She continues to travel often. I watch on social media, follow the little red line on the map in my mind. Eastern Europe, mostly. Places Russia once controlled through liberation. More recently Africa. Spots you wouldn’t think of. East Coast Tropics. Praslin. Nugwi. The exotic photos fuel my landlocked isolation. I dream of Carolina beaches, the Caribbean, Hawaii. It’s easy to forget beaches exist in other places.
She has two children with the other man from Prague. A five-year-old daughter who loves jumper dresses. A toddler son, a mirror miniature of his father.
We met walking the secluded paths through the woods on Petrin Hill. She stopped and I passed, took a dirt path, reached a fork and climbed higher. Unfamiliar bugs drifted by on a calm breeze. The path opened to a clearing. A stone angel statue. A bench. A half circle of trees enclosed the clearing; the other 180 degrees floating in the sky over Prague.
I sat on the bench and gazed out at the city’s expanse. The Vltava snaked under tiny bridges; the TV tower rose in the distance; Cerny’s sculpted babies crawling up and down its communist sides. The city edges where Prague blurred into Czech countryside.
She entered the clearing.
“I can take picture?” she said.
“Are you Czech?” she asked.
“You want to go?” she said, pointing at St. Vitus Cathedral spiraling into the cloudless sky.
On the way, I learned she knew maybe ten words of English, which was ten more than I knew of Russian. It became a smart phone/Google translate game. I took her picture in front of the Cathedral. She sat beside me, our backs against a cold stonewall. I put my arm around her. We gazed up at the Cathedral, which look slanted from our vantage point.
“I like it,” she said.
Later, walking through Old Town, we found a café. I ordered beers. We drank outside in calm silence. Her gazed drifted to the bustling Old Town Square. I batted the charm that dangled from her bracelet.
Eventually, I typed I need to shower and change. She asked if I wanted to meet later for dinner and music.
Mustek station, center? She suggested.
I confirmed she meant the middle where the A metro stops?
Center is middle?
Yes, beautiful Russian girl, center is middle.
We left in opposite directions, entering the moving wall of tourists. I glanced over my shoulder, but she wasn’t looking back.
I first glimpsed the future husband on social media while searching for her that same evening. Their chance encounter came a day earlier. Photos at other tourist mainstays: the metronome, the top of The Powder Tower. Him in the comments the way men are when they don’t want to come off too cool, but don’t want to be forgotten.
Back at the hostel, I mentioned the 8 o’clock meeting to my suitemate.
“Jesus, that’s a shot in the dark,” he said.
On the metro, I grew certain he was right. Two million people in Prague. I approached center station, scanning the faces of passing strangers. By 8:05, I wandered aimless for the exit.
“Are you okay?” she asked, ebbing from the crowd.
She chose a pizza place for dinner. We sat at a corner table. I handed her a folded-up piece of paper. She read it, threw back her head and laughed.
I’d written, “You look great tonight,” in Russian, no easy feat. We shared a calzone. She cut up several pieces before eating. I cut off pieces one at a time.
We made efforts to stay in touch online, but it proved tedious. The few months we tried were a testament to our connection. I still have her last message archived:
Mila: I am staying with my Aunt in the country for several weeks. At night it rains, and the wind blows apples from the tree that hangs over my bedroom. The apples thud on the tin roof of the house and roll off onto the ground below.
After dinner, we walked around the square. She spun, gazing up at the Tyn Church and the Atomic Clock, unsure which to look at. My choice less difficult, I grabbed her hands, and we spun together.
We stood on The Charles Bridge. Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral perched above it bathed in starlight. She leaned against the rail. The wind softly blew her hair. We kissed. A piano in the distance. A woman sang opera. A cold wind. It started to rain.
We sought shelter in another cafe.
“I’m sorry I don’t speak Russian,” I said.
“No, I am sorry I do not speak English.”
The Atomic Clock showed 11:30. She grew worried about walking home. I typed that we could make the metro. We walked the wrong way, asked directions, then had to back track. I walked fast. She had trouble keeping up. I pointed at her legs. She sped past, sticking out her tongue.
The metro tore along. Her stop came first. She caught me watching her in the window’s reflection and turned away. Her stop arrived too fast. I should have gotten off with her to say goodbye. Instead we shared an awkward hug and she exited as the doors were closing. The train departed. I watched through the window as she bled into the distance; the last time I saw her in the flesh. Now I watch her disappear vertically through other windows each time I absently scroll away.
© Wilson Koewing
Wilson Koewing is a writer from South Carolina. He received an MFA in creative writing from the University of New Orleans. He lives in Denver, Colorado. His work is forthcoming in Pembroke Magazine, (Mac)ro(Mic) and The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts.