The number 9 tram took us into Staré Město and let us off on Narodni not too far from Wenceslas Square. We stood in front of a large Tesco, a massive monolithic concrete and glass boxy supermarket. It was like a cross between a sweatshop warehouse and a 70s tech building with escalators and McDonalds. It was a functional beast of a building smack-dab-ker- plunked in the middle of 12th-century old town with Romanesque and Gothic streets. It was like a set piece for the movie 1984, but more colorful. I rubbed my palms together with anticipation of venturing into this monstrosity of food purchasing. Marco rolled his eyes at me and pointed toward the entrance.
It was my first time in a Czech grocery store. People may think grocery stores are not a big deal, and that shopping for groceries is not worth talking about, but one thing I picked up through my few years in travel, is that places have cultural shopping habits. Prague’s was aggressive. I stood close to Marco as people moved like piranhas.
“Wow. Is everything on a blue-light special?” I asked.
“Yeah. It gets annoying, but you get used to it. Everybody’s different.” He said, staring at a box of crackers on a shelf.
I was impressed with how calm he was in the store. He was moving at his relaxed pace, browsing over the crackers as people bit and snapped around him. He reached out to a box of crackers as a woman stepped in front of him and snatched the box just as his fingertips grazed the cardboard. She tossed it in her cart and zoomed off. He grabbed the next one from the shelf, and gave it a ferocious shake, twirling it like a baton at the woman’s back as he yelled, “Look there’s another one! Here’s another one exactly the same. There’s more than one!” He stopped shaking the box and looked at it for a second. “I don’t want this.” He placed it back on the shelf. “Let’s make a potato salad,” he said.
“Sounds good.” I said.
On the tram Marco went over the items in his bag.
“Okay I got my contact solution and all the fixins for a potato salad. Potatoes, onions, hotdogs—“
“Hotdogs?” I asked. I had never seen anyone put hotdogs in their potato salad. It seemed gross to me.
“In the potato salad?”
“Ya. You got a problem with it?”
The late afternoon sun showed through the windows and Marco’s reflection flashed in front of him. He ran his hand over the top of his head.
“Shit I really need someone to send me some equalizer. I can’t get that shit here.” He patted at the coarse tight-spiraled curls at the sides of his head. He looked at me for a second knowing that I could not relate to the need for equalizer. “And Suzy Q’s or Twinkies. Someone needs to send that shit, too.”
“How about Oreos?” I asked.
After hotdog potato salad, which was surprisingly delicious, we headed over to Feste’s for a drink. One drink, we said to one another. We had only been up for six hours, and it was now eleven p.m. Marco had said never again of the night before. We’ve been staying out and up too often too late. That we were adults and didn’t need to act like drunk buckets every night. I agreed whole heartedly.
At the bar we found a small table in the corner next to the counter. Our chairs were plush with deep cushions and tall backs with scalloped armrests. They looked like chairs for royalty. We didn’t speak but sat facing out toward the meager crowed that had formed in the bar. Every person that would come up to Marco he would then immediately introduce them to me in an attempt to pawn them off. He was in a preoccupied mood, which only increased my restlessness and my inability to think of something to do that would keep me entertained. There is often the romantic notion that by living in a foreign country it suddenly changes you. That all that you were before would shed and you will always be happy living an exciting life. All because you live abroad. Your pains and hurts are forgotten. And you won’t feel hurt ever again because you are different now, wiser, and enlightened. You, because you are a traveler, are now Buddhist. I was disappointed to find that, after my first year living abroad, I was still hanging around me, same reflection, and same person, only now I felt a greater pressure to give off the impression that life was indeed a daily fountain of pure excitement — the kind that books were written about.
But there I was sitting, in a chair that looked like a throne, completely bored because my companion was no longer in the mood to entertain. If I had mentioned any of this to him, he would look at me and say, “I ain’t chor clown, woman.” I began to think about little things I had read here and there about Prague. We hadn’t really stepped out of Žižkov since I had been here, except for the school and the Tesco.
“Is it true that Kafka lived in a little blue one-room house on Golden Lane under the castle?” I asked Marco without looking at him.
He made a noise through his nose and shrugged.
“I read somewhere that Golden Lane was called that because they, being the people who were royal, forced Alchemist to live there and forced them to try and turn lead to gold.”
Marco took a drink of his beer.
“I read The Castle once, well the first few pages anyway, and it makes sense that he would have lived under the castle and then write that book.”
“It’s a metaphor.” Marco said.
I looked at him. His eyes were glazed over like he was stoned, but I knew he wasn’t because no one was holding, except for that photographer Joseph, but who knew where he was now.
“It’s a metaphor about Prague.” He said again.
“I know it’s a fucking metaphor. I was talking about the descriptions.” I snapped at him.
“What, you want to go to the castle or something?” His tone was snide.
“No, I’m just talking.” I took another drink of my beer. “And, actually yes, eventually. Before I leave.”
Marco shot me a look.
He was in a mood. It put me in a mood.
Endres had just stumbled from under an archway and swung out like a spider monkey gripping his hand on a beam for support.
“Look.” I said, nodding my head toward the other end of the room. We hadn’t seen him since the night at the A-Krop. I didn’t think he was still in Prague.
He noticed us and stumbled toward our chairs leading with his forehead like he had a weight attached to his skull. He stopped himself from falling onto Marco by slamming his hand on the wall above Marco’s head. Marco shrank a bit, cuddling his beer close to him. Endres turned his head to look at me.
“Are you having trouble scoring? Getting any weed?” He asked.
His voice was a sloppy whisper.
“I haven’t tried. You’d have to ask Marco.” I said.
Endres dropped his head down to look at Marco who covered his beer with his hand in case Endres drooled.
“No man. No one’s holdin.”
Endres propelled himself off the wall and with his arms out for some kind of balance. He looked like a windmill as he tried to guide himself through the hostel bar and then out the front door where he disappeared somewhere into the night.
“I just think he’s naturally that way.” Said Marco. “Let’s go to The Seven Wolves and hang out with Sedik.”
“What about our one drink?” I asked.
“Yeah. One drink here, one drink at Sedik’s, and one drink at the A-Krop.” He stood up and started to dance around a bit. “I feel like dancing. I gots some energy. Maybe Endres gave me some kind of contact high. Let’s get some music goin.’” He danced around the bar as people turned to look at him and smile. “Come on,” he said holding out his hand. “Don’t worry I can’t be out too late. I have to meet my Korean student at eight.”
“Okay.” I took his hand, but with skepticism. I didn’t trust this not-being-out-late line he was feeding me. It was already late. Marco danced me out the door and up the stairs.
At six in the morning Marco, Sedik, Zuzana, and I, stumbled out of the A-Krop.
“God damnit, Marco!” I yelled. “It’s the morning!”
“Hey, it’s not like you have to meet anyone in two hours.” He yelled back. “Why are you yelling?” He yelled.
“I’m drunk! And I’m tired.” I screamed.
“You stupid. You a grownup you can make your own decisions and go home on yer own.” He said.
“I know.” I whimpered.
We waved goodbye to Sedik and Zuzana. There was no mother light. She was much too disappointed in us to help guide our way. Instead it was a gauzy morning.