“That’s because you only see it like this.” – Marko says, as we reach Erszebet bridge, its two suspension frames a dark shade of white in the day’s creeping light.
“Maybe you should try waking up for it once.” – he adds.
I stop half-way across the bridge, with Buda on my left, Pest on my right, and the Danube freely flowing below. Beautiful, but hardly blue in this light, or any other. No waltz can be heard either. Only the soft hum of the river’s flow, aided by the silence of the dawning hour. On the right bank, docked to a floating pier, a cruise boat gently rocks. A higher class one, I gather from the covers on the top deck protecting the pools and mini-golf courses from the wintry weather. In one of the cabins the light is on. An early prostate call, most likely, considering the average age of passengers on such trips. Or maybe just an early riser, determined to make the most of his visit here, for the first time after oh so many years, or perhaps for the first time ever. Now, after a lifetime of work, of all the dreams that came true or were forgotten along the way, all the goals achieved or not, all the victories and sacrifices, big or small, loves lost and found, children and grandchildren, few, many, or none – after all that – an early riser looking for something more.
Then, from behind the flat plains of Pest, the first rays of sun appear, piercing through the scattered clouds and painting the Danube fiery red. This puts the sides of the city in even greater opposition. As the streaks of light begin to spread across Buda, reaching up to and flickering in the windows of the old castle, declaring the incoming day is afoot, the deserted riverfront of Pest advocates for another hour of sleep, a prolonged rest to compensate for the busy night it survived, yet again.
“It’s funny.” – I say. “But for every year of your life you actually made one trip around the sun.”
“Never thought of that.” – Marko replies, as if awaken from his own reverie.
“What are you thinking?”
“Now?” – he says. “About how cool that is. The most spectacular trip you can take, and for free.”
“I’m not so sure about that last part.”
“Well…” – he says, hanging his head. “Yeah.”
I look down at the charging body of water under the bridge, its southward flow, and the imposing size of the riverbed. It seems much wider than it is in Belgrade.
“I’ve got a question.” – Marko then says.
“I hope I have an answer.”
“Did you love her?” – he asks. “At all?”
“Oh, the big one.”
“The truth is,” – I say. “I never got the chance to.”
The sun has separated itself from the distant line on the horizon, and is now rising quickly and visibly with glittering resolve. Most of the clouds have cleared. Those that haven’t hang against the blue sky of the now full-blown morning. I take a deep breath of the clear, cool air.
“Come on.” – Marko says, stepping back. “We should get some sleep.”
I take another look around, at the two sides of the city and the restless, flowing, demarcating line in between. I almost spit over the railing, the way anybody would, if not for the hard-earned humor of the thought that I’d be sending my DNA back on a trip to Belgrade. Then I step back from the railing and start walking after Marko.
The first couple of steps cause soreness to flare up throughout my body; feet, knees, thighs, arms, all topped off with a lurking headache, the combined pain operating like a highlight reel of hours past. I keep walking. A public transport bus whizzes by. Drilling commences at a construction site someplace. From below, I hear a ship blaring its horn. I watch my legs move, one after the other. I am tired. I am hungry.
2 Youth ↑
3 Madness ↑
4 Filth ↑
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