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The first 2 chapters of A Cure for Solitude

 

 

Chapter 1

 

'So, what about you, Alex?'

 

The words didn't sound like much but then it's  his  voice  that
gives them meaning.  That  only  dawned  on me when  I  heard 
him whisper those words for the tenth time in as many minutes.
I soon began to wonder if they were just attempts at  conversa-
tion,or was he doubting whether I had the nerve to go  through 
with it?  I had doubts myself.
At the time I had known him no more than  a  week.  But even
so,  he  could  sense  the  panic that had  consumed me  since our
first steps onto the plane.Although the plane was full but seemed 
so quiet.   Knowing  that  we  couldn't   talk  freely,  I kept up the 
pretence that I was doing fine.
'So, what about you, Alex?'  he  said again,  this time squeezing 
my knee.
'I'm fine,' I said. 'I'm fine, I'm just going to the bathroom.'
'Again?'
'My stomach won't stop  turning.  I  told  you  I   wasn't a  very 
good flyer.' Any conviction in the tone  of  my  voice  was  for the 
benefit of the passengers sitting near us. I had no hope of fooling 
him.
I  made  my  way  to  the back of the plane,  avoiding eye con-
tact with anyone,supporting myself on the headrests of sleeping 
passengers.  I closed  the  toilet door behind me, double-checked
9


the lock and sat with  my  head in my hands. I was desperate to 
gain some control  of  my  thoughts  but it was beyond  me.  I sat 
helpless as my mind raced through the situation I had put myself 
in.  With perhaps  fifteen minutes before we landed I finally rec-
ognised this as a point of no return.
Reality and reason had  obsconded from my mind.  I stood  up
from the toilet, placed my hands on either side  of  the  basin and
stared into the mirror.  The fine hair on my temples  was matted
with sweat and cold  to  the  touch.  My eyes seemed  more  open
than usual, transfixed by the horror of   it   all.   I  knew  without 
saying a word that my voice had no comfort to offer me.
I tried to convince  myself that he  had  faith  in  me  and   that
that was all I  had to remember.  Whatever  it  was  that  he  had
seen in me was all it would take.
I splashed cold water onto my face  to  wash  away  the  sweat
and made some  unnecessary adjustments to my hair.  Trying to
remember where the  sleeping  passengers'  seats  were,  I  made
my way back to my own.
'Feel better?' he asked me.
'I'm sorry,  Dominik,'  I  said.  'I  didn't  think  I  would  get this
bad.'
'It's  ok,'  he said.   'But  now  you  are  listen  to me.  Not   your 
interruptions. It is something important.'
I  ignored  the  captain's  request  to  fasten  my  seat-belt  and
leaned  towards  Dominik.   Understanding  his  accent  is  by no
means hard, in fact it's a pleasure to listen to, but when reduced
to a whisper, to catch every word, attention to detail is needed.
'First,'  he said,  'when  we are  on the  plane  my  name  is  not 
Dominik. You understand?'
'Sorry,' I said.
'Second.When we are leaving the plane, Alex,we are separating. 
Now, I go first and you must wait a short time before you  follow. 
Don't try talk to me, don't look me.  No one should think we're to-
gether. Understand?'
There was a moment of contemplation before his words  began 
to drum on my heart.
10


'No, I don't understand at all,'  I said.  'You said you'd walk  me
through. We'd laugh and talk to calm my nerves,  you said.  Why
the change of plan?'
I was having  trouble  keeping  my voice to a whisper. Dominik
had  turned  the plan on its  head.  As I understood it,  we were to
stroll through customs, chatting away and sticking together. We
hadn't  discussed every detail  but  he  wanted us  to  give  people
the  impression that we were tourists.  He himself had likened the 
first smuggle to the first day at school. All nerves and brave faces
and yet you get through it, one way or another. It had taken until
now,  I thought, but he had finally seen through me.  I  was going 
to get caught and Dominik knew it.  It was time for him  to  wash 
his hands.
'It is not a change of plan, Alex, it is a change of tactics,' he said.
'You try to relax. I wait for you outside.'
He was expecting  me to  be  delayed  and  in  my  mind it  could 
only  mean  one  thing. He tapped my knee and smiled.
'You'll be fine, Alex. You're a natural.'
The effort of trying to regain control of my thoughts, and 
taking in this supposedly innocuous change of plan caught 
up with me. I flopped back into my chair and closed my eyes. 
Dominik fastened his seatbelt and then mine as the plane began 
its descent into Prague. The thought that I might never set eyes

on the city was the only one clear on my mind.

