A Victory, a Train Ride, and a Delay

The dorms have turned off their heat for Christmas break, driving me out and to Teresa’s for my final night here before heading to Slovakia.  After arriving to her flat, we spoke late into the night about friends, music, death, and smoky bars.  In the morning I finished some Christmas gift preparations and managed to shower with the handheld showerhead.  Teresa made coffee in a French press and I made my coffee cup my clock.  When it emptied, I gathered my things, stumbling with my bulky luggage --waterproof boots on my feet and a merry Christmas on my lips. 

Czechs buying Christmas carp
On the tram, I continued to finish some final touches on Christmas gifts, occasionally glancing up and chancing to see queues formed behind carp-filled plastic pools.  Reigning in my bulky belongings again, I wove down the multiple sets of stairs and past walls plastered with wrinkled advertisements and generic graffiti.  Past a chain link fence and aluminum shacks selling scarves and other wares.  Then clumsily up two cement steps into a store to get a toothbrush and two croissants.   Thus defended, I entered the glass chamber in which sat the woman who would fulfill or crush my dreams of owning a discount card for my train rides within the Czech Republic.

It’s been haunting my to do list for months—but insecurity and fear have dwarfed and aborted efforts.  I’ve been too scared to attempt it alone and too proud to ask for an escort.   Facing the glass fortress today, our conversation began with a minor victory: I was at the right window.  Our Czech conversation continued with minor wins and losses, moments of misunderstanding and clarity, but more than all of that, it was gilded with the patience of this blonde attendant.  Sometimes Czechs are abrupt when you don’t understand—speaking louder as if it would magically transform their words into English.  Instead, this woman spoke slowly and clearly, and I surrendered my pride and offered miscellaneous information and questions, knowing my words were more important than their declensions.  Unknown minutes passed—everything is longer when spoken through a second language—I gave her a miniature photo, filled out a Czech form, and exchanged money.  It was a jolted conversation, like when I learned to drive a manual car, but her patience was like that of the man who taught me, with gentle corrections and ceaseless composure.

Equipped with my slips of paper—so fragile and yet so official—I made my way onto a train which brought me to this chilly train station.  In between monologues by automated and recorded voices which apologize for delays and list train numbers, the air gently fills with the sound of people waiting: the moist squeak of food in the jaw of a Czech, the muted thuds of shifted legs, occasional zippers, plastic covers closing on books, keys jostled in pockets, the automatic whir of a vending machine, the steady roll of wheels and the intermittent cymbal of a zipper on metal. I am waiting, and contribute the sound of crisp click of my nails on keys.  Outside the snow hesitates and the dull blocks of grey, red, and blue geometric fields pattern the landscape of the train outside the window.  In this cold room of grey and blue metal, the white lace curtains on the windows provide a touch of home.


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