My father didn't tell me he died. However he left me a chalupa. Informed after the fact by a New York lawyer, who I trusted had administered his estate correctly, I wish Dad had been more forthcoming. I didn't know what a chalupa was or what to do with one. Was it a recipe he picked up in Mexico for a spicy dish? No, couldn't be; and it wasn't, although in a sense it was, spicy dish that is.
To be clear Dad gave me a rustic house slash log cabin remotely located in his adopted, faraway land. I was puzzled. I already had a place to live, which was his. He had inherited it from my mother when she passed. He said he'd like me to have it some day. I assumed this would eventually sort itself out. So what need had I of a house I would never visit or call home?
He and I were not close, but we loved each other as sons and fathers should under the circumstances. He left to travel the world in my early teens. We kept in touch by mail and the annual phone call. He was communicative in several languages, I believed; I am born, bred, and based permanent-like in one provincial village, thoroughly monolingual. I live on independent means courtesy of my mother's estate, and I do things like read and write to make sense of my world and avoid entanglements. Mail correspondence with my dad worked well for me. Phone calls were awkward and consisted of sharing seasonal pleasantries like, "Merry Christmas."
I found what Dad left me in the Czech Republic was near a village of the genus type "secludus extremus." As for the chalupa, I would become the owner under one condition. I had to physically inspect it and its contents. I then could take possession or dispose of it and contents as I wished.
Thus began a series of exertions for me in spite of an armchair curiosity I suffer from. I'm a sedate asocial thud. So I travel virtually. It's fine to learn about the world and people from the comfort of your recliner, but to find out what I had been bequeathed I had to get up and out and interact and do the unthinkable, which would entail all manner of I knew not what. I would have to lock the door behind me and with backpack leave my village, get to the next, catch a bus then plane, and then endure mysterious country entry and exit rites and currency exchanges. Then I had to make it to a dot on some country lane in what is now Czechia.
In short, I had to move my rear to claim ownership of something from a father I would like to have known better. Perhaps I could if I went to that faraway place and carry out what seemed like my father's considered last wish. Daunting for the stationary and indecisive but to satisfy strong curiosity to gain a better than vague knowledge of my father, I broke out of my box.
What my father told me about Czechoslovakia did not jive with the country I encountered. I dimly realized from Dad's letters that he hadn't told me what I needed to know today, or any particularly intimate details of the life he led. If he shared more than the usual small talk, it was about a communist country where he began the rest of his life after me and my mother.
I had to get a passport, but then I needed a visa. I had to get to an airport, but the closest was New York. I flew over-long over water and then some land, but upon landing found making transfers and connections tasks I could manage albeit without cosmopolitan grace.
After arriving at Prague's Ruzyně airport, I found a bus I was told went to the city center. I found signs and sights and sounds and smells not remotely akin to those I had believed normal and universal. It's a miracle that eventually I found my way out of Praha and its centrum but almost clueless how exactly to get where I was headed. The place was called, I translate, By-the-Little-Creek. I asked someone on a train by pointing to my map, noticing that a number words on the map had no vowels. How can one find the way in a country with only consonants?
What By-the-Little-Creek sounds like as I heard it was: uoo poe tooch kuu. This village's name sounds better when pronounced by natives. Wait, I'll explain.
In Prague I went to the American Embassy and met with someone who decoded the papers I had received from Dad's stateside lawyer. I couldn't determine all the legalese myself, but I was assured the last will and testament was proper and valid. Another document was a Czech translation of the will with addenda of drawings and copies of deeds in German. Although everything was in order he said, one detail appeared in the Czech translation that wasn't in the English original. My Dad wanted me to evict the current occupant of his weekend country cottage before I occupied or disposed of it. The U. S. official cautioned that she had rights under Czech law even though she didn't own the place or pay rent. Last name was Nováková.
I said I would decide whatever about that if I found By-the-Little-Creek. He asked me if I thought I would need someone to help get there and translate. I said no, since he wasn't offering and I felt emboldened. My modest international experience to that point had gotten me this far. I'd been able to ask in English, and point, without much embarrassment for the bits of information I needed. Anything about a squatter I thought I could handle myself. Little did I appreciate the challenges stemming from that detail.
Before venturing into the interior, I toured Prague and walked around mostly lost. I was pleased I found my way to my hotel each evening. My obligatory beginner tourist's lesson involved changing money on the street. Short story short, I lost a painfully large amount. I watched the guy count out the bills in his language, but he thumbed through them so fast I got lost in the sounds he made and confused about how many crowns I should get for my dollars already stuffed into his pocket.