With my eyes still closed, the jolt of the landing was unex- 
pected and disrupted what little peace I had found. Soon pas- 
sengers began filing past my seat, walking towards the doors. 
Dominik fumbled around in the overhead compartment until 
he produced his small black rucksack. He quickly checked the 
side pocket for his passport and once he was satisfied he left me, 
joining the other passengers making their way off the plane. He 
made no attempts at any last-minute communication. Not even 
a harmless ‘good luck’. I was on my own. 
I counted to ten before making an effort to move. When I 
did I took my bag down and hung it over my shoulder, making 
it possible to keep my hands in my pockets. It didn’t do much to 
11 


stop them sweating, but it kept them out of sight. Dominik was 
long gone by now, so before I was the last one, I left the plane 
and followed the signs for the luggage carousel.  
As I stood motionless, watching bags and suitcases that 
didn’t belong to me, I caught sight of two guards. They weren’t 
looking at me; I didn’t know if they had already seen me. They 
were talking, but their manner didn’t suggest that I was the topic 
of their conversation. It was merely the sight of their uniforms 
that quickened my pulse, and the golden reflections of light as 
the sun caught the black steel of their guns. I turned my atten- 
tion back to the luggage, soon spotted my bag and walked up

to meet it. 
It was my hand luggage that was the danger if I was stopped 
and searched, so I contemplated stuffing it inside my bag. What 
use that would have been I can’t tell you. It would only have

alerted the guards. I decided I looked suspicious enough.

Dominik was five or six places ahead of me in the queue for
passport control. I tried to catch his eye. I wanted to know if he
felt the slightest sympathy for me. I prayed for him to at least
acknowledge the ordeal, but nothing.
 

The passport official was certain to look at me if only to
check my face against the photo. My skin was darker now and
my hair a little longer. I knew that meant a prolonged look at
my face. I would have to smile, I remember thinking. I couldn’t
keep a straight face for that long without looking guilty.
I never got the chance to act out my smile. The official was
making it quite clear that he would rather be anywhere else than
behind his desk. He took a quick glance at me before stamping
my passport with all the grace of a robot and, handing it back,
never said a word.
Through a set of sliding glass doors on the other side of the
hall I could see Dominik, his hand beckoning me to get a move
on. No sooner had I picked up my pace, the doors began to
close. In the reflection I could see two guards behind me, quick-
ening their pace and trying to catch up. One was talking into a
radio, both were looking straight at me.

12


 

‘Prosím,’ said one of the guards. I knew he was addressing 
me but I kept walking. 
‘Prosím,’ he repeated. 
I knew I could plead ignorance to the request and back then 
my ignorance was genuine. I’m still not cured of it now. As I 
chanced a look at their reflection in the glass, to check on their 
progress, one of them caught my eye.  
‘Stop!’ He called out. 
The authority in his voice stopped me dead, almost mid- 
stride. One of them stopped by my side while the other walked 
around in front of me. 
‘You understand English, then,’ he said, sarcastically. 
‘Yes, I am.’ 
‘You are what?’ 
‘I mean yes I do, but I am…English...sorry.’ 
I bit the inside of my lip and stared at their shoes. 
‘May I ask you the nature of your visit to Czech Republic?’ 
‘I’m here on holiday.’ 
‘You are alone?’ he asked. 
Over the guard’s shoulder I could see Dominik on the other 
side of the doors. His thumbs were held aloft and he wore a grin 
that stretched from one side of his face to the other. 
‘Alone, Sir, are you on holiday alone?’ repeated the guard. 
‘No,’ I said. ‘A friend is meeting me here.’ 
‘And you’re staying with this friend?’ 
‘That’s right.’ 
‘Well, perhaps we can help you find this friend.’ 
He almost sounded boastful, as though his colleague ought 
to be taking notes on the masterful way he had backed me into 
a corner. 
‘That’s alright,’ I said, pointing to Dominik. ‘He’s already 
found me.’ 
Both of the guards looked to where I was pointing and I felt 
great satisfaction in watching Dominik’s smile wither and die. 
It took a moment for him to straighten himself before replying 
with a tentative wave.
13


 

‘No need for us to help you then,’ said the guard. 
He stood to one side and extended his arm towards the 
doors. I smiled and walked on. I would have liked to thank him 
for the offer of assistance but my mind was elsewhere. I longed 
for the throat of Dominik Rubin in my hands.
14 

 



Chapter 2

 

