by Ann Hillesland
My sandals slip on the cobblestones as I walk through Prague. The morning is warm, just starting on sticky. Around me, packs of t-shirted tourists pose in front of old buildings and drink fancy coffees at outdoor cafes. It’s my first time overseas and I’m alone. Sidling between clusters of visitors, I point my camera at building frescos and greened metal statues, trying to feel excited by the grandeur and history, but instead feeling lonely. Without a destination, I drift past stalls selling postcards and key chains and beer steins with the gothic castle on them.
A rack of colorful hats catches my eye. I love hats. Because my straw summer hats wouldn’t travel well, I haven’t brought one with me. The store’s hats are not fancy—just bands of ribbon sewn together—but they come in bright colors and will not crush when packed. They strike me as the practical kind of hat a world traveler might throw into her suitcase as she’s jetting off to yet another exotic location. After trying on several, I select a light blue one, pay, and put it on at a jaunty angle.
The city looks different from under a hat. I feel more like the sophisticated jet setter in my imagination, alive to new experiences. As 11:00 am approaches, I make my way to the astronomical clock to watch it chime, even though the guidebook has warned me it’s overrated. I wade into the crowd and stare upwards, like everyone else. When the hour strikes, the statues of the apostles circle by the clock’s windows, each pivoting to gaze out before circling away. From under the brim of my hat, it looks like they’re dancing.
AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: 2006, Budapest, Hungary (I wore the Prague hat the rest of the trip).
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: When I wrote this piece, I looked at all my pictures from Prague to remind myself what it was like. I noticed how often I pointed my camera up to avoid the crowds in front of every building and statue. It was as if I wanted to show in the pictures how alone I felt at the time.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Ann Hillesland, a California native, writes fiction and nonfiction. Her work has been published in many literary journals, including Fourth Genre, Sou’wester, Bayou, The Laurel Review, Corium, and SmokeLong Quarterly. It has been selected for the Wigleaf Top 50 Very Short Fictions, won the grand prize for prose in a Spark contest, and has been presented onstage by Stories On Stage. She is a graduate of the MFA program at Queen’s University of Charlotte. For more of her work, visit annhillesland.com.