Chapter 11

Harry did not manage to recover from the side-effects of his antidepressant treatment for another three weeks. But by the time he was ready to do some work for SMPDM, Colin had gone to the Czech lands again, this time with Ash. Harry used the newly-gained time well: searching for his birth certificate. He did not find it.

The only thing Ash loved about flying was the take-off and the view, especially if it included theForthBridge, the sea and clouds. But only if those clouds were below the plane.

“You never got into a real turbulence, did you?” she asked Colin when she saw how calm he looked.

“No, I suppose not. Why? It can’t be that bad… Unless they’ve just served you a hot drink,” he admitted.

“On my second flight toEdinburghthe plane just dropped,” she gestured by her hand. “It only lasted for a second or two, but I thought I was going to die. Everyone screamed…” she felt like shuddering at the thought. (Had she not read Roger Scruton’s paragraphs on how religion makes people feel what they should when they should? Was this not a situation to shudder at?) But instead she started laughing.

When they successfully landed inPrague, Ash inconspicuously forgot about her British passport, and to the woman who checked the documents she slid a plastic green card. Colin commented this by a surprised look. The woman in the box responded the same way to his passport, but gave it back to him politely without a question.

“What was that?” Colin investigated when he caught up with Ash.

“What do you mean?”

“That green card.”

“Oh, that. My Czech ID,” she explained and found the card again to show it to him. “I’d just feel stupid if I had to speak English with those people.”

“If I were them, I’d still do that. I mean, doesn’t Ashley Seymour look a bit odd on a Czech document? By the way, how did you get that name? You were born in ’84, they can’t have approved of it.”

“They didn’t,” she confirmed his thought, but offered him no further clue and he chose not to ask.

They waited for their luggage in a big lounge, and when it finally arrived, they grabbed the bags and headed for the exit. There, near the entrance to the terminal, Ashley’s brother was waiting for them.

“Hi!” she greeted him enthusiastically and kissed him. “You didn’t have to come, you know…”

“I know, but then I’d hardly get to see you,” he shrugged.

“True,” she smiled. “Anyway, this is Colin; Colin, this is my brother Luke.”

Luke was only three-months older than Colin, but gave him a look that older kids save for younger ones, a look that Colin knew too well from his years among the foster siblings. It also contained a slight astonishment at his sister’s taste in friends, however, Luke conveyed all this information by the eye contact, and shook hands with him as if nothing was going on.

He saw them off to the train station, even asked them if they were sure they did not want to stay a day or two so that Colin got a chance to seePrague(which they refused) and stayed with them until their train was due.

“You’ve got that thing for a brother?” Colin asked Ash as the train safely pulled from the station.

“Shut up,” she advised him nicely.

“You won’t mind if I don’t like him, though?”

“Not if you get used to him.”

There was a trace of threat in her voice.

 

She took some time explaining to him what her brother was like. Colin still was not completely satisfied when they closed the issue, but there was nothing he could do about it anyway. He understood he could not change the way Luke felt about people who looked as “extravagant” as him, and realised he would have to be the good guy and forgive him for this attitude.

“I just hoped your family would like me,” he sighed sadly.

“They do,” she assured him. “Mum and dad like you, Thea and David like you, David’s family like you… Don’t know if my dad’s parents would like you, but they never even liked my mum either. My mum’s family will like you, I’m sure of that.”

She paused. There was something in Colin’s expression that made her reconsider going on. Instead, she reached for his hand. He looked at her, a bit surprised.

“I thought you’d be all right with me,” she explained, her heart burning. She could not imagine how lonely he must have been before meeting the rest of SMPDM, but felt it was painful. And it was equally painful for her that she seemed unable to help him. Being with him was apparently not enough

“I am, darling,” he smiled.

She did not believe him, and he never expected her to.

For most of the rest of the journey they remained quiet. She wondered whether he felt the same as her about this silence – that it was the comfortable kind that defined true friendship. She was careful not to take anything for granted anymore. But whenever she looked at him, he smiled back at her.

“Look, we’re arriving inOlomouc,” she said suddenly upon seeing the dimly lit old railway guard house. “One of my favourite cities in the Czech lands.”

“You wanted to take me toOlomoucwhile we’re here, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, I did. But not now.”

“No, of course not,” he smiled. “I just thought you could show me all those beautiful places you told me about.”

“That’s the plan,” she nodded.

In another fifty minutes they arrived at what Ash rather contemptuously called the coldest railway station in the Czech lands. The red brick station building was new and shiny and lit by the lights on the platforms and in the windows. They collected their luggage and got off the train.

“So, what time does the connection leave?” asked Colin.

“Oh, didn’t I tell you?” she looked at him, astonished by her poor memory. “There’s no connection this late. We’ll have to drive.”

“Drive?” he repeated, almost in horror.

She found a black key in her bag. “Mum left me the car here when she went to Berwick on Friday,” she explained.

There were several cars on the parking place on the side of the station building. She found a pale golden Renault among them and pressed the key. The car made a funny sound and the automatic lock clicked.

Ash opened the trunk and put her bag in it. Colin followed her example somewhat reluctantly and Ash closed the trunk again.

“What’s the matter?” she asked.

“You’ve got a driving licence?”

“You didn’t think my mum would let me drive if I didn’t, did you?”

They got in the car and Ash found the radio in the case and inserted it in its place. Then she took her handbag and found her documents in it.