While Dominik bought a newspaper and some cigarettes at the 
newsstand I stepped out of the terminal and into the sunlight. I 
dropped my bags at the top of some steps, sat down and placed 
my head in my hands once again. The sun burned through my 
eyelids reducing the darkness I craved to a soft yellow haze. I 
had to think about my breathing while I waited for an onset of 
guilt, pride or sheer relief. I had no idea which it would be. 
‘Some of us are born with the luck.’ 
Dominik’s arm wrapped itself around my shoulders and 
pulled my head down towards his chest. He let out a muffled 
cheer as he kissed the top of my head. I could smell a cigarette 
on his breath. 
‘Let’s go home, Alex,’ he said. ‘Job well done.’ 
He stood in front of me and I looked up to try and meet his 
eyes but the sun sat squarely on his shoulders. All I could see was 
the silhouetted outline of his body, his neck extended towards 
me, inviting me to join the conversation. I lowered a bucketful 
of hope into the well of my mind in search of sense and under- 
standing. The well was dry. I couldn’t find words. I could not 
communicate. 
Dominik picked up my bags as though it were some kind of 
reward, and made his way to the row of taxis parked at the side 
of the road. It was late May, but it was a dry, mid-summer heat, 
15 

 

nothing like the weather I had been expecting; the sky was too 
blue and the clouds were too scarce. The day I arrived in Prague 
was the hottest of the year so far. 
For the first ten minutes of the journey I thought we could have 
been anywhere. Our cab cruised over the same smooth tarmac

roads you find all over Europe, so long as the money is there. But 
halfway into the city we hit the cobbled streets, and heavy vibra- 
tions came up through the back seat of the taxi accompanied

by a deep, resounding hum. I sank into the corner of my seat, 
sheltering in the shadows from the sun, still awaiting the reaction 
that had eluded me so far. Dominik was talking to the driver, he 
sounded happy to be back home. I’d forgiven him by now. I sat 
silent in the back of the car just happy to still be free. 
We began to cut through narrow streets and the buildings grew 
older, taller and dirtier as the heart of the city unfolded before 
me. I had never felt such a sense of familiarity with a foreign place 
than I did that day. It was like somewhere I had always dreamed 
of really did exist. A place to which I could always belong but 
never be lost in. They were nice impressions to have, my first 
impressions of Prague. 
The taxi pulled up at the side of the road and Dominik settled 
the fare. The driver took our bags from the boot of the car and 
Dominik searched for his keys. I feasted my eyes on the street. 
Five-storey houses of yellow, pink and brown face out towards 
an avenue of delicate young trees and the stillness of the river. It 
didn’t feel like a city at all. 
‘Come inside,’ said Dominik. ‘We’re here. The land long 
promised.’ 
I bundled my way through the door, into the hallway and 
stopped at the cage to the lift. The lift shaft stretched up to the 
top of the building, wrapped in a spiral staircase that stopped one 
floor short of a domed skylight. It let in enough light to fill the 
entire hallway. It was beautiful, unlike any of the homes I’d had 
before. 
‘Well, call it down,’ said Dominik, closing the front door 
behind him. ‘Unless you take the stairs.’

16


 

Crammed together in the lift we ascended to the top floor. 
I saw that each floor had two front doors. As we passed each 
floor Dominik recited the names of the occupants, nodding to 
each door as he said their name, as though this were my formal 
introduction. On the top floor there was only one door, made 
with what looked like a thick, heavy oak. There was no name 
plaque like on the other doors, and no features apart from a small 
spy hole.

‘So, who lives here then?’ I asked, knowing the answer. 
‘We do,’ replied Dominik. 
It was his choice of words that first really endeared him to me. 
He makes you feel like you’re a friend worth keeping. 
After what seemed an endless operation with his keys, 
Dominik opened the door with a kick and I followed him inside. 
There was a large round wooden table that sat shining in the 
afternoon sun, with a vase of flowers, too dead for me to know 
what they were, or had once been, standing in the middle. At the 
far side of the room there were windows that looked out on to the 
river, as tall as any of the walls. The walls of the room itself were 
covered in books, alphabetically ordered. 
‘And I suppose you’ve read all of these,’ I said sceptically. 
‘Reference,’ he said. ‘I am sorry for such a mess.’ 
I looked around and, although I knew where nothing really 
belonged, everything looked as though it was where it was for 
a reason and hadn’t just been left or forgotten. Dominik looked 
sorrowfully at the vase on the table and took it through to the 
kitchen.

