This short story comes from my heart to all modern women in Brno who are a bit far away from home. Those intelligent, beautiful women in the city who try to be the best version of themselves, and who try a bit harder than others. Those women who are always a bit lonely, and stuck between languages. Those women with their elegance and lasciviousness surging through the streets with a scent of sweet perfume.
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You are leaving a dance class on a Wednesday evening, all sweaty and tired. You worked all day, sitting in front of a screen, so you had to lift that butt and do something lustful. Your legs are tangling up as you walk to the šalina. It was a physically demanding class. You left your last drop of energy there. But you had to prove yourself to the instructor for that unspoken competition between you and her. It was worth it. And you enjoy the multisport card benefits.
You are watching out for the weird-looking guys at the station. Beers in hand, at almost 10 pm, speaking loudly, they scare you a bit. They have their eyes on you.
You get home, take a quick shower, have your light dinner. You check your work emails one last time, feed your dog, plan tomorrow’s tasks, do your daily Duo Lingo challenge, read a few pages of a book. You never skip this routine, and routines matter to you. Your eyes faint with the last dance song in your head.
The following day, waking up is hard with those sore legs. You still do, but you don’t want to work another day in this small house. You fix a quick oatmeal breakfast with coffee, feed your dog again, pick up your laptop, and head to a cafe nearby. The waitress brings your second coffee this morning with an emotionless face. She gets anxious when you ask for the wifi password. You feel sorry to cause this minor trouble, and disappointed that you still cannot ask for things in Czech.
You spend three hours sitting there and working, having one or two Zoom calls, and apologizing to your clients for the background noise. Your face apologizes to the other customers as you need to speak a little louder to your screen. Your wallet apologizes to the waitress for having to serve you for that long, with a generous tip. The waitress utters a quick thank you, and bye.
You drink three more cups of things at different cafes that day. You feel like you spent your daily pay by just drinking things, but working at home gets unbearable sometimes. Lonely, and boring. At least you get to see a few people in those cafes. Mostly women, like you, having work dates with their laptops. Some are smoking, some are not. Some are dressed elegantly, some are students in second-hand clothes. They are pretty in their own ways. They come and go, having their sugar-free cakes and plant-milk cappuccinos. They have their naive ways of doing what they do. You are curious about their lives. How they live through a normal day, and how your lives are connected in the same city. The stories behind those screens.
They all have their things going on. They looked focused at times. They look confused, too. Even though you don’t talk to any of them, you feel bits of their motivating energy pushing you to thrive at work.
You are insecure to start a conversation out of nowhere. Sometimes you want to ask about their day to have a little chat. Or to ask where they have bought that beautiful bag. But you don’t want to get the judgy eyes. They probably don’t want to speak English anyway, or they are not that much of a parrot as you are. So you just watch them do their things. In your mind, you wish them a good day, and luck as you leave the last cafe. Luck in whatever they are doing.
You go to the shopping mall to have a little look around after another day of sitting for eight hours. Gazing through the shirts and skirts, you see best friends shopping together. Giving each other fashion advice, picking up a dress for one last party before another potential lockdown. How long has it been since you last went out shopping with a girlfriend? You don’t remember. You only wish you had what they have.
You buy a couple of things that you will probably have nowhere to wear. Then you have a little treat at McDonald’s. No boyfriend to say a thing about your little Whopper belly tonight, anyway.
You run to the šalina to go to a language exchange meeting at a downtown pub. You have been to a few already, always with the hope to find a sister to talk to. This one doesn’t surprise you as well, as you end up being surrounded by expat men looking for ways to socialize. You stick around for an hour, have a beer and a half. “Why Brno?”, “What do you do?”, “So how’s your Czech?”. Questions that bore your soul after a while. You even play with your answers to have a bit of fun out of it.
The talks don’t charm you much anymore.
You run to the šalina to go home, to find your local flatmates having friends over in the kitchen. Over wine and dine. A hi from you to them. They say ahoj back. That is pretty much it. They do their seasonal burčák tasting, you do your evening routine. It used to bother you, but you just got used to it now. You watch something on Netflix. Falling asleep is a bit hard with the waves of laughter coming from the kitchen. You write your best friend far away, ignore the movie playing, and have a heart-to-heart talk in the language you master. It cheers you up a bit. You wish you had her here.
The house smells like grapes and puke the next morning with hungover people walking around with a cup of coffee. You already started packing your backpack for the cafe, not forgetting your dance clothes for the evening class.
