“Kačenka, Kačenka, put that down. Where did you find that?” whispered Alice, “Mrs. James would be mad. You know she doesn’t like it when you grab stuff that isn’t ours. Where did you
bring it from?” Short knock and the door opened. After the first three months Alice picked up enough English that she understood. At the moment she was trying to sort out some paperwork – those that seemed like bills to be paid and those related to their search for work.
“That’s not for playing,” said Mrs. James and reached out her hand. Mrs. Judy James had thick eyebrows and carried enough weight for three other persons. Kačenka obediently handed over a small statue of a wolf howling at the moon attached to a branch next to him. Judy James could not hide with her very wide smile the displeasure that was apparent in her gesture. She wanted to say something else, but changed her mind. She closed the door and Kačenka with her mom were left alone in the room. Alice put a finger on her lips, anticipating Kačenka’s commentary. Even though Mrs. James wouldn’t understand, Alice didn’t want to add to their problems.
The sun came up over the roofs of the neighboring houses, letting them know that the spring of ninety-eight hasn’t forgotten about them.
“Daddy will be here soon. Then we’ll go out and have something to eat.” Kačenka wasn’t answering. She was sad and also pouting a little. She didn’t break that wolf, did she? She knows it’s not a toy. Kačenka didn’t like Mrs. James. She was smiling, but Kačenka knew very well that she was strict. Nothing can be touched.
From outside of the house they could suddenly hear two short honks and the sound of an engine. Alice and Kačenka got up and looked out the window. In front of the house stood a brown-colored vehicle, evidently a car with thousands of miles behind it. Grinning in the front seat was David. He turned off the engine that let out one more grunt before it powered down.
“We have a car?” shrieked Kačenka with excitement.
“I don’t know – it looks that way.” The door opened, David ecstatically gesturing to the window and inviting both of them to join him. What a beautiful day for an outing. Now the world of opportunity grew wider. It’s a start. Only when they have a car can they count themselves amongst the ‘locals’. They knew from the beginning that everyone needs a car here. They were able to purchase an older automobile right away, but soon realized that they were wrong to assume that David’s driver’s license was internationally valid. They had to obtain a local license. A valid one.
“So where will it be, young ladies?” he was beaming as soon as they appeared outside the door. Close behind them followed Mrs. James. She had a faint smile on her face, but with her words she immediately cooled their mood for travelling.
“Will it leak oil?”
“I’m not sure, Mrs. James. If it does, I’ll add more.” She took a breath and turned red in the face. Maybe he went too far. David kept an innocent expression, though, and Alice struggled to keep in an outburst of laughter. Mrs. James turned around and, without another word, returned back to the house.
“Get in! ordered dad Říha. Our first expedition begins right now.” Alice sat in the front seat and glowing Kačenka in the middle of the wide back seat. David continued. “It’s Crown Victoria, year eighty-one. Only three hundred and twenty-six thousand kilometers, on Canadian, American, maybe even Mexican roads. The next stretch of kilometers will be added by us.” The machine thundered loudly as David turned the ignition and peeled away from the curb. It moved surprisingly smoothly and softly.
“An automatic gear-shift and it works like a charm.”
“What’s the clicking sound in there?”
“I have no clue. If it’s supposed to be ‘clicking’ – all the better. And if not, it’ll stop when the car stops.”
“You’re crazy! I love it!” cheered Alice.
“It’s ours?” shouted Kačenka gleefully.
“All of it, with all its wheels, Kačenka. It’s ours.”
Underneath the dashboard hung several loose wires, the rear left window opening freely as the trip progressed. The shape and color of Alice’s seat indicated that they’d been from another vehicle, but that still didn’t take away any of their shared joy.
“If we leave the city limits, we’ll see the mountains. Amazing. Let’s go!” Říha was beaming like a child.
“David, and were you able to finish some of those errands? Did you go to the University? Will they accept your Diploma? Do you have to pass any exams?”
