven in the morning.”
“It’s really that crazy here?” I asked before taking another drink.
“Oh it’s been mellow since you been here.”
“I’ve only been here a day.” I said.
“I know. Mellow.” He looked around at the various people talking and the kids playing in the sand then picked up his beer, but set it down before taking a drink. “It’s just all the kids have left because everyone was fuckin broke, but they’ll be back. They just had to leave for a while for different reasons. Many folks come flying through, you know that. It can be hard sometimes with people always leaving, but that’s life, right? But, some come back and call it home. Lots say they will, but don’t and you never hear from them again.”
I couldn’t tell if this revolving door of friendships and relationships bothered him or if he really accepted it just as it was. He seemed to have drifted somewhere inside himself as he was speaking to me. It occurred to me that although Marco moved around he wasn’t drifting or wandering blankly from place to place. He tended to stay settled in an area for a longer period of time, and really got to know people, and really got to know a place. I wondered if it was hard to watch all the people come and go. People just passing, and he opened his life to so many of them with open full arms offering them a chance to stay. How many did stay? How many times did I leave? I never knew what I was going to do. Either I’d stay because I felt stuck and then later I’d feel trapped or I’d take off because a place didn’t feel right, and someone told me about a place that was better with better jobs and a better scene. It was exhausting sometimes. It was hard to tell when it was right to stay and when it was time to go.
“You know, just because you are born in a certain place or a certain country doesn’t mean you belong there.” He said, looking at me as if we were settling a debate. “It doesn’t make it home. Besides, sometimes your country doesn’t want you. It doesn’t see your worth, it doesn’t see you at all or it sees you too fuckin’ much and throws your ass in jail.”
I tapped my fingers on the side of my glass leaving little beads of condensation.
“You know,” He continued, “If I had any fuckin kids I’d want to travel with them. Take ’em all over the place — educate them with this life. Insularity is a muthafuckin’ dangerous thing you know. There are things going on in the world, people who live differently, have different values, you can’t truly understand people till you know them, wear their pants for a bit, do their dance. It’s easy to forget that people are fuckin’ human beings when you live in a bubble.” He looked at me for a second then snorted.
“You ever get worried?” I asked.
“’Bout what? We’ll never starve or be really homeless no matter how broke we get. Things always work out or come our way last minute. You gotta trust it. I mean you might live in a shitty place from time to time, but everything is temporary. It’s all just temporary. ” He took another sip of his beer and stared off through the trees. The Prague castle floated on the horizon, and the leaves hung like a frame around it as if it was a painting. “You know the purpose of fear? The true purpose? It’s not to keep you from living. People got that shit wrong. They get so afraid and they lock their doors. They tell on their neighbors so they don’t get pointed out. But that’s not what fear is for. Fear is to tell you to run when you’re supposed to and to fight when you’re supposed to. It’s meant for survival — not daily life. People got that shit wrong. They get clouded and let it control ’em and that’s why they never look for what’s bigger than themselves, they just get smaller.”
“What about growing old?” I asked. “What about then?’
“What about it? Let’s see if we even get there.” He stood up. “Another beer?”
I looked at my empty pint glass. “Sure.” I said.
I watched Marco walk away on the path toward the beer garden, and as I waited I couldn’t stop thinking about how my fear had paralyzed me. My fears had reduced me to a mess of sobbing in a closet. Marco was so secure about his choices; about being in Prague, about us being in Prague, and the fact that we would always be okay, that things would always come our way. I knew I was pretty lucky comparatively but does that luck run out? I felt a warm breeze draw like a curtain over my face. I scanned the crowd. I took in the style of dress, the way they communicated, their hand gestures, and facial expressions. Were we all very different from each other? I didn’t know. I often felt out of place. At least feeling out of place in a foreign country made sense.