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Trois Hongroises November 14, 2008

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

“Surprising to bump into someone around here,” I thought to myself. They looked familiar, but I was damned if I could remember who it was. The ideal solution would have been to pretend I hadn’t seen them. Turn my eyes away not too demonstratively. Fake rivetedness in some passing fancy. But it was too late for that. We’d clocked each other. I was going to have to tough the occasion out.

I rid my throat, preparing for speech. And began to contort my face to express honest but, I hoped, polite bewilderment. The stranger’s face showed no equal foreboding, so I was going to have the redoubled shame of being the only one to admit I didn’t know who the other was. I clicked my fingers. Then wiggled them. All semaphores for, “It’s coming to me. Tip of my tongue.”

“Sorry, I know I know you from somewhere, but I can’t remember where. You’re going to have to tell me your name. I do apologise.”

“Raashn,” said the Russian, who never had mastered articles.

“Good Lord! Well, fancy that! What are you doing round here?”

“I leev kheer,” said the Russian. “Zees our flyet. Kyen I gyet past?” And he disappeared into the bathroom.

“Well there’s a thing!” I thought, though I suppose bumping into the person in my own flat should have been something of a hint. It’s a rare occasion indeed that out-and-out strangers parade up and down the corridor from kitchen to living room, bedroom or bathroom. Though with all the talk of doom and gloom I shouldn’t wonder if I were soon sheltering all sorts of sundry Berliners down on their luck.

“Darling, do you mean we’re still a couple?” I inquired having entered the bathroom unannounced, eager to get to the bottom of the mystery and deciding, our acquaintance rekindled, that I had the same rights of intimacy as before. “It’s just I’d clean forgotten. I mean, it’s been so long. Must have been ’99, mustn’t it? The Biafra campaign? Or, no, wait. ’03. Jonty’s wedding! Where have you been all this time?”

“In nyext room,” he said with ease, as if conversation of this levity was an everyday occurrence. He wiped toothpaste foam away from his cheeks.

I went back to my quarters to regain my composure. There I’d been thinking I was a man of leisure without a care in the world and it turns out there’d been a significant other all along. So troubling was my confusion and so chaotic the flood of memories pinballing round my minimally-furnished head that I wasn’t even sure if my conscience could vouch for good behaviour in the intervening years. Still, no time for going back over old ground now. It was time to face up to the current lie of the land. Which seemed to mean a new beginning. A clean sheet. Starting over.

“Um, so what’s your best news?” I asked the Russian when we next bumped into each other, minutes hardly having passed. An old trick I learnt – the Trucial States, ’77 I think it was – to oblige the person to answer positively. Or was it to counter the slew of miserable old widowers my parents appeared to have adopted when I was young? Ask them how they were and they’d have the cheek to answer in all honesty. “Well, BiB, sure I don’t like to complain but this diabetes is fierce hard altogether. I can only have 100 calories a day. One cup o’ tea and that’s me lot.” Poor old widowers. Gone to London to make their fortunes and if their wives didn’t up and die the second they left, their children flourished with some foster family or other while they floundered, unable to look after themselves in the big city.

“Obama veen elyekshn,” the Russian retorted, only minimally getting into the spirit of the question yet refusing to take the contemptuous scowl off his face.

“Really? Did he? I hadn’t heard. Yes, that is good news.”

“And your byest news?” asked the Russian for the sake of at least passable propriety.

“Well, funny you should ask because I did see three rather gripping Hungarian women on the U-Bahn. One was prim. One was terse. One was frumpy. And they all had such small feet. And I thought the prim one had probably married rather well and the terse one slightly hated her. But the frumpy one seemed the happiest and…”

“Zet not news. Streektly spyeekink.”

“Oh. I see. Well, you know, darling. Same old, same old,” and I closed the door gently behind me.