Denisa Vostrá

Denisa Vostrá: A Storm in My Mind

One little story from the new book From Prague to Lisbon and back. Translated by Prokop Hanžl.

One telltale sign that you’re in Lisbon is the ubiquity of bell towers. Today, I decided to visit all of them, checking if each one is still functional. It was a beautiful summer’s day and I was only wearing a thin, blue and white yukata I had bought 30 years prior from a street seller in Asakusa. I thought to myself how wonderful it is that it’s lasted me so long — there’s nothing better to wear in hot weather — when, out of the blue, the sky went dark and a storm came over the city.

Parked cars lined the street, so I readily hopped into the closest one, hoping to escape the rain. Only a few moments later did I notice that the front seat was occupied by a dwarf sipping on a cup of coffee. He seemed familiar, but I couldn’t remember where I knew him from.

“My mama has a cup in her Hoosier, she puts all her chewed gum in it,” he beckoned.

“Is that so?” I asked, surprised. “My mother did the same exact thing! I still have the cup. I’m sorry, do you mind if I stay in for a moment?”

“Be my guest. Cracker?” he inquired, handing me one. “These crackers are so tender, be a waste to even dip them in coffee,” he continued, promptly dipping one in his cup.
“This July’s been the hottest one in a hundred and forty two years, they say. Can you believe that? In Asia, it’s been the hottest July since they even started writing it down! And by mid-August, Croatia’s seen, according to the Croatian National Tourist Board, five hundred and sixty thousand Czech visitors already!”

The roaring of the storm outside was interrupted by Here Comes the Bride.

“Sorry, that’s my phone,” the dwarf blurted out. “Hello? Why yes, of course! One can add corn, for example, to pumpkin compote. See, the color is similar, so it looks nice!”

He hung up and looked at me. “The harmony of shapes!” he explained. “That was a test call, ya know? The primates in the zoo are getting the Covid shot now, in the States. And they’re getting ready to try out a new vaccine in the chimp reservation. Test call.” He went silent for a moment, then continued: “You going anywhere? I can take you. Not sure I can drive this, though. ‘Fraid I can’t reach the gas.”

“Thanks, I’ve got to get off,” I replied, bewildered, and glanced outside to see if it’s still raining.

“Be better like that,” the dwarf nodded. “The maximum amount of hairs on the human head is lower than the population of London. So, naturally, there must be at least two people in London with the same number of hairs.” He nodded contently and added: “The probabilities vary in different cohorts of people.”

I was already standing on the sidewalk, counting the bell towers. The storm left no trace behind, not even wet streets. The dwarf grinned at me from the roof of his car. “Well, see ya ‘round, I’m sure we’ll meet again soon!”

Unsure if that was in my best interest, I didn’t reply. I remembered that come September, the capacity of sport and cultural events will be full again and made haste to the next bell tower to make sure I’d count them all by then. By then, however, I was only observing the scene from a distance. I stayed for a moment, watching myself leave and disappear behind a corner.

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