Marko is standing in the doorway, staring at the chandelier, flicking the light switch on and off.
“We should re-arrange the furniture.” – I say.
“You want to rearrange the furniture now?” – he asks, flicking.
“Cut that shit, I’ll choke on my tongue if you continue.”
“You look like you could choke on your spit right now.”
“Come on, a lot of this stuff is heavy.” – I say, looking around the room. “It’ll be a hassle for me to move it alone later on.”
Marko comes over and we start the process by finding out which couch folds. It’s not the one we were sitting on. We unfold the other one and I lay down to check the mattress. It’s firm and I like it. We then take a small dining table from the kitchen and carry it over to the room, where we place it in front of the center window. I see that the sculptures of heads on the terrace across the street are definitely human, with long chiseled beards. I look down on the street and see that the building itself is a hotel called King’s Hotel. I drag one of the armchairs and set it at the table. In the meantime, Marko finds a lamp in the old cupboard. I check the length of the lamp’s power cable and mount it on the table. Thus I rechristen the table into a working desk and allow Marko the honor of hitting the lamplight switch.
“Who says weed doesn’t make you creative?” – Marko says.
“I don’t think anyone says that.” – I say. “But let’s set up the speakers as well, now that we’re at it.”
I take the speaker system out of the bag and Marko helps me arrange it around the room. I set my laptop on the desk and connect the speakers to it.
“So what’ll it be?” – Marko asks.
“I’ve had Springsteen’s Downbound Train in my head the whole day.”
“Not really a housewarming tune, is it?”
“How about some Stones?” – I ask, connecting to the Internet. “Memory Motel?”
“Look, if you’re planning on slitting your wrists, let me know so that I can go downstairs for a beer.”
“Funny.” – I say. “Maybe you’d like to play some music from that gym you’re working at?”
“I’ll go and take a shower instead.” – he says. “Think of places to go for tonight.”
Marko fetches his backpack and heads toward the bathroom. I select one of the Rolling Stones playlists on YouTube and move back to the couch. The room looks better now. Three songs later, Marko comes out and puts his clothes on, asking about where we’re going. I tell him we should check out some of the ruin bars close by. He says he likes what their name implies. I take my coat, my wallet, my phone and my keys, and head out the door. In front of the elevator I realize I forgot to lock it. I then go back to find it’s locked automatically. The elevator is gone in the meantime. We go down on foot.
Out in the street, the mobs are doubled compared to two hours ago. Brave Brits continue their shirtless quest against the January night, adding further decibels to their communication, committed to reaching Neanderthal stages of it. We walk in the direction of Kazinczy Street, the home of the most popular of ruin bars according to FourSquare, Szimpla Kert. After a minute-long walk I see the awaited street sign and we take a left turn, entering what looks like a pedestrian zone but is not. A line of cars and taxis is threading down the middle of this street, their honking contributing to the universal soundtrack of Saturday night. Colorful light bulbs are blinking above the entrance to Szimpla Kert and a pair of bouncers greets us mutely by giving us a thorough body check. One of them, bald, with a beard and biceps sticking out of his sweater, frowns after touching the pocket of my jeans. I tell him that I’m not that happy to see him; it’s just my phone. He replies wordlessly with a bored expression on his face and lets me through. Marko soon joins me and together we push aside the plastic strips hanging from the ceiling and enter the bar.
“I expected more of a line at the entrance.” – I say, ordering a couple of beers.
“I expected more of a crowd inside.” – Marko says, looking around the half empty premises.
“I guess it’s too early still. It’s not even eleven yet.”
“Let’s walk around this place, it seems to be huge.” – he says, grabbing his beer.
We take a walk around, confirming Marko’s estimate. The bar consists of many different segments, all of which feature different kinds of music and interior design. Walking across the concrete floor, we pass next a wine bar, a craft beer bar, a roof covered garden section featuring an old Trabant car appropriated into a table, and a shisha lounge. Nothing matches but everything belongs. This is scribbled on one of the walls, in-between hanging traffic signs, bicycle tires and old computer monitors. We take a spot at the garden area bar, close to the Trabant.
“I think this is where the party’s at.” – Marko says. “Later on, obviously.”
“I hope I’ll be up for it later.” – I say, yawning. “This beer is making me think of nothing but a bed and a pillow, and getting high didn’t really help.”
“You promised, fucker.”
“Maybe we should hit up a couple of other places first.”
“You mean some livelier ones?”
“Yeah.” – I say. “And preferably with better music.”
“It’d be good if there was a live gig nearby.”
“Let me look.” – I say, pulling my phone out and asking the bartender for the wi-fi password.
“There’s this pub called Lampas.” – I say, turning the phone for Marko to see the screen. “It says live music every night.”
“Is it close?”
“Two streets away.”
“Let’s do it.” – he says, resting the empty glass on the bar.
We never took our coats off and so we go past the cloakroom and head straight for the exit, crossing paths with more people than we entered with. It’s cold outside. I button my coat and raise my collar. We walk back up the Kazinczy Street, crossing the two intersecting streets, before reaching a lighted logo of a lamppost with Lampas inscribed below it.