Regional train, then one-car toot-toot train, then bus, and then three kilometers on foot brought me to my destination, almost. My country place was another kilometer from By-the-Little-Creek's smokey pub. I finally arrived and was greeted by the gorgeous apparition of a young woman dressed, I was told later, for "tanning on the sun" or tending the kitchen's vegetable plot--visualize t-shirt and bikini panties. She said good-day, I guessed. I didn't know the proper reply. I was a stranger stunned by the view, all but lost in a strange land.
Shocked and smitten, a lecher and wanna-be intimate? in that order and all at once, I was taken by the amusement ride thus far. At the moment I didn't know how to get on or off or just wait till the ride called for another token.
How long I stared I don't know but eventually asked if her name was Nováková. She said yes in English, and I felt deliverance from any routine I had ever embraced back home; and I hoped that the pastoral heaven I was seeing would wrap me in eternal bliss. I told her my name and she "just knew it." Then she said she'd put something on.
She said, "Wait right there," which was outside the metal fence on the side of the dirt lane leading to this Eden with young Eve still resident. I wondered if she would let me pass through the gate and invite me in if she already knew my mission.
I had my backpack and no plans for where to stay. I didn't even know how to find such a place. Asking as I was walking through By-the-Little-Creek got a reply beyond decoding--might have been halting German. It wasn't Czech, which now I had a novice's ear for, because I didn't hear that machine-gun stream with almost no inflection and no readily detectable separate words. I arrived at Dad's cottage naive, speechless, helpless. Tereza intuited right off, knew why I was there; and after initial words, I accepted her offer to stay and did for more than a week.
Tereza was pretty and sexy in dress and manner. She was about my age. Although greatly distracted, I discovered a delightful, lively, open, and humorous conversationalist with no trace her native language was other than English. I complimented her on everything, like the foolish foreigner I was, praises she readily and gracefully accepted.
Tereza, her mother and my Dad were a Prague family that spent weekends and summers at his cottage. Tereza's mother preferred her Prague flat that she received during the early days of restitution in the 90s. Dad and mother Hanka met in the 80s before any revolutions. Tereza preferred the countryside, because she had her own space and could work a coveted job as librarian serving three nearby villages. She had unnamed local suitors and friends locally and in Prague. She graduated from Charles University in classics and languages. She spent her free time reading in two languages. She also tutored the occasional student who needed to pass an English exam.
I picked out of this stream what was most surprising. "So you're my sister."
"You didn't know? I thought Dad told you all about us." Tereza added she was pleased she now officially had a real life American brother.
"It's great. I never thought we'd meet and now we have. America is a Czech girl's dream to visit and earn money. Many do it illegally by disappearing from tour buses and finding work."
Although I was somehow pleased to have a new relation, I thought my Czech sister should have rights to where she lived and grew up. My claim on Dad's weekend cottage lessened in value to me as did my hope for a closer male-female--I don't know what to call it.
Tereza did not say By-the-Little-Creek but used Czech. She said Uoo-poe-tooch-kuu wasn't the center of the world but "quite satisfying." She told me later what she said after that, because she lost me at Uoo-poe-tooch-kuu. For the record she believed she would never be able to travel beyond her country given her income.
You can't imagine how the sounds from her lips struck me. The o's and oo's and u and uu's seduced my ears. This siren soothingly beckoned me in the most sensual way to come hither, although she didn't actually. It was just the way she said it. The rounding of the lips when making the sounds provided the visual complement to the incesticide I wanted to commit. I was transported. Tereza noticed something in my look.
"Did I say something I shouldn't have?"
I answered with what was eating me that moment. "Sister?"
"Step-sister, not biological," she clarified.
I don't remember what was said after that or what happened next. However I grew less conflicted about the house. She should be able to live there. She should own it. What were the chances of a closed homebody like me to have anything to do with this foreign country and a step-sister who deserved a gift from the man who was more father to her than he was for me. Thus I made a decision.
Suffice to say that the days I spent in Uoo-poe-tooch-kuu with Tereza were heavenly, and I had a fleeting idea how we might make things work with us. But I was conscious enough even after quiet talks and other intimacies that I was not suited to some trans-national, distance relationship or foreign property ownership. Plus she had those suitors.
