On the road
“If you’d told me everything, then…then we would’ve done it long ago.” Alice still couldn’t recover from the precipitous chain of events.
“But you didn’t want to. And besides, we’re not going to run away like partisans. We didn’t hurt anyone and have nothing to hide. I wanted everything to be in order, all the papers ready to go. What good would it do us, if we had to explain somewhere that we’re not running from the law. Nobody would believe us.”
“I still don’t know if it was necessary.”
“What? Alice, I hope you believe me that I’m not taking this lightly. We won’t feel complete there. I know that.”
“How do you mean?”
“We’re bringing our brain, hands, even money; we’ve sent by ship what’s close to our heart, but we can’t bring everything. How can a person take their heart when it’s here?” Alice looked at him, thought about his words, and kissed him.
“You’re a good man.”
Suitcases were checked in and already disappearing in the airport’s interior, except for David’s black saxophone case which he carried on. Their sizeable wooden box with books of Hrabal, Seifert, Čapek, with pictures, cd’s of Gott, Matuška, Semafór, Holzmann, clothing, Kačenka’s most cherished toys, with blankets and bedding, and a thousand of irreplaceable trinkets, all the small ceramic vases and figurines that are not worth moving and still they can’t be left behind, that box was already sitting among dozens of other containers, swinging on the waves of the Atlantic. At home they left just the bare walls. At home.
Alice and David weren’t talking. Now they were all waiting in the airport chairs and through the glass wall they looked out into a spring day of the year nineteen ninety-eight. The day will stay here. With the classroom full of medical students, the operating room, fun-filled boisterous soirées, his clinic, the charitable organization, Dixiemed. But that was only the surface. He knew that much deeper lie their memories, those he dared not touch. David knew that he could not fail now. Alice and Kačenka depended on him. They know that he has the compass. He always had the compass. But does he know himself whether he’s holding any compass? On these airport chairs it’s just them three – with each other and themselves – and around them, behind the glass walls, was beginning a spring that no longer belonged to them. Somewhere in the grass, violets and lilies of the valley, but they smell only for the locals. The spring will turn to summer. They’re bringing with them three calendars. Inside them, Kámen, Trosky, Kačina, Landštejn, Kost, Pernštejn,…they’ll always have those. Frozen, preserved, muted photographs, isolated moments that in reality continued on. There’s no sense in looking back. But is that possible? Relatives, parents, siblings, friends, colleagues. Staying are also those who pursued him in the white Škoda. How come that, even those who don’t deserve it, get to have this spring? Říha turned away from Alice and Kačenka and put on his sunglasses. That way, nobody would see that his eyes began to swell.
Their flight to Frankfurt was called. They got up and Kačenka waved with her teddy bear. Before her was a new fairy-tale adventure; before Alice, faith in the right steps of her husband, and before David his resolve.
David managed to get window seats for the cross-oceanic flight. For Alice and for Kačenka. He wanted them to have that experience.
Just as Europe was disappearing and shrinking behind their backs and the snowy plains and mountains of Greenland stretched beneath them, so too seemed further the thorny weeks from before. They left them behind, and David felt that nothing could get to them now. A warm feeling came over him, that for the steep price he’s buying their family’s safety. As though they were walking through Alice’s mirror in Wonderland. Nobody can catch that plane. He looked over at Alice and Kačenka, peacefully sleeping in the deep seats. He felt happy, proud. He was smiling, and knew that some clinic and a Mustang cannot possibly compare. You can keep your clinic; I’ll keep my two girls.
Deep underneath the machine’s windows, in the foggy haze, stretched out prairies stitched through with the regular pattern of roads. Flat and wide like a table without an end lay the snow-covered plains. Occasionally, the monolith was in interrupted with a farm settlement or a town.
The landing gear rumbled and the plane began to descend, shaking lightly. As the engine changed speeds, they could now see skyscrapers, rising from the plain in the distance. Impressive and grand, beautiful and different. In their backdrop, the majestic mountainous panorama. So that’s the world. Here they will be happy. Here they’ll find peace and new joys. They need nothing but each other. The land of cowboys, large cars, big houses, great opportunity. Freedom in its fullest. The way he wanted it all those years. Finally it’s here. So far away seemed to him the sifting through anonymous letters with a pounding heart. David suddenly couldn’t wait for the wheels to touch the tarmac.
They got above the city, streams of cars rushing in both directions underneath. The engines thundered again and the runway was within reach now, disappearing fast behind them. With a noticeable bump the plane landed.
Everything so different, so massive, so new. They’re here. They all felt as though everything was happening outside of them, all the sounds and voices were coming from somewhere else, another world. How will they grab this new world and not get lost in it? Where to begin? There’s no turning back now. Alice and Kačenka are waiting what he’ll decide, say, and where he’ll lead them. They’re relying on him. David suddenly felt anxious when he noticed that Alice and Kačenka are immediately behind him, following his every move.
“So we’re here, you crazies!” he shouted cheerfully, “we’ll throw our suitcases in the cab and drive to this address. That’s them. They’re supposed to be nice people.”
“I’m hungry,” whimpered Kačenka.
“So far we don’t have any…one sec, I have the money here from the bank. Here it is. Look, there’s something there.” Dragging their luggage behind them they found the first food vendor. David was confident in his English skills. It was enough to convince those in his immediate surrounding that he spoke English. How foolish his belief turned out to be. David turned to a friendly girl behind the counter, his sentence grammatically quite correct. Except that he wasn’t prepared for her response. She was asking him something. What? He’d pointed to the board and the correct menu number behind her. That’s what they wanted. The meal would contain a drink and fries, as well as a burger. Everything together. What is she asking him? The girl repeated he question with unchanged intonation and with unfamiliar words. David tried: “Yes!” figuring she’d make something out.
The girl began loading their order into paper bags and David felt a little disappointed they didn’t get a tray like everyone else. They could’ve sat down and eat it right here. Why is she putting it in bags? No matter. He pulled out a crisp thousand-dollar bill and offered it to the girl. All eyes turned to the bill, the sales-girl pulling away her hands as soon as she touched it. Then she said something quickly.
“It looks they don’t have any small cash. Hopefully someone will make change.” David stood helplessly, smiling politely across the counter, now feeling hungry too. Looking from left to right, it appeared he was bragging about his large bill. The customers were retreating and it didn’t seem the sales-girl was going to take the money. She took away the filled bags, so that David couldn’t reach them. From her tone he figured out that she’s sending them to change the money somewhere. David turned around with the bill still in his hand, giving the impression it was a ticking bomb. There was nowhere to change it. He put it back in his wallet, which everyone around him seemed to welcome.
They lifted their suitcases and walked out of the air terminal into a drizzle outside.