Borders

I hesitate when buying wine
Unable to remember what country I’m in
So what bank card I should be using
And I can’t find the SIM card
For the phone that I use Over There

(Which I’ve accidentally referred to as “Home”
Three times now.)

But I have been stretch stretch stretched
Across borders and oceans
From Scotland to the Mediterranean
To the Americas and further, further
South

And a man who I adore sounds exactly like home
And another I care for sounds nothing like it
And a third, a girl, with tight dark curls
Inherited from her Jewish babcia
Speaks to me a mix of Yiddish and New York slang

Belonging is an odd concept
I’ve always just drawn voices together
Different tongues, languages, dialects
My heart makes its home in all of them
The only way it knows how

Marlow

-Are you ok?

In the kitchen, gasping for breathing space.

-Feeling pretty weird.

I think of all the men he reminds me of. Men with blue-green-grey eyes who understood my language.

Except here, when I try to speak, my words turn strange in my mouth, come out clumsy, jarred and wrong, and he’s looking at me in that way that makes me feel like I shouldn’t be here at all, and I wonder when I lost myself.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever been found.

I tell him:

-I know my flaws.

He responds:

-No one can know all of their flaws.

I wonder who the fuck he thinks he is to tell me what I can and can’t know about my own mind.

I wonder how he is able to make me feel so boring.

-I’m sorry.

-You have nothing to apologise for.

He’s looking at me the way men do when they want you to know that you deserve what happens to you.

I have died so many times.

I don’t know how to stop.

I want to leave now.

But the subway closed two hours ago, and I could go to another friend’s house but I don’t want to be dramatic.

The first time they starved me.

My bones jutted from my skin,

face sunken and gaunt.

I want to cry but I don’t want to cause a scene.

The second one tore through my entrails

Taking my right lung and most of my lower abdomen

But thankfully leaving my heart

Intact

He tells me that his favourite book is by Lady Lazarus. I try not to laugh at the irony.

The third held me just below the surface

Drowning for two years

Until I woke up near dry land

Begging for someone to breathe the life back into me.

I’m doing an excellent impression of unrequited love, so good it’s fooling myself, but the reality is sicker than that, and anyway, I can’t love, I’m not even breathing.

So what’s it going to be this time?

Sentinel. He is stall worthy and kind, and I am a complete fucking mess.

And I wonder if he knows that I’m not real. That the woman he’s speaking to has been stuck in the mind of an 11 year old for 12 years now.

But people don’t tend to question these things.

Don’t come near me, don’t touch me.

I will break you without meaning to.

Sugar

He asks why I am angry and I cannot respond.

There is heat in this carpet. I curl up in a patch of sunlight, begging for warmth.

I am so cold all the time.

-thanks for coming, it’s lovely to meet you

-thanks, you too

-this is Jordan’s girlfriend

-lovely, thanks for coming

-thanks for inviting me

I am in a room of strangers sitting in circles around white tables, skirts and alcohol and bits of food.

He holds my hand beneath the tablecloth. I catch his eye and smile because I know how to smile.

But I haven’t learned yet how to talk, how to be. How to exist and burst out of myself in a room full of strangers dressed in white.

In the bathroom other women smile at me and tell me how beautiful I look.

I have gotten good at being beautiful.

I am also good at remembering facts. Quotes from the plays and the books I have to read. Statistics. Voting systems. Franzosisch y l’allemange. Billions of words and sentences, different languages.

But before all that, nutrition. Vitamin B1, B12, calcium, selenium, whole proteins. Low carb, smart carb. 8 Glasses of water a day.

This is just a small body. There’s not room for much between my skin and my bone.

At the table there is cake. I eat the icing.

-don’t tell me you don’t like cake

-I just like the icing.

I tricked him, though I didn’t mean to. I painted a picture on myself of a warm woman full of passions and ideas and he fell in love with her. But I cannot explain to him why I am so angry and sad for no reason, or why I shiver all the time. Or why I’m doing so well in school and not much else. And how I don’t know how to talk to his family.

And now he starts to realise that I’m not a woman, not even a human at all.

We do not stay at the hotel.

The next day I take a train home and continue writing a script for a film I’m making.

He makes his excuses. I never see him again.

Sirens and Spires

On the Wednesday the 5th of January, 11.56AM, it begins. An ominous male voice, faded and cracked, barks instructions in Czech through old tannoy speakers, which echo across the city. Whilst this is a habitual occurrence in Prague, it is the first of the new year, and the first I’ve heard since my return to the city days before.

