(cont. from previous post)
When I reached him he was cowering. I bent down to grab his collar and could hear the cries of the girl behind me and the heated accusations that D was now throwing at the drunk. I paused when I heard the voice of the bartender rise above the others, and suddenly I realized where I was and what I was doing. I didn’t care to test the limits of my visit.
I glanced up and my eyes met those of the man behind the bar.
“Hit him,” he said in a thick accent. He mimed his best uppercut. “That guy is an asshole!”
Apparently I was still within the good graces of the city. I decided to stay there. I pulled the man up to what would have been his height, if he had let his feet touch the ground, looked him in the eyes and whispered, “Fuck you,” before dropping him back to the floor. I walked up the stairs.
I turned to watch as the girl and D lingered. My best friend, D, standing at 5’7, next to the beautiful crying girl, who was 6′ easy, and the drunk, still on his ass with his hands waving in the air in front of his face.
D yelled a few more times, demanding an apology from the man. I don’t know if he got it. He was kicking him in the stomach when I turned and walked back into the sun.
M was nowhere to be seen, and I figured he had kept walking towards the flat, or was possibly in a doorway somewhere letting the friend finish what she started. I walked to the corner, where street meets bridge, and watched as D and the crying girl stumbled into the light.
They stopped. She was still in a bad way and D was still sensitive. I was drunk and tired. I started up the street and found M, alone, standing in the middle of an empty intersection, slowly turning the KFC map in his hands and looking at his surroundings with the blank stare of a man that had no clue.
Minutes passed. We hadn’t moved and D had not caught up. I mumbled to myself as I retraced my steps to retrieve him. He wasn’t there.
What the fuck? I looked around and decided they must have gone back in the bar. I had no intention of following and walked to the edge of the bridge to pass my time watching water and dreaming of sleep.
They were in the river. She was a good distance ahead of him and they were both swimming strongly towards the middle of the river and the heavy current of old world water that flowed there.
I yelled. D stopped and looked up at me, only the top of his head visible against the shadows of city.
“She’s killing herself!” he shouted, and turned to swim again.
My mind raced. This, I thought, is some crazy shit. I stripped down to my boxers and called for M, who came running around the corner and froze, tray liner in both hands. He was about forty feet away.
“Call 911!” I shouted.
He started to turn, then stopped, and waved the paper in front of him. “They don’t have 911!”
I couldn’t let someone die. I couldn’t go home without my best friend. I saw his mother’s face and me, stumbling, trying to explain how he had drown and I had stood there, arguing in my underwear in the middle of a slowly stirring city.
“Call somebody.” I said, and I dove in.
D had reached her and was swimming back towards me. I met them halfway. She was unconscious, and he was slipping repeatedly beneath her weight into the embracing arms of the river.
I took her and placed her arms around me, as they had been just hours ago. Only now there was no warmth. There was no tightness. She was cold and unresponsive.
It no longer mattered that someone had called her a whore. I no longer cared that she had chosen to spend the night crying instead of fucking. She grew heavy on my back as we treaded in the water and I never took my eyes off of D’s face.
If there was a way out of the river we couldn’t find it. It’s banks had centuries ago been grown over with bricks and cobblestones, and we found a patch against the wall beneath the street that we could place her on.
She had a pulse and the slightest of breaths. Water poured out of her mouth and ran back to the depths from which she snatched it. She was trembling with shock and cold. We removed everything but her undergarments and rubbed our hands across her body, trying desperately to alleviate the effects of the chill she battled.
Sirens grew from the distance. Eventually there were voices above us. Everyone from the bar was there, even the drunk. M was looking down at us with relief and amusement. Firemen and Police, all with mustaches and cigarettes, started calling to us in every language but one we understood.
Finally a gurney of sorts was lowered. We placed the girl that cried upon it and watched as she disappeared from our lives forever.
A rope ladder was thrown down and we climbed up to a hundred faces and more questions. I remember M handing me my clothes as I watched the drunk talk to the police. He kept pointing at me.
I woke up with my head lying on a heater. It was the old kind that looked like a radiator sticking out of the wall. It was on. I only moved my head enough to turn it over and warm the other side.
I was freezing and I was in jail. M and D were sitting beside me on a bench.
The drunk walked by us. “You,” he said to me, “you learn how to dive in the English Navy?”
I wasn’t sure if he had already forgotten that I was American, or if the fact that my dive was closer to a belly flop was some sort of crack against the English. I ignored him.
I had assumed, as I usually did when finding myself in a police station, that we were in some sort of trouble. Thankfully that wasn’t the case.
“You boys are heroes,” is what they told us. They had taken us to the station to speak with an interpreter, and sometime during my sleep the entire story had come out.
Two policemen that could have passed for 14 if not for the mustaches picked us up out front. Their squad car was at least 10 years old. There was duct tape on the door joints and a handful of air fresheners hanging from the rearview mirror, which was also covered in duct tape.
They both turned to look at us as we sat in the backseat, smiling through the smoke of their cigarettes.
“Hey,” said one. “You Americans, you like to swim, no?” They both laughed. M handed them the KFC sheet, with our location circled. They looked at it like it was the most natural thing in the world, started the car, turned on the siren, and cranked the techno. They drove us home smoking and laughing, and talking to us the entire time. I couldn’t hear a word they said.
We needed to cut time anyway, as we had spent extra days in Prague being molested in phone booths and gently kissing girls in the open doorways of moving trains as they crawled from the platform headed in the wrong direction.
Just before we left Switzerland we stood in the ruins of an old castle, trying to stay dry as the showers returned. There was a group of Canadians there, and as was oft the practice when traveling as we were, we started to trade stories from our journeys.
One of them offered up a tale he had heard. He had met some American girls in Austria who had been telling everyone about some guys they had met in Prague- three American guys, and how those guys, those three guys drunk with lust and liquor, had spent an hour defending a girl’s honor, and a morning, saving her life.
We caught our train, and slept the entire way to Barcelona.