“Here,” she said and handed a small plastic card – her “European” driving licence – to Colin. She threw the handbag onto the back seat and started the engine.

“You’ve got your seatbelt fastened, I hope?” she asked.

“Sure,” he nodded.

“Good. Let’s go then.”

It took some time for Ash to get used to the car again, but in the end she managed to make friends with it once more and safely drove them to her former home town.

She stopped at a greying house on the outskirts of Fulnek. This was where her mother lived – and where she used to live with her for a few years.

Ash searched her handbag again at the door, but the key she was looking for was not there. A bit nervously, she took out her mobile phone instead and waited till her mum answered the call.

“Mum, we do have another key to the house, right?” she asked. “Great. I’ve left mine inEdinburgh- – – Don’t worry, we’ll be fine. I just need to know if there’s another key inside. Right. Thanks a lot. Good night!”

She ended the call and looked at Colin, who was watching her distrustfully.

“Come with me,” she told him, and taking a deep breath to pluck up courage she headed for the garden shed.

The garden was absolutely dark. Ash found the back door of the shed, switched on the light and reached behind a big plastic coil hanging on the wall.

“There you go,” she smiled at Colin and showed him a key she had just found there. “This unlocks the cellar door. Wait for me at the front door, please, will you?”

She headed for the menacingly pitch black stairs leading down to the cellar door, while he returned to the main entrance to the house. Ash found the lock, careful not to touch anything in five-centimetre distance within it (she hated spiders, and her immediate surroundings were probably full of them), and opened the ancient door. Not noticing how repulsive the cellar looked, she hurried upstairs and unlocked the front door for Colin.

“Hello,” he greeted her. “Nice to see you again.”

“And you,” she smiled. “Come in, sunshine.”

Colin took off his shoes, threw his luggage over his shoulder and followed her upstairs to the first floor. The spiral wooden staircase looked beautiful; Ash later told him it had been all made by her dad and her uncle. Ashley’s bedroom was right opposite the staircase, beyond a door of white-painted wood and ornamented glass.

“This house is fantastic,” he told her.

“Glad you think that,” she smiled. “Now, how shall we arrange the sleeping?”

“What’re the options?”

“Well, we can sleep here, but it would be very uncomfortable, since my bed is too narrow for both of us. Or I can sleep here and you in my brother’s room. Or we could theoretically sleep in my parents’ bed, but I don’t want to do that. I mean, it’s my parents bed, I just couldn’t sleep there, even though they’re not here.”

“Yes, I understand that,” he said. “Any other option?”

“Oh well, we could sleep at the couch in the kitchen, it’s wide enough, I think. But sleeping in the kitchen…” She made a face that Colin had to laugh at.

“Ok. So you just sleep here and I sleep in your brother’s room, and if we miss each other, we’ll sort it out somehow,” he suggested.

“Ok,” she smiled.

It was the first and the last night they spent in one building and in different beds at the same time.

 

They spent the first day exploring Fulnek and its surroundings. The town was very small, and in a few hours Ash made sure Colin knew it as well as she did. She showed him the area around the castle, the monastery, the town centre and some of her favourite places, including a café near the bus station.

“I can make better coffee than that,” Colin summed it up, “but it’s not so bad.”

“Nevertheless, those idiots at John Lewis café don’t seem to mind…” she remarked.

“The question is: who cares,” he answered with an old Muppet quote.

“True,” she nodded.

The next morning they were quite tired from the exploration, and in the morning just had a really long breakfast while watching films (Colin had found out Ash shared an inclination to his favourite habit). Then Ashley’s grandmother called and invited them for lunch, so their activities for rest of the day were planned for them. As Ash explained to him, visiting her granny never was just about the lunch.

They ended up staying until the evening, most of the time chatting with Ashley’s granny and aunt, Anna’s sister. He found the grandmother was an interesting character with very strong views on world matters, while her elder daughter was more easy-going and could laugh at problems.

When they got home again, Ash phoned her granny to tell her they arrived safely (since her granny, she explained to Colin, was always extremely worried about anyone from the family who was on journey somewhere – which made her constantly worrying about Anna).

“Give my regards to Colin,” the old woman told her. “He does look a bit… extravagant, but he’s definitely a nice person.”

“Thanks,” Ash appreciated the comment, and when she hung up, she said to him: “Didn’t I tell you? She likes you.”

Colin just smiled.

On Wednesday she took him to Opava, the Silesian capital, the route to which was her very favourite in the Czech lands. When Colin saw the countryside surrounding the road, he could well understand why. The hills, the views, the forests and everything were indeed beautiful. On their way back Ash even showed him the Red and the White Castle of Hradec, her dream place for a wedding (she did not tell him that, though). And then, on the hill over the last village before Fulnek, she stopped the car and made him get off it and have a look.

It was already dark, and they found themselves standing over a huge valley sprayed all over with constellations of town and village lights.

“This is what we call theMoravian Gate,” she smiled, introducing her second home to him.

“It’s amazing,” he breathed out. It was not as if he had never seen a valley before, but this had its own distinct magic.

He thought of the view on the plane back toEdinburghabout ten days later. It had clearly won the secret contest of all impressions he got from this visit to the Czech lands. No other place Ash had shown him could match that sight of theMoravian Gateat night. Deep inside his heart, he knew he just fell in love. And, most important of all, he was returning to Edinburgh inspired by everything he had seen so much he was confident the album was a question of two or three months at most.

 

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