I strolled past the shelves with my head tilted to one side, 
skim-reading the spines of the books. I picked out the odd 
familiar word but most of the books were in a foreign language. 
I wondered if I hadn’t completely underestimated the task I was 
facing. 
‘Don’t worry,’ said Dominik, coming back through. ‘You don’t 
have to read them all today.’ 
‘Good,’ I said. ‘To be honest I can hardly keep my eyes open. 
You don’t mind if I just sleep for a bit, do you?’

17


 

'No,’ he said. ‘You look like you should. I show you your 
room, but for the rest, you do your own exploring.’ 
Dominik took my bags and I followed him, again empty- 
handed, up a flight of wooden stairs that I hadn’t even noticed. 
The stairs doubled back on themselves and led to a mezzanine 
from where I could survey the whole living room. It looked even 
larger than before, viewed from a height, but I was too tired to 
see anything new. A corridor led away from the mezzanine with 
doors on either side. I was paying little attention and just fol- 
lowed Dominik through the door he held open for me. He placed 
my bags down beside the single bed in the corner.

‘I know,’ he said, as if he had been listening to my thoughts. 
‘But we can do something with it. Make it look how you like it. 
As you know, I wasn’t really expecting you.’ 
The room was plain, almost unfinished, not in keeping with 
the rest of the place.

Everything had happened so quickly that day that I hadn’t had 
time to gather my thoughts. I’m sure I had a thousand questions to 
ask Dominik about what had happened that morning, but none of 
them occurred to me then. My mind was foggy with sleep. 
Dominik made his way out of the room, pulling the door gently 
closed with both hands, as though I were a sleeping baby. I lay on 
the bed, nuzzled into the pillow and thought about nothing at all. 
It wasn’t long before sleep came.

A few hours later I woke up to blackness, my mind as blank as 
my vision. I had slept so long that the sun had gone down and the 
only light in the room was that which spilled through the cracks 
around the door. After a few stretches on the bed I forced myself 
up and slowly walked towards the door, lifting my feet high off 
the ground, as I couldn’t remember exactly where I’d left my 
bag. I opened the door just enough so that I could find the light 
switch. I found my bag, recovered some clothes and went to find 
Dominik.

At the end of the corridor I stopped on the mezzanine and,

leaning over the banister, took in my surroundings again. Colours

18


 

had changed and the character of the room had changed with 
them. The soft artificial light seemed to have shrunk it into a 
homelier size. Light brown wood sat against dark brown leather, 
and the countless books on the walls were lit by the light from 
brass oil lamps that I hadn’t noticed before. It struck me as a 
room that lends itself well to thinking.

Dominik had taken one of the armchairs to the end of the 
room and turned it to face the window. He sat there with his feet 
on the sill, a drink in his hand and a cigarette held gently between 
his fingers, looking out towards the city. 
‘Why don’t you join me?’ he asked without looking round, 
instead addressing my reflection in the window. ‘Come and see 
the view.’

I took a chair from the table, not wanting to disturb the peace 
by dragging another armchair all the way over. The vase had 
been returned to the middle of the table but was now empty, and 
the smell of furniture polish hung in the air. I put the chair down 
in front of the window, to face Dominik. He motioned his hand 
towards the window and checked with a glance to see where I 
was looking. Contented that I was taking in the view he shifted in 
his chair, looking for a little more comfort.

I took a chair from the table, not wanting to disturb the peace 
by dragging another armchair all the way over. The vase had 
been returned to the middle of the table but was now empty, and 
the smell of furniture polish hung in the air. I put the chair down 
in front of the window, to face Dominik. He motioned his hand 
towards the window and checked with a glance to see where I 
was looking. Contented that I was taking in the view he shifted in 
his chair, looking for a little more comfort.

‘It’s strange place, you know,’ he said once he’d settled. 
‘People are coming here for long time, some more welcome than 
others. Sometimes I think it is miracle the place is still here.’ 
Dominik pushed the butt of his cigarette into the ashtray that 
sat on the arm of his chair, then placed the ashtray on the floor 
beside him. His hand slowly strayed up, I’m sure without him 
knowing it, and began to stroke the crown of his head. His hair 
was very thin at the place where he stroked it. His scalp looked 
pale in contrast to the short dark hair that covered the rest of 
his head, from the tapered line on his neck to the widow’s peak 
on his brow. It made him look more than a little monastic. His 
eyes had sunken since I had seen him last and the acute smell 
of alcohol came to me in waves as he breathed. He looked at 
me from the corner of his eye and I quickly turned back to the 
window.

