My mother and I went to Prague because she believed that “Travel is the university of life.”
“Two rooms?” asked the clerk at the hotel check-in desk.
“No, just one. This is my daughter.” For an unknown reason my mother added, “she is still a child.”
The clerk, his hair thinning although he was quite young, peered at me over his spectacles and said, in a matter of fact voice, “Yes, still a child, but already interesting.” I was thirteen years old, tall, skinny with no breasts in sight, but I understood that I had received my first compliment. I decide to live up to it.
The energy of the city intoxicated me. While my mother did her best to get me excited about Prague’s historic sights, I was focused on the future. When the sound of an ambulance siren interrupted our conversation, my mother sighed in regret at the possibility of a life lost. To me the sound signaled the hope of life saved. I resolved to aim for life without regrets.
“Non je ne regrettte rien,” I sang with Edith Piaf on my transistor radio.
We returned home to my little town in southern Czechoslovakia. I finished my education and eventually my breasts appeared.
I left, to travel and to learn. Soon after, Soviet tanks rolled down the Wenceslas Square and I would never live in my homeland again.
I went from sleeping in a London telephone booth at the railway station to magazine covers and film, even becoming a Bond Girl. The Vietnam war ended and man flew to the moon. I fell in love, and travel did prove to be an education.
I watched in awe as my children’s lives took shape. I experienced happiness in situations I never thought that I would: the unconditional love of a child. The joy in helping people.
The Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia freed people in my country and I decided to go back to Prague, to see the change. I took my thirteen year old daughter with me. I booked us at the same hotel where I had stayed with my mother.
The hotel lobby looked mostly the way I remembered it. There was a couple checking in with a boy who looked to be about eleven. The clerk at the desk was now old and bald. He handed the couple the key to their room. Then he looked at the boy over his spectacles, and said, “What an interesting boy.”
My daughter rolled her eyes, recognizing bullshit when she heard it. I smiled at her with satisfaction and pride, humming quietly, “Non je ne regrette rien.”
Anika Pavel was born Jarmila Kocvarova in Czechoslovakia. She became a refugee when the Soviet Union invaded her homeland. She lived in England, Hong Kong and Monte Carlo before settling in New York City, where she is a writer. She writes in Slovak and in English. Her short stories have been published in BioSories, Potato Soup Journal, Tint Journal, Nixes Mate Review and others. Her story “Encounter With The Future” is currently nominated for the Pushcart Prize.