“You seem like you’re hyperventilating rn 😂😂😂” – my brother
He wasn’t wrong. I was hyperventilating, pacing around the piano, already dripping with sweat from practicing (it’s averaging 90/day here in D.C.). He was under that most aggravating of travel mishaps, when there’s absolutely nothing one can do except wait and wallow. Delayed flights, lightning, and miscalculated fuel aside, my little brother was more than physically trapped en route for a day–he was psychologically stranded.
A year ago, I was also trapped on a FlixBus from Paris to Prague. It was the second one of my 24-hour odyssey-gone-wrong, a bus that arrived five hours late to scoop me up from a Brussels transfer station. Watching the sun rapidly dip “goodbye” under the spiky pines of German forest, my tongue was like sandpaper, my stomach gaping. I was supposed to arrive in Prague eight hours ago, around the time I also ran out of food and water. I barely remembered blowing my mentor a kiss after her Paris recital, from which I dashed straight to the midnight bus, too excited for the champagne to reach me. Strange, isn’t it? How time warps, the way it constricts and dilates. What if I never make it to Prague?
It was my fault for getting on a bus in the first place. It’s cheaper than the train, I told myself, and what was the harm if it took a
bit lot longer? “It’s otherworldly,” described the friend who had originally recommended Prague. Of all the cobblestones and forests in Europe that I’ve sunk my sneakers into, Prague’s are the most ethereal. The terracotta-colored roofs stretching out from atop St. Nicholas (Malá Strana) or Prague Castle (Pražský Hrad); the pastel facades spared the taint of ex-communism; the bellies of Petrín forest that could be plucked straight from Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore (minus, you know, ghost soldiers and fifteen-year-old Miss Saeki). Not to mention heady halušky, laden with ham and sauerkraut, which I could not finish, or the most refreshing beer that has ever slipped between my teeth, which I finished too quickly.
I was ensnared by the whims of a bus driver who resembled Swiss conductor Charles Dutoit, only without any of the grace or artistry, who stopped every 50 k.m. just to smoke. He had likely started from London, missed the hourly Channel ferry, and left us impatient in Brussels. The 3 a.m. indigo sky pressed heavily on my pupils. It was hazy with fog, the stars barely blinking. The air was crisp and ominous as we waited…and waited.
It was my fault for using the train station bathroom. “50¢ apiece,” the sign said. Desperation and fatigue is a combination ripe for fecklessness, which, naturally, is exactly what happened when I left my wallet hanging listlessly from the stall door. And, naturally, I had no idea until the bus finally pulled into Prague. Had it not been for my darling airBnB host, Vojchêk, fake-booking “Cindy Special Room Prague” for koruna in exchange, I might as well have begged Classless Charles Dutoit to drive me straight back to Paris. (Check Vojchêk out. He goes by “Gerald” now, apparently, but I doubt his hospitality has changed.)
This was supposed to be my trip. How dare this moronic bus driver exist, how dare the public bathrooms demand my euro coins when my bladder was close to geyser capabilities? It was beyond Bohemian castles and delightful Georgian mountain fish soup; at this point, it was me against my ego. I was going to make it to Prague even if it took every last euro I had (which, it did)–if not for the magic, then at least for the terror. I’d never thought before that bus ride that I could do the impossible, yet I suddenly found myself with no choice. I will never forget how my insides dropped out of me when my fingers failed to find my wallet in that darkness. I am reminded of that moment every time I think I cannot read another page, write another sentence, practice another measure. When I realized, so long as I believed in my own power, nothing was beyond my reach.
Thankfully, Prague is just as beautiful with or without dehydrating to get there. Some part of me will always feel the stickiness of ice cream melting lazily in the sun, cascading out of sugary trdelník and into my palm. Remembering how, squealing, I took cover under a bush in a flash thunderstorm after trying suspiciously delicious tacos at the Letná Metronome. In that moment, with the rain pounding rhythmically, relentlessly, I was the only person on Earth.
Just then, a man ran by, screaming in Czech at his golden retriever, which was clearly enjoying the storm more than he was. I chuckled and munched on my last taco.