Paul Perilli: The Train to Prague
Source: Unsplash, downloaded https://unsplash.com/photos/UisgUZ-jrc4 (21.01.2021.)
The Train to Prague
The train to Prague came to a screeching stop in front of the American couple. Ten minutes later their bags were stored on the overhead rack and they were in window seats facing each other in the second class compartment. Soon after that there was a hiss of compressed air and the train was on its way out of Berlin Hauptbahnhof. Picking up speed, it followed the Spree before turning away from the city.
They shared the compartment with a middle-aged couple. She had smiled at them and tried to make eye contact as they took their seats by the door, but neither acknowledged her. The man had dark eyes and a day or so growth of whiskers on his cheeks. The woman had brown hair she wore long like someone younger. They were involved in a discussion that had started up the moment they were settled and that seemed urgent. Their voices rose and fell in the small space and sometimes they spoke at the same time. She understood German, but that wasn’t the language they were using. She couldn’t make out anything and thought they must be Czech. She wasn’t sure if they were angry or involved in a topic that required a lot of heavy emphasis. The thought crossed her mind: were they talking about them, the English-speaking vacationers sitting one seat away? Considering the bluster coming out of Washington, much of it directed at America’s allies, it didn’t seem unreasonable to think that.
She eyed her husband in telepathic inquiry. He gave his shoulders the slightest shrug in reply. His gaze shifted from her to the door as the conductor slid it aside and came into the compartment. He was a tall man wearing a white shirt, an official cap on his head and brown satchel hanging on a shoulder. He checked and punched the tickets of the Czech couple before turning to them.
“I will also need to see your tickets, please,” he said.
Her husband slipped the cardstock forms from the jacket and handed them over. The conductor checked and punched them, and when he left the Czech couple went back to their conversation in a way that irritated her. She didn’t think it was fair to fill the compartment with only their voices, but she didn’t say anything. What would they think of the American couple then? Considering everything going on, why should they yield to another’s customs in their own land?
Her husband slept through the stop in Dresden. After it, the train seemed to be in a race with the automobiles on the highway it ran parallel with.
By then the Czech couple were quiet, involved in their own reading. On her iPad she looked over the information about their hotel in Prague. She tapped through the screens of photos and details. It didn’t hold her interest. Her thoughts went back to the Czech couple. She wondered how they viewed them, four thousand miles from New York? They weren’t supporters of any of it, she had the urge to tell them in their defense. They opposed it. All of it. But the Czech couple stayed focused on their own distractions.
Across the border, there was an announcement in Czech and then English. Over a bridge, the train stopped in an industrial city along a river. There was a change of conductors and they were on the move again, speeding next to a ridge of hills when her husband woke. She handed the plastic container of water to him.
“What did I miss?” he said.
“Nothing much,” she said.
“What have you been up to?”
“Checking out the news. Guess who’s at it again.”
“Oh boy. What is it this time?”
“The caravan. He’s not giving up on that. He thinks they’re coming to take over the country. He wants his wall.”
“What a waste of time and effort all that is.”
“He’s never going to let it go.”
“I get that.” He twisted the cap off the container and took a sip of water. He took another.
“There’s no getting away from it,” she raised her voice, “not even for a few days over here.”
She caught the woman staring at them. Now it was them filling the compartment with their voices.
“It’s a bigger mess than I thought it was ever going be, and that’s saying a lot,” he said.
“I don’t see it getting better until…” She cut herself off before she really got going, and that ended the discussion.
The train leaned to the left as it went around a bend. They passed a giant power plant, an indoor market made of sheet metal and blocks of highrise housing.
On the other side of a long tunnel they were in the city famous for its Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque buildings and plentiful church spires. The train slowed as it changed tracks and up ahead she saw the platforms of the station. The Czech couple stood and pulled their bags from the overhead rack. They did the same. She put her suitcase on the seat, unzipped the front pocket and slipped the iPad into it. When the train came to a stop the man slid the door aside and turned to them.
“Hodně štěstí,” he said, and nodded, but didn’t smile. She looked at the woman.
“He means good luck to you,” the woman explained.
“I wish you the same,” she said and smiled.
“Thank you, we will all need it,” the woman said, but did not smile back.
The Czech couple stepped into the corridor and they followed behind them, ready to disembark.
Author about Himself: I live in Brooklyn, NY. My fiction and nonfiction have been published in places such as The European, Baltimore Magazine, New Observations Magazine and Poets & Writers Magazine, and recently in The Transnational, Thema, Numero Cinq, Adelaide Literary Magazine and a dozen others. My speculative fiction 'Summary Report to the Committee' appears in Overland's False Documents issue. My story 'Orwell's Year' appears as a chapbook from Blue Cubicle Press. My nonfiction travel piece 'Prices of Translation' appears in Wanderlust Journal's 2019 print anthology from Wild Dog Press.