So, I moved to another really nice part of town, near Nam Miru, into a two room castle compared to my one-room deal in Mala Strana. It took three and a half trips to move my luggage, but the trams ran right between the two places, within a block of the tram stop at each end, so my actual street time was very little.
It was nice to have some amenities back. I finally had a washer, (dryers, it seems, haven’t quite caught on here) so the first thing I did was wash everything I own. Then I spread out all of the paperwork from all the classes I’ve been teaching to organize myself and now I spend every night trying to get this website together, again. I was starting to really feel that this was a great place to be and that there is no doubt in my mind that I will live here in Prague when I get back from Italy.
Then the shit hit the fan, or as I have been so graciously saying…a little bump in the road… Fridays are days some people just take off, especially English teacher types in Prague. For some reason once people feel they have met the minimum requirement of work to pay their bills, they don’t work anymore. Fridays, for me, are one of the busier days. Early class at 8, then all over town, staying as busy as any other day, work until 5. If people wanted English classes on Friday night, like they do after work Monday- Thursday, I would teach them, but haven’t found a student yet who wants a Friday night class.
My four o’clock cancelled so I took the opportunity to squeeze in a yoga class that day, so by about five-thirty I was bounding up the stairs, ready for a shower and some food. I actually have a stove now instead of a two burner hot plate so I cook again.
Strangely, my key didn’t fit the door and that’s when I noticed the phone number taped to the door jam. Shit. I tried the key again, and the deadbolt, nothing. I could feel the grips of terror start to wrap around my brain, from the base of my spine, through my temples, and finally hitting the frontal cortex.
Suddenly my mind whirled with calculations, numbers mostly. 4 is the number of days I have been living here. 12 is the number of days until my trip and 90 zero is the number of crowns I have in my pocket right now. 5 is the time everything shuts down for the weekend and 15 is the number of minutes it takes me to get almost anywhere in central Prague. I looked at my phone, time is 17:37, that is 5:37 pm.
Numbers had become my new friends lately. I could understand them, they made sense, unlike the words I was constantly surrounded with, and they never lied. Unlike situations that seemed totally different than what they were, and people who could talk about you right in front of you, numbers had no reason to lie to me. But these numbers were not telling me anything I wanted to hear at the moment.
I knew that the last couple of crowns I had just spent on a few groceries, a medley of ingredients for salad tonight and breakfast in the morning, was all I had . There was about four hundred crowns from teaching a private student in my folder but I had not yet remembered that. Besides, 500 kc- is roughly the equivalent of twenty-five dollars.
I had been only carrying around what cash I would need for the day with me. Having recently had my wallet stolen I had been carrying around only what I needed for the day and the rest of my small reservoir of funds was stashed in a book on the bookshelf. My phone was the next thought. How many phone credits do I have? How much charge does my phone have?
Full terror had not set in yet as I assumed that this recent adjustment had some logical explanation and some civilized, reasonable solution. I dialed the number on the piece of paper stuck to the door and spoke briefly to a woman who knew, or professed to know, no English.
This too, I have often found varies with the situation. Most Czechs know English or at least some. OK, I thought, pretty common, so I dialed the other number on the paper and reached a man who said he would try to speak English. The language barrier had been a constant problem, usually distant but today, it was pretty much in my face.
I had no money, no credit cards, and no jacket. It was getting cold at night now. I had my yoga mat in my back pack plus a few odds and ends of food and some paperwork pertaining to my classes that day. Thank god I had my passport, by chance, I had had an appointment at the post office during the day to pick up some mail they had never managed to find. I’m not stupid enough to carry the thing around with me all of the time, but in this case I was glad to have it. Basically everything I owned including my laptop was in that locked apartment.
The man on the phone was unsympathetic. As far as he was concerned, I was trespassing. Apparently (I later found out) the guy my friends had rented the flat from was a tenant of his, in three months delinquency. So, as far as this man was concerned, I am part and parcel of Luigi- his name turned out to be. Luigi (Italian- go figure) presented himself as the owner and took my friends’ prepaid three month sum of 1200 Euros for the summer, and decided not to pay rent. Fuck. That mess between me and my laptop.
Everything else could disappear and I wouldn’t really care, especially after having moved it all twice in the past few months. Except the computer and the poetry book that had all my cash in it, I could pretty much give a shit. Back to the numbers. Friday, almost 6 now. What is open and free and has computer access?
My school! Skrivonek is open till 7 on Fridays. Bless their workaholic hearts!
I started running to Washingtonova street. I couldn’t take the metro because the owner was supposed to call me back and I always lost phone service underground. By the time I got to the school Skrivokic I had talked to the “apartment owner” again and he told me he had just spoke to his lawyer and I was illegally living there.
Illegal has a lot of connotations to it and my head was now spinning as my walk had slowed and I climbed yet another set of stairs, to the school. I am in a country that was communist fifteen years ago. I don’t speak the language of the land, and have all the legal rights of a semi-house broken dog.
I got to the door and realized the state I was in, stinky from exercise, wearing grey sweaty yoga pants and stretchy shirt over my visible sports bra. The only piece of clothing that leant credibility of “clothing” to the ensemble was the cutoff denim short skirt I wore. Well, at least I was wearing comfortable shoes- sneakers. I buzzed the doorbell.
Alena answered the door, and smiled with a vaguely amused look. I have only taught here for a few months but I am definitely not one of the teachers who goes out on a limb to be arrogant or pretentious about business attire or anything like that. You’d be surprised- some are.
“Hallo,” she said with that familiar Czech inflection on the greeting. I stepped into the office and immediately burst into tears. I started babbling about the whole situation and finally got enough of it out for Alena to understand the gist of my waterworks. She came over to hug me and was very comforting tones told me that they would help me.
At that point, it was all in motion, three dazzling Czech women backing me up, and talking on the phone, the internet and to each other getting the storyline out of me and interfacing with the cold voice on the telephone who had told me it was my problem, and to go sleep on the street.
Between the schools intervention and a face to face meeting with the owner and his wife the next day, we came to a reasonable deal where I paid some money and stayed through the remainder of the week before I went to Italy.