The apartment window across the street is dressed in Christmas decorations. A tacky Santa and his sleigh; the red of Santa’s robe flashing intermittently. Leaning against the entrance of the same building, a pair of drunken drifters settle into their sleeping arrangement. Their movements are suspiciously well synchronized. I then close one eye and see only a single person there. A man, lying down, hugging a bottle. His hole-infested shoes are sticking out the bottom of a garbage bag. A group of guys wearing Liverpool FC scarves walk past him, chanting You’ll Never Walk Alone. One of them kicks his feet. The man raises his head, looks around, takes another swallow, and goes back to sleep. I re-enter the bar.
Marko is sitting alone at the table.
“I think it’s time to go home.” – he says as I sit down.
“Where are the girls?” – I ask.
“Over there.” – he says, nodding to his right.
They are sitting two tables away, talking to guys in ski jackets.
“You didn’t have to go into all that crap.” – Marko says. “Who cares what they do?”
“Let’s go to that first place we went to.” – I say. “The big ruin bar or whatever it was.”
“You sure?” – he asks.
The sidewalk is covered with scattered cigarette butts and squashed beer cans. Sporadic streams of urine, flowing from shaded corners, rely on gravity and urban engineering in reaching street gutters. We turn left to Kazinczy street. People are waiting in lines for kebabs and fries on opposite sides of the street. The stench of burned meat, reused oil, and garlic sauce. Laughter. Quiet arguments. A louder argument, on the brink of a fight, close on my right. Marko pulls me to the side, circumventing the conflict. Above and in front of us, a brown yellow illuminated sign saying Szimpla Kert Mozi. Another security check; a pat under my arms, a pat on my hips. Then a hand gesture welcoming me in.
More of the loud, deep beats. Other, higher notes are indistinguishable from the noise of the crowd. The place is packed, like a concrete cave offering shelter. Bar tables are moved to the sides, along the walls. The middle part is an improvised dance floor with no room to dance, or move. We join the procession aimed at the nearest counter. Human heads and coats rub against one another, the traction raising the already boiling temperature. Marko pushes his way in front and yells back at me about the beer he’s going to order. I mouth whiskey to him. He looks at me, narrowing his eyes. I mouth whiskey again. A girl wearing gothic make-up, her arms covered in tattooed sleeves, pulls on the branded lever that sends the golden liquid trickling down the side of a plastic cup. She repeats the process and then fills another plastic cup, this one miniature sized, from a bottle of Jameson. I watch this, standing still, splitting the sea of people around me.
“I think you’ve had enough man.” – Marko says, giving me the beer and the whiskey.
“Enough of what?” – I ask, downing the small cup, throwing it on the floor.
“You’re getting that rough look.”
“Rubbish.” – I say. “I’m feeling good.”
“Well you don’t look too good.”
“It’s the light.” – I say, turning away.
I push to the next section, where the air is colder and the people are not that many. The old Trabant here is littered with plastic cups. A couple is making out in the back seat, amidst the cups, producing hard to hear crunching sounds whenever they move. Marko comes up to me. I light a cigarette and offer him one. He takes it. Then I feel a hand on my shoulder, grabbing me.
“No smoking.” – a tall muscular figure says, when I turn around.
“What?” – I ask.
“No smoking.” – the man repeats. “Smoke zone there.” – he adds, pointing his finger at the next section.
“Ok.” – Marko says to him, then turns to me. “Come on.”
We walk through a plastic gate and enter the third, roofless section. Bright orange dots are spread around the darkened area, stuck between fingers, turning into bright orange sparks with every pull as the tobacco burns. Up above, on the brick wall of this section, a movie is being screened. A silent one, judging by the look of the image and the over-emphasized gestures of the actors. A Hungarian one, judging by the language of the intertitles. Some sort of a princess is talking to an officer. An intense dialogue. The intertitles change with increasing speed. They’re sitting at a coffee table in a royal-looking room. The princess is worried, the officer is listening to her. More intertitles, more wild gestures. Another man enters the room. Her eyes spread wide. Another intertitle.
“Hey.” – Marko’s voice says, followed by a hand waving in front of my eyes. “Earth calling.”
“This beer is shit.” – I say.
“Why’d you drink it then?” – he asks.
“Didn’t notice.” – I say, looking at the half-empty cup.
“How about we do a lap around the upper floor, see if there’s anything interesting going on, and if not, head home?”
Up the stairs, then to the left. Another bar, another concept. This one based on black light and psychedelia. Teeth, disturbingly white, everywhere. At the end of the room, the shisha lounge. The smell of wild cherries and vanilla at odds with the alcohol fumes everywhere else. I feel nauseous by the time we’re out the other side and down the stairs, back in the swinging throng. Here, to the side of the mass, I see a familiar unattractive face.
“There’s your latest Facebook friend.” – I say, turning to Marko.
I point my finger at her and her friends. “The queen of Lampas and her uni-lingual support group.” The uni-lingual comes out sounding nothing like it’s supposed to.
“Oh fuck.” – he says.
“Why?” – I say, pulling him by the shirt. “Come on, we should say hi.”
We wiggle our way to them. They are standing around a bar table. Marko’s woman jumps to his arms, squealing. He smiles back at her. The other ladies look at me. I point my finger back and forth between me and Marko, like an ape. They flash their not too pretty smiles and pull a bottle of Prosecco out of an ice-box on the table, tipping it towards me, nodding their heads eagerly. I take a couple of swigs straight out of the bottle and set it back down on the table. They laugh, grabbing each other’s shoulders and looking at me. Marko is engaged in some sort of a dance with his woman, trying to tell me something with his eyes. I take the bottle again for another couple of swigs. The prosecco is cold and refreshing. I belch on the inside and the air that comes out of my nose informs me about the rotten-tasting quality of the drink. I feel nauseous again and think of lighting a cigarette but withdraw the intention, recalling the strength of the grasp that was on my shoulder the last time I did. Marko’s woman has a nice pair of tits it seems. I fixate my eyes on them, much too obviously, causing her to bring this to his attention. He smiles and tells her something. She turns to her friends and says something to one of them. That one then comes up to me, moving her oversized hips. She starts touching me with her stomach, trying out a similar kind of dancing movement Marko’s woman is pulling with him. She then puts one hand on my shoulder and throws the other one in the air, apparently in sync with the peak of the song that’s playing, shaking her head like she’s convulsing, her hair heaving left and right. She calms down then. The music segues into another piece of indistinct noise. She looks at me, staring at me. She then leans into me and I face away, grabbing her tit. I feel my hand sinking into soft tissue and then a slap on my cheek. The cheek feels numb when I look back at her and blurt out a compliment about her strength. She slaps me again, wagging her finger at me. Marko comes between us and quickly pulls me away, dragging my feet along the floor and out in the street. I see her shouting at me. I see the security coming after me. Everything is fuzzy around the edges.