“Answers are as follows. No, yes, no, yes. Information forthcoming; no talking to the driver.”
“Still talking to the driver. Do you have work?”
“Affirmative answer.” David behaved as if he’d taken a sip from the fountain of fools. He was happy about everything. He’s found a job, he’s driving his own car again and it’s a gorgeous day. He stepped on the gas, as the wide road permitted him to do.
Suddenly, before he even realized his speed, a policeman appeared about fifty feet in front of him, gesturing for him to pull over.
“You idiot,” David muttered to himself. The ride lost its luster. Doctor Říha obediently stopped by the side of the road. He should have noticed the white car – marked ‘POLICE’ – a little earlier. He felt guilty. But it was the euphoria and a sense of drunkenness of the first drive! David slowly turned to the glove-compartment on the passenger’s side, hoping to take out his driver’s license.
A sharp order came from the outside. Once more. Something happened. The policeman was yelling something. Alice was tapping David’s shoulder, scared to say a word, while Kačenka began to cry in the back seat. David slowly lifted his head and saw that the scene in front of the hood of their Crown Victoria had changed. About three meters away from them stood two policemen, both outstretched arms and each holding a gun. Then David noticed that a third non-compromising policeman is aiming his gun from behind the vehicle. David had no idea what he’d done wrong. Did they confuse him with someone? He didn’t understand the shouts but knew they didn’t sound kind in the least. Should he reach for his license? Probably not. What do they want? The order was repeated, even more strictly.
“What’s going on?” whispered David. He sat immobile. Both hands folded in his lap, looking from side to side and at the policemen, bewildered. Now the situation seemed to be even worse. In the rear-view mirror, David could see that traffic behind him had stopped. Surely they won’t actually shoot? Kačenka was crying and Alice’s face was white as porcelain. The policeman standing in the back was now cautiously moving towards David’s door, and peeked inside. He saw two empty hands on David’s knees. He yelled something else to the others and they relaxed their combative postures. David cautiously turned to the policeman and rolled down his window.
The policeman began speaking slowly and clearly, and it was only now that David began to comprehend the situation. He was asking him about his license and registration. Říha truthfully responded that they were in the glove compartment. The policeman then asked him to leave his left hand on the wheel, and use the two fingers of his right hand to open the compartment and pull out the documents. David was listening as intently as his daughter should. Then he was instructed to put both his palms back on the wheel. Ok, why not? No need for the guns! Only now did the other two put away their weapons. David handed the policeman his driver’s license and his new, still unfolded, registration papers. But the policeman was still not satisfied. He wanted something else. Now David didn’t know. After he’d repeated his request for the third time, David understood that it was about insurance. He explained that the car was brand new today and that he was planning to take care of insurance right away, after they’d returned home. That was not a good answer.
The Říhas were told that they had been driving seventy-two kilometers per hour, where they should’ve been driving fifty. Also, without insurance, they were guaranteed to pay at least five hundred and eighty dollars. Without twenty dollars, it was the total value of their car.
They set out to complete their maiden voyage at a much slower tempo. David spoke first.
“Actually, I was given a prize for the fastest driver.”
“You’re so crazy. I don’t know why it had to be me to find such a lunatic.”Alice wasn’t smiling yet, but hopefully her joking was a good sign. David had additional news.
“Next to a new vehicle, I also have a new job.”
“Out with it. From now on, tell me every piece of good news several times.”
“It’s not what you’d want ideally, but it’s a step forward. It will enable us to apply for loans and maybe even a mortgage, because it’s a real employment.”
“And what type of a job is it? Is it at least a little related to your field?”
“Here we’ll get off the highway and see the mountains. It’s a gorgeous day today. You know, look at it this way, the speeding ticket can be understood as part of the car’s cost. And we enjoyed a fast ride. So it’s practically a victory.” Alice put her head in her hands and persisted with her question: “What’s the job, David?”