Recorded by Lucie Radová, Nový Prostor
A truly European vendor
I have been selling magazines from the age of eighteen. When I was at secondary school, I stayed in a boarding house. My mum had a lot of boyfriends and that meant I had a lot of stepfathers. My parents’ house was then sold and, from that time on, I had nowhere to live. That’s how I ended up on the street and selling magazines. I am Slovak, so I started selling the street paper Nota Bene in Slovakia. I spent two years in Vienna, and I sold newspapers there too. Then, from 11 September 2007 to 11 September 2015, I was in England. That’s a total of eight years in all. I was a street vendor there too – selling The Big Issue magazine. These papers are all very similar to Nový Prostor here in the Czech Republic.
You live a new life for every new language you speak
I can speak English. Abroad, I always spoke English the most. I can say a few words in German. And I can understand it when people speak to me. Czech is a piece of cake for me. I have been able to speak Czech since I was a child, because my home town is not far from Břeclav and they speak the local Záhorie dialect there. My favourite part of our magazine are the articles about the vendors. But I don’t understand every single word. Czech slang is what I find difficult. Once, someone came up to me and asked: “How much is it? A fifter?” And it took me a while to realise that “fifter” is actually 50 CZK. When I first came to Prague, I went to buy some groceries. I went up to the till to pay and the shop assistant said to me: “Twenty ducks.” But I started laughing at that. What ducks? Those are animals, aren’t they? Where would I even get them from?
If you don’t ask, you won’t find out!
I’ve noticed that people come to buy a magazine from me because they want to ask me a personal question. But in the end, they often never do. I would like to tell them that they can ask me anything at all. I don’t mind. Some people see that I am not smiling or notice that I am quiet – but that’s just my nature. It’s hard to stand here all day not moving. And, what’s more, it’s also mentally demanding. Every day I see thousands of people walk by and that’s enough to make your head spin. I prefer the less busy spots. I would like it if I could make friends through selling magazines. Since I have come to Prague, I haven’t really had a decent conversation with anyone. I stand all day in silence. On Saturday, I finally managed to get a small radio: now I can listen to that and I don’t feel so alone. When you don’t have anyone to talk to, it’s pretty tough. I have thought about starting to go to the pub. I know it’s expensive, but I could just buy a soda water. The main thing is that there are other people there.
Women versus men
Nine out of ten people who buy magazines from me are women. And it’s been like that everywhere I’ve been, whether in Slovakia or here in the Czech Republic. If I had a notebook, I would make a tally of the number of women and men buying magazines from me. I’ll do that one day! [laughs] I’ll collect data for a week and then I will know the difference between men and women.
Good fortune is something to strive for
I have a Chinese character tattooed on my left hand: the character means “the fortune of a bull”. It means that you have to be as strong a bull to have it. Good fortune must be fought for. All I need to be happy is a bed of my own and to be able to watch a nice film on TV. That is partly why I am here. People are used to mostly seeing disabled people and the elderly selling these papers. But I am young and homeless. I haven’t had so much good fortune in my life. It’s not only old people who become homeless. It can happen to anyone.
Dreaming of a home
I sleep on park benches. I used to have a sleeping bag, but someone stole it recently. When I have saved up enough money, I am going to buy a caravan and live in that. Not in a high-rise block of flats. That’s not for me. A caravan would be ideal for my new life! That’s how I want to live. I have also seen online that you can buy a garden summerhouse for 100,000 CZK. I’ve read some stories of homeless people have who bought similar things and are satisfied with them. They’re more comfortable there than living in a block of flats.
Translated from Czech by Jemma Pullen