Alms under the sodium-vapor lights – Free version

He veers to the right, to the left, on a crooked diagonal stomping as he goes, doing a special kind of walk, trying to anchor the soles of his feet to the pavement, so he won’t fall or stumble and look like a prat. A drunk myself, drunk right now, I know that walk. So I follow him, just one of dozens of figures walking home through Stromovka Park, either from the expat bars to the west, or the drum ‘n’ bass smoking bar to the south.

In my head I see a satellite image of what we must look like: little black ants swarming in the sodium light then funneling into the particulate dark. I follow him not because he’s cute, because I don’t know that yet, and I’ve seen a few hot young dudes on this same path already, but because he walks like me, and I imagine the familiar loneliness in his gut, sloshing around with all that beer, feels topped up and threatening to overflow, just like mine.

Trotting up beside him, clutching my equilibrium, I look to the side. He’s short, comes up to about my neck, and he’s chubby. He’s got a fuzzy Czech techno mullet that I see on much younger guys. I guess he’s in his late 20s.

Ciao,” I say, or slur. Young Czechs say, ciao, for hello and usually, ciao ciao, to say goodbye. Young Czechs would not say dobre vecher except to older folks or strangers. I maintain that I’m not “older folks.” And it’s early in the morning anyway.

He stomps to a stop, wobbles, and turns his head to look at me.

Ciao,” he says, then resumes his silly path more or less forward.

“Kam desh?“ I ask in my crappy Czech.

Domu,” he says. Of course he’s going home. “Ale I’m very drunk,” he says, in pretty good English, except for the opening but.

Ja taky,” I say, agreeing.

“Where. are. you. from?” he asks…

We are suddenly surrounded and surmounted and surpassed by a large group of techno boys, and by their accompanying invisible cloud of skunk. Cross Club has definitely closed.

For a few seconds, we’re islands in their stream. They saunter pass. The hems of their jeans trail behind them in tatters; the thick denim makes sounds like someone beating the dust out of carpets. I get a backward glance from a glacier-blue-eyed twink and he nods. I smoked up with him earlier in the evening. A biznis boy, I think, judging by the questioning twinkle.

“Chicago,” I say, like always. The first 19 years of my life in Indiana meant little to anyone but me and my mom — mostly my mom.

“Ah ha,” he says. “You’re English!”

“No, I’m American.”

“Chicago Bulls!” he says.

“Yes. Michael Jordan.”

“I don’ understand basKETball.”

“Me either.”

He laughs. This local-meets-foreigner shtick is predictable and I begin to wonder if he’s stupid. But even if he is, what the fuck does it matter?

By this point, we’ve moved farther into the park. The pond is coming up and we’ve left most of the other drunk stumblers behind. Soon we’ll be alone on the wide path that’s dropping altitude by the meter. The air is cool and humid. The park feels settled and indifferent to me at this time of night and that’s why, in these months of homelessness, it’s felt like shelter and respite from pimping and destitution, if not quite like home.

It’s always quiet here; I’m anonymous, unseen, untrammelled.

Tonight, though, close by but behind the trees, there’s a rhythmic clanging and banging and a humming that sounds like music. The sounds have been there since we started walking together, but I’m just now noticing.

I stop.

“What’s that?

He stops, right next to me, sways, and looks off to the left. “Ne vim,” he says. He doesn’t know either, what it is. But now that we’re paying attention, it fills the air. It’s almost danceable, and it’s calling to our disconnected feet.

“It sounds like music. Like electronic…experimental music.”

The sounding of a bell, a big-ass bell; a gong; curving pipes filled with water, smacked with a muffled mallet; the skittering and scattering of patterned ones and zeros. It sounds like Oval, or some band even more mechanical and minimalist. Like Pan Sonic, maybe.

He seems to know what I mean by experimental, and says, “We go look.”

It’s not a question.

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