“How are you holding up?” – Marko asks, as we venture into the street.
“If I was any better it wouldn’t be good.”
“Don’t give me that shit man.”
“I tell you I’m good.”
“Ok.” – he says. “So what are we going to do now?”
“Drink.” – I say.
We walk back up the street, past all of the places we’ve already walked next to. Some of the people I see are the same as well. Most of them. I quicken my step around a crowd gathered under the heating lights and stop short of a mural I see on the wall of the building in front of us. It’s the cover of Time Magazine’s Man of the Year edition from 1956. A picture of an unnamed man, armed and injured, titled Hungarian Freedom Fighter. Underneath the mural, another man, a live one, bends over and pukes. The remains of his dinner slither down the surface of the wall.
“What happened in 1956?” – Marko asks.
“Nothing.” – I say. “In the end.”
After we cross a couple of side streets, we are again in front of the entrance to my new apartment building. I recognize it thanks to the car parked in front. I shift my attention to the bar next door, its name indistinguishable, its logo lifeless, but its interior fairly crowded. I make a motion for Marko to enter, and he looks around the street before he does so.
“I can’t believe how lively the neighborhood is.” – he says, bobbing his head to deep house beats, as we search for a table. “And at this time.”
“It’s a good thing for visitors, I guess. Not so sure for the residents.”
“Yeah, good luck sleeping on weekend nights.”
“What are we going to drink?” – I ask, disliking the topic.
“Whatever you feel like.” – he says. “I’m saying goodbye to my paycheck on this trip anyway.”
“Hey, I’m covering everything. It’s not like you planned to be on this trip.”
“I appreciate that man, but you’ve always had my back. Let me afford something now, what I can at least.” – he says, placing his hand on my shoulder.
A group of three, two guys and a girl, get up from their table and head our way. We squeeze against them while passing each other between occupied chairs; causing all three of them to frown, causing myself to feel drunkenly stupid. I sit down as Marko walks over to the bar to make the order. There is an overarching presence of males in the bar, announcing the start of this trend for the rest of the night. 2 AM almost. The usual hunting grounds. The same here as everywhere else. The guys at the table next to me loudly clink their beer mugs and launch into a song of a kind. They’re German. The time of the year has passed for Oh Tannenbaum, thankfully. I say this out loud, without intending to. They don’t seem to mind, or understand, or care.
“Whiskey A Go Go.” – Marko says, setting down two glasses of what looks like are double doses on the table. “That’s the club where The Doors were a house band or something? I think you told me that once.”
“Fuck The Doors.” – I say, clutching the Ikea glass.
“What’s gone into you?” – he asks, half-smiling.
I say nothing, continuing to look around the place. The whiskey tastes watered down. The Germans are done with the beers and the song. The music, or whatever it is, is still the same. The same beat. Dum du dum du. Clap. Dum du dum du. Clap. Then a vocal of a kind, looped. The Germans put their jackets and winter caps on and leave.
“It’d be great if we could find some chicks.” – Marko says. “Especially with the apartment this close.”
He winks after the last sentence.
“Do you want to fuck them or kidnap them?” – I ask.
“You know what I mean, asshole.” – he says. “And I want to try flirting in English. I don’t think I ever did that.”
“It’s not that different.” – I say. “You just sound more like a character from a movie to yourself.”
I drain the rest of the glass and wait for Marko to finish his, before I go and bring us a refill. On my way back, I see two girls approach the table next to us. They ask if it’s free, with a strong American accent.
“A group of Germans was here up until a moment ago.” – I reply, taking my seat. “But they capitulated.”
One of them laughs, the other does not.
“Good for us.” – the laughing one says.
They take their seats.
“Now you have your chance.” – I say to him in Serbian.
“And they’re kind of cute.” – he says.
“Kind of.” – I say.
“Is it, like, self-service here?” – the one who laughed asks. “Sorry to interrupt.”
“Annoyingly so.” – I say. “But I’ll gladly buy you guys a round. Save you the walk if nothing else.”
“Really?” – she says. “I mean, there’s no need, but our legs are kind of tired.”
“Tell me what are you having.”
They say they’re in the mood for beer. I saunter over to the bar, taking control of my steps, noting the increased difficulty of walking in a straight line. I order four beers, and holding the mugs with both of my hands, carefully set them on our table. I hear Marko saying something about the Buda castle to them. I tell them to bring their chairs closer.
