James got off the tram at the stop near his apartment in Vinohrady. He walked slowly toward home, enjoying the pleasant summer day in Prague. It was hot, but not too hot, and the humidity was low. A pleasant day indeed.

People passed James in both directions along the way. He studied the faces of people walking toward him, careful to avert his eyes at the exact moment in time that separated polite curiosity from overt rudeness.

However, James found the people overtaking him from behind of much more interest. They mostly seemed to be groups of young people, chattering away in Czech or English or another of the many languages widely spoken in Central Europe. James liked the split second when he could glance at people’s faces as they passed – a split second to judge them homely or beautiful, to notice their complexion, makeup, jewelry, piercings or any number of traits that make a person. He also liked being able to study their backs openly for as long as he wanted after they walked by him, without them noticing.

James approached a restaurant located halfway between his apartment and the tram. The restaurant was a good one and he’d eaten there frequently during the several weeks he’d lived in the neighborhood. Each time he’d been served by the same waiter. A straight-faced man perhaps in his late 20’s, with skinny legs and a slightly receding hairline. A polite and efficient waiter, but clearly not interested in developing any special rapport with James, although James was a regular customer. Any attempts James made at friendliness were ignored, or maybe just misunderstood.

It seemed strange to James, this Czech sense of reserve, unlike anything he’d experienced in other countries where he’d lived or visited. James had been told not to take it personally. That was just how the Czechs were. But it seemed hard to James at times, being a naturally friendly and outgoing person.

James also walked directly past this same restaurant going to and from his tram stop several times each day. That same waiter was often outside, serving the 5 or 6 tables placed on the sidewalk against the building’s shady side. James would smile and wave if the waiter appeared to look toward his general direction. However, the man was always unresponsive and continued with his work without acknowledging James at all.

Today the restaurant was busy. All the outside tables were occupied. James could see the waiter serving the tables by himself in his calm quiet manner. The waiter had just delivered four pints of lager to a table of businessmen and was headed back to the kitchen as James drew near. As usual, James tried to catch his eye and smiled.

Today, on this pleasant summer day in Prague, the waiter smiled back.


PC: Clifford Yeo on Unsplash