A few nights after the Pakistani showdown on the Charles Bridge, I was in the mood for another walk. This time, it was much earlier in the night- probably not much later than midnight. My nerves must have been experiencing some residual surge from the excitement a few nights earlier, and I left the flat with a kitchen knife tucked up the sleeve of my black sweater. I took my usual stroll down Mostecka street to the Charles Bridge, stopping at one of the statues a little less than halfway down and hopping up to sit beneath its base. There were still plenty of people walking about, and I decided to stick around for awhile and enjoy the evening air. The walls of the Charles Bridge are a great place for people-watching, and I did it often when I first moved to Prague. Only that night, I would do it with a kitchen knife hidden in my sweater. Just in case.
I’d been sitting awhile when a passing American guy drunkenly slurred in my direction, “Do you speak-uh da English?”
“Yeah, I speak some,” I replied in my perfectly Midwestern American accent.
“You’re hot,” he muttered, pointing a finger at me as he shuffled past with a group of equally drunk-looking American bros.
Awesome, I thought; Some drunk frat boy on his first trip to Europe on mommy and daddy’s money thinks I’m hot.
Tourists continued passing by. Couples sauntering hand-in-hand, groups of young people chattering excitedly in tones and trills of languages I’d never heard. Girls were gathered under a statue, singing and sharing a bottle of wine and clearly under the influence of the magic of the old bridge. Still perched on the wall, I was approached by two young English lads. Casually-dressed and friendly-faced, they posed no immediate threat that I could see. In fact, I could imagine us being drinking buddies- even friends. I made several English friends that year and they make great company.
After we’d exchanged initial greetings and introductions, Colin and Jay told me they’d been looking for their hostel. They were coming toward the end of their summer road trip across Europe and were close to resigning themselves to sleeping in their car that night, unless they found their hostel.
“I’ve never heard of the hostel you guys are talking about, do you at least know which part of town it’s in?” I asked.
“We just know it’s someplace in Prague 1,” replied Jay.
“That’s pretty vague, because Prague 1 could be on either side of the river,” I gestured over my shoulder, “Prague 1 is that borough back there around the castle, as well as the other side of the bridge, in Old Town. Do you know if your place is in Mala Strana or Old Town? Hradcany, maybe? Do you know any sites it’s close to? Landmarks?”
Jay and Colin seemed to know nothing whatsoever about Prague or their location. They were visibly tired and frustrated.
“We’ve seriously been wandering about for hours. All the streets look alike. And if we have to sleep in the car, it’s parked in some other part of the city,” Colin said.
“Wow, you guys. It sounds like you’re up shit creek without a paddle.”
Colin and Jay thought this old one-liner was hilarious. This is why I get along so well with English people- we find eachother completely hilarious. Much of it is the difference in our accents, but also the shared dry sense of humor and prevalent sarcasm.
We continued to chat for awhile, and I offered to walk with them to a place where they might be able to get some more information about the whereabouts of their hostel. Or at least point them in the direction of their car, as if I was such an expert navigator of Prague after having lived there for six weeks and had barely ventured outside the city centre. Colin and Jay agreed and I decided to walk them to a nearby hotel where someone at the desk would surely be able to assist them in finding their hostel.
As I shifted my position on the wall, I was reminded of the fairly large blade that was barely concealed just inside my sleeve. There was no way I’d be able to get down from the wall without either slicing my arm, or removing the knife from my sweater sleeve.
“Oh, hey, I don’t want to alarm you guys, but I just have this knife here I’ve been keeping under my sweater. See, I was here a few nights ago, and these guys from Pakistan came out of nowhere and started harassing me,” I carefully pulled the knife out of my sleeve and placed it on the stone wall beside me before I started to step down to the cobblestone.
“They were really aggressive, and I was afraid of something like that happening again, so I came prepared. You never know, right?”
Colin and Jay’s expressions had changed from friendly and tired, to anxious and unsettled.
“Oh no, I scared you. I didn’t mean for that! I was really just thinking of protecting myself if I ran into those guys again, you know? Really, don’t worry!”
“Sure, right,” Jay was scratching his head and looking down.
“You know, Jay, let’s just take a walk to one of the hotels just over the bridge. The reception can tell us where to find our hostel,” Colin chimed hurriedly.
“Yeah that’s true, or we can just hike back to the car,” Jay added.
“If you want, I can go with-”
“No, no, Erika. Really, we’ve kept you far too long already. It’s getting late and we really ought to be shoving off,” Colin interjected.
“Right then, bye now. Take care of yourself,” Jay turned first and began walking quickly toward Old Town. Colin offered a half-salute in my direction before jogging after Jay.
I watched them hurry down the bridge, and suddenly I felt bemused and stupid. As I trudged back toward my flat, I carefully cupped the knife handle in my hand and pulled my arms close to the sides of my body, as if becoming aware of the knife being a weapon. Of the weapon being a cause for alarm. I asked myself if I had packed the knife because I was looking for trouble, as opposed to actually believing I may run into the guys from Pakistan again. And if I had thought it a possibility, why should I even leave the flat in the first place?
The truth is, I was bored. Or something like bored, not quite. I was spending a beautiful summer in the city I’d chosen for myself. Just me and myself, together in Prague. The copper spires and towers and pistachio shell domes and the sun setting just behind the castle. The music and the people, the intermittent solitude of tiny, winding streets. Wide-eyed faces painted for the World Cup. I took it all in, alone. I loved it all at first, flying solo. Watching the new world and exploring the cobblestone paths swirling through the city, listening to and loving new albums released that summer. But as days passed through weeks, I felt that I had no one to share it with. I finally wanted someone to chatter with me as I stormed those streets. A companion to laugh with and exchange eyes for the place; to marvel and vent over the beauty and the oddity of our surroundings. I was finally living in a place where I could go dancing as often as I wanted, to music I actually loved- but I wanted a friend to dance by my side and act as a buffer when I felt like a piece of girl meat. I had a beautiful apartment, in a city boasting culture as well as round-the-clock excitement. I even had a decent circle of drinking buddies, who all seemed to go their separate ways before I was ready to call it a night. They also happened to be a group of men, some of whom were a bit too flirtatious. I was missing my friends at home and imagining the fun we’d have together if they were with me in Prague, and I realized that the one thing I was missing besides a job was a best girl. I had no idea where I might find her, but I knew I had to keep my options open, and I had to keep myself open.