That March day of the year 2000 turned out great. The beautiful Saturday allowed the Říha family to sit outside in the garden of Mrs. James’ house. They were sitting at a small garden table and savored the moment of family happiness. Alice was smiling; Kačenka was concentrating as she drew trees into the map, pressing hard on the crayon as she colored the lakes blue. David felt happy. He knew the thorny period would pass in a few days. In fact it was already gone. This Thursday he’ll go to the exam, his third try. He knew for sure he hadn’t neglected his preparation. In the ambulance car he studied every day and night. He kept warm thanks to his small propane space-heater; occasionally he bought extra batteries for his flash-light that he’d hung on the infusion hook under the ceiling. Like a true grad student. When he went shopping, he always got something also for Lord – that’s what his neighbor from the yard’s corner liked to be called.
“Is he studying too, Alice, that Hungarian engineer? You said he was an engineer, right?”
“Oh David, I didn’t get a chance to tell you. You mean Layosh? He doesn’t work there anymore.”
“He made it? Is he in the field?” gasped David in excitement. That would surely be encouraging. It’s possible then! If Layosh can do it, so can David. He’ll pass the exam, do his residency, and then start up his own practice. That’s what will happen.
“He’s not there since Christmas. I keep reminding myself to tell you the story, and then I always forget. That time he was in such a good mood, he got text-messages from lots of people and felt really happy about it. He was joking around and was on a roll. I liked working with him, I really did. At first he didn’t seem that way, but then he’d opened up.”
“So why did he leave? Does he have something better?”
“David, that day he was working together with Stefie. And she had new blond highlights that evening. Well, she’s normally blond, but it was brighter. Layosh told her that he feels as though he’s working next to the Christmas star. And then said something like: he would wrap her in a shiny Christmas paper, tie with a golden string, and then she would be his Christmas present. He was joking around with everyone. Then he also asked if we could all roll him around in the suspended seat, and he’d just be directing us to work from above.”
“If he had a whip….”
“You two are the same. Except that Stefie reported it as harassment and after the New Year they fired him.”
“Yes, yes. That’s very bad for him, because that will be like a scar. Everyone wants references from previous employers, and if they say that he was let go because of this, that’s very bad. Very much so. You have to be really careful, David. You’re easily capable of unwittingly sweet-talking some woman. They’d quickly fire you too. You’re capable of it, you pretty-boy.”
But David wasn’t laughing. He was thinking about Layosh, even though he didn’t know him personally. He understood his situation. He could put himself in his shoes, imagine the mood when one feels happy and just keeps talking.
“So Layosh…,” mumbled David for himself.
But now they were sitting outside and giving themselves over to the first spring sunshine. A few moments later, as they lazily lounged about and chatted, a pretty Filipino girl came out of the house and politely asked if she could join them. She sat down, didn’t say anything, only smiled and looked from one to the other, a photo album in hand. They were all quiet when the girl spoke.
“Can I show you a few photographs?”
“Of course, Rosita. What are they?” The girl lit up with joy, like orchestra when it starts to play. She placed the book on the table and turned the stiff cover. In the first photograph was captured a white country house, several chickens, and in the background a palm tree. In front of the house stood six people. Straightened up and smiling. The girl began describing.
“This is our house, not far from Ceb. This man in the tank-top, that’s my dad, he actually built the house. There had been another one there, but this one is better; he built it when I was small. This next one,” her finger slid on the photo, “that’s my sister Gerly. She’s younger than me. She’d like to move away too, but she’s still thinking about it. For now she’s still at my parents’.”
Alice and Dave exchanged understanding glances. One like the other looked at her head, bent over her photograph, her straight black hair falling down a little. She must have leafed through that album a thousand times. Every page, examining the details of each photograph. They let her guide them through the pictures and carefully listened as she narrated.
“…and there,” she began laughing, “…that’s me on a cow. I was six and my uncle put me on it. At first I was scared and cried, but then I liked it so much that I wanted to ride on her all the time.”
Rosita got to the final photo on the last page and closed the album.
