3.12 Video Camera
The coordinates on the piece of paper that fell out of the smashed vase read: 50º North, 14º East. I punched these numbers into the GPS device, the image on the screen pulled out until the entire earth was visible, then zoomed in halfway across the world to Europe, ending on a street in downtown Prague, Czech Republic. I closed my curtains tight. Double-checked the locks. Wondered what this was all about. Thinking deep into the night, I couldn’t get the note with the word, Help, out of my head. As the sun came up, I decided to book a flight to Prague. I had some time off work coming to me, and the pull of a person in danger, even a stranger, chewed away at any resolve I had about walking away from this.
The flight was uneventful. I kept looking over my shoulder. The cheapest fare got me as far as Frankfurt, and I took an overnight train to Prague. Even though Prague has become a lightning rod for tourism, the difference between Western and Eastern Europe is visible in the eye's of locals. The infrastructure oscillated between modernism and desperation. I exited at Námastí Míru Station, and in order to get to the street, I rode on the fastest and longest escalator in the world. People milled around, one part of the train station was roped off due to massive leaks in the roof, the area filled with buckets, the sound of raindrops pinging off the plastic.
I locked myself in a washroom stall and pulled out the GPS. The coordinates honed in on an address a few blocks from here. I packed light in order to be mobile and decided to walk. The air was cool, a light rain spoke of a storm that ended a few hours ago. I followed the cobblestone sidewalk between two gigantic churches. Small cars honked at each other, an above ground commuter tram picked up passengers. Night was approaching and being in a new city after dark without a bed to lay my head always made me uncomfortable.
The address led to a skinny five-story building at the end of an alleyway. Turned out it was a hotel and I needed a place to stay. Inside, an old man sat behind the front desk watching a black and white television. He looked at me annoyingly, as though I interrupted something important. We barely spoke as I signed in, our only exchange when he curiously reached for a room key, stopped, and grabbed a different one. I didn't think much of this at the time, this hesitation. He must have been waiting for me, and instructed to sent me up in a specific room.
This building seemed to be a hotel in name only. The room was huge, inspired by a communist colour-scheme, with high fifteen-foot ceilings and completely unfurnished except for two small single beds. I closed the door behind me, tested the flimsy lock – it seemed to barely hold things together. I put my backpack on one of the beds. Despite the stoic layout, the room had a floor to ceiling window that opened to reveal the Vltatva River and the Prague Castle. On the bed, in the near-empty room, I had one thought, What the hell am I doing here?
I decided to go for a walk. Prague resembled a city made up of a series of castles. I crossed the bridge over the river, merchants packed up stores and lights in the windows of restaurants dimmed. I ended up walking through The Old Jewish Cemetery, where the plots were layered on top of each other. The tombstones jutted from the earth at all angles, cramming in close proximity with each other. I found no answers in the streets of Prague that evening.
In the middle of the night, I woke to someone aggressively trying to wrestle open the door to the hotel room. I had fallen asleep, forgot to close the window. A cool breeze came from the river. I approached the door. A few steps closer and a wooden board on the floor creaked. I froze and the person stopped. A second later, I heard running down the hall, the squeak of the heavy steel door that led to the stairwell, footsteps clamping on the cement steps. Grabbed my keys, opened-locked the door, set out after them.
The street was still slick with rain. A running shadow headed down the alleyway to the main road. Against better judgment, I pursued the person. I should say now that I am not the most courageous person in the world. During this time, my curiosity simply got the best of me. It was as though adrenaline constantly pumped through my veins for those few weeks. At the main street, a tram sped by, and there were only a few people out at this time of night, hurrying home in all directions. There. Across the way, I ran but through more twists and turns, I lost him. I ended by resting beside a statue that celebrated Prague as the birthplace of Franz Kafka. I was lost.
After two hours, I found my hotel. Closed the window, lay on top of the uncomfortable bed. What was I looking for? Something in Prague? Was someone in Prague looking for me? But that someone needed help, the message was pretty clear on that.
Got up. Paced the room. Something was not right. The coordinates zeroed in specifically on this hotel. Maybe I shouldn’t be looking for something in Prague, but something in this hotel? I looked around the room. Nothing. Moved the beds. Nothing. Wait, a vent. I took out a coin and unscrewed the fasteners. The vent cover came off, looked inside, reached in and pulled out an object. A small video camera. I flipped open the screen and it started playing this video:
Starting with freedom, showing walkways, looking past liberty, inside a home, but not just any home. Sitting alone in this depressing room, halfway across the world in an unfamiliar city, I found myself completely scared out of my wits. The home in the video was my home.