Ignác Vrana is hurrying through Havlíčkovy Park in the early hours of a Wednesday when he spots a large, white sheet, marring the landscape like an eraser smudge in a fine drawing. Having scrubbed off his lover’s scent, Ignác is heading home to his wife, who is sleeping at that hour but will surely wake to check her alarm when she hears her husband’s key in the lock. Every quarter after midnight means an extra question, demanding an extra lie in reply. In short, Ignác is in no mood to find a sheet, but Destiny laughs at the moods of mere mortals.
The sheet is draped over a low hedge, as if it has been left out to dry and forgotten. As a municipal official, Ignác is well aware of local by-laws on the washing and hanging of sheets in a public place, and so he feels compelled, despite his haste, to examine this infringement more closely. As he approaches, he finds himself marvelling at the unusual seams and stitches that crisscross the errant sheet.
Silently, Ignác closes his umbrella and lets the rain tap on his hat. Twisting the ribbon around his wet weapon, he snaps on the press stud like a safety catch and sneaks low across the grass. At the hedge, he hesitates. Should he call out to the sheet’s owner and then reveal himself? Or would it be safer to sneak a quick peek first? Opting for the latter, he holds the spike of his umbrella at the ready and peers into the darkness.
Only then does he see the parachutist, curled up on the grass, wearing a vintage leather jacket and pilot’s cap, both lined with sheepskin. His goggles make it impossible to see whether his eyes are open or closed. He is lying on his side, sheltered by the canopy of a large oak tree. The suspension lines meander like a glistening delta across the grass into the white sea of the parachute.
“Hello?” Ignác calls out.
He hears rustling in the undergrowth. A twig breaks.
“Hello? Who’s there?” calls Ignác, aiming his umbrella at the bushes, which he now suspects are riddled with parachutists. Is that whispering he hears? He holds his breath. All is quiet.
“Excuse me, sir?” he calls again.
The parachutist does not respond.
Fearing gruesome injuries, Ignác steps over the hedge with his umbrella at the ready and glances at the parachutist’s face, which is pale and young, but unblemished. As he cannot see whether the lad is breathing, Ignác leans forward and places a cursory finger on his neck, as doctors do in films. Beneath the skin he feels the steady push of life against his fingertip.
Shaking the lad’s shoulder, he tries again: “Hello? You’re not allowed to sleep here, young man.”
Ignác takes his phone out of his jacket pocket and keys in the alarm number. Having reached the final digit, he realises that his presence in Havlíčkovy Park, in the dead of night, far from the municipal offices that feature prominently in his lie, might raise unwanted questions. And so he cuts the call and drops the phone back into his pocket, vowing that the name Ignác Vrana will not appear in the report that might land on the police chief’s desk, prompting all sorts of rumours and allegations.
The plotting of Plan B has only just begun when Ignác hears footsteps approaching on the pathway. Scuttling over to the hedge, he calls out to the early bird or night owl, whose shadow looms long in the lamplight. “Hello? Good morning, sir. Do you have a phone? There’s a parachutist lying here. We need to call an ambulance.”
“Who’s there?” shrieks the Early Bird, holding his umbrella like a shield.
“Could you call an ambulance, please? There’s a stricken parachutist here.”
“A parachutist? Stricken?” calls the Early Bird.
“He’s unconscious. I left my phone at home. Could you make the call, please?”
With the emergency services at his ear, the Early Bird is confident and curious enough to tiptoe across the grass towards Ignác, who follows the one-sided conversation with mounting impatience.
“I’m in Havlíčkovy Park. There’s a parachutist here.”
“How should I know? He fell from the sky. He looks like a pilot.”
The Early Birds looks at Ignác and whispers: “Is he alive?”
“He’s alive, but unconscious.”
“I don’t see any blood, but please send an ambulance quickly.”
“Along the main path, about halfway, under a big oak, behind a hedge.”
The man frowns: “No, you may not have my name! But there’s another gentleman here.”
Ignác shakes his head.
“You can’t have his name either.”
“Any peculiarities? What kind of question is that? There’s an unconscious parachutist lying in a park! Isn’t that peculiar enough?”
Prompted by the Early Bird’s outburst, Ignác takes a closer look and spots something that previously escaped his attention. Snapping his fingers at the Early Bird, he points at the parachutist’s hand, half-hidden under his jacket.
Frowning quizzically, the Early Bird follows the pointing finger, his eyebrows arching in surprise when he spots the peculiarity, which he duly reports: “The parachutist is holding a banana.”
“Yes, a banana.”
The early bird sighs. “I know a banana when I see one.”