“That’s really amazing. Really beautiful pictures. You must miss them,” said Alice. The girl tightened her lips, didn’t say anything and then nodded with a slight smile. David wanted to ask her what she was studying, if she had a boyfriend, and whether she’s had a chance to visit the Philippines yet. But the girl smiled, thanked them, and said she’d go back to her room. She got up, curtsied slightly and with the album under her arm she returned into the house. Alice and David didn’t have to say anything. Everyone, no matter where they came from, everyone who found the courage to take the reins of their life into their own hands and make that step, had left their heart elsewhere.
“David, I still have that pillow and a blanket of yours here. I should’ve driven it up there for you a long time ago. So that you wouldn’t have to sleep on the rented stuff.”
“I don’t mind it, Alice.” David noted the danger.
“Here I’m just moving it from place to place and you could use it. Maybe we can take it there right now.”
David stretched out in the garden chair to signal that he doesn’t feel like going anywhere and offered an explanation.
“I spend so much time there, that I don’t really want to go there on a Saturday too.”
“Sure, I don’t blame you. But I thought we could just take it there and turn right back, and then we could take a little trip somewhere, since it’s so nice out.” David felt besieged; he didn’t have an answer ready that could effectively halt Alice’s suggestions. He kept trying.
“Why not. Maybe it’s a good idea. But I’m not sure if now is the best time, with the construction and dust everywhere.” He felt anxious that Alice kept insisting on her idea.
“David, I already tied it all up. I can imagine that you’re tired of it and don’t want to go there if you don’t have to. But maybe now is the best day for it. Or if you want to,” she opened up a new opportunity, “maybe I could take it there Monday evening. I’d rather not drive into that area – I’m not an experienced enough driver I don’t think – but I’d do it for you.” David felt feverish.
“So we’ll go,” he declared, “when you’re ready, we can go.” He realized there was no avoiding it and that the only thing left to do now was to tell Alice everything. It was only a matter of time anyway. He knew from the beginning that the lie was untenable. In fact he himself was surprised that he was able to keep it a secret for so long. He simply was lucky. Alice won’t be happy and definitely won’t appreciate his effort to save money this way. But he, too, didn’t anticipate it would last this long. He thought it would only be a temporary solution until they would purchase a house.
Alice stood up, took the coffee cups and went inside. David and Kačenka followed her down into their basement room. Even though it was a small, single room, Alice managed to breath in the warm atmosphere of a cozy home. In that spirit she would decorate the whole house. As soon as next month.
Alice grabbed the tied up package and passed it to David.
“If only things worked out the way you’d want them to, right?” he was preparing for his key announcement.
“Then you’d get bored, if I know you.”
“That’s true,” he laughed. They got dressed and were soon on their way.
Kačenka was in a chatty mood and her dad welcomed it. Silence in the car would force him to touch on the topic. At the first right opportunity he would open it, though; he has no choice. It will be a shock for both Alice and Kačenka, when they find out he’s been living in a decommissioned ambulance at some dump yard. For sure they’ll want to go there to see it. They’ll see Lord there. And what will he do then? It was a dead-end situation.
Leisurely he was driving towards Superb Accommodations dormitory and was getting ready to take a deep breath to tell them everything. He pulled up to the entrance and stopped at the curb. Alice beat him to it.
“What is that?” she was pointing to an information board in front of the building. David had last been here in the spring when he was moving out.
“Oh yeah, the sign,” David was trying to create the impression that he’s familiar with it from his daily life there, as he began to read.
“…during renovations, the moving of larger personal objects is limited. For details contact John Ferrell, supervisor….Oh see, Alice, I completely forgot about that. That’s my fault.” The weight fell off him, like spring snow off a roof, “there’s nothing we can do, we have to take it back.”
“It looks that way. We can do that in the evening, I’d really like to go somewhere.”
“That’s a fantastic idea. I should probably study a bit, but now I don’t even know what.”
It was gone, the burden was lifted.
“Most importantly, you’ll need to get a good-night’s sleep before the drive. On Wednesday early in the morning you could take the car and get going. I’ll drive it up to Superb, fill it with gas, you can drop me off at the nursing home and then you’ll be on your way. I’ll try to bake something for you, I’m sure Mrs. James will let me use the oven.”
“You don’t even need to drive the car to the dorm. I’ll come for it here.”
“That’s absurd, I’ll gladly take it there for you, I don’t start until eleven, so I can be at Superb at ten.”