DUMB TO THE DEAF
A small boy is walking down the street, proceeding methodically along the concrete slabs of the pavement as if following some indefinable rule. On a closer view: he is taking care to step only into every second square, that is only into the even-numbered ones, and is humming softly to himself as he walks.
A small boy, fair-haired, large-eared, very thin. He is wearing a tracksuit, blue trousers and a top, his favourite, with a tiny, hidden pocket at the waist, and inside it is his most treasured possession. He is holding an empy shopping bag in one hand, the exact amount of money he will need in the other: he has been sent to the corner shop to buy baker's yeast and vanilla-flavoured sugar. He is walking, humming to himself, obviously completely lost in the act of walking: his head is lowered, his body leans slightly forward, and his eyes are fixed on the concrete slabs of the pavement to make sure he steps only into every second square. If he sees someone coming, he stops in good time and waits for them pass rather than make a mistake. He is very thin, large-eared, fair-haired, blue-eyed. The concrete slabs of the pavement are too wide for him so he has to lengthen his stride considerably in order not to step into the wrong square. Because only the even-numbered ones will do: the odd ones in between are out of bounds.
For it all began with Mr Kerekes, the tubby little Romanian cobbler and sexton, who stepped out of his house into Maróthy Square every evening around six o'clock and, ducking his head, would hurry past the window of the parsonage with his inimitable rolling gait, then entering the Orthodox church would climb up the narrow stairs into the tower in the dim light to ring the bells. And it began with Mr Csiszár, repairer of fountain pens, who drew up the iron shutters of the workshop door facing the statue of Ferenc Erkel, composer of the national anthem, every morning at eight o'clock, then glancing into the narrow shop-window to check whether everything was in order there, to make sure neither a pen nor a box of pencils had moved from its place during the night, would enter the shop and sit down behind his table in the high-backed chair specially adapted, in other words cut out and lined to accomodate his hump, light up his favourite brand of cigarette, a Terv, and when he slowly blew the smoke into the air and simultaneously extinguished the match with two quick flicks of the wrist, it was like a signal that announced to the town that the shop was open, they could start bringing their pens to be repaired.
And it began with Lajos Márkizay, the young, good-looking gimnázium teacher of mathematics and physics, who every Friday afternoon around three o'clock would take up a pubescent schoolgirl displaying an interest in the art of chess to the observatory at the top of the city water tower, where they would give themselves up entirely to this particular passion until about six o'clock in the evening, when they would lean out of the tower window and, smiling at each other contentedly, remark that everything was much too noisy down below, this was the only place quiet enough for chess.
And then there was the terribly fat Doctor Petrócky, regrettably addicted to drink, renowned for being able to soothe the most fretful, feverish child with just a few well-chosen words, but above all for refusing to cover the distance between patients any other way than on a certain Csepel make of motorcycle despite all well-meant advice and moving entreaties to the contrary, so it was small wonder that he ended up in a ditch with the aforementioned Csepel make of motorcycle at least once a week, for, though in a manner of speaking they had become inseparable companions, even this motorcycle could not keep the perpetually drunken man secure in the seat, as he did nothing along those dangerous roads but tilt, lean, slither, and slide from the seat towards the ditches, potholes and gutters, in other words towards the safety of the ground.
And then there was Uncle Gyula Kovrig, the Catholic priest of Armenian extraction, whose primary interest was stamp collecting; who kept stamp-albums instead of books on the shelves of the glass-fronted oak bookcase in the parlour of the presbytery, and corresponded regularly with sixty-three countries significant from a philatelic point of view, to exchange a rare piece from his unique collection for an even rarer one.
And then there was Uncle Osy, the lanky, agile, always slightly restless owner of the Százéves pastry-shop, lord of cakes and caramels, who could find no rest among his wares except when he could escape them, before opening in the morning and after closing in the evening, when he would jump onto the saddle of his Czech racing bike, polished until it gleamed, and in the very same pink outfit in which in his youth he had once won a national amateur championship, would push the pedals for hours, making for an imaginary finishing tape.
And then there was Kálmán Nemes, Gyula's one and only true adventurer, who returned to Gyula from his adventures, came back after long years spent in Brazil with a gorgeous Brazilian wife, the black Nadir, who threw the entire town into a fever for months, no, for years, and these two let fly at each other regularly, practically once a week, and to the great consternation and disgust of Gyula, spent entire nights thrashing each other within an inch of their lives, screaming in an unrecognizable language, in other words in Brazilian until- generally towards dawn-they suddenly fell silent, and naturally no one ever understood what could have happened all of a sudden, for how could they have understood, in Gyula, the international nature of exotic passion.
And then there was Uncle Turai, the diminutive master tailor from Román város, who, lacking the means to express and gratify his unfailing respect for womankind, immersed himself in the esoteric philosophies, and thus became the darling of the women of the town, for to achieve this, that is to become their favourite, their pet, it proved sufficient for these women to realize that Uncle Turai's peculiar, complacent speeches, delivered while taking their measurements, were his way of paying them unconditional and sincere compliments, and besides this it did not matter a scrap that they could not make head or tail of his meaning, could not fathom the direct, rough surface of his message, for how was a woman from Gyula supposed to resolve the question of which philosophical gap was the more unbridgeable: the one between Martin Buber and Angelus Silesius, or the one between Nostradamus and Rozenzweig.
And then there were the other dreamers, the romantic souls: Uncle Halmai, the hairdresser from Maróthy Square, who went about trailing the heaviest cloud of scent, though he could not protest enough that this was not by choice but an occupational hazard he was forced to endure; then there was Uncle Fodor, the rat-catcher, whose dog, a short-legged mongrel of indeterminate age, inspired fear in everyone who saw it crawling on its belly, whimpering and trying to catch people's eye with its own dim eyes blurred with cataracts; and Füredi, the tobacconist, with his legion of plastic toy soldiers and stern gaze, who every so often would sharply hush the noisy hordes of children standing in line in front of the shop; and there was Béla Szabó, the choir-master from Németváros with six exquisitely beautiful daughters, who all came into the world blessed with an exceptional musical talent, and were brought up in a house where time did not exist, where neither relatives, guests nor friends were ever allowed to set foot, but from whose permanently closed windows music by Corelli, Vivaldi, Lully or Bach filtered out continually into the high street of Németváros-true dreamers all, in short, for all were caught in a strange, unfathomable, floating existence-and even then all this served as a simple background to something unparalleled, for nothing more dreamlike, inexplicable, and untraceable could ever have existed in Central Europe to compare with it.
Translated by Eszter Molnár