As the band’s last jam is winding to a close, people on the floor are pairing up. One by one a hand reaches hand; bodies mold into each other to sway together for a dance, and tomorrow the face, the feel, the scent of a stranger will be gone and all that will remain is the vague memory of having shared a lost moment with a warm shadow.
Alison has found herself a local boy, and he’s got a friend. His wingman game is sloppy; it is obvious that nothing is going to happen between us. With his bald head and teacher’s glasses, my appointed cavalier looks like a happy-faced Željko Ivanek and is very much not my type. Even if I could overcome the laws of attraction, there is still one problem: he is far-out, man-down, shut-all-systems drunk. Like, drunk to the point that I’m afraid he might fall on me. I don’t think I could survive that.
‘They are so tall, aren’t they?’ Alison whispers to me excitedly.
The boozy bald eagle wanders off to find another round of shots and leaves me alone between Alison and her boy and the anonymity of the swaying crowd. A short, black man approaches me, but I politely tell him I’m not interested. In the middle of the party I’m all alone, but I catch the feeling by its coattails before it can run amok and embrace it tight.
I watch the dancers move together in mismatched rhythms, and I feel the small shame of a girl that was picked last for the prom. But I must not dwell on it. There isn’t a face in this place that looks like home, so I choose to sit in solitude.
A Mexican woman taps my shoulder as I am photographing the canals under Charles Bridge. ‘Excuse me, could you take a video of me and my husband?’
In her hand hangs a love lock, one of those that adorn bridges around the world to declare undying love – it seems like a human instinct that if there is a bridge, someone must put a lock on it. I comply and take her iPhone. They have been married for thirty years today, she explains to me.
Thirty years, I muse. That is such a long time.
Her husband has the benevolent face of that uncle that would always be casted to play Santa for the children at Christmas. He is a man of few words, but as they kneel to lock their love to the bridge, he looks at the camera and smiles in a way that says, I think this is silly, but she wants to do it, and I would do anything for her.
‘Say something nice to me’, the woman tells him.
‘Te quero mucho’, he responds.
‘Noo, something nicer. Digame algo mas bonito’, she pleads. I can’t help but smile. There is something comfortable in their back-and-worth; like an old favourite sweater, worn and torn at the sleeves but that just fits right.
I leave them with a wish to enjoy their time in Prague, and I wander off, back to the streets with my beat-up Olympus as my only company. As I turn to walk under the bridge, a graffiti catches my eye. It is of a man and a woman kissing. His back is pressed against the stone and hands hold her tight. Her shoe is coming off as she tiptoes to reach his mouth. Even in still paint, they look lively enough to fall right off the wall: young, crazy and in love.
My best friend visited Prague a few years back. She told me that it made her miss her at-the-time boyfriend because it was a city made for love. But I have no one to miss, except for that fleeting ghost of an ideal lover I have built in my mind of old dreams and new ambitions. Sometimes I wonder if that ghost even exists. I often fear that it might not; that maybe my standards are too high and I am letting my love go to waste.
I read a short story about a woman who waited for her whole life for her true love and died without ever finding it. I wonder, which one is the true tragedy: to become so cynical towards love that you are ready to settle with anyone who you can kind of get along with, or to keep the hope, to believe in love, and spend your whole life looking for something that might never happen.
As a travelling girl I have had to accept that just any love will not do for me, because my foremost love will always be for my freedom. But I am also a light-headed girl, a girl with pink roses in her hair – I am a girl who believes her ghost exists. That is why I smile at old couples bickering amicably. That is why I sit on the edge of the dance floor, turning down suitor after suitor, choosing to rather be alone than to give my time to a halfmade romance. I refuse to choose somebody just to keep my loneliness at bay. That is not love – that is dependency.
And maybe it’s silly, but I want to believe that somewhere in the world my ghost is waiting, that a love like his exists. The kind that stays like a lock, or like a painted couple frozen in their moment of passion, forever kissing each other under Charles Bridge like belonging to each other was the most important thing they would ever do.