I don't know why I was running. I was just running.
Maybe it was because I wanted to try and make the last metro. Maybe it was because I had just spent a relaxing weekend with close friends, and the new separation was causing me a little anxiety. Maybe it was all the hormones welling up inside my twenty-seven year-old body that had not been laid in going on six months.
A guy in blue coveralls staggered out of a hospoda. I ran by. I saw him coming out and diverted my course. He didn't see me through his blurry eyes. As I ran up the stairs, he yelled something. At the top of the stairs I turned. He was standing there. I was standing there. I giggled and ran for the metro.
I didn't buy a ticket. Midnight out at Haje, I had to change at Muzeum, but I figured the control guys wouldn't be working on a Sunday.
Not at midnight.
As I descended the escalator, I saw two girls eating popcorn out of a big bucket. They were sitting on one of the cold marble benches. I smiled when I saw them. The only people getting on the metro at midnight were from the movies. One girl caught me smiling. She held the bucket out to me as I passed. She said something in Czech. I didn't understand. I just smiled, shook my head, and made my way down the platform.
I found a cold marble bench to sit on. I sat down. I was thinking about my attractions to my friend's girlfriends and wives. I was thinking about how good they were for each other, and how my influence, however slight, was probably not what they needed.
I saw him out of the corner of my eye. I tried to avert my eyes quickly. Don't want to make unnecessary eye contact; it leads to unnecessary confusion. Especially when you don't speak the language.
He came right up to me. He stood above me. I kept my eyes on the floor. He said something. He held his hand out. I looked up. He repeated violently. He made gestures with his hands. I understood him to be asking for my metro pass.
I told him I didn't understand. He asked, German? He asked, Do you speak German? In German. I understood, but I didn't respond in German. I responded in English. When in doubt, only speak your mother tongue.
German? Italian? Do you speak Italian, or German, even a little Czech? I shook my head. I said English? He blew out through his mouth. Only English? He spoke in Czech, clearly frustrated. I don't speak English. He gestured with his hands and asked to see my metro pass. He said he was control.
The control guys are easy to spot. They look like everyone else, but they have a little badge they carry in a fist. If you see them early enough, you can act like they are simply a nuisance to you, because you certainly have a pass, but you don't have the time to stop and show it to them.
It works, even if you don't have a pass.
I looked the big drunk in dirty blue coveralls in the face. His eyes are detached, the left one shifted left. I told him I didn't have a pass. Control guys are never drunk, they are never dressed in dirty blue coveralls. I was not about to pull out my wallet in front of this guy. I just said I didn't have a pass.
He motioned for me to stand up. I stay seated. For as long as I could. Then I stood up slowly. He motioned for us to walk up. I stood my ground. He turned and started to walk. I looked around. The popcorn girls were gone. There were a few people at a distance down the platform.
He came back and grabbed my wrist. He gripped it tightly. He started to lead me.
I didn't put up a fight. I figured he maybe wanted to take my money once we got upstairs, maybe he just wanted to kick the shit out of a foreigner to cap off his lonely weekend. I didn't let myself think anything worse.
I walked with him for three steps. His hand was hurting my wrist. I repeated this to myself with each step: His bark is worse than his bite. His bark is worse than his bite. His bark is worse than his bite. The train rolled into the station right on cue. I raised my wrist ever so slightly. I counted.
One. Two... Three. I pulled down with my arm and shoulder as hard as I could. I broke free. I went towards him rather than away. I pointed at him with every muscle in my body.
I shouted. "Don't f*cking touch me! Get off me! Get the f*ck off me!"
I surprised him enough to make him unsure. I started backing away, still pointing and shouting. The train rolled to a casual stop. I was backing towards the door. I looked to the right. I kept my shoulders square to him. I said, over my shoulder, Can someone help me here? Please?
I don't know where he came from. A tall guy wearing a white jacket. He stepped between, facing me, his back to the jackal and he said, Come with us. We got on the train. The doors slid shut. In the window, the big guy in the dirty blue coveralls is tapping himself on the forehead with his middle finger. The train slides out of the station.
RICK PRYLL was living in Prague after 1997.
Born and raised in the suburbs outside of Buffalo, he managed to get a degree in Mechanical Engineering from MIT by writing a novella called Goliath for his Bachelor's thesis.
In June of 1998, the foolishness press published a collection of his poems called Displaced.
Wallow is his second book. Wallow is a collection of stories and poems depicting the plight of Steve Neboj, a self-obsessed romantic in the self-induced exile of Prague's expat community.
Newly divorced from both his ex-wife and his yuppie-dom on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Steve finds himself broke, alone, and smack dab in the middle of his quarter-life crisis.
To get through it, he is going to have to give up a few of his favorite delusions. Before he does, he takes a moment to bask in the cold sun of Self. Published December 1999 by the foolishness press paperback, 128 pages available at the Terminal Bar, the Globe and all other good English language bookstores in Prague.
Jesse Littell is responsible for the cover painting (Willow, Oil on Canvas, 90 cm x 90 cm) that adorns the cover of Wallow. He is a painter who lives and works in Prague when he isn't living and working someplace else.