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GEORGE AITCH

FROM PRAGUE WITH LOVE

Following the second year of our course, my girlfriend and I took an Erasmus year with our two friends. We applied for Prague and luckily enough, all four of us got places. We began the year in two apartments in the same building but on different floors. I have to admit, it was a fantastic year and if any of you are considering it I honestly recommend it. It went by so quickly and I have so many great memories of the time we spent out there. The international community was so close knit that at come June it was such a shame to consider that we were all going back to our home countries.

To celebrate our year together, I proposed that we throw a goodbye party at our flat. Of course everyone agreed and thought it was a good idea. So we spent a day preparing the apartment, buying Czech beer (Kozel, that stuff is amazing), getting snacks etc. We asked everyone to turn up at eight, knowing that being millennials they’d get here for nine instead.  We promised that since it was the last party any of us were throwing it would be the wildest one, it would stand out in our minds when we all thought back to the twelve months we spent away from home.

Dead on eight the buzzer rang and Sara pressed the button for the door. Five minutes later there came a knock at the door and I got it. It was the Germans; Jannik, Finn, Hanni and Hanni’s boyfriend, Tom. They were immaculately turned out with smart casual clothes and neatly combed hair. Rolling my eyes mentally, I let them in and took their jackets. We opened up a few of the beers and they sat neatly on the couch and made polite conversation. Sara was still getting ready in our room and I didn’t know them as well as her so it was somewhat strained to speak to them. 

With hands clasped neatly together they didn’t touch the arrangement of snacks I’d put on the coffee table. Eventually Sara was ready and appeared with a glass of wine.

“Oh you guys didn’t have to go to all that effort.” She said, placing her glass on the table and switching on the stereo.

“We wanted to. It will be nice for everything to go out with a bang.” They laughed and I drank more of the beer. Half an hour later, the buzzer went again, so I stood vigil by the door. I opened it to Alan and Dave, our friends from Exeter who’d come with us. Since the weather had been so good they’d spent the afternoon in a beer garden watching the football and were a few pints below sober. They came in with sandals, sunburns and untucked shirts. When the Germans saw them they briefly looked horrified but regained their composure. Alan was carrying a keg which he put down in the walk-in kitchen.

A couple of others turned up quickly after that and we hung around on the couches telling stories about mutual friends and just reminiscing about the year gone by. Silly stories involving drinking and running from the police in Prague who infamously hate foreigners. The number of times Sara and I were told that our ticket was valid and we had to pay an on the spot fine in cash was enough for us to throw the whole thing in and buy a pair of bikes. Cycling around was lovely but in the touristy area near the Karlův Most it was impossible; too many narrow alleys and too many people. Plus the cobbled streets make you saddle sore fast.

Dave was just reminding Alan of the pub crawl we did starting at the Švejk themed bar where we took along two packets of soft mints. Whenever Alan was distracted at the bar, we plopped a mint into his pint. This had the effect of making it foam up, looking like it’d been poured badly, so Alan would order another. Me and Dave were laughing over the pizzas we had and watching it happen. Eventually Alan got sick of this and downed the recent minty pint, following this by vomiting pure pizza and foam in the smoking section. Dave took one look at his stomach contents and said “Mate, you need to chew your food.”

The Germans laughed politely and I left to let Ram in. He swaggered into the kitchen and placed a pack of Camels, bottle of tequila, a bag of lemons and a salt shaker he’d swiped from a café on the counter.

“This is what I do today.”

I tried to tell if he was joking, but his sunglasses made it difficult. I sliced a lemon and we did a couple of slammers as he told me a story about a strip club he’d been to here and how they compared to the ones back home. I don’t doubt that he was telling the truth; he knows much more about this thing than I do. There were a couple around but the one time I’d taken Ram, Phillippe and their friends on the offer I found the place so skeezy I didn’t stay for long. The whole idea of if made me uncomfortable. When Sara heard me getting back early she asked what was wrong and I fibbed about leaving my wallet at home.

Back in the main room the party was starting to take off a bit more. There comes a point in every evening where the volume of the music is louder than the conversation and we had just crossed that threshold.

Seeing me coming from the kitchen, Phillippe and Simone left the balcony, dragging the cigarette smoke inside. I watched Sara get up and close the screen door. The couple approached me and drew me into tight hug.

“How’re you guys doing? Can I get you anything? A drink?”

“We shall make two coffees?” Simone suggested and I showed her where everything was. In the meantime Phillippe attempted to start chatting to me about Neo-Hermeneutics but those two tequila slammers were swimming warmly through my bloodstream so I didn’t follow. It was a relief when the kettle clicked and I could escape and finish the coffee before leaving the two of them to talk about whatever that was.

