The metro ground to a halt and the doors parted. I stepped out, in no particular hurry to exit the station. As I made my way through the crowd rushing to board the train, I looked around, as I rarely miss an opportunity to people-watch.
One man immediately stood out in the scrambling mass of humanity. Tall and thin, he appeared to be in his mid-30s. His hair, golden-brown with a slight wave, hung past his shoulders, in contrast with the short hair that almost all Prague men sport. A neat beard and mustache adorned his thin face. On his upper body was a loose-fitting, white, flowing garment. I didn’t take notice of his dress beyond that; my eyes were fixed on his face. It bore a look of authority, but also of peace and serenity, something very out-of-place in the busy metro station. There was warmth and kindness in his eyes, and they calmly surveyed the scene in front of him.
The man moved slowly toward the train as if he knew it would not leave without him. The rest of the crowd was in front of him, giving the appearance that he was shepherding them onto the train.
By now you may have guessed the nature of the impression he made on me. His appearance and behavior evoked traditional European depictions of a certain significant religious and historical figure. My pace slowed as I took all of this in. I felt my body relax as I watched him, as if his tranquility were being transmitted through the damp air between us. The man must have felt my stare, for his head turned slowly toward me and his gentle gaze met my curious one. Embarrassed, I quickly averted my eyes and hurried past him as he moved to the open door.
Unable to resist one last look, I waited to hear “Ukončete, prosím, výstup a nástup, dveře se zavírají” (indicating the doors were about to close) before nonchalantly turning for a discreet peek. I looked through the open door of the train and gasped in shock. The man, who stood just inside the door, facing out, had been transformed. Awash in the reddish light from the top of the doorway of the train car, the aura of serenity was gone. His face was a relief of glowing red and black shadow, his whole body radiating scarlet. His two glowing eyes glared at me across the now-small space. His facial expression was one of fury, mixed with a hint of triumph. I backpedaled unsteadily, unable to look away. After what seemed an eternity, the doors closed and the train moved slowly off. Unnerved, I stumbled up the steps to the street, gratefully gulping breaths of the fresh, frigid air.
What had I seen? Was this frightening transformation a figment of my imagination? I went on to meet a friend at a bar as planned. He took one look at my face and asked “ What the hell happened to you?” “Please”, I said, “Let’s just get a drink. And don’t talk about hell.”