There was nothing left for him in Cesky Krumlov beyond Romulan trickery, so Sila checked out early the next morning, early being 10am as he hadn’t got to sleep until five.
The bus station wasn’t far, just up the hill and along a hidden path. Getting there in twenty minutes, he checked the schedule pinned up on one side of the car park, or the bus park as there were no cars. The bus wasn’t due until half eleven so he went inside the building opposite and sat in the waiting area, sat there for one minute only as every single person was smoking and he didn’t wanna inhale any more of that shit.
On the way back out, he dumped his own pack of cigarettes, still half full, in the bin and walked over to the bench next to the bus schedule. He still had forty five minutes to sit and wait and hope she wouldn’t turn up on the bench next to him, so he pulled out his Slovene-Romanian dictionary and did the section on literature.
The study lasted about ten minutes as it was no good when there were no Romanians around to practice with. Or there were but he couldn’t recognise them.
He put the book away and stared at the other buses and the end of the hidden path, continuing the hope that the Chinese ninja wouldn’t appear at the top of it.
It was a promising hope right up until two minutes before the bus was due to depart, when she walked out from the end of the hidden path and, despite Sila asking the driver to put his foot on the pedal and go, she made it onto the bus
mostly cos Sila was shouting in English and the driver only spoke Czech.
She put her luggage on the rack, sat down on the seat behind him, ignored the guy next to her asking if she was Korean, waited out ten minutes then leaned in and said,
The next cabinet was under a bridge in Prague, surrounded by cardboard, one lazy-looking dog and newspapers that weren’t in Czech.
Sila had found it by accident, walking out of a park with dead trees, turning down the wrong street, crossing the bridge, feeling low about the lack of cabinets advertised on local arts websites, throwing stones over the side of the railings then leaning over and spotting it.
From above, it’d looked like a coffin as the doors were incredibly narrow, but close up, it was definitely a cabinet.
It’s strange, thought Sila, approaching slowly, hand inside his jacket pocket, it’s wide open, anyone could take it. Sell it second hand, no questions asked. If they could carry it. Which they could, if they had a trolley. There was a concrete ramp leading back to the riverbank. Not many police on the streets. Not many people on the streets at all, actually. No one to stop you and say, hey, is that cabinet yours? Where’d you get it?
Logically, there was no reason this cabinet should be there, except one.
He hesitated at the door, thinking and counter-thinking each possible theory.
The professor can’t be here, it’s too vulnerable.
The professor’s has to be here, it’s the last place I’d look.
He settled on look and see, confident it couldn’t be any worse than the church in Cesky Krumlov.
The door opened, the knife entered.
‘… … … … …’
He was wrong, it was worse
‘… … …’
The sky didn’t turn grey, it was already that colour, and the mess on the ground would’ve nailed him to the wall if he’d been anywhere else
luckily he was alone and
dogs couldn’t talk
so it wasn’t anything that couldn’t be run away from.
Back on the bridge, Sila watched as the paramedics almost slipped off the concrete ramp carrying the homeless guy back over, wondering if he should go down and introduce himself, say
Hey, I’m the one who called you guys
I found him like that
Lots of blood
But just a flesh wound, right?
From the looks of things, that’s what it was, and he knew the dagger went into the side of him, not the middle,
Was it a flesh wound?
The guy’s eyes were still closed, and his chest wasn’t going up and down.
Merging with a crowd of curious Czechs, he heard one of them shout a question, and guessed it was either what happened or is he gonna be okay, but the answer from the paramedics was beyond him.
‘Is he okay?’ Sila shouted, as the doors were closing, a machine inside beeping in response.
The day after the Prague cabinet incident, Sila woke up early, ditched the psycho while she was in the bathroom [probably slicing that drug into her arm again] and walked around the scruffy parts of the city in a bubble of socialist theory. When he got tired, he found a bench or a wall and watched videos on his phone about prisoners turning their lives around and cops doing decent things. When his phone got low on battery, he walked around again, giving coins to beggars, old people and anyone lying on or near cardboard.
He didn’t understand what they said back to him, but he apologised to all of them for not speaking Czech
it was the professor’s fault, not mine.
When he got back in the evening, she asked him where he’d been all day, if he’d found any demons in cabinets, but he blanked each question and headed straight for the shower.
Back in the room, drying himself on the second night, he asked her if the hostel had any empty rooms yet, and she said no, they were still fully booked.
‘I still don’t know how you pulled this off,’ he mumbled, climbing into his side of the bed and pulling the blanket over his head. ‘First the same train, then the same hotel, then the same dorm, now the same fucking bed in a two man room.’
