Česky Krumlov, Czech Republic
I never thought it would happen here of all places. Then again, something had drawn me in the moment I’d laid eyes on these burnt-orange roofs, that winding river. Something had called to me, even from the glossy sheets of that lifestyle magazine. When had that been—five years ago? Four?
Four. What if it had been four?
I was eating a feast alone, contemplating how I could possibly finish all that food. The receptionist at my hostel had recommended this place for a nice dinner. “Their bohemian feast is so good,” she’d told me, “and I love their mead. It could ward off any cold.”
True enough, a few sips of the hot honey wine had my nose clearing up and my body warming. Then you walked out onto the patio, and my entire system buzzed with awareness.
You sat at the long table beside mine, facing me diagonally. Across the couple who sat between us, our eyes met. I looked back at my food, biting back a smile. I worked my way slowly through my chicken and potatoes and salad, glancing at you from the corner of my eye.
Once. Twice. Thrice. I can’t remember how many times you caught me looking. Or I, you. Nor can I remember at which time the spiced wine had me smiling. It could’ve been that second time.
Four. Maybe it had been at eye contact number four.
“I’m from Prague,” I overheard you telling the couple beside you, “visiting overnight.”
You know what? So was I.
But I couldn’t tell you that. Because I was here and you were there; and I was down to my last spoonfuls of potatoes and salad, and your order just arrived.
So I paid the bill, shrugged into my jacket, and headed out. And I tried to shake you off even as I hoped I’d see you again. At my hostel, maybe.
I didn’t. To this day though, I still wonder if, maybe, you were the one who took that empty bed across mine while I was sleeping.
Four. Bed number four.
But if it were you, you were gone by the time I woke up.
The open courtyard was crowded as everyone competed for the best photo op. Lucky me, I’d made the trek yesterday at that magical time after the castle closed and before the sun set. These burnt-orange roofs, that winding river; the greens, and peaks, and everything in between—these were mine. All mine.
Now, they were everyone’s, and everyone included the Filipino couple I met on the free walking tour. We talked, my back to the view, while we waited for everyone else to finish up.
Movement near the doorway caught my eye. The crowd parted.
There you were. In your black rim glasses, with a backpack slung over your shoulders and a camera hanging around your neck—there you were.
My eyes widened as yours met mine.
I couldn’t help it. I smiled.
You stepped toward me, and people walked between us. I switched my attention to Tito and Tita. Behind them, you stood, just a few arm’s lengths’ away.
“Time to go,” our tour guide called out.
Time to go. I slipped between everyone, and you joined everyone else.
“I’ll go ahead. It was great meeting you.”
“You, too. Enjoy the rest of your trip. Be safe, okay?”
Those could’ve been my lines and yours.
But that’s what I said to Tito and Tita, and what they said to me before I took off.
I ambled down the sloping alleyway, following the call of my stomach. KOLEKTIV was another recommendation from the hostel—a nice brunch place with a chill vibe and good coffee.
They had me at coffee.
I looked up from my map, my eyes moving to the end of the alley where it split left and right.
That backpack. Those shoulders.
You turned left.
My map said right.
As always, I went right.
I had coffee.
I didn’t have you.
“If you see him for the fourth time, talk to him na,” my friend texted me over lunch.
Four times. There was no way.
But as I wandered along the side streets of Krumlov, I wondered: what if?
I snapped a shot of the colorful art decorating the faded yellow-brown walls. One, two, three, more.
I walked out of a street and turned into a small plaza. A few feet ahead, you turned and faced me.
My heart beat fast. I smiled.
You smiled back. Nodded.
And I walked past you.
My forever four-time stranger.