Yesterday was, by all accounts, another brilliantly hot summer day. The sun was shining. The cats were flopped on the balcony. The old lady across the street was watering her flowers. All was quiet in centru, the beautiful lull between when the students are gone and the Hungarian Days tourists have yet to arrive. The only crowds were down at the strand where girls in bikinis lounged by the pool.
My mission in the afternoon was to go to the hipermarket to load up on supplies. Inside it was slightly cooler but still warm. Outside was one shirtless man happily eating mici and mustard with happy determination. It was Sunday but there were no crowds, no jostling and bumping and no lines (queues) at the cash register. It’s almost like a dream living in a big city when 90% of the people have departed.
I loaded my bags into the taxi. The driver was silent, leaving me to spend time lost in my own thoughts. We took the big road through town, the obvious choice as there was almost no traffic. And it was just then, as we passed the Fabrica de Bere, that I spotted him.
He was a younger man, I’d say in his early 20’s. He had his head tilted down slightly and was walking in the manner of those who have somewhere to go. He was definitely not a homeless or drifting man, standing on the streets to pass the time. The man I saw was going somewhere with purpose.
He was wearing blue jeans, a rare choice in this August heat. Above that, however, more startling was a black leather jacket. Perhaps it was his favorite coat and a treasured possession. Above that though was the inexplicable – a knit woolen cap (caciula) on his head. By every account, he was a man dressed for a winter’s day, walking down a major road at 2:45 in the afternoon on a hot August afternoon.
Startled, I rose up in my seat and was going to point out this strangely-dressed man but we were driving so fast that he was lost to view within a second. Despite the brief glance, the image was burned into my brain. As we continued our journey home with my groceries rattling in their bags, I thought about what I had seen.
Perhaps he was some sort of homeless or “crazy” person. Perhaps he was someone with some kind of medical condition like low blood pressure and he needed the winter clothes to stay warm. But his determined gait and his youth seemed to bely either one of those two options. Perhaps I had just seen something that didn’t exist or had been mistaken and my eye fooled by shadows.
All morning I had been watching films from that fateful December in 1989. All morning I had been watching the shaky handheld footage taken on the streets I know so well, different now but also the same enough to recognize. All morning I had been watching videos of people that winter, dressed in coats and wearing caps.
Perhaps it was all in my mind and for a brief moment I got the present and the past intertwined. Or perhaps the first step has begun, to remember where this all began. Perhaps just for a moment the energy of those who sprang with joy from their beds to flood the streets to reclaim their country had returned to the present. Perhaps 1989 isn’t quite as long ago and quite as forgotten as people think.