The mist cleared up and the sun is dazzling. They cross Charles Bridge and descend onto Kampa Island. The bench by the river is burning hot. She jumps up stifling a cry.
“Wait a moment! This will do!” He folds up his jacket and motions her to sit down on it.
“My jeans are sturdier than your summer dress.”
She suppresses her urge to question him about her future. It would be just a waste of words. She shuts her eyes. The blinding sun rays are a part of her present.
’You can always say no and go home. Nothing has yet been decided’, she tries to convince herself. ’Why not get up, take leave of her chancy encounter and return to her former life, her butchered hair as the only reminder of it. There is no one to whom she needs to explain. To be free means not to be obliged to justify your acts and your faux pas. Can the wish to change one’s life be ever a mistake? Why should it turn out a fiasco?
Elijah’s hand touches her shoulder confirming the reality of all what is happening to her.
“Do you wish to stay in this hot sun?”
“As far as I remember it was your idea to go souvenir fishing in the troubled waters of my past.”
“Right you are. I take the blame.”
“Now you see it for yourself. How can I trust a man, who fails me in little things, with my life?”
“There you may be right, Nathalie. Am I a person to be trusted? Who knows? Not even I do.”
Is it a smile or a smirk he covers up with his hand, a white delicate hand not used to toil in the sweat of his brow? –Bielorutshka- a white hand called by the Reds, a reason to be put against the wall and shot.
“There is nothing more to show you, Elijah. Lucky me! There are not many places to be nostalgic for. Our past matters less than we’d like to believe. Let’s better turn to the present and solve the current problems. Do you know where to spend the night? I don’t think your hotel is safe. Like any other place for foreigners it is watched over by the state police. It would be foolish to tempt your fate. We are already tempting ours with my false passport.”
He watches her with a wry face. “It’s unbelievable how a country that fences you in makes you to a persecution- maniac!”
“Well, every one has made one’s own experience, Elijah. You haven’t lived here long enough. There is one thing that puzzles me: why are you taking risks? Don’t you know that helping a Czech citizen to leave illegally the country is a crime? Communist prison is no playground for mama’s little boys. Why are you doing this for me? You don’t know me. I may be leading you on, be a member of the secret police trying to discredit your Trotskyite journal and have you expelled.”
“Would falling in love with you do?”
“I don’t think so. It’s too fancy. I’d need a stronger argument to trust you.”
“Then let me start. Firstly, you are incredibly beautiful, the very image of a woman I have been fantasizing about in my dreams. Seeing you in flesh and blood took my breath away. Secondly, having lost my faith in communism I need another reason for my existence. It happens to be you. Thirdly you don’t need to leave. If you prefer I shall stay here with you. I shall do anything not to lose you!”
She shivers feeling like a sacramental offering. She refuses to be a replacement for a lost faith. She puts her hand upon his shoulder and turns him against her looking straight into his eyes.
“You haven’t convinced me, can you be more specific?”
“I LOVE YOU!” He articulates with the ultimate precision of a fanatic stating his declaration of dependence. His face nears hers with the acute attention of a sneak thief, his green eyes rippling like a stormy sea in which she may drown. She rebuffs him and backs away from the reach of his arms which lie deceptively limp on his lap readying to snatch her.
“No need fearing for your freedom, Nathalie. I shall never take it from you. What would you like to do now?” He asks returning to reality.
Shall she ask him to leave? Shall she opt for the known against the thrill of the unpredictable? A coward she has never been!
“Yes, what shall we do now?” She asks boarding a leaky boat.
“If we were in Paris we’d live the night through in a night club, then take an early breakfast in a bistro and…”
“Just like on the painting by Edward Hopper!” She cuts in.
“Just like that, Nathalie! I consider “The Nighthawks,” one of the most fascinating paintings about loneliness in a neon night! One day you will see it for real on one of our trips to the USA!”
“Wait, I have an idea.” She returns forcibly into reality.
“A girl I know, some sort of a hooker, is a frequent visitor to a night club at the “Hotel Yalta” where she stalks foreigners, has fun and collects some cash and other goodies. It’s the only place I know where we can stay until the day break taking an over-priced room, no questions asked. Of course, it’s also under the eyes of the State Police. I don’t know what Olina does for them in return. They will let me in as a potential informer but won’t ask me for information until the morrow. At which time I will be out of the country.”