A bitter-sweet memory of love and disappointment at age sixteen.
There I was, standing under the clock, waiting. It was a pleasantly warm late August evening, just before sunset.
The shadows had already grown long on the pavement and a light, playful breeze, which blew across the river carrying a whiff of intoxicating scents from the hills across, had started to send some fallen leaves into a swirling waltz. The sky had a warm orange glow and the hills across looked as if they were about to catch fire from the sinking sun.
The clock under which I was standing and waiting, with ever increasing impatience, was at the bridge head of the Margit-Bridge, on the Pest side of the Danube in Budapest. The year was 1950, I was sixteen years of age and madly in love with the girl I was waiting for. Of course at age sixteen, there is only one way to be in love… madly… Nothing else qualifies… To be sure, this wasn't the first time I was madly in love, but this affair was proving my madness to be more than what would qualify as figurative speech only. I mean… after all I hardly knew the girl… I bumped into her - physically - a couple of days earlier as I hastily dashed out of a doorway, with such force that I nearly swept her off her feet.
After I apologised profusely for my hasty and careless action, I asked for her permission to walk her home. To my surprise she agreed. As a gesture of gratitude, I fell in love with her there and then... madly… The rest was history… as they say…
Very short history, to be sure, as that was all that happened so far. As we parted I asked her for a date, to which she agreed - once again to my surprise - and she was the date I was waiting for, standing under the clock at the bridge head.
Marika - for that was her name - was a very pretty, dark blond, blue eyed, petite, fifteen and a half year old girl, with a very fine figure and an infectious smile. It was easy to fall in love with her… madly… and so far painlessly… save for the bruise on the right side of my chest where her little, but surprisingly agile and hard fist landed after I had helped her regain her balance when I nearly knocked her over.
So, there I was, standing under the clock, waiting. We had the date arranged for , but as I was not entirely certain in my mind that it was not in fact arranged for , I arrived - just to be sure - at . It was a bit of a rush to get there by that time, but when you are sixteen and madly in love you do your best… so I left my homework unfinished - not a big sacrifice, considering that I never really started it anyway - muttered some vague excuse to my grandfather, who at that time was supposed to be in charge and after having combed my hair and buffed up my shoes I dashed out of the flat with haste. So much haste in fact, that I had to dash back to put on a clean shirt and to grab a tie, which I put on as I was running down the stairs.That the tie was not really suitable for the shirt I was wearing and it was not very well tied did not bother me too much. I was in a hurry, but just to be sure that I would give Marika a good impression I stopped briefly in front of a shop-window to adjust the tie and to rearrange my hair that looked tussled from running. I was there, ready, under the clock by .
By now it was and I started to feel a bit doubtful about Marika's arrival…. Unless… was the arrangement perhaps for ? I could have made a mistake; I could have misunderstood her…
- "She must have said ." - I muttered to myself reassuringly.
That meant that, as dames are usually late anyway for dates, she would not arrive perhaps until .
That gave me another half an hour to wait.
As I was getting a bit fed up standing around, I started to pace up and down the pavement between the clock and the nearest lamppost, my mind submerged in futile thoughts and wild guessing about Marika's intentions.
- "Is she coming?...Is she not?... Why should she come?... and why not?... Is she just late or?...
Perhaps she just missed the tram… Perhaps the tram was too full and she missed the bus as well and could not get a taxi… Ridiculous… she would not get a taxi to get here to meet me anyway… And why not?... After all I am no worse than any other guy… or am I?... Oh God!, why the hell do we have to be in love?"…
- "Hello Peter." - I heard a voice suddenly behind me and I turned so fast on my heels, I nearly fell over.
- "Hello" - I replied with my heart jumping with joy - "Hello my"….
It was not Marika. It was our next door neighbour, Aunt Erna…
- "Hello." - I said again with a disappointed grimace on my face - "I am so happy to see you."…
I instantly realised that it was a stupid thing to say. Why should I be happy to see her? I saw her far too often anyway…
- "I mean… I am not really happy"… - Oh dear!... that was even more stupid to say… She could get offended…
- " I meant I am happy really… but…" - Oh heavens above! What's the use?... I'd better give up before
I get myself into a total tangle… Then I suddenly realised that she could not have heard a single word I uttered, as she was as deaf as a doorpost. I sighed with relief.
- "Hello Aunt Erna!" - I yelled as loud as I could whilst pulling my face into a wide grin.
- "Hello." - she patted me on my head and off she strolled on her business.
The evening breeze suddenly acquired a slight chill to it. I glanced at the clock. It was hopelessly late for her to turn up now. With angry, frustrated and hurtful disappointment I kicked the lamppost. Now, that was really a silly thing to do. The lamppost did not react, but I was close to releasing a painful yell. Nevertheless the pain in my toes helped in my resolution to pack up waiting and go home.