19

 


I looked out onto a city that stands timeless. I thought that 
by now almost every city’s skyline lay among the clouds, but the 
only buildings here that dared reach for the heavens were the 
spires of churches and cathedrals. Dominik talked me through the 
points of the city, following the river with his finger from as far 
right as we could see, to our far left, as the Vltava itself flows. Its 
dark waters reflected the lights that lit its banks. Old stone bridges, 
guarded by their weathered statues, reflected the artificial colours 
of night. And the clattering trams that crossed them burst with 
brilliant electric flashes of light as the sound of Europe softened 
from east to west. Nobody talks of Prague as a city divided by its 
river. The Vltava binds the city together.

‘I think you like her,’ said Dominik. 
‘She’s beautiful,’ I replied. 
‘Well, let us hope that she likes you.’ 
I waited until Dominik was ready to talk. I could tell his 
thoughts were elsewhere but I was unsure of the reason. It seemed 
that coming home had put him in a sombre mood, but then the 
plane ride itself couldn’t have helped. Perhaps what had hap- 
pened had given him a crisis of faith in me after all. This was 
when all the questions I hadn’t been able to think of before came 
flooding into my mind.

‘Dominik, why did you leave me on the plane?’ I asked, con- 
centrating on keeping the tone of my voice neutral. He shifted in 
his chair again and rubbed his face. Eventually he met my eyes 
with the same reassuring smile from the plane.

‘You didn’t give me any choice, I’m sorry,’ he said.

‘I thought we were both to be arrested.'

 It wasn’t the explanation I’d been hoping for.

‘So you just left me to fend for myself.’ 
‘It’s not like that, let me finish,’ he said, beginning to pay a

little more attention to me. ‘The way you acted on plane, the way 
stewardess was looking at you, it all looked… not so good. When 
you were in the toilet I took package from your bag and took it 
myself. That’s why I left you. I had it.’

So, every emotion I had gone through that day had been born

20

 


of nothing. My achievement was nothing and my overwhelming 
relief had been, above all, completely unwarranted. The reali- 
sation left me feeling flat. Dominik’s crisis of faith was surely a 
reality.

‘I’ll understand if you’re having second thoughts,’ I said in 
resignation. 
‘I’m not having second thoughts. I think you miss the point.’ 
‘I don’t see how,’ I said. 
‘I underestimate you, that is the point. You have nerves on the 
plane today but there is not something wrong with that,’ he said. 
‘All your nerves told to me today was that you are understanding 
the consequences of your actions. You knew what you were get- 
ting into. Only idiot would not have been scared.’ 
His voice slowly softened.

‘If you get yourself into mess as you did today it’s not unusual 
for customs to know about you before the plane touch to the 
ground.’ Dominik placed his hand on his heart. ‘I thought you 
were going to be stopped. That’s why I took package.’ He looked 
at me over the rim of his glass. 
‘You should have seen your face.’ 
We both smiled.

‘But that’s just it, you saw for yourself, I lost it.’ 
‘No,’ he said before finishing the last of his drink in one. ‘What 
I saw today was promising apprentice. You thought you had the 
package, I thought customs knew who you are and you still walk 
away. And here you are now, free like the bird.’ 
He gripped on to my thigh, just above the knee, squeezed 
until I flinched and then let out the laugh he had apparently been 
bottling up since the airport. 
‘You’re a natural.’

Dominik sprung out of his seat with an unexpected burst of 
energy. He crouched in front of me, took my head in his hands 
and kissed me on the forehead.
 

‘Do not underestimate yourself,’ he said.

 He straightened himself, ruffled my hair and then walked 
towards the stairs.

21

 


'Come on, Alex,’ he said, making his way up the stairs. ‘You 
have to look lively.’ 
‘What?’ 
‘You’re not going out dressed like that, are you?’ He stopped 
on the mezzanine, where I had taken in the room just a few min- 
utes before. 
‘Where are we going?’ I asked.

'Come on, Alex,’ he said, making his way up the stairs. ‘You 
have to look lively.’ 
‘What?’
 

‘You’re not going out dressed like that, are you?’ He stopped 
on the mezzanine, where I had taken in the room just a few min- 
utes before. 
‘Where are we going?’ I asked.

 ‘Out, my friend, and into the night.’ He stood with his arms 

raised like a vampire bat. My spirits began to lift at his excitement. 
‘What for?’ I called up to him.

22