We double lock our doors, here in Prague. Building doors, not just apartment doors, get this nightly treatment. As a result, goodbyes often take place twice - upstairs, politely and at length, and then downstairs, quickly, after your host has released you from the building with his master key.
We live a few floors up from the street, close enough to hear when our guests leave, listening for the whomp whomp of the door refusing to open, hoping we’ll hear instead that lovely squeak slam that tells us we‘re in luck, our friends have escaped, we won’t need to pull on shoes and run down the stairs.
Monday night and I stand at our landing, listening as our babysitter leaves for the night. Squeak slam, someone has just come into the house. Marie is still in the elevator heading downstairs, so she will be locked in. I reach for my shoes and for the keys too. Then, up the stairs walks our neighbor and his girlfriend. He kindly offers to let Marie out, so I stay and talk with his friend, waiting for the neighbor to come back so I can thank him once more. While we wait, she asks where I am from, and when I tell her she smiles and says that she too is a stranger in Prague.
That she is a stranger does not surprise me. After all, I understand her perfectly - the simple Czech that foreigners sometimes speak is easier for another foreigner to understand; then, she does not have that perfectly coifed look Prague women often wear; and finally, she is standing on our landing smiling and chatting even though she’s never met me before - so uncity like.
I ask in turn where she is from. I expect Romania, Hungary, or Slovakia at the closest. But it turns out that though she is not from Prague, she is from somewhere in East Bohemia, only an hour away. This tickles me so, her assertion that she is a stranger too, a foreigner to this town, that I wake up Will to tell him the story when I finally say good night and go inside, carefully double locking the door behind me.
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