I walked along the Charles Bridge towards the Old Town, stopping to inspect the stone saints on their parapets. A few looked down at me and other passersby from the balustrade, but most looked out over the distance, keeping perpetual watch over the city. It was a cool November day, past the typical tourist season, and I was happy to be alone for a few hours for our scheduled free time after a full day of following my classmates around through Prague on our senior class trip. It was three months into my exchange year—my Slovak was getting better every day but it was exhausting to try to keep up in the classroom, let alone touring a new city.
My classmates ran off to a bar the moment we were dismissed by our teacher. They had all, likely, been to Prague a hundred times growing up. There was no mystery in the city for them like it held for me. They hadn’t dreamed of it, as I had, halfway across the world in a small American town of new construction. A town completely devoid of castles on the hill, stained glass filled cathedrals, and cobblestone pathways. A town, so familiar to me, completely devoid of romance.
So, I walked slowly across the bridge, looking at the statues, watching swans disappear under the arches of the bridge as they floated down the Vltava river. Wooden marionettes danced on command of the man pulling their strings behind them, a Czech band played New Orleans style jazz, artists sketched on easels with charcoal in broad strokes. All laid out hats hoping to attract spare coins.
At the end of the bridge, an artist was unrolling sheets of plastic to cover his paintings. I looked up at the sky and noticed the storm clouds gathering. The man was displaying thousands of hours of work—painting after painting—each in a different color, but the same image over and over. I recognized the artist’s face in the work immediately, his endless self-portraits—the only thing missing in real life were the devil horns that appeared on every image. I hurried past him and his art, telling myself I wanted to avoid the storm. It was almost time for me to meet my teacher and classmates to go back to our hostel anyway.
The wind picked up and the rain started in heavy. I was soon soaking wet and disoriented in this foreign city. A few hours earlier on this street I might have found someone that spoke English to give me directions but there was no one out now.
I ducked into a sparely lit stone corridor and found a door stoop to sit on until the storm passed. I worried for a moment that someone would open their door to find me occupying their steps but after a while I realized I was very much alone.
Until they came along. Two men, dark hair, dark eyes—they could have been brothers had it not been for their differences in stature. I remained seated, hoping they’d walk right past me. Naïve to think I wasn’t the reason they were walking down the corridor, towards the rain.
One was short and talkative—he automatically spoke English to me, likely judging my western origin from my long, striped cotton dress and Doc Marten boots. The other was tall and silent. Silent the entire time. He just stared at me, smoking while the other one talked.
The short one said they would like to take me to a movie.
I apologized that I wouldn’t be able to join: I had to get back once the rain slowed down a bit.
He said if I didn’t like movies maybe we could play some pool.
I said I was sorry, but I couldn’t.
He said they’d buy me drinks.
No, I really can’t, people are expecting me.
He said maybe we could go back to his place and fuck.
No, I really, really can’t. I have to go right now.
He said he wouldn’t let me go, we should really go back to his place. His friend just stared at me.
I decided to try reasoning with him—he hadn’t seen my height, all 6’1’’. I had convinced myself a while ago, erroneously, that short men couldn’t be attracted to me because of my height. Just as I had convinced myself, erroneously, that I was impervious to harassment for the same reason. This was the illogical, magical thinking of someone that had no sexual experience whatsoever.
Someone that had never even been kissed.
So, I told him, he wouldn’t like me anyway; I was too tall. I even stood up to show him. I thought I had a chance to convince him that I was a freak. That he wouldn’t want me.
My breasts were at his eye level. He said he liked me fine.
The silent one stepped closer. I sat back down.
The short one said he thought I was beautiful—he said he loved my long brown hair, my lips, my eyes, even, that I was tall.
I said I had people waiting for me.
He said he wouldn’t let me go until I kissed him. He made his conditions very clear.
I knew then that I didn’t have a choice. The rain was still pounding the cobblestones outside. No one else was coming. So, I told him I would.
I would kiss him. He just had to come down to my level to meet me soaked and sitting on a stranger’s doorstep in a city half way across the world from my safe American hometown and I would give my first kiss to him.
He squatted down on his haunches. I took his hands in mine and looked into his dark eyes. I reasoned with myself that I had to kiss him or he wouldn’t let me go. I told myself to do this and maybe I would be safe. And so, I leaned forward to bring my lips just inches from his.
And something inside me took over.
I took my hands, cupping his for this promised kiss. I took our hands and shoved them into his chest. Shoved him so that he fell hard from his haunches to the dirty stone floor. I surprised him. I surprised myself.
He sprang up and ran out into the rain. He called me the worst word in the English language. A word I had never been called before. But I was unscathed. His friend, still silent, stalked after him. Away.
I sat for a moment and breathed, watching for them to return, watching for the rain to let up.
When I finally joined my party, my teacher was angry. She demanded to know where I had been.
I didn’t have the words to explain in Slovak. I wasn’t sure I had the words in English. So, I just said, I’m sorry. I got caught in the rain.
Aubri K. Adkins earned a B.A. in the Liberal Arts from Lawrence University in Appleton, WI and M.A. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology in Chicago, IL. She is an emerging writer member of the Detroit Working Writers as well as a member of Springfed Arts. She is also the founder of the East Side Reading Series, a series for writers of all genres reading original work in Detroit, MI.
Cover Image:"I'd like to tell you one fairytale"watercolor2014Dima Rebus