|Začni Hned Teď
Author: Blood Sucking Fox PM
A summer solstice festival in a foreign country can be the loneliest and most surreal experience you ever have. The kinship you feel with a bird, the charcoal lines drawn on your face, the crown of aspen leaves placed on your head, and the small, delicate paper flower pressed firmly into your palm by a stranger are things that will stay with you forever. [Narrative Essay]Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Words: 1,889 - Published: 01-24-13 - Status: Complete - id: 3094972
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
I was homesick, to put it simply. My time in the Czech Republic was not as wonderful or as glorious as I had envisioned. My host sister, my host mom and I had a falling out before my journey had even sprouted wings. Even though we all tried to work out the conflicts, nothing worked, we were all frustrated, and I just wanted to go home and put the awful time behind me. My parents were having none of that, so I was stuck in the Czech Republic, without a single friend in the country; the only date I looked forward to was that of my flight home. I went through the motions of every day, even though I was not myself, nor anybody to be remembered.
That is, until the day of the summer solstice. Pavla and Jiři, my host parents, took their kids to a festival every year to celebrate the longest day, so I was expected to go as well. Needless to say, I didn't want to go, but I had no choice in the matter; I was shoved into the car with much swearing (I'm sure) in Czech. To say I was cooperative would be an overstatement; to say I was alive might well have been an overstatement at the time: my host family and I didn't get along, so why should I exert the effort to change the mutual view, when the family was not willing to work at it too? My reasoning was flawed, of course, but American teenagers have a sense of being the center of the universe, which is exceedingly difficult when they don't speak the common language.
The festival, however, changed my entire trip. Had we not gone to this festival, the whole experience would have been a waste, as I would have wallowed in self pity and hatred for the country I was trapped in and the people within the confines of my jail cell. Culturally, spiritually and monetarily, I would have lost.
Upon arrival at the festival, the first thing I saw was the old, crumbling walls of the chateau, with vines upon vines clawing their way to the red clay roof. In among the ochre tiles on the roof sat the largest peacock I'd ever seen, his bright blue standing out so brilliantly that he didn't seem real. His many eyes were clustered behind him, hidden, dusting the roof ever so gently. The squawk that ripped from his beak pierced my ears so thoroughly I thought I might never hear again, and yet that sound, familiar from all the trips to the zoo, made me happy. Even though he was not the peacock at the zoo, he was familiar and welcome. For the first time in ten days, I smiled; a small, tentative smile that would have been violently ripped off of my face should somebody have only mentioned that I leave the company of this beautiful, painful noise and its creator. I was not forced to leave the bird, nor did he leave while I was inside of the chateau. This little comfort, an exotic bird that I knew, brightened my day and lightened the foreign weight upon my heart.
The world within the walls was even more foreign than that of my prison. Chateau Kratochvíle was more of a courtyard lined in grass, fencing off a perfectly rectangular lake from the rest of the world; a small brick house with more vines than the outer walls sat at the center of the lake. Within the lake, a bevy of swans sat preening themselves in a corner. The whiteness of the birds contrasted with the pink and orange petals that were sprinkled on them, giving the appearance of spotted swans. In front of the house, three people stood acting, and a crowd had formed around them. Whispers flew in Czech seeing as people didn't want to disturb the performance currently taking place in front of the main house. My heart fluttered happily upon the first words I heard out of the actor's mouth, which were the chorus for the A*teen's song "Can't Help Falling in Love". It didn't matter how cheesy the words were, or the heavy accent that accompanied them, the words were English; they were familiar. However, the song ended and foreign words poured out of the actor's mouth once more. I was reminded once again that nothing in this country was familiar, and nothing ever would be.
After the performance, men and women were split up, so that each gender was huddled in one of the front corners. Long, long lines were formed, sneakily making their way back to one another and meeting at the tall, arched doorway. The solid wood doors had been closed to keep intruders from entering. The people did not know that two intruders already lurked among them; the first of the intruders was perched atop the wall and the second stood in the middle of the women's line. The lone blue bird was looking in, wanting to belong to the white birds in the lake, just as I wished I could belong to the people who surrounded me. We were both alone, together, but the peacock ignored me, ignored all the people, as it watched the swans swim serenely in the water.
