Thursday 12 September, 2019
Getting Pavel to Prague was never going to be easy. Pavel Sieger was a screenwriter of genius. Blindness lurked in his family genes and he had recognized the onset symptoms only too well. Determined that his last visual memories would be of somewhere truly special, he took a flight to Prague four years ago when his doctors told him to expect the darkness to descend. He went blind on a winter's night in a pension in the Old Town, and always looked back to that last glimpse of the cobblestones of the Charles Bridge, the city silhouetted against the gathering dusk, and—when he peered over the balustrade of the bridge—the slow green suck of the river below.
We became lovers, a tribute to his playfulness, his imagination, and his raw courage in the face of blindness. Later, he had an accident that broke his neck and left him paralysed from the neck down. What was left—far more than you'd ever imagine—became my glad responsibility. My son's natural father, H, paid for a specially adapted apartment and round-the-clock care overlooking the estuary in Exmouth. I was still living and working in London, but Pavel and I talked daily on the phone, and though a physical relationship was out of the question, I like to think we became even closer. A stroke took Pavel earlier this year, and disposal of his ashes falls to me.
Those ashes have been in my bedroom wardrobe all summer. I keep them in a brown plastic container about the size of one of those glass sweetie jars I remember from my childhood. The container has a screw lid and I've checked the contents. Pavel, when he died, was skin and bone. A thin grey dust, speckled with tiny white fragments of that same bone and something darkly granular, is all that remains. In my head we still talk, and we both agree that there's only one resting place for what's left of him. It has to be a moment on the Charles Bridge, preferably towards the end of one of those smoky autumnal dusks that Prague saves for special occasions. I will unscrew the lid, mutter a line or two from a poem I know he loves, and upend the container. Gravity, and the wind, will do the rest.
And so, this glad September morning, I'm en route to Gatwick Airport with my little black carry-on suitcase and a self-printed boarding card for the 11.55 EasyJet flight to Prague. Malo, my son, has a longstanding date with a couple of mates in Brighton and has volunteered to drop me off on his way. He has no idea why I'm going to Prague, and neither does he bother to ask, and in this respect I'm blessed by youth's unrelenting self-absorption because this is a deeply private expedition and I've no great urge to share it.
We spend the journey discussing the apartment Malo and his girlfriend want to buy. His girlfriend's name is Clemenza, Clem for short, and they've been together now for a couple of years. She's the daughter of a wealthy Colombian businessman, beautiful, gifted, funny and unswervingly loyal. She drives a big Harley Davidson, currently works for a TV production company, and fronts a band in pubs in west London. For a small girl she has a big voice, husky, dark, occasionally wistful, and her weekend gigs attract a substantial following. There's no way that my wayward son deserves a partner like this, and on good days he knows it. See them together, as I often do, and they could be the perfect couple. This, as I've often told Malo, is a tribute to his luck and her patience. Beware, I warn him. Things only last if you take very great care of them. On the motorway, heading south, Malo wants to know what I've told H about the apartment. This is important because Malo's natural father will be putting up half the money, and Malo knows already that everything will depend on me. H and I go back two decades now. We've only slept together once, and the result was Malo, but recently we've built a friendship that has proved commendably resilient. H owes his wealth to the drugs biz. He was a gifted cocaine dealer back in the day, but his feel for the property market is less certain. Hence his reliance on my verdict.
'So, what do you think, Mum?'
'It's wildly over-priced.'
'A mil? You really think so?'
I do. It's a seventh-floor apartment off Ranelagh Gardens. It has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and views of the Thames. It's a nice enough perch, especially if someone else is footing the bill, but thanks to the wonders of the internet, I know that the current owner bought it for £395,000 just eighteen years ago. Now, he's after a million pounds. Even these days, a profit of £33,000 a year for doing nothing is near obscene.
'It's the market, Mum. You can't argue with it. No one can. It's what people will pay. Plus, it's got really fast broadband.'
'What about Mateo? What does he think?' Mateo, Clem's father, is evidently putting in the rest of the money.
'He hasn't seen it yet. Clem's taking him and her mum round tomorrow morning.'