“Thanks for the beers.” – the one who laughed says, then sits down next to me, and raises her mug. “How much were they? We want to pay you back.”
“Nonsense.” I say, raising my own.
Everyone toasts each other, taking strong pulls.
“So, your friend was telling us we had quite a similar day today.” – she says.
“One of you moved to Budapest as well?”
“No, we’re just tourists this time around. But we walked like crazy all over the place.”
“And how did you like it?”
“It’s beautiful.” – they say in harmony. “Really, really beautiful.” – the one next to Marko adds.
“So, are you guys students or?” – Marko asks, taking more of the beer.
“Yes.” – the one next to me says. “Final year of college. Going to miss it so bad.”
Her friend nods in agreement, offering her a longful look. Neither of them took their winter caps off.
“And what do you study?” – Marko asks.
“Gender studies.” – the one next to me replies.
“Feminism.” – her friend adds, in a clarifying tone.
“That’s interesting.” – Marko says.
I say nothing, working on my beer. I see there’s also some whiskey left. I take care of it.
“So feminism, like women and their rights and stuff?” – Marko asks, not giving up.
“Yeah.” – the one sitting next to me says, smiling. “Our rights and stuff.”
“Cool.” – Marko says.
“And what do you do?” – she asks him.
“I work in a gym.” – he says. “I’m a fitness coach.”
“That reminds me.” – she says, looking at her friend. “I’ll have to go back to training after this trip. Wear off this beer.”
She pats her stomach while saying this. They smile at each other.
“Me too.” – the friend says, also patting her stomach.
“Yeah, beer is difficult to get rid of.” – Marko says, taking a sip. “In every way.” – he adds, wiping the foam off his lips.
Both of the girls laugh.
“And what do you do?” – she then asks me.
“I’m starting my postgrad studies here.” – I reply.
“Postgrad?” – she says. “That’s cool, I’m thinking of going straight to postgrad too. I just love academia.”
“Me too.” – the friend says, standing up. “Do you know where’s the washroom?”
“I think it’s over there.” – Marko says, pointing at one of the corners.
She goes in the direction of his hand.
“So, what made you choose gender studies?” – I ask. “The fight for equality?”
“Among other things.” – she says. “I was always irritated by the whole notion of the division of labor and the assignment of gender roles.”
I’m nodding my head, saying nothing, working on the beer.
“And also the fact that-” – she continues, pausing for emphasis. “I don’t really believe in gender.”
“You don’t believe in gender?” – I ask.
“I don’t.” – she says.
“That’s interesting.” – Marko adds.
“I didn’t know gender is a matter of belief.” – I say.
“I think it is.” – she says.
“Well it’s more of a fact, isn’t it?”
“I don’t think so.” – she says and smiles.
Her friend arrives and sits down. I take another strong pull of the beer, almost finishing it.
“Ok.” – I then say, looking at her friend. “So, you just went to the toilet, right?”
“Yeah.” – she says. “Luckily it wasn’t crowded.”
“And I suppose you took a piss, if you don’t mind me saying?”
“I did.” – she says, smiling shyly, shrugging her shoulders.
“And did you do it standing up or sitting down?” – I ask, the words slurring slightly.
“Sitting down of course.” – she says. “They have those nice toilet seat covers with the dispenser and all.”
“That doesn’t prove anything.” – the one next to me says, no longer smiling.
“I didn’t want to prove anything.” – I say. “I was just curious.”
“Well whatever it was, I don’t appreciate it.” – she says. “The whole problem is rooted in people focusing on such superficial details.”
I finish the beer and rest the empty mug on the wet coaster. Another, deeper, deep house tune is blasting from the speakers.
“Come on guys, there’s no need to get so serious about this stuff.” – Marko says.
“I think I’ll go for a smoke.” – I say, standing up, stepping towards the exit.
“Why is he leaving?” – I hear the friend ask.
Outside, someone lights me a cigarette. The beats from the bar are silenced here, taking a back seat to the sound of people’s chatter. I exhale strongly, the smoke mixing with the warmth of my breath, forming a generous cloud, hanging loosely in the air. No wind can be seen or felt. An ambulance car then speeds down the street, and drowns out all other noise.