The line began to move, and before long I was at the front. I was given a crown of aspen leaves, just as every woman before me. I stepped forward, and my face was assaulted by charcoal. The old Czech woman appeared blind with her milky eyes, but her hand was steady as she drew on my face with quick, determined, swirling motions. When she was done, she smiled, patted my hand, and motioned to the tunnel of trees looming before me. I had no idea what to expect when I entered the tunnel, but I had no choice except to move forward.
Not far into this tunnel, a young man appeared out of the shadows, robed in white, and circled me with burning incense. He said nothing, didn't look at me or pause when I put my arm up to cover my nose. The smell was horrid, not quite cigarette smoke, but up that alley. I could only assume that just like in other cultures, the incense was meant to purify. Of course, that is only speculation. Once the man had moved back into the shadows of the trees in the darkening world, I walked on, more quickly. Hoping to avoid any other pieces of this Czech ritual, I didn't look up, until one sparkling golden foot came into view on the ground. I found myself surrounded by five girls in golden dresses with golden scarves, shoes, bracelets, and hair pieces. Even their make-up was golden, and all of it sparkled in the light of two torches set on either side of the path. The dancers began humming and dancing around me in circles, each one with a different expression (joy, sadness, anger, pain, and indifference) just like the Noh masks of Japanese theatre. The dance was simple, elegant, and enchanting. I lost myself in the fluid movements and quiet hums. Their expression didn't change as the ring of dancers broke and flattened into a line behind me. Five hands pushed me back into motion with a whispered word I can only guess to be vpřed. The golden dancers behind me, I couldn't fathom anything odder would come along.
Within feet of the exit of the tunnel of trees, which eclipsed the dieing sun so well, another young man stood. He wore only burgundy Aladdin-esque baggy pants with gold button fasteners. A monster composed of charcoal swirls looked like it had latched onto his left shoulder; some of its tentacles hung down his arm, back, and chest. Black shaggy hair hid his eyes, and a single charcoal swirl emerged from under the hair, and curled in on itself on his left cheek. Unlike the previous encounters with people inside the tree tunnel, he was smiling. A big, warm, knowing smile. Next to him, on the side of the path was a small tree full of green leaves, white blossoms, and red paper flowers tied up with white twine. Around the base of the tree, white silk was tied in a knot, and attached to the other end of this white silk rope, was the man. With two long strides, this prisoner of the tree stood before me; the fingertips of his left hand brushed my forehead, his eyes closed, and a look of mild concentration appeared on his face. He whispered something in Czech that I couldn't figure out before pulling away and walking to the tree. His left hand brushed across several of the red paper blossoms, before he chose his prey and untied it from the tree. The small little flower was swallowed by his hand, and its limp twine tail dangled uselessly as he stood before me again. With one hand, he took mine and opened it. With the other, he pressed the flower into my palm and closed my fingers over it. And just like that, its care was transferred to me. Walking backwards to the tree, smile restored, I was once again motioned on, and entered the other side of the courtyard; a world I'd forgotten existed during my short time within the tunnel.
My host family beckoned me over, each face littered with a charcoal swirled design. The sun had set during my time down the rabbit hole, and as the last of the lines came out of the rabbit hole themselves, a fireworks show began over the lake. But no matter how beautiful the fireworks were, my mind continued to wander back to the tunnel of trees, and the people lurking within. My questions and wonders fell upon deaf ears as my host family watched the fireworks. Even after the fireworks, as we walked back through the rabbit hole, my questions went unanswered as I was dismissed: "You know the stories. They're the same everywhere." No matter my protests of ignorance, the only information I was able to extract after long periods of pounding, stabbing, wringing, and stomping, was that the tiny blossom I was entrusted the care of was my fortune; similar to that of a fortune cookie (which my host family hadn't heard of).
I only looked at the blossom the next morning. I hadn't let it go for a second since it had been given to me. In scrawled black sharpie across the petals was the message: Začni hned teď. The stories behind my blossom, however much I yearned to know them, were only a small part of the importance. I followed the advice, and while still rocky, the rest of my time in the Czech Republic was enjoyable. The message my blossom encouraged me with and that it taught me are still as strong today as the morning they were revealed to me. My blossom hangs where I can see it every day, to remind myself not to take my heritage and stories for granted. Every country is different, and we can't expect others to know everything. Not everyone has heard the stories, and the stories are not the same everywhere.
My blossom also commands me always to začni hned teď. Always start now.