I teach English to a politician in Prague.
I rarely get to see him- he almost always cancels his lessons- but when I do its always an odd experience. He is a small, quiet man who looks a lot like Mr. Rogers and a little like a mouse. I’ve never seen him without a sweater vest. He has a slight hunch, thin, bird-like limbs, and likes to talk about his grandkids.
His office is filled with ornate Victorian furniture, on which are piled reams of paper and stacks of Czech folklore magazines. In one corner a live palm tree has grown so large it touches the ceiling. An outstretched frond is draped over the fluorescent lights that hang overhead. Its lower leaves spill over onto the dozen other potted plants that carpet the floor. Beside it is a wrought iron candle stand that comes up to my waist. The metal is shaped like a skeletal tree in winter. Inside a scattering of globular white candles have been impaled on the iron branches.
I imagine the room in the dark, with those flickering lights dancing strangely over the encroaching jungle in the corner. It makes me think of Lord of the Flies- of a little boy hiding behind a desk, dirt smeared on his face, the fire lighting his eyes so they gleam like a cat’s.
A beautiful dark painting is overwhelmed by the gilt frame that explodes around it. Leaves and golden roses pop from the wood in a truly hideous display. It looks like it would stain my fingers with glitter if I tried to touch it. I don’t.
We always sit in the corner, in squat chairs of dark wood and poison green velvet. The cushions sink a good two inches when you sit. They are stiff, but soft. There is a round table, complete with lace doily and winged, snarling lions carved into the legs. A blind cherub stares at me from just under the lip of the table. His wings stretch out along the wood until they blend with the lion manes. Then the display cabinet in the corner, 7 feet high, equally dark and ornate.
He told me once that everything in the room is an original. I wonder. Is he a collector? Or is there something sinister lurking here? There were open boxes of dishes sitting by the door on my way in. Fine china peeked out of straw and newspaper. More to add to his collection?
He was outside the room when I wrote most of this, speaking to “visitors from a very important company.” If they are the same men I saw when waiting outside his office- swarthy, suited, one enormously fat, one comically small, and one especially vacant looking man built like a brick shit house- then I have to wonder. Maybe it was the frank discussion of communism and corruption I had with my 7 AM student that had me wanting to pull out the ‘M’ word. Maybe it was the expression on the fat one’s face- dour discontent, mixed with arrogance and a kind of surly confidence. Maybe I’m just paranoid.
Or bored. 45 minutes is a long time to sit alone in an empty office.