The four of them are in a dark room. The only light streams in through a large window from the streetlights outside. One of the four, a seventeen-year-old girl, stands on a chair placed in the middle of the room wearing only a large sarong wrapped around her body with her hair in a bun. She sings a cappella to her tiny audience of three, two Russian guys from Moscow and a Russian girl by way of Vancouver, Canada.
They have all found themselves in this dorm hall, in Prague, during the summer school session. The singing American girl and the Canadian met in the train station in Munich, and decided to travel to Prague together. When they stepped out of the Czech station, an older man approached them hawking his less expensive sleeping arrangement. Instead of a hostel, they could room at a school dormitory for even less. He was not a taxi driver but had university credentials, so they haggled over the price of him driving them directly – since he was the one trying to sell the idea. The two girls had each other for safety, so they carried through with the spontaneous offer.
There was no real check-in, other than delivery of their luggage to a hallway of open rooms with double beds in each. There was no house-mom nor authority figure at all, really. A shared bathroom with showers for each hallway and a shared kitchen with all the cooking, refrigeration, and storage basics made up the rest of the building. The entire concrete block looked out onto a glorious courtyard. It was all bare-bones but felt safe enough.
There were a handful of other college-aged people milling about the grounds and in the hallways. All looked and felt legit. Since their only valuables were passports and money, which they both kept on their person at all times, they settled in and unpacked. They proceeded to walk around and get a lay of the land. Two Russian guys in their age range were rooming on the same floor. Both spoke English well. Neither of them had met prior to being assigned a shared room for the summer. It turned out that they represented two very distinct social classes in Moscow. Artyom was a dark-haired guy from a very poor, working-class family. The blond, blue-eyed, Nikolai, was from a wealthy family with a dacha. One could tell the distinctions simply by their attire and packed accessories for the summer.
After introductions, the girls ventured out to get their bearings in relation to the general tourist sites and find their way to a grocery market to stock up on provisions. It was so inexpensive to stay, $7/night; if they cooked most of their meals, even more so. It was easily decided to stay an entire week. And so, every day after their tourist adventures, the two girls would meet up with the two Russian guys when their classes let out. The four would frequent the same bar for six nights straight; playing pool and drinking beer. Afterwards, they’d head back to the dorm to fix dinner in the rudimentary kitchen, and share a meal together on the large desk the two guys had in their room. Noodles with marinara sauce and zucchini was served a few times. The conversations ran the entire investigative gamut: getting the lowdown on each person’s backstory; how they were raised; what their families were like; what socioeconomic status they were; what they did for fun; what each wanted to be when they grew up –almost everything one could curiously muster for another person of the same age and from a different country.
A couple nights into this new routine, the American girl divulged how she loved singing. The only songs she could remember from start to finish to perform on the spot were the ones in Sarah McLachlan’s Fumbling Towards Ecstasy album. With coaxing, she would stand up on a desk chair in the middle of the dorm room and perform an after-dinner show. She couldn’t say if she was particularly great, but she knows she wasn’t terrible. She knows they loved it and clapped for her with cheers afterwards. How personable it was; how intimate it was in dark; how in these few days, they were all making memories none would forget.
What struck the American girl the most was how both of the guys, regardless of how different they’d been raised -Nikolai having been spoiled and having every advantage and connection -Artyom having nothing and even less when shared with siblings, both still argued in defense of communism. Both were very strong proponents of it. It still strikes her to this day; how much culture is in our conditioning.
The American girl went on to really sing.