Laura woke later than planned and dressed in a hurry. She could not be late.
It was dark outside as she fumbled through the clothes she’d laid out the night before. With her pants on, tight from her leggings underneath, she buttoned her shirt as she walked to the kitchen and started boiling the water. She measured the loose tea and returned to the bedroom for her boots. She could not be late. She needed this meeting today.
While the tea steeped she pulled on her sweater and zipped her coat. She laid her hat and gloves on the counter and poured the tea through a strainer and into her thermos. She put the spent tea leaves in her compost box, slipped the thermos into her bag, and stepped out into the cold dark morning, thankful to have remembered her gloves and hat from the counter. She did not want to miss this appointment.
Laura loved Budapest. It was a beautiful city. She liked the sounds of the streets. The traffic, the people talking, the buses, the trams, the bridges, the Danube, the bakeries, the bustle of it all was just bliss for her. Even on a dark morning like this one, the city up close had a sparkle. But living in the 1st district she’d sometimes grow frustrated by the romance of it all. And when the frustration grew too loud she had to escape, hence this morning.
She walked a few blocks from her flat to Batthyány tér and took the #2 Metro to Moszkva tér. She knew the name had been changed to Széll Kálmán tér but for her it would always be Moszkva tér. From Moszkva she’d take bus 21A to its end. 21A started at Moszkva so she looked forward to getting a seat for the long ride into the Budai-hegység.
She rode through the 12th district awaiting her stop. From there she’d still walk another 15 minutes or so. Oh how she hoped to be on time.
She watched stars fading in the cold gray light of dawn. She needed to hurry, but what could she do? It was up to the bus driver now. So she sat back into her seat on the right hand side and stared out the window watching the city be overtaken by the Budai-hegység.
The bus climbed up through the Buda hills passing the sprawling homes and renovated apartment buildings. She sweat some from the rush to make the connections. But she’d made them. She loosened her scarf a little to cool off. Sitting between the back and middle doors she enjoyed the cold draft each time the doors opened. The buzzing of the door at every stop simply annoyed her. The coolness comforted while the noise annoyed but she sat still in this best of seats in order for her to appreciate the tension. This added to all the reasons she escaped for this meeting. She rode on, cooled some now that the bus had stopped a dozen or so times.
Passing the Children’s Railway she longed for her morning meeting. Looking out the window she imagined the bust of Jókai Mór, the great Hungarian writer, at Svábhegy and silently bid him good morning. She knew the bust was there, though she’d not actually seen him this morning. Stars were no longer visible in the sky. Just a gray outline of the hills and trees and homes. Most of what she remembered she only remembered from her previous meetings.
These meetings always served the same purpose for Laura. They were never at the same time and they never looked exactly the same either. Maybe there would be other people there, or maybe she’d be alone. It didn’t matter that the meetings were never the same, for her the agenda was always the same.
Just 2 more stops and she realized she was the only one left on the bus. Perfect, she thought. No distractions now. The bus slowed to a stop at Normafa parkoló, the end of the line, and she exited quietly through the buzzing door. She walked now in this dark gray morning. The air was clean and crisp. There was no fog and she made her way the kilometer and a half to her favorite bench. She walked faster now because she was excited and no longer feared being late. She had made it. She was on time. She knew the meeting was only moments away and nearly ran the final 30 meters to her bench.
She sat down and poured her tea, careful not to spill any. The tea steamed in the cold air and smelled wonderful. She felt the warmth on her bare hand through the mug she’d brought along. She took a sip and the temperature was perfect. She settled back into her bench and looked off to her right. He was right on time. It was mid-February and the sun would arrive at 6:53am and she had 2 minutes to spare. She loved meeting him this way, when she was early.
She could just see him, the sun, peeking up from behind the trees and making every limb visible. He showed bare silhouetted trunks to twigs providing a different bliss than the city center’s. She smiled and took a deep breath.
“Good morning sun. Thank you!” she lipped. Watching the sunrise at Normafa, this morning’s meeting, allowed her to fall in love with Budapest all over again and to love it differently, more completely, as well.
She sat watching his light expand over the vast landscape in front of her. She watched the Parliament’s shadow grow visible. The light now made most of Rózsadomb visible as well. She saw the streets fill with cars which looked like ants from here. She couldn’t make out the details of all the lives she saw but she knew the transportation lines were loaded with folks headed to work and school and home. She had made her meeting and she was in love.
The sun continued to rise and with every moment some new detail became visible. From Normafa it all felt so fresh. The distance faded the details of the city, but she knew they were there. She’d seen them up close so many times. But now from her bench she felt superior. She too was the sun, but she didn’t do this everyday the way he did. And she wondered what the sun felt. Does he see it fresh everyday or just mindlessly pass by the 2.2 million people in this beautiful city. And do the people see the sun or just the details of what he exposes directly in front of them? Sitting there she always remembered the same cliche – Absence makes the heart grow fonder. She mulled it every time and never could decide its truth, if there was any at all.
Did she love Budapest more up close or from a distance? Sure the absence, distance, allowed her to take in the city all at once. But the distance simply wasn’t enough to appreciate all that was taking place on this magnificent morning. She thought too of her local bakeries and how she’d missed Zsolti this morning for her kakaós csiga. Laura could almost smell the fresh baked zsemle and kifli. She also knew that down there near Eötvös tér just off of Belgrád rakpart was Zsani, the artist, who drew tourist’s caricature portraits to fund her budding contemporary art career.
How could she sit here and long to be there so badly? Yet when she was there she longed to be here. Budapest was black and white and beautiful from here, but was also high definition color view from up close.
As she poured the last bit of tea from her thermos she realized it could be both. She couldn’t love just one view, because there wasn’t just one view. She felt she loved the whole from here because she knew the individuals. She longed for the locals. She strained to smell the busses but alas there was nothing except clean air in these hills. Soon she’d be back in the heart of this metropolis and would then wish to be back here on her bench taking it all in again from afar, longing for this breath of clean cold air that would freeze her nostrils and sting her lungs.
She hoped everyone could see this. See the cityscape fill their vision but also know the finite details of all the lives that filled Laura’s beautiful Budapest.
~~~ The End ~~~
About the author: Russell Ridgeway is an American writer living in Budapest. He posts stories weekly at www.neildylan.com.
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