Your Morning Freewrite
I arrived in Prague with a storm approaching on the horizon. The plane had barely made it on the rain-slicked tarmac. It was the kind of landing where everyone clapped when the wheels finally hit the ground. A quiet part of me wondered what the hell was I doing there. At 21, ignoring my degree and chasing a future that was not ordained by the structures that be, I felt something in me stutter.
My hesitancy was unusual.
As I left the airport, my backpack hung from my spine like a big hump. I was lucky to have it though. My luggage had been lost somewhere in London, so all I had left were a couple of notebooks and a stolen courtesy pillow from the plane. Tiny comforts, I told myself, would be how I survived.
After the sliding double doors of the airport, a vast grey sky with the look of rain revealed itself to me. In the skyline, ancient cathedrals poked through thick swirling clouds that hung over what I looked to be downtown Prague. There she was: a city I had no bloodlines connected to, a city I had no past with, a city that could only generate opportunity.
There was a purring line of yellow taxis alongside the curb. Portly, rough-looking men blew plumes of smoke from their puckered mouths beside their yellow chariots. None of them seemed to be bothered by the eruption of white and grey clouds above. They had seen it all before. The wind tearing through a patch of dead-looking trees seemed more of an annoyance than a terror to them.
I looked down to see my feet were not standing on bare black concrete but wet cobblestones. It reminded me of the pair of Spanish nuns I met on the plane. They handed me a rosary and kissed my forehead.
“Look at the cobblestone streets,” they told me. “Remember how lucky you are. Every day you are here, you are on an adventure. So, few get to do that in their lifetime. Never forget, you are somewhere else.”
When I approached the line of taxi’s I remembered every blog post devoted to bad-mouthing these crown swindling cabbies. They drove around Prague like thieving locust, infamous for over-charging beer drunken tourists confused with their exchange rate. I didn’t trust them, but I had no alternative. If I got on a bus, I feared I would be shuttled to some far-off town never to return, doomed to a life of collecting wood and becoming a cobbler or something.
While I waited for my luggage that would inevitably never come, I scribbled a couple of phrases. This was a preemptive attempt to show I knew what the hell I was doing. Maybe they would see me as a veteran of the Czech culture? Maybe they would take me in as brother? Perhaps even show me the locals-only spots?
The scribbles read: How much is it to the center? and Hello, how are you? and Are you a safe driver?
Something was better than nothing.
When I walked up to stand in the taxi-line, an old couple took the one honest looking driver. The driver helped them with their luggage, smiled, and even helped them inside. That’s who I wanted.
I stepped forward. Next in the taxi line was no chinned goliath drunk off a couple of barrels of mud beer. Some kind of spittle lined his mouth. His stubble looked like nails. He looked at me like one would a gnat. For the first time in my life, I think I felt true genuine terror.
I took out the little slip of paper and noticed that my hand was shaking. “Don’t let him see that,” I told myself. “He will smell the fear…”
When I asked him how much it was to the center — in English because when I spoke Czech he looked like he was going to punch me— he stood expressionless and silent. When I started to take out my wallet, he explained there was “road construction” toward the center, so the price would have to be a little higher for the “detour”.
Here it is, I thought. The end.
With that information, I exited the cab line as fast as I had entered it and begrudgingly looked around for a bus to see if I could score a cheap ride into the center to save some money and my life.
There was one rogue in the bus line. He was in a tank top smoking a cigarette. Another one was in the rings between his thumb and pointer finger. I had never seen someone hold them like that before. When I went up to say hello and ask the best route, he hissed. Not like a snake or an eel, but a lecherous alley cat. I jumped and ran in any direction that the hissing man was not.
After failing to ask the security guards back at the airport terminal, I was forced back to the taxi line where my faithful Terminator awaited me. He puffed away on his cigar and now held up an umbrella to block the rain. I noticed as I told him that I would need his driving services, that his lips cracked into a smile. His black tinted sunglasses raised with his contented eyebrows. I kept my temper, for I knew I was being taken, but I thought about my position and handed over the address where I needed to go.
“Far,” the driver said. “Very far.”
“It’s where I need to go,” I said flatly.
Suddenly, his face grew forlorn. He had felt defeat like mine before. In a weird way, I felt connected to him at that moment.
I tried not to be too bitter when he opened the passenger door for me, hurrying me to enter and get going. In a situation like that, I could have chosen to act in two ways: like a pompous, childish tourist, that demanded they be treated like a local even though they were not or, try somehow to grasp one’s position in a moment of high tension where one’s ego meant nothing and acknowledge that I had entered a world far from my own.
I thought of the nuns and what they said to me back on the plane.
“You’re on an adventure,” they said as if in prayer.
I locked my door, cracked the windows (the inside of the cab smelled like wet dog and smoke), and recited those holy lady's words as my brute chauffeur and I drove into town.
Mitchell Duran is a writer of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. He has been published in Black Horse Review, Drunk Monkey, The Millions, BrokeAssStuart, and more. He lives in San Francisco, California. Find more work at Mitchellduran.com