There was loud crash that came from the kitchen. I opened my eyes then craned my neck over the side of the futon to look at the clock. Nine-thirty-ish a.m. Judging by the banging around I assumed that he had missed his lesson. In a vain attempt to block out his commotion I pulled the blanket up over my head. A few seconds later I heard my door open. I squeezed my eyes shut tight, like a child when trying to wish the boogieman away. If I just remained still and held my breath he’d vanish.
“That dumb bitch stood me up.” Marco’s voice was directed at the lump of blankets that buried me. “Get up.” He pulled the covers off my body, and a cold rush of air poured over me.
“God damn it, Marco!” I pulled the pillow over my face.
“Can you believe it? The bitch stood me up?” I heard him storm out of the room and into his bedroom. He slammed things around: opened and closed drawers, moved furniture frantically around his room till he found something, then he rushed back to the hallway. I heard him pick up the receiver on the phone and stab at the numbers, each plastic click annoying me further. It wasn’t my fault the “damn bitch” stood him up. I didn’t know why I had to take the punishment.
“Hello?” He said into the phone. “Hello. Yes Lyn, is your mother home?” He was speaking loudly into the receiver over enunciating each letter and word, like some asshole that talks louder once he discovers someone doesn’t speak English. “Your mother! YOUR MUUUTHHHERR. Thank you.” I heard his body slide to the floor with a thump. He began stabbing at the wall with something like a pencil or a pen. “Hi. Hi Kim? Hi. This is Marco. Yes. Hi. Yes hi. Kim, you— weren’t we supposed to meet today?”
As I was forced to listen to him yelling but speaking slowly over the phone I remembered that Kim indeed did not speak English.
“We were having lessons today. You remember? Lessons. I was there Kim. Today at eight am. Remember? We had an English lesson. Uh huh. No. No. It was today. Well alright. Okay Kim. That’s good. Don’t forget. Yah. Bye-bye. Yeah Kim. Bye-bye.” The receiver slammed into its plastic cradle. He was quiet. I could feel him standing in the doorway staring and fuming at me like I had something to do with all of this. I worked on ignoring him, keeping the pillow firmly pulled around my head like a tight bonnet.
“Stupid bitch stood me up. I waited for an hour.”
“You’re just mad because you’re hung over.” My voice was muffled, but still audible.
“Hung over? Hung over?” His tone was insolent as if I had no idea what kind of pain he was in. “My shit is fucked and I’m standing there waiting with my brains throbbing in a liquid mush of shit.”
“What did she say?” I lifted the pillow up just enough that I could look at him but still managed to keep most of the morning light out.
“She said, ‘Tee–hee. I thought we meet later. Tee-hee.’ No, Kim, not muthafuckin later. Now.” He wagged his finger toward me. “You know what I’ll do? I’ll charge her extra! That’s what I’ll do.” He walked out of the room. I heard him jump onto his bed. “That’s what I’m gonna do.” He yelled at me through the wall. “If she’s late again, I’ll charge her extra. Extra on top of the extra that she already owes my ass for standing my ass up.”
“If she shows up.” I mumbled mostly to myself, as I pulled the covers back over my head. I closed my eyes.
Something woke me. A dog barking or a car door slamming. I rolled over, tossing Francisco’s rock-hard pillow from under my head onto the floor. I opened one eye to see the sun’s beams streaming in through the window. Dust particles were swirling in the light. I felt groggy. I had fallen back asleep after Marco’s morning tantrum, and had reached that point where I’d slept too long. Marco and I had a pretty good routine of staying out too late and sleeping in. He had promised me the night before at the A-Krop that we would look for work once he got back from his teaching lesson. It was almost noon. I sat up slowly, grabbing my head. “Oh god. Too much drinking.” I pushed myself the rest of the way up and shuffled toward Marco’s room, my socks making a soft brushing sound against the wood floor. The light in the kitchen seemed unusually glaring as if it were angry with me for neglecting to wake up and be the slightest bit responsible for myself. I pushed Marco’s door open and looked down at him sleeping on his bed.
“Marco.” I whispered. “Marco.”
He moaned and turned on his side away from me.
“Marco get up. We slept through the alarm. We were supposed to be up and out of the flat at 10.”