I cannot understand the words being spoken, but I know what they mean. I hesitate, eyeing the newly fallen snow outside, before cracking open a window, chest infection be damned.

At 12 midday on the dot, the sirens start blaring. A loud, grating wail encompasses the city, echoing on every corner. I sit on the floor beside my window, listening in silence, and I feel the strangest calm wash over me, a connectedness I can’t find words for.

After 3 minutes it’s done.                   11204868_1048394705172780_7719482840147076697_n

Air raid sirens are not romantic. They are not exciting. They shouldn’t be a part of the appeal for this city, which has so much incredible culture and history to offer. I definitely wouldn’t recommend them as a tourist attraction. They are part of the remnants of a broken and troubled past, the reality of which is a not so distant memory for many still living in the city.

And yet, days later, when asked what it is that I love about Prague, those sirens are the first thing to come to mind.

On the 9th of October 2015, a plane flying from Gatwick airport touched down onto Vaclav Havel with me on board. I knew no one in this city. And as I watched a it fly by me for the first time from the window of my prepaid taxi, I began to realise that I knew nothing about it either. “Where are the cobbled streets and golden turrets?” I thought. “Where is Prague?”

Prague has always held an appeal to me. But the strange thing about this, and something which became apparent to me once I moved here, is that I didn’t actually know much about the city, or the country at all. I knew that it was very old, supposedly very romantic, and that it used to be a soviet territory. Other than that, I couldn’t even tell you what famous landmarks it held. Central and Eastern Europe has always drawn me, and Prague in particular, ever since I was a teenager. And yet, I have no idea where that idea came from. Somehow, this city has been calling to me. But for what unconscious purpose, I’m not sure.

A few days after I arrived, I found the Prague I had dreamed of at 17. In the old town and around the river, in amongst the hidden treasures and the tourist traps, the pub crawls and the astronomical clock. But even having found what I was supposedly looking for, the city left me cold. And between that time and now I have struggled to find the words to describe it, with its mess of post soviet architecture and streets which have remained more or less unchanged since the 15th Century. For a long time, all I could think of was; picture the most beautiful place imaginable. Now imagine somewhere really ugly, to the extent that it’s almost charming. Now throw them together and cover them in graffiti. That’s Prague.

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Which isn’t to say that I regretted coming here. Within a month, my mental health had improved Suddenly, rather than depression weeks or months, I had depression days. I had “bouts of anxiety” rather than generally feeling anxious. Coming here gave me the distance and the perspective that I needed, with a job I enjoyed, fantastic people to get to know and an amazing history and culture to experience. What’s more, the rent is cheap, the public transport is excellent, and despite the backdrop of traditional Czech goulash, Prague is surprisingly vegan and vegetarian friendly.

Still, returning to Scotland for two weeks at Christmas felt like returning to reality. Suddenly, my life as an English teacher in Prague felt like a far away pipe dream, something as strange and unreal as its pastel paint coloured buildings. I felt as though, having got some perspective, I could be ready to move back and carry on building my life there even earlier than I originally intended.

And I return in January and, once again, find myself torn between two countries. How can you not love a city where at any point you might look up and see a castle surrounded by mist? Where every street corner seems to encapsulate a multitude of centuries, both modern and not. Where there is never any shortage of a new square or cathedral to explore. Where every week there is a new film festival or cultural arts show to discover. Even the trams seemed more enchanting in the new year. Somehow, despite not being what I thought I wanted, Prague has found its way under under my skin.

10413369_1086413624704221_2831435134698915083_nI don’t know what brought me here, and I don’t know how long I will stay. I know that the
Czech Republic isn’t where I want to settle. But something about this city hooks into your guts and won’t let go, leaving you giddy and breathless. Something about the way the trees grow sparsely, the open spaces and countryside interspersed with run down, dilapidated mansions. The timelessness of it. The history. The feeling of hundreds of years still existing in a single space. The way you can look up one street and see glass office building, and down another to golden spires and turrets, a perfect mix of beautiful and grotesque.

And the sirens? They bring home the strangeness of it all. A monthly reminder of a history which is not always apparent on the surface.

Czech people are known for two things; their fabled coldness to strangers, and their honesty, which can at times be brutal. Regardless of whether these things are true, they both appeal to me on an instinctual level. When I first arrived here, part of me was hoping that the city would freeze me, make me hard and timeless too. That’s no longer what I want, but I see the appeal. And something about this city finds its way inside you in unexpected ways, and sticks there, not in your heart, but in your bones.