A brick-laden stairwell immediately leads us down to the basement, where after pulling on a black steel door we enter the pub. The place is packed and people are moving around in groups, all with plastic cups in their hands. The ceiling is low. At the far end of the pub is a small stage where two guys are playing acoustic guitars. There is more yeast in the air than oxygen. The bar is to the left.
“Now this is my kind of a place.” – I say. “I’ll go get us a couple of beers, you try and get us a table.”
The walk toward the bar is slow and involves a lot of body rubbing, and is not really a walk. I finally reach the counter and lean my elbow on it, soaking it in something. I have my hand in the air but the bartender is yet to acknowledge it. I bring my hand down to yawn and lift it back up again, unsure that beer is the best drink of choice, deciding to turn it into a chaser. The bartender sees me and lifts his index finger. A short black-haired girl is pushing her way under my arm, waving a 1000 forint note, screaming “Borsodi!”, the local beer brand, judging by the branded lever the bartender pulls on. The girl turns around and smiles at me, saying something in Hungarian. Her nail polish is chipped. The bartender comes over and I gesture for him to serve her first. She says another thing and I give her a thumbs-up. She gets a beer and I order another two with four shots of whiskey on the side. The girl smiles again and walks away. I drink two shots on the spot. I take the rest of the drinks and carry them high over my head, back to Marko.
He is sitting at one of the two bar stools close to the coat rack. He is talking to one of the women at the table in front of him. I give him the drinks and he introduces me to her. She introduces me to the rest of her friends. They all seem to be in their thirties. They are not the best-looking bunch. They are all drunk.
“What are you doing?” – I ask Marko, as his new friend turns to take a sip of her wine.
“Don’t ask. She started speaking to me as soon as I sat down.”
“Is this the only place we can sit?” – I ask, looking around the room.
“Good luck finding another one.”
“Well at least the music is good.” – I say, climbing the other stool.
The woman starts talking to Marko again, shouting in his ear, batting her eyelashes whenever he steps back to look at her. I take a couple of swallows of beer. They dissolve the whiskey burns in my stomach and help in building up the buzz in my head. The band ends the song and – after a round of applause – launches into a cover of The Beatles’ Michelle.
“Too bad there’s no room for dancing.” – I say, interrupting their talk.
“Aww yes.” – the woman says, squeezing Marko’s arm. “I’d love to dance.”
He downs the first shot of whiskey.
“I am very sorry that my friends don’t speak English.” – she says, leaning toward me, her hand moving up to Marko’s shoulder.
“I am very sorry too.” – I say. “But what can you do.”
He downs the second shot of whiskey. She turns to say something to her friends.
“I’ll take that.” – I say and take the two small cups from him. “Your hands should be busy elsewhere.”
“You’re having a ball, aren’t you?”
“I’m not the only one.”
“If they don’t leave soon, we’re getting the fuck out of here.”
“I don’t think she’s going anywhere without you.” – I say, taking a big swallow of beer.
“What are you talking about?” – she asks, turning to us, smiling. “I want to know.”
“I was just saying how nice of a couple you guys are.” – I say. “Both wearing checkered shirts and all.”
Marko nudges me in the ribs.
“Too bad we have to leave now.” – I say.
“No!” – she says, grabbing his arm. “Let’s go somewhere else.”
“We really have to go.” – Marko says, detaching from her grip slowly.
“We’re leaving Budapest tonight.” – I say.
“Didn’t you tell me you arrived today?” – she asks, turning to Marko.
“You’re on your own man.” – I say, patting him on the shoulder before walking away.
I stand next to the coat rack and watch him talk to her for another minute. He then comes over with a smile on his face. She’s back at her table, talking to her friends.
“What’d you tell her?” – I ask.
“That you’re bored and coming up with excuses to leave. But that you’re my best friend and that I should do you a favor.”
“You gave her your Facebook contact, didn’t you?”
“No.” – he says, pointing to his temple. “I asked for hers.”
“Smart man.” – I say, crushing the empty cup in my hand.
“Done already?” – he says, looking at it.
“It’s not my fault that you talk too much.”
“So, you’re no longer in the pillow & bed mode?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“That’s the man we’ve come to love.” – he says and gulps down his beer.
“You want to go for another one?” – I ask. “We can go ’round the other side and look for a spot near the stage.”
“Not really.” – he says. “I’d kind of feel bad for her if she saw us.”
“It’s a good place though.” – I say. “Good music.”
“Yeah.” – he says, looking around. “And like all places with good music, it’s short on good-looking women.”
“If you don’t look interesting, you have to be interesting. The same goes for men, by the way.”
“Since when are you capable of self-criticism?”
“I didn’t say there are no exceptions.”
“I have to go take a piss.”
“You should have that examined.” – I say, as he walks away. “Hey, I have an idea who could do it.”
He raises the middle finger above his head.
In the street, I move a couple of steps away from the entrance. I’m warm on the inside but my skin feels cold. I raise my collar and take the cigarettes out of my pocket. I’m trying to light one but the flame won’t catch on.