‘… … … … …’ she said.
‘Did you just say it was fate?’
‘I did not.’
The third day couldn’t be the same as the second day as Sila didn’t have enough cash to hand out, so he woke up early, looked at the clock, closed his eyes and woke up again two hours later, with his stalker sitting on the bed next to him, trying to shove a cup of coffee in his face.
‘I’ll drink the coffee, and that’s it.’
‘What do you mean?’ she asked, feigning confusion.
‘We’re not hanging out.’
‘What if I told you I’d found a cabinet?’
‘I’m not interested.’
‘A beautiful, mysterious cabinet made by a Russian.’
‘Still not interested.’ He got up and took the coffee without saying thank you. ‘I’m taking a break.’
‘What if I told you I’d found a bookshop?’
‘What if I told you I was a Romulan?’
‘A Romulan.’ Sila drank some of the coffee, stopped, and looked at the surface. ‘What’s this stuff on top?’
‘What is a Romulan?’
‘It’s not poison, is it?’
‘Why would I do that?’
‘To finish me off.’
Joanna put an ice-cold hand on his forearm. ‘Don’t be silly, I could’ve done that when you were asleep.’
‘Don’t you want to know about the bookshop?’
She pulled out her phone and showed him a random Prague street map. ‘We can go there directly, an hour on foot. You don’t have to talk to me.’
‘I can find my own bookshops.’
‘You don’t need to, I’ve already found one.’
‘I’ll find another one.’
‘It has a bicycle hanging from the ceiling. A paper bicycle with paper wheels. I’ve only seen pictures on a WordPress site, but it looks very beautiful.’
‘I don’t care.’
Sila put down the coffee, grabbed his towel and went out of the room to the shared bathroom. The door wasn’t locked, which was normal in a hostel, so Sila walked in, took off his t-shirt and hummed the Robocop theme. When he got to the fourth loop, one of the shower cubicle doors opened and another guy came out, a towel wrapped loosely around his waist.
‘Sorry, I thought it was empty…’
‘The shower is okay,’ said the man, his accent either Spanish or Portuguese or possibly any country in South America, it was hard to trace and Sila didn’t have a clue either way. ‘I finish just now.’
‘You here with a friend?’ the guy asked.
‘You are alone?’
The guy said a few more lines then asked if Sila was busy later and, if not, would he like to go to the bar area around ten, have a few drinks then maybe hit a club.
Sila opened his mouth to say yes then looked at the man’s chest and his arms and said instead, what are you up to now? Going out somewhere?
‘Now?’ the man looked around as if there were a spy someplace in the room. ‘Where to go?’
‘We go outside, is this what you mean?’
The door opened and a woman walked in, asking the guy something in Spanish then glaring at Sila.
‘You know each other?’ she asked, stern as a Russian.
‘No, not really.’
She turned back to the guy and dragged him by the arm out of the bathroom, shouting in Spanish while he laughed and said in broken English, ‘there’s nothing wrong, we just talk, relax.’
Sila took off his pants and stood in the shower, staring at the tiles with little sea creatures drawn on, waiting to see if the guy would come back.
Probably cos he was in a headlock
Or being sucked off
Or taking off his mask and flashing yellow eyes, talking about the good old times with Petr and the rack and
Sila turned on the water and let it run over him.
His brain wandered
For some reason, he thought of Bruce Dern and his garden in space, the robot and the watering can, Dennis Quaid alone on a planet with his dead alien friend, Tony Leung sliding down the back of a taxi seat, Maggie Cheung long since gone. The creature’s cave and all those bones…his mother’s empty room…the newspaper laid out on the stairs…
Ne, ne, ne, ne , ne, ne, ne…
After washing himself and shaving for the first time in a week, Sila went back into the room and told Joanna that they could walk around together as long as she didn’t mention Ljubljana or that fucking Krsnik thing.
‘I won’t,’ she said, holding up three fingers.
‘What does that mean?’
She stared at her fingers, a faraway look in her eye. Not just faraway, light years away, round the second sun of Sirius.
‘Hello? I promise in Chinese, is that what you’re doing?’
‘No,’ she said, not looking up.
December in Prague was okay for Sila but
for Joanna it was tough as
Guangdong women had body temperatures at least 10 degrees lower than Slovene men which was why their hands were always cold, could be poor blood circulation, hard to know for sure, but when you’re walking by the river in Prague in the middle of winter and you’re a female from Guangdong then you’re gonna struggle with bitter ice-licked wind blowing in hard from the Northern coast of Norway.
