Wednesday 18th Day six.
After a bad day the day before, I woke up feeling deliriously happy and at the same time very, very sad. Our holiday was coming to an end and I so didn’t want it to. I’d had a fantastic time. I know that the way I’ve written this it might not come across as the best holiday ever, but it was a much needed break and I’d thoroughly enjoyed it. I admit that the attitude and unfriendliness of the people wasn’t pleasant, but in an odd way it only helped to make the holiday more special. It was like an annoying but loveable character trait. They as a nation, or certainly a city, didn’t like us. They made no secret of the fact that they didn’t like us. At times I found them hard to like because of this, but I respected them. After initially being hurt by it, I came to realise that we weren’t going to be able to change anything and put it down to a very nearly, almost charming, but still irritable national quirk. Apart form my horrible fat bastard day, it in no way spoiled our holiday.
But I was still plagued by demons. In Kafka Town earlier in the week, I’d seen a sign advertising a flat to let. I couldn’t get it out of my head. It was there day and night and I’d been fantasising about renting the flat and simply walking out. I could leave Russ, sleeping with a half smile on his face, my family, friends, work, everything. I could get work; travel east, or west, or south or north, crossing countries at will until the trail was too random to be traced, should anybody want to trace me at all. And then I could just keep moving in one big country with no paper trail, possessions or weight. I’d take only casual work, millions of people back pack, why can’t I? I could do it. I could. What’s to stop me? I could just disappear in a puff of smoke. It stopped being a fantasy at some point and took on a slant of realism, I mean, really, what was to stop me? I almost made the first move. I stood looking down on him like some crazy murderer just lacking a knife. Though it wasn’t about him, he’s okay; it was just all of life. I picked up my passport. I took my money out of the safe—and still he slept. It was providence. I was meant to do this. I looked at the door. It was almost dawn. I nearly took that first step.
I almost made it.
This was our last full day. The glorious weather that we’d enjoyed had broken the night before and although the day wasn’t bad it was nowhere near as good as we’d had.
We went into town because I wanted to look for something special for him to hide away for his birthday. It mattered so much to me to get him something from Prague. The poor man was confused. He didn’t know if I was ill or just didn’t want to be with him. I wanted to be loved up and tried to force it. I reassured him that everything was fine but I badly wanted my gift to be a total surprise for him on his birthday. Every time we saw a likely looking shop I made some excuse to get rid of him. He hadn’t a clue what was going on.
I’d decided that I wanted to buy him a gold chain; I had a budget of a hundred quid and didn’t want much. It didn’t even have to be a weighty gold, nine carat would have done, just something that came from Prague that he could always remember our first holiday by. I kept dumping him in the street, waiting for him to round a corner and then running back like somebody demented to the jewellery shop that I had seen five minutes before. There was nothing, not a bloody thing. The cheapest, thinnest, almost non-existent chain that would break in the first five minutes began at over a hundred pounds. I was so disappointed. We went for a coffee and Russ looked miserable. ‘What’s the matter with you? Don’t you want me anymore?’ I must admit I had been acting irrationally. In his place, far from coming to the conclusion that I didn’t want to be with him, I’d have decided that I was ready for a padded room. I had to come clean so I told him what I’d been up to all morning. Far from looking relieved he only looked worried, ‘Did you get one?’
I was crestfallen, in fact my crest was completely flaccid. ‘No, I couldn’t find anything nice at all.’ What I meant was I couldn’t find anything cheap enough at all.
‘Good, please don’t buy me jewellery, babe, I hate it.’
I already knew that. He will wear a watch under sufferance but he already has two of those, he doesn’t need another one. Other than that he doesn’t like any bling at all which I’m glad about apart from when it comes to buying him presents. I just thought with us having such a good holiday that it would be nice for him to have something that he could keep always. He’s not an ornamenty kind of person, and I never saw a single thing in Prague that would be nice to display at home. The only other option was a tankard; the Czeczs are big on those. Russ bought himself a glass one but they also do big, earthenware tankards with pewter lids. They began at about thirty English pounds and went up to Oh my god. For what they were I didn’t think they were worth the money and I didn’t want a cup, I wanted something special.