She touched on that subject during my visit and made me realize I was not just in a foreign land, I had stepped into terribly unfamiliar cultural waters, waters with troublesome differences from the conservative and religious currents I grew up with. It seems from what she said and what I could absorb from my brief observations in Uoo-poe-tooch-kuu proper that attitudes about sex and a god or God conflicted with my sense of these things. I guess if you wear your country and culture for so many years and you have certain ways you live and believe, the very different is very hard to see, understand, and adopt. Maybe my Dad did. I didn't think I could even though Tereza opened me to new possibilities and brought out another self from this reticent one. And why did Dad bequeath me this home? Was I to evict this attractive and endearing relative? I couldn't imagine.
Tereza walked with me the kilometers to the bus where I would begin the many hours returning to the U. S. I told her then that even though I fulfilled my obligation under Dad's will to visit and inspect, I wanted to correct a perceived wrong. She should consider the cottage hers, and she could live there as long as she liked. One day, if I could manage it, she would officially own my Czech country cottage.
"I might come back and visit to make it official. I would like to."
For the rest of the walk and standing side by side before boarding the bus, she was silent. I finally said, "Best get walking. You have a ways back home." She said I did too. We hugged and I boarded the bus.
With a few missteps and getting lost once in Prague and again in the Frankfurt airport, I returned home, and after some weeks I filed the legal documents away and sorted the souvenirs I had collected on my trip--a canceled bus ticket that cost all of five crowns, the Prague hotel receipt showing the extra (double) charge for being a foreigner, the postcard I bought of a couple embracing in Old Town Square.
Soon the months passed, and I had started looking into another travel adventure. I got bit by the bug, but an easier, safer adventure was what I was considering. All the while Tereza didn't let me forget what we had. First I got postcards asking when I would return. I didn't answer most of them, but one time wrote I was thinking about touring the American West. I was back in my indecisive and hypothetical musings as well as hardly pursuing social interaction as normal people go about such things.
Two weeks before Christmas a letter came listing all the Czech traditions for the season and how much time people had off through the first of the year. Tereza was free through Sylvester (New Years) and into the first weeks of the year. She invited me to please come for the holidays and signed off, "Your loving sister." Her kind and thoughtful letter went unanswered. I could go into rationalizations for not writing, but that would be repeating myself.
One false spring morning in late February, I was on the porch sweeping off last fall's leaves which had swirled into corners and lay there awaiting this procrastinator. A voice called from the other side of my wood fence. "Ahoj," I heard. I looked up and for a moment thought no one says that except where there is water and boats. Then I jumped off the porch and opened the gate realizing who was calling. "Ahoj ty vole," Tereza said with a devil in her eye (rough translation, hi you bastard).
We hugged warmly. I was very glad to see her and she looked great, of course, and well rested.
"What brought you--"
"I went to New York City. Had to go to the Czech Embassy. I always wanted to take a bite of the Big Apple first hand. It's not fun alone. I wished you were with me so I came here."
"That's nice but--"
And then she looked directly into my eyes serious-like. "I'm here to assert my rights."
I thought she must have been pregnant and was coming to make me an honest man, or it must be money to subsidize her lifestyle. Village librarians can't earn enough for travel and New York. All Americans are rich she once said as if she believed it.
She broke the train of my private conjectures, for she surely saw panic in my demeanor. I asked her to step into the yard, and she lobbed the bomb.
"Our father had two wills, one in English for you, one in Czech for me. Yours enforceable in my country. Mine enforceable in yours. You got our weekend cottage, going to give it to me, remember? Dad's Czech will gave me this house here."
She looked past me as if to say, "Nice digs."
She had this smirk and said with false concern, "Now whatta ya going ta do?"
She added softly, "Uoo-poe-tooch-kuu," in the sexiest tone and manner possible. Rounded lips and, you know. I laughed and said I was sorry I didn't answer her letter. She said something in Czech, which I am not supposed to think, write, or ever say. Then she put her arm around me and reflected that there must be some expression for the dilemmas we now faced, but she didn't know what it was. I didn't either.
We both beamed at each other--she with joy and optimism about the future, me with lust, to be honest, and uncertainty--also honest. Tereza said we'd figure it out. I continued smiling and silent as we mounted the steps to a future entangled as brother and (step-)sister.
As we entered her house I said, "This all was carefully calculated. What ever was our father thinking?"
Tereza smiled. "I guess we'll figure it out."