If it had happened in Innsbruck, he would’ve told her to fuck off, but now it was Prague, and he didn’t want her to feel cold, or he didn’t want her to keep complaining about feeling cold, both seemed the same to him, so he said, fine, let’s go hide in this café for a bit, but no more talk about Ljubljana, you promised, okay?
The main square in Prague was gothic and crowded and dangerous, dangerous financially as the guide book warned about pickpockets lurking in plain sight, but you’d never recognise them as they did this kind of thing every day,
which is true, thought Sila, but also bullshit as they target people looking at open maps, gullible types, not people who looked like him
if you’d never lived in middle Europe, you’d probably think he was Czech too, though you’d still know Joanna was Chinese.
‘I’ve seen this before,’ said Joanna, following the church from its black doors all the way up to its spires.
‘It’s an iconic place.’
‘I think they had a deal with the Czech tourist board, to promote this square.’
‘They do that a lot. There was a vampire drama they did in Holland. One scene was ten minutes of the main character shopping in a market.’
‘Cheng Ka Wing threw a Dutch man off a bridge with only his eyes. And broke a museum. It was quite funny. I don’t think they ever broke this church. Not in any of the episodes I saw. Maybe the Czech tourist board is more sensitive than the Dutch.’
‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’
‘You speak in shorthand, every time.’ He paused, staring off at something in the near distance. ‘What’s that?’
‘Shorthand? You mean fragments?’
Sila walked closer to the church and stopped next to the statue of a woman. He didn’t recognise her, but her face was frozen in a scream with one hand on her neck, possibly a response to the elimination of all women from Czech history [on Wikipedia].
‘Who’s she?’ asked Joanna, joining him, gloved hands clamped to her cheeks.
‘A Czech woman.’
‘You don’t know her?’
‘You should read the plaque then.’
‘Ha, what an idea.’ Sila pulled out his phone and winced at the screen, then went back to the plaque and read the only words visible. ‘Anny Ondra.’
‘Do you know her now?’
‘We can look her up.’
They walked away from the gothic church and followed a road that Sila said led to a zine store, but it would take about an hour and a half to get there.
‘I don’t mind.’
‘You’re not cold today?’ he asked, watching her hands rub her cheeks.
‘Your body’s adapted already?’
‘It’s been winter for months, it’s normal. I just need to rub my cheeks occasionally. What’s augment?’
He looked at her giant green jacket, plus the three levels underneath that he’d seen her put on earlier. ‘You said you were very cold yesterday.’
‘It was windy.’
‘There’s wind here too.’
‘Yesterday was by the river, it’s colder there.’
‘Man, you’ve got an answer for everything. You don’t even pause.’
‘Rivers are colder places everywhere, that’s not an answer, it’s a fact.’
‘No, it isn’t.’
‘The Shing Mun river is freezing in December, but Shatin central, no problem.’
‘I’ve never heard of either of those places.’
‘They’re real.’ Joanna put out a hand and gently tugged him back by the jacket sleeve, forcing an instinctive, ‘hey, what the fuck?’
Then he looked around and realised he was standing one third of the way into a road that had no curb and the exact same stone paving as the pavements they’d been walking on.
‘You get too caught up in your ideas.’
‘It looks exactly the same as the pavement. There’s literally no indicators at all, no curb, nothing. How the hell are you meant to know it’s changed?’
She put gloved hands back on her cheeks. ‘I won’t say I saved your life as there were no cars.’
‘There were no cars coming down the road. You wouldn’t have been hit.’
‘You’re trying to connect this to-…’
‘I said a fact. If you don’t want to accept it, there’s a country called North Korea…’
‘…we can go there via Ljubljana.’
‘You’re taking the piss.’
‘Okay, I’m walking ahead, you stay here. And don’t try and catch up either, I’m not in the mood.’
Sila didn’t wait for a response, he merely increased speed and walked across roads with a red man and past slower pedestrians until he saw a poster for a Czech boyband plastered on the wall ahead and the sign said the name of the road he was looking for, the road with the zine store, and he didn’t even want to go in there now, even though it was supposed to have a cabinet with a poster for an old movie called Mysterious Doctor Satan written on it, which could be a sign of the Professor, or the sign of a hipster to be fair, but he didn’t care now
he was annoyed
annoyed that she was still around, polluting everything with her words and opinions and
for some reason he was staying in the same room as her, in the same hostel and he’d actually booked it that way
him, not her
it was like gluing yourself to the Spanish Inquisition
what was he thinking
worse than that
what had he been thinking for the last eight days?