"Jdu na cigaretu," I tell my colleagues. "I'm taking a smoke break." They look shocked every time I say this, since I don't smoke. They always forget that Jessica's smoke breaks are different, though they never really know what I do once I leave the building.
My office is in the dead center of Prague, which provides plenty of opportunities for mischief. Within a few steps of my 14th century building are plenty of chances for good people-watching, shopping, and Baroque-architecture-gazing. How long is a smoke break? Ten minutes? Maybe a little longer if you push it? How much goodness or trouble can a person get up to or into in ten minutes? My exploits are various: I go buy a banana at the corner shop; I help lost tourists; I give out 1-serving packets of dog food to the loyal pets of the local homeless. But a real feat is sneaking in a visit to a friend on one of my smoke break escapes.
The pastor-turned-professor who married my husband and me -- we simply call him "Padre" -- is the most likely victim. His office is five minutes by sprinting foot, or one minute by tram. Today I'm feeling cheeky, feeling in the mood for "two cigarettes," so I just walk. A quick tap on his office door and there he stands, welcoming me with his frizzy ponytail and huge grin. He is the original Czech hippie, a hippie before hippies existed here. Under communism, before the revolution, he had stashes of banned books lining his shelves; and he had equal amounts of literary friends swarming like vultures to get their hands on them.
"Nazdar!" he says with happy surprise. Joy, tea, food, and improbable yet true stories always await me in his cozy office, and today is no exception. "Do you like cherries?" he asks me before I even get through the door, and out of a gigantic wooden box he begins piling them into a bucket for me. I love cherries too much to even answer, so I just stand there with my mouth open. Of course returning to the office with a bucket of cherries will be tricky, but I'm sure I'll find a way to remain unnoticed.
"I just got back from my country cottage," he tells me, "where I spent the weekend simply walking from cherry tree to apricot tree to blackberry bush. It was all the food I needed! I thought I was back in the Garden of Eden!" Just a few minutes with Padre animates my entire day and polishes my mind.
He asks what inspired me to pay him a visit today, and I tell him -- all the while beaming with the smile he single-handedly placed on my face -- that I am feeling rather crappy. He doesn't need to know why, and I'm glad. In untranslatable Czech words, he assures me that everything will surely, definitely be alright, and he follows that by singing me a few lines of his favorite Bob Dylan song. His epic inner peace alone could have made communism crumble. He sends me away with a hug and an overflowing bucket of fruit.
Feeling a bit guilty at having been gone for the space of three cigarettes, I jump on the tram and take it one stop up the street. But how much better is it to stuff myself with Padre's kindness and cherries than with nicotine? Long live my fake smoke breaks.
But don't tell my colleagues.
Jessica lives a quiet life -- full of colors and travels and vegan baking -- with her husband in Prague, Czech Republic. If you'd like to find out more about her, you'll just have to go over there for a chat.