As I turned round to go on my way I bumped straight into Zoli. He was a boy of my age who lived in our neighbourhood and was a sort of friend I met occasionally. We were not particularly close friends.
- "Servus you pig head" - he greeted me with a broad smile - "what are you doing around here this
time of the evening?"
- "I…I…I…was waiting for you, you rollicking idiot." - was my stammering answer, which definitely had the element of surprise upon him. Mind you, I was at least as surprised as he was, as my answer to his question just bubbled out on the spur of the moment.
- "You were waiting for me?" - his eyes opened wide with astonishment.
- "Yes, you nutcase; can't you remember we arranged to go to MargitIsland tonight to try to get in the open air theatre?"
He looked puzzled.
- "Oh…oh…yes"… - he replied with some hesitation - "yes I… I remembered I was supposed to meet someone…but"…
- "Well, what are we waiting for then?" - I put my hand on his shoulder. - "let's go, it's getting late!"
Well, - I thought with a heavy sigh as we started our walk quietly on the bridge towards the Island - I had a date for tonight; I might as well make the most of it. Zoli, admittedly, is not as pretty as Marika, holding hands with him is out of the question and I will definitely not kiss him no matter how romantic the evening might turn out to be, but he will simply just have to do for tonight. About half way to the Island I turned my head back, just to make sure, but no; Marika was definitely not coming.
The colour of the sky turned into a deep red hue over the hills of Buda. We walked in silence. I was deeply buried in my thoughts and did not make any attempt to start a conversation. Zoli seemed subdued too.
We reached the middle of the bridge, where we turned onto the ramp leading down to the Island.
Then Zoli suddenly stopped.
- "Well," - he said with a friendly smile on his face - "thank you for escorting me here. Thank you and goodbye!"
- "What's the matter with this idiot?" - I thought - "why does he have to break this blissful silence and what the hell is he talking about?"
I looked at him disapprovingly and then…. Yes, just about five feet away behind him was standing the girl of my dream, Marika…
Good heavens!... panic ran through me like lightning. Oh, dear God!... she had been waiting for me here, while I was standing waiting for her under the clock at the other end of the bridge. What a stupid idiot I am, I thought as I felt hot and cold at the same time. How should I explain this? What should I say? I will definitely have to put the blame on Zoli, stupid as he is he won't even notice or protest.
- "Hello Marika… please forgive me"… - I reached out for her hand with an apologetic smile… and…
I found my hand in Zoli's hand.
- "I forgive you." - he nodded - "Thanks again for coming with me. Goodbye."
This boy is an impudent menace… More so, he is a very impudent menace - I thought. He would well deserve a good kick in the… but I was not going to resort to improper behaviour in front of a young lady… So, I kept smiling and reached out for Marika's hand again. My hand stopped in the middle of Zoli's back. What was he doing in my way?... and where had Marika disappeared to so suddenly?... and who the hell is he kissing so passionately?...Could he have met his aunt here?...
I tapped on his shoulder politely. He turned his head, with a furious look in his eyes.
-"What do you want? - he snarled at me.
And at that moment I realised he was hugging and kissing HER!... Well, what could have I said?... Bless you?.. Mazeltov?...Skol?... Bon appetite?...
- "I… I… just wanted to say goodbye"…
- "Goodbye. I said it twice already. Now be a good lad and buzz off!"
I was devastated. My heart felt like a heavy cold stone. I turned round and started to walk back onto the bridge.
I turned back for a moment and saw them strolling off hand in hand. The whole world seemed empty and cold.
I felt a little teardrop rolling down my nose. I wiped it off quickly, almost brutally. This was the end of a dream.
A tragedy. I lost a girl I never had and a friend, whose friendship I never esteemed much anyway. I gained intense heartache and bitter disappointment instead.
By now, the colour of the sky turned into a deep, dark velvety hue. A few little stars were twinkling dimly above.
The breeze over the Danube turned cool and sobering. The gaslights on the embankment were reflected in the dark waters flowing fast under the bridge. I felt inconsolable. My heart and mind was buried in deep misery.As I reached the bridge head a tram came to a screeching halt at the tram stop there. The screech of the wheels on the iron rails suddenly brought me back to reality. I remembered what my mother once said when I came home with a broken heart on a previous occasion of deep disappointment.
- "Remember son, girls are just like the trams. When you miss one, there is always another one coming just round the corner."
The thought cheered me up a bit. By the time I reached home I was busy falling madly in love… yet again… this time with the anticipation of falling madly in love… perhaps tomorrow…