Trading places on an overnight train
In the midst of my Thank you Jesus’s, two young guys walked up who apparently knew the girl sitting in the 6-seated cabin. They spoke with my husband (in Hungarian of course) and I soon heard him say “Igen, igen, semmi probléma” (yeah, yeah, it’s no problem). He then turned to me and asked, “It’s alright with you if we switch seats with these guys right? They want to sit in here with her.”
If I could speak Hungarian as well as I wish I could, I would have told those boys, “Boys, right now at this moment I may not know her name, but she is my best friend. So no, the answer is no.” But instead? I did what any new bride still learning that passive aggression may be effective but is never worth it, would do. “It’s fine,” I said.
I must have moved some part of my body at that point, an eyebrow perhaps. Because between my body language and my tone Ber picked up on something most newly married men don’t. He said, and I quote “Kay. Do NOT do this with me right now. If you don’t want to trade with them, you tell me clearly, and I will tell them it’s not good for us.” Because of not wanting to seem like the bride who thinks she is a princess, I insisted it was fine, but of course I was expecting to be treated like a princess by my husband for the rest of the train ride for getting me into this situation with his kind and generous heart.
So, how to get out of the dress?
We grabbed our baggage and went a couple cabin doors down. I was forcing feelings of optimism for all of 5 seconds before pulling open that other cabin door. Sitting there, both in window seats, were two old men. Well, one ended up being older than he looked and the other one ended up being younger than he looked. But if I can say this without sounding like a misandrist (I found that word by the way by googling opposite of misogynist) what bothered me was just that they were men. One of them squinted up at us through really thick but tiny glasses. I felt sorry for him if he were blind, but selfishly a little happy because maybe he wouldn’t notice when I changed out of my dress. The other man was missing a few teeth and was perhaps somehow producing the odor which hit us almost even before we opened the door.
They appeared for a brief moment to be astonished to see us standing there. I said hello and turned to glare at Ber. “It’s totally fine,” I said, then whispered through gritted teeth “but where am I going to change?”
I realized at that point that the youngsters a couple cabins down owed us for agreeing to take their stinky cabin so I sent my new husband to make a deal with them– that they would vacate their (our) cabin for as long as it took for me to get out of my dress. Problem solved.
Spending the night with two old men
Now wