I stumble against a row of parked bicycles outside. The security guys yell something in Hungarian. Then they tell us not to come back, in English.
“Maybe I should throw up.” – I say to Marko as he picks me up. “I bet I’d never have gotten the fatty liver if I ever threw up.”
“Are you sick?” – he asks.
“I never threw up. Every time I get wasted, I keep all this shit inside.”
“Try using your finger.”
“I bet you’d like that.”
“Fucking idiot.” – he says.
I gather myself, balance the view of the street, and start walking forward. Marko nudges me to the side whenever a car passes by. He prevents me from tapping their rooftops, which is something I feel the need to do. In a rhythm, some kind of a rhythm, just while they’re passing through. Tap tap tap. He doesn’t let me do that. I then try kicking a plastic trashcan. I miss it and hit the metallic construction behind it.
“That was a stupid thing to do.” – Marko says.
“Fucking trashcan.” – I say, limping.
“I’m getting your ass home.” – he says, grabbing me by the coat.
“One more drink.” – I say.
“You’ve had more than enough.” – he says. “I sobered up only from looking at you.”
“Bullshit.” – I say. “There’s another place right around the corner. Dzzzs is the name.”
“Dzzzs is the name?”
“We’ll go there if you can pronounce the real name of the place.” – he says.
“Dzzzs is the name.” – I say. “I’m just not sure about the number of z’s.”
“Ok.” – he says. “If that’s really the name, we’ll go for a drink there.”
We walk down Wesselenyi Street. I’m trying to remember where the homeless man was sleeping. We either passed him by or he moved somewhere else. Maybe he got tired of getting kicked. Like that trashcan. The trashcan sure struck back. Stupid fucking trashcan. The street sign in front of us says Nagy Diofa street.
“Wait.” – I say. “It’s around here somewhere.”
“Good. It’s close to your place then.”
“Everything is close to my place.”
“Okay big man.” – he says. “Everything is close to your place. So where’s Dzzzs?”
“Over there.” – I say, lurching randomly to the left.
There, we find ourselves in front of the King’s Hotel.
“Hey, my window is up there.” – I say, looking up at the building opposite.
“Yes, it is.” – Marko says. “We should be up there, too.”
“And there’s Dzzzs.” – I say, pointing at the purple sign down the street.
Marko verifies the name on the sign and laughs. “Ok.” – he says. “Let’s have another drink. But it’s the last one.”
“How many z’s are there?” – I ask, trying to count them.
“You can have a beer.” – he says, opening the door. “But no more liquor.”
The bartender is either not too happy about having more guests, or about me being one of them. He shakes his head while he pours the beers. The clock above his head shows that it’s a little after 4 A.M. I see this from a sofa I fell into upon entering. Marko brings the beers and sits across the table.
“They’re Czech craft somethings.” – he says.
I nod my head and detect no taste as I take a long, careless sip. Drops of liquid trickle down the side of my mouth, dripping on my chest that’s sticking out of the half-unbuttoned shirt.
“Nice little place.” – I then say, setting the mug on the table.
“I don’t know.” – he says. “Kind of a weird crowd.”
“I suppose it’s too late.” – he says, eyeing the clock. “Or too early.”
“Probably both.” – I say.
Only one other table is occupied, across the room from us, close to the door. I can’t hear the language spoken, but I hear laughter. I hear laughter and see dark circles around their eyes, half-hidden under knitted beanies. Unhealthy sounding cough breaks interrupt their laughing bouts. The bartender is staring at his phone. He’s either texting or playing a video game. His fingers are all over the screen. Then they stop and he smiles, at a high score or a reply. I take the mug for another sip and set it back down. The surface of the table is wet. It’s also sticky, I realize when I touch it. I rub my fingers together and smell them. I smell nothing. Now my fingers are sticking.
“It’s shit.” – I say, sinking deeper into the sofa.
Marko laughs. “How would shit get on the table?”
“All of it.” – I say. “The whole damn thing is shit.”
“Oh.” – he says, leaning forward. “So, the ban on proper conversation is lifted?”
“Fucking ridiculous shit.”
“Put it behind you.” – he says.
“Why am I here?” – I ask.
“Put it behind you.” – he says. “It’s already behind you.”
“Here.” – I say, rubbing my eyes. “Like this.”
“This is good for you. This whole thing is good for you.”
“I want to go outside.” – I say, rising up from the sofa. “I need to go outside.”
“Ok.” – Marko says, standing up. “We’re going.”
He offers me his hand and I take it, bringing myself to a standing position. I walk over to the door, unaware that I’m again staring at the laughing crowd at the table here. Two males and two females. Couples. They look at me.
“Fun night?” – they ask.
I open the door and stagger into the night again. Marko comes after me, carrying my coat in his hands.
“I don’t need it.” – I say.
“Yes, you do.” – he says. “You’ll freeze your ass.”
“Fuck off.” – I say, going up the street.
“Where the hell are you going?” – he yells after me, spreading his arms. “You’re going the wrong way.”
There is no one on the street. My labored breathing and Marko’s footsteps are the only sounds I hear. I think of how I would look to myself from the window above; a drunk wearing a shirt in zero Celsius cold, unable to walk in a straight line, his meandering taking up the whole street. Like an ideal pedestrian victim, I presume. Bonus points on hits while I’m drifting left or right. Marko yells for me to come back. I start walking faster. He starts to run.
On the left I see an open gate and run through it. After a short, dark passageway I reach the courtyard of a residential building. The courtyard is illuminated from all four sides with bars of neon lights. I see outside hallways rising up across five stories, like hacienda terraces, and up on the roof, the moon reflected in an attic window. From behind my back, I hear Marko running and shouting at me.
“We should see the view from the top.” – I say.
Then I open the doors to the staircase and start climbing the spiral structure, not waiting for him to catch up. The steps are in the dark and I jump over two at a time, until I trip and land on my hands. I get up and wipe them against my jeans, then continue to run.
“I will split you in three halves when I get you.” – Marko yells. “You fucking idiot.”
He also seems to have hit the light switch, as I can see where I’m going now. Another flight of stairs, followed by another, and then at the top, a steel door in front of me. Disappointed, I push and its paper weight surprises me as it swings open. Sheet metal, I realize. Shit metal. I leave it swinging and step onto the roof deck, where a pair of side parapets offer views of neighboring buildings. In front of me is the roof slope. I walk to it and feel the wet tiles with my fingers. I then try to pull out one of the tiles, but fail in doing so. They appear to be firmly mounted. I look up the slope, then put my foot on the gutter and grasp the rough edges of the tiles with my hands, pulling myself up. I hear Marko stepping through the door.
“What the fuck are you doing?” – I hear him yell from behind.
I keep climbing, pulling and pushing myself up the tiled slope. Then I see the slanted attic window, the one where the moon was reflected, now on my left, and a flat base on top of it that looks like a good supporting point. Moving laterally, I get close enough to it to see the pitch-black darkness on the other side of the glass. My heavy breathing then clouds the glass and I think of making some inscription on it, but Marko’s shouting interrupts the idea behind it.
“You’re not going to make me come get you.” – he’s saying.
I climb further, up the side of the window, and set my feet on top of its frame. I then slowly straighten my body, the full weight of it resting against the wet tiles, until my eye level rises over the roof’s ridge, exploding into a view of the city bathed in electric light. In the forefront, the basilica dominates the night skyline, its pointed cupola beaming like a medieval antenna. Like medieval antennas, I correct myself in relation to the double image my brain is projecting.
“Will you get down?” – Marko’s saying.
In the background I see the Buda castle, also double, one atop the other. The upper one floats in the air, like an apparition, presiding over everything beneath. I then lower my gaze at the multiplying mazes of yellow-lit streets and moonlit rooftops, and farther out, at the horizon veiled in black. Then my eyes search for the bridges, and find many more than there really are, weaving together the two sides of the city like industrial patchwork.
“I can’t see the river from here.” – I say.
“Please get down.” – Marko says.
I slowly pivot around and look at him.
“I can’t see the river at all.” – I say.
“Come on, enough with this stupid shit.” – he says, waving me over.
The wetness of the tiles is shimmering in the moonlight. There is no platform under the window I am standing on; only a 25 meter drop that I now notice for the first time. It seems hardly survivable.
“Just watch your step.” – Marko says, still waving me over. “Just watch your step. Lean onto the tiles and just slide over to this side.”
I descend from the top of the window, holding onto its edge, and then, stomach down, lie against the slanted tiles. I prop my feet against the gutter and start shuffling them towards Marko. He reaches for me with his hand held out. Shuffling my feet makes my legs feel weak. I attempt to shift more weight to the upper part of my body. I am still too far to reach his hand.
“It’s harder to come down.” – I say.
“Don’t think about that now.” – he says.
“Isn’t coming down supposed to be easier than getting up?” – I say, coming to a standstill. “Isn’t it?!” – I ask, my tone louder now.
“You have to be calm now, okay?” – he says, his hand still held out. “Be calm and keep moving.”
I start a series of miniature movements. After making minimal progress, I think of trying for his hand again. I do this by shifting more weight to my right leg before reaching out, but then I feel my knee buckle. I momentarily lose balance and react by clinging onto the roof with the entire surface of my body. I freeze myself in this position, as if a levitating presence was frisking me, my arms and legs spread out for maximum support. I feel my heart beating against the tiles, and tides of cold sweat spreading from the small of my back. I think I can hear pebbles and dirt from the gutter hitting the ground.
“Okay.” – I say, taking deep breaths, not looking at Marko anymore. “Now I’m scared.”
“Relax.” – I hear him say. “You’re almost here.”
“I don’t feel like moving now, to be honest.”
“You have to.” – he says. “Come on.”
“I think I’m sober now.”
“That’s good to hear. Now move.”
I take a few more breaths and start shuffling my feet again. I inch closer to Marko’s hand, without extending mine. I keep inching closer, and closer yet, until he grabs my shoulder. Then I grab onto him and he pulls me over the parapet, to safety. We both collapse to the ground.
“Fuck.” – I say, gasping for air. “Fuck me.”
“It went well.” – he says, also gasping.
We lie on the ground, in silence, as seconds pass. Then he gets up and lights a cigarette. I stay on the ground a little while longer, until my teeth start to chatter from the cold.
“You still got my coat?” – I ask, rising to my feet.
“Yeah.” – he says and turns to fetch it.
Then he spins around and punches me in the face.
“You could have died there!” – he yells down at me. “You stupid fucking idiot. And for what?”
I sit on the ground, massaging my jaw, feeling like a freight train ran over me.
“The view was good.” – I say, trying to smile, but the movement hurts.
“Look,” – he says, in a calmer tone. “I’m not going to pretend like I know how you feel, okay? But enough with the dumb shit.”
He helps me up. Shivering, I put the coat on and zip it to my neck. Still cold, I tuck my shirt into my jeans. He comes over and gives me a hug. We embrace and pat each other’s backs.
“I think it’s about time to be heading home.” – he says and steps back. “Whatever that is.”
I put my hands in my pockets and look around the rooftop.
“How about we walk this whole thing off first?” – I ask.
He stops and thinks for a second.
“Okay.” – he then says, and heads for the stairwell.
Downstairs, once out of the building, the streets are less busy. Groups and individuals now seem to be drunkenly dragging themselves to rest. We walk past my car on our way down Wesselenyi Street. I glance at its scattered scratches and bumps, trying to recall their origins. Mostly I cannot.
“So where are we walking?” – Marko asks.
“Don’t know.” – I say.
We turn to Kazinczy Street where a fight is being broken off.
“Too bad.” – I say, pointing it out to Marko. “You’re late to this one.”
“I’m sorry man.” – he then says.
“Don’t be.” – I say. “It felt good.”
“I’m not talking about the punch.”
“The whole damn night was my fault.” – he says. “I shouldn’t have let you do any of that stuff. I shouldn’t have made you go out in the first place. I shouldn’t have been encouraging your drinking. I shouldn’t have done any of that shit. Not after last night.”
“None of it is your fault.” – I say.
“I’m not taking that.” – he says. “What if something happened to you?”
“It still wouldn’t have been your fault.”
We continue walking until we take a right turn on Rakoczi Avenue, in the direction of the bridge.
“Hey,” – I then say. “Did I tell you I couldn’t see the river from up there?”