I was stumped. Walking down the street I smelled a new but familiar scent. I have this habit of sniffing strange men in the street. Luckily I’ve never been arrested for it, yet. I like nice smells and although I couldn’t identify a single one by name I’m pretty sure that I know the smell of every single aftershave or cologne commonly on sale in Britain. While in Prague I’d smelled this particular smell twice. Walking down that street I noticed it for a third time. It was new and different and absolutely gorgeous. I stopped, sniffed the air like a droopy eyed blood hound and scanned the men bustling past in an attempt to identify which man the smell had come from. Soon all the nearest men had gone and so had the smell. We continued for another few feet and there it was again. A tout was standing in the street handing out flyers for a restaurant. ‘Come on,’ I said, pulling Russ behind me, ‘it’s him.’ He was a very good looking Black man. I think Russ thought that I was going to rape him where he stood.
‘Jane, you can’t go sniffing strangers in the street, it’s not natural.’
‘Don’t worry, I’ll be subtle.’
I went up to the man and smiled at him. Grabbing at a bit of good luck and another penny in commission he thrust a menu into my hand and went into his spiel about it being the cheapest restaurant in Old Town. I never heard a word; I was too busy sniffing him, which probably convinced him that all Brits are nut cases. It was him. He had the elusive smell. This was my chance to buy Russ something nice. It wouldn’t be a keepsake for forever but at least it was something. I let the man prattle on, said that we’d ‘probably’ return for a meal there that evening. I felt guilty about conning the poor bloke who thought he’d snared a couple of punters and went in for the kill.
‘The restaurant looks lovely. We’re eating out later and will do our best to come back here if we’re in this part of town, um, your aftershave….?’
He looked blank.
‘Aftershave? Smell?’ I leaned in closer and sniffed elaborately, ‘Cologne? What is it called?’
He finally understood what I was talking about, realised that he’d been scammed but was flattered by the attention from this fat Brit who would, obviously, fantasise about him for months when she got back to England because she fancied him rotten (in his arrogant dreams). He couldn’t remember the name of it, and if it was Czech, I wouldn’t have been able to pronounce it anyway but he directed us to Tesco.
Tesco eh? Cheap ’n’ cheerful to boot, perfect. I could buy him this gift here while I didn’t have lot of spare dosh and then buy him something special back home.
And he we hit a major cultural difference. Tesco in England is just plain and simply Tesco… the same shop in Prague is as different as spam is from sirloin. This was no week’s-shop supermarket. It was Debenham’s with a price hike. The shop was inlaid with designer cosmetic counters and we marched over to a likely looking one. I was still optimistic that I’d get what I wanted for well under twenty quid despite the snotty assistant and the high class look of the place, it was Tesco for goodness sake.
The woman reluctantly gave us two little strips of smelly stuff, neither of them were the smell. I pointed to two more and the woman looked at us like dirt. I don’t dress in designer labels like the ladies of Prague. We’d had two paper strips and two measly squirts of her precious aftershave for free. She indicated that we should buy one of those two products. I pointed impatiently to the next two and she made no secret of the fact that she begrudged helping us any further. In fairness, she probably thought that we were time wasters with no intention of buying anything, but even so, her customer service skills smelled worse than the two cat piss aromas up my nose. We continued with this game for another five minutes by which point we had about eight smelly papers in front of us from the dozens on sale. I lost my patience with her and the whole attitude. We should have just left and walked out of the shop, there were plenty of other perfumeries. I was hot and didn’t want to give her my custom. I am not something disgusting on her shoe. But I badly wanted to buy Russ something nice from Prague. I testily told him to just pick the one that he liked he best and we’d buy that. He made his choice, something called, Apparition and I told the lady that we’d take it. She looked shocked that we were really going to buy something, but not as shocked as me two minutes later. I’d never once asked a price for anything. I nearly hit the floor when it cost me coppers short of fifty quid.
I didn’t give a damn about spending that much. I’d have paid it gladly if I felt that we were getting value for money or if it was something that Russ really wanted. But, we’d bought it out of frustration because we couldn’t find the stuff that we did like. I just hope that he likes it once we get home because at that price it’s bloody tough if he doesn’t because he’s going to be bathing in the damned stuff. Best about it was that I’d already bought him some aftershave in England for twelve quid. It’s called Police and he smelled it one day and really liked it.
Once I’d got over the shock I didn’t mind the expenditure and at least I’d bought him something from Prague.