There is another waitress now, but you see one of the ladies from yesterday. She is working at her spot. She’s with a young friend this time, having a business conversation in English. You eavesdrop on their conversation at times, unintentionally. You find out that you work at the same company but on different projects. At a second peek, you even recognize the younger one from the monthly department meetings. You remember her having good initiatives on the recycling goals of the company. You want to introduce yourself, finally, but they decide to leave at that moment. You watch them pay their bill, have a little chat and laugh, and leave. Sigh.
You decide to leave as well, and catch a šalina to a cafe somewhere far away. Maybe near the Campus, where the Starbucks girls are friendly.
You think about the dance class on the šalina. Should you tell the instructor that you used to teach dance classes back home, too? Maybe you could Google-translate it. Maybe she would even let you teach a choreo, and you could talk about dance, somehow.
Thoughts on choreographies and translation, you miss the transfer station to the Campus. You get off at the next stop and walk there instead. Some twenty minutes later, you are at the coffee queue already with tons of university students. Excited, cheerful faces for the new academic term. A young girl next to you, out of the queue, has her eyebrows knitted with nervous wrinkles.
“Sorry, do you speak English?” she says. After two seconds, you realize that the question was for you. You nod in surprise.
Her first couple of days in the city, a university student, probably. She is at the wrong Starbucks. You show her the way to the šalina, stressing a couple of times where she needs to get off. You head back to Starbucks and get in the queue again, and think about your first couple of days in the city as a university student. Clueless times, certainly lonelier, you think. You remember how everything confused you. You remember how you sat at this very Starbucks to make a pros and cons list about staying here, and leaving. You remember how stuck you were in your soul those days, and feel bits of relief in the mind of comparison.
After a full day of work without being disturbed by anyone at Starbucks, you feel the accomplishment. Your bones and muscles are stuck from the sedentary hours.
You head to the šalina, and then the dance hall.
You utter some hi and some ahoj as you start changing into your dance clothes. Your ears catch some new voices. You head to the dance hall, and see the young lady from the coffee shop earlier today, stretching her legs. She flashes a quick ‘I know you from somewhere’ look at you, and a smile follows. You smile back and introduce yourself, finally. You find out that she is from the States, working as an intern at your company, and the older lady at the cafe is her mentor. She tries different dance classes in the city, and she talks fast. You feel overwhelmed by her buzzy energy and her experience in dancing, but in a good way. You want to get to know her. She talks and talks, and makes it easier for you.
After a few minutes, the dance instructor comes in, walking proudly with her feminine spine. She is with company, and they are talking in another language. You are struck by surprise.
They turn around. The instructor welcomes the class in Czech, and introduces her company. She speaks Spanish, as you try to comprehend. You find her quite familiar, but your head is all over the place tonight. Her company takes her mask off, and you are struck by another surprise. She is the lost girl at Starbucks.
Her eyes find you in the hall, and she smiles big. She nods her head gently to greet you, you do the same.
As much as you understand from the context, she is a guest instructor who somehow knows the Czech instructor.
You feel a bit more comfortable as you start dancing in the presence of people you have encountered today. You are not the only foreigner in the class anymore, that is a relief.
The American girl is right next to you, she is a good dancer in good shape.
The Spanish-speaking instructor brings a new light to the atmosphere. She’s expressive with her emotions as she moves.
The Czechs follow every change of move with still, determined faces.
You don’t feel competitive today, rather casual, with tolerance for mistakes.
The class goes along and you do not feel so alone. You are thinking about whether you should ask the American girl for a drink after the dance, or the Spanish-speaking instructor, or both of them. You are contemplating possible ways to converse. Contemplating on an after-dance-drinks meeting with the American girl, or the Spanish-speaking instructor, or both of them, or neither. You huddle with yourself, with the moves as your thoughts spill around your arms and legs.
I have been long in isolation, you say to yourself. Locked down in dysfluency.
A big applause goes around and you shake off the clouds, and come back on earth. The class comes to an end. You stick around for a minute or two to fake-stretch. You see the American girl approaching you, just when you attempt to approach the Spanish-speaking instructor. You three meet in the middle and smile. You have a quick word about dance and the city. In a language you speak, without the need for translations, in the presence of women, about a topic you are passionate about.
Not a bad day, you say to yourself. Still speculating on an invitation to talk more.
I can miss the šalina and take the night bus if we keep the talk long, you think.
You are somehow reluctant to have another soulless, one-time cup-of-coffee meeting with strangers that goes nowhere near lasting friendships.
Yet you are still attracted to the idea of just talking to women about women stuff.
And then you go along.
With hope, without an expectation. With simple excitement about what is to come next.