I’m running for a plane and I am crying.
It’s a stupid reason to be crying. I have tried to buy something using the last of my Czech coins, which unlike notes, I won’t be able to change once I come back to the UK. But my sleep deprived brain wouldn’t do the maths properly in my head and I kept picking up more items than I could afford. Eventually, I put all the money into the tip jar. The salesperson doesn’t want me to. “Please”, they say, “Just buy something”
And then I say a stupid thing. In an attempt to be blasé, I say “It’s fine, I will literally never be in the Czech Republic again”. And then I start to cry.
It’s a stupid thing to say and blatantly untrue. There is no reason that I couldn’t come back to the Czech Republic. But I suddenly remember the pleasing size and shape of a 50 CZK coin and immediately regret throwing them aside so thoughtlessly.
On the plane, I read my book, Prague in the Heart. It details almost 200 true stories from the city which took place over the last 2 centuries. I read about a man who set himself on fire in protest of the soviet occupation. I read about how Nazis stormed the University of Prague following student demonstratons there, and how 1,200 students were sent to concentration camps, and this is where International Students Day comes from. I read about the construction of a statue of Stalin overlooking the city, which was torn down and replaced by a huge metronome, each movement of which is intended to represent a minute lost to communism. I remember reading about how, when soviet tanks first appeared in the city, Czech civilians had no weapons with which to fight them, so instead took a different route; swapping around the road signs to confuse them. This action ultimately failed, of course, but they must have known it was going to. But that wasn’t the point.
I arrive for my stopover in London. I am surrounded by images of Big Ben and the Eye. All grand spectacles intended to show off our wealth. Hungry, I go to buy food, and find that the only thing I can eat is a mezze platter for 8 pounds. The falafel is too spicy to eat.
I get my second flight to Glasgow, which takes less than an hour total. The bus from the airport to my house has gone up to £5.
I go home and promptly pass out in bed. My partner comes to visit me and we hug as I fall asleep on them. I have no idea how to feel. I tell them “I cried in the airport like a fucking dweeb” and they give me a hug.
The next few days are supposed to be days of rest, but I’m not very good at resting. I meet up with old friends, have a BBQ in the garden, go to a meeting for a local queer film collective, talk to my old boss about some freelance work. I visit my boyfriend in Edinburgh and dance with my partner at a queer club night. I have brunch next to the park I grew up playing in. I cycle as much as I can and it is glorious. Everyone asks me the same question.
“So is that you back then? For good?”
I don’t have any concept of “for good”. I am 24 years old and dreaming of Thailand and Vietnam, of Copenhagen and Iceland, of all the places for me to visit and live and grow and grow and grow.
I’m out in the early evening with a pair of jeans and a light jacket, and I’m so cold, it’s knocked the energy out of me and all I want is to be curled up somewhere warm and cosy, and I ask myself; “How does any country get by with being this cold?”
In Prague the weather has been over 30 degrees every day and there are thunderstorms where you can literally feel the pressure drop out of the sky and a friend and I sat one day whilst I was hungover with the windows wide open just listening to the rain and feeling the temparature dissappate and I felt like I could breathe again. And in Prague every household has at least 8 different types of tea, including 3 flavours of green tea, and no one ever thinks you’re strange for asking for it, and everyone owns a dog and the cats are all well trained and friendly, and everywhere is easy to get to and your travel ticket covers you all across the city, even to the airport, and all the travel announcements are in English and in Czech and sometimes in German and Russian too and in Prague, you are never more than 5 minutes walk from a vegetarian restaurant, and never more than 10 minutes walk from a Vietnamese restaurant, and because there’s a lot of Vietnamese food, it’s always really easy to get tofu when you want it and I used to make my friends tofu scramble and completely change their minds about beancurd, and soy milk is available even in tiny little corner shops, and faux meat can be found in almost any supermarket, and in Prague you can buy a bus ticket to Vienna for just 15 Euros – on the day! You can walk home late at night and never have to worry, strangers leave you alone, and catcalling is almost non – existent.
One night, someone asks me: “What was wrong with it?”
“Nothing was wrong with it. I just didn’t want to live there.”
Something must be wrong with it if you didn’t want to live there”.
I remember the stories of repression, of resistance, of strength and cunning, of constant reminders of a city which survives, collecting within itself debris and relics of centuries gone by, and feel painfully in love.
I remember friends and faces of people whose paths I never would have crossed otherwise, lessons that I learned and the faith I got back that maybe, for the most part, humanity isn’t completely off track.
I remember the person I was a year ago and how much I’d needed to get far, far away from Scotland to even begin to learn how to breathe again.
Nothing was wrong with it.
I just didn’t want to live there.
In Prague, almost everyone I know has had something stolen during a night out. It’s the only city I’ve ever been burgled in. Sometimes it was so hot, I couldn’t breathe or move and the exhaustion caused me to sleep in and miss my classes. One time, on the tram, a man getting off decided to push my head to the side, rather than moving arm around me, deliberately giving me whiplash which lasted several days. The beaucracy in the bank is exhausting, confusing and tedius. English teachers are essentially on 0 hours contracts and that’s worrying at times. It seems as though no one really understands how to get a work permit. And no matter how beautiful or breathtaking or just plain fucking cool it was, I could never feel at home there.
It’s easy to idolise places when we leave them. You can’t live everywhere forever, that’s obvious, but the point of an experience isn’t for it to last forever, it’s for you to learn and build from it when it happens, and after, wherever you want to do it. Prague isn’t in my heart, but it’s in my bones, and that doesn’t mean I have to stay there.