“Ahh shit. I wish you hadn’t woken me up.” He rolled back over to face me but kept his eyes closed. “I dreamt I had a big bucket of fried chicken and I only got to eat two pieces.”
“Marco, please, we are supposed to look for a job for me today remember?”
He didn’t look at me.
“Isn’t the first of the month coming soon? We need rent right? And I don’t have a lot of money. Can we look for a job today?”
“Yeah.” He said lazily as he opened his eyes and slowly pushed himself up from his bed and looked at me. “Well, get dressed. Your Sunday best.”
I hopped and clapped my hands together before I ran into Francisco’s room to change. Here I was excited to go and work. I wasn’t a fan of jobs, but having work seemed like it would ground me in this place, and I would actually be able to call Prague my home. I would have money and be able to start carving my own foreign niche in the city.
We took the 9 back into old town. We both stood holding onto the rails as the tram juggled and tossed its passengers through the city. I was nervous and excited. I had spent most of my working life in Europe as a tourist-hire for U.S. military bases, which is easier than working on the economy when you don’t have a work visa. I had worked in some places, but it was difficult to find work without any connections. Here, I had Marco.
“So is it hard to find work here?” I asked, “ I don’t have a visa and, well, I don’t know if I want to go through what you went through for a visa.”
We got off in front of the Tesco and weaved our way through the streets. Standing at a corner waiting for an opportunity to cross, I looked over at a pastel mural of a man and woman engaged in an embrace, or as Marco called it, a romantic entanglement. They looked like spaghetti on a fork. The sign said in English, Live Sex Shows.
Marco took my wrist, “You don’t need to be lookin’ at that stuff chil’,” and he chuckled as he pulled me across the street. We danced and darted between the streams of traffic moving to the city’s crazy music.
“When I was in Ireland, I worked in a hostel, and my boss came running up the stairs really quick and she looked at me and asks really quickly. Do you have yer visa? And I said no and she said: hide.”
“Don’t worry.” Marco said.
We walked by a large church that looked like two A-framed houses knitted together. The roof was terracotta, and the arched windows gleamed in the afternoon sun. I tried to jump up to see if I could catch a glimpse of the interior. I couldn’t even reach the base of the stone window frame. This was the first day we had been out of Žižkov since I had arrived. Leave it to Marco to treat me like I was already a part of the city and forget to take me out to see what Prague was all about. He took it for granted that I had never been here since I wasn’t just visiting. I had missed out on the tour.
“It was the Irish immigration.” I said catching up to him. I still couldn’t manage to stop talking. “I wonder if they would have sent me back to the U.S.? That’s what they do, right? Put a black dot in your passport and say, ‘never again. Don’t you come back to our country again you freeloader.’” I stood with my fist curled into my hip and I wagged my finger reprimanding the imaginary me getting kicked out of Europe.
“That window you were trying to look into, that’s the Bethlehem Chapel.” He said.
I looked back toward the chapel. He was not humoring me in the slightest, but it did nothing to deter my insistent chatter. “I think that we shouldn’t have borders; just let us all travel freely, you know? I think some people are meant to stay in one place and others are meant to move. We shouldn’t be regulated by politics or religion. Life’s too short for such forced stagnation. You know. It’s not like any of those people creating the policies actually care about the people affected.”
It wasn’t impossible to get hired without a visa just as in the States. The only thing was they didn’t have to pay you well because, what are you gonna do about it? If you complain all you are doing is getting a one-way ticket back to the States. After all, you are illegal.
We turned down another street. Everything was set on angles in Staré Město, it was dizzying, keeping up with Marco’s rapid pace, taking in all the vibrant buildings, following all the turns, diagonals, curves and my constant stream of incessant babble. I was sick with words.
“I met this Aussie girl in Scotland and she said that while she was in London, she buskered but that the bobbies were always giving her a hard time. Jesus, I couldn’t get a job at all while I was in Scotland. It’s the visa thing. And now I’m trying to find work in a country where I don’t even speak the language. What am I thinking, Marco?” I stopped suddenly and spread my arms awaiting some tangible answer. Something that I could physically hold. What exactly was I doing?
“I assure you. Don’t worry.” Said Marco. “All you need is an Irish pub, and there’s always one around the corner.”