Around midnight the music was still loud, but not loud enough to disguise the knocks at my door, which is weird because I don’t think anyone buzzed. I pulled back the door two reveal two stern looking policemen standing there.

“Dobrý večer.” I said nervously. “Er, mohu vám pomoci?” While my Czech has improved, that’s not saying much. I’m still pretty hopeless.

“Vaše strana je příliš hlasitý. Všichni z vás dělají příliš velký hluk. Ostatní lidé v tomto byt si stěžovali na nás. Každý musí odejít, ted!” They were talking too fast, so I called in for Sara who spoke Czech better than me.

“Do you, er, Angličtina? English?”

“You are being too noisy. The people either side are complaining.” I know that at least one of the buildings next to us is deserted, but whatever. “Everyone must leave. We give you half an hour.” One said in heavily accented English.

“I’m sorry.” I said “We’ll keep it down, please, just give us another chance.” The other one spoke. He was shorter and had a smoker’s voice.

“Lissen! Ve do not climb all zees stairs because ve feel like eet. Ve vere up heer last night.”

“Right, but that wasn’t us.” I interrupted but the man kept going.

“Fur uz to be coming up heer ever night and to let the noise go on, ve look bad, ok? Stop eet! Pack that stuff up. Stop making noise you guys!” At this point we were joined in the corridor by Sara and Pavel, who was munching a bun. Fuck knows where he’d got that from. Pavel is one of the few people we know actually from the Czech Republic that we are lucky enough to count as a friend. I’m not sure he even studies at the university.

“I sort this.” He says and sends a text. Then he gestures to the policemen in the corridor and starts speaking rapid fire Czech, occasionally winking at me and giving me the thumbs up. I have no idea so I leave him to it and turn down the stereo, for which I am booed. I shrug and wait with Sara for Pavel. Ten minutes later he re-enters and removes his shoes by the door.

“I sort it.” He said and I hand him a drink for his troubles.

“But how?” Sara asks

Pavel just shrugs “I know some people.” We press him for more and it turns out that his father knows the police chief of this district or something like that. He sent a couple of messages to his dad who passed them on to his poker buddy or whatever and the situation went away. I am amazed at his connections and ingenuity but that’s pretty much the only thing surprising about this scenario. The party shall go on.

And it did. At two in the morning we were still going. I left Sara and Hanni on the couch telling lewd jokes. The rest of the Germans had gone home to bed by now. Phillippe and Simone were still debating on some such or another. Alan was passed out by the stereo and someone had taken an artistic sharpie to his face. I was surveyed the place, swaying a little bit.

Ram was leaning on the open window with his bottle of tequila which was half full or half empty depending on what type of person you are. Dave and I grabbed him and tried to pull him inside, worrying about his teetering position. In a contest of drunk Ram versus five floors up I think the concrete below would win. He struggled against us, but we tugged him inside and locked the window, placing Ram in the kitchen.

As if to thank us, we flashed a white bag at Dave which wasn’t salt. I left them to it and rejoined Sara, who still hadn’t used up half her bank of dirty jokes I’d heard her tell me, so I reminded them of a few. Pavel was on his mobile phone next to me.

At half three there were more knocks at the door. It was either Simone and Phillippe managing to have locked themselves out or the Spanish guys we invited, who still weren’t here. We had graduated to Absinthe which Pavel had brought for us as a goodbye present. I hate that stuff. Never drink anything that tastes worse than mouthwash.

Tripping over a pile of shoes, I made my way to the door. The people behind it were neither French nor Spanish. They were Czech. More importantly they were Czech police officers again, those these weren’t the same as before. I leant against the doorframe and tried to look more sober than I was. I don’t think it worked. One big one with a thick black moustache bellowed.

“Je to tři hodiny ráno. Vy všichni musí jít hned, nebo jsme zatknout každého!”

I looked to Pavel again but he was having an argument with the Russians on the balcony. They’d mostly kept to themselves this evening. Instead, my unlikely saviour came in the form of Ram who dived at one of the officers, still managing to keep his sunglasses on. Oh shit, we’re for it now.

Two of the officers grabbed Ram and pinned him to the ground, which wasn’t too difficult but he was wriggling like a madman. The third pushed me against the wall and held my hands together behind my back. As she did so, I heard someone yelling at me from the stairs.

“What’s going on? We though there was a party?”

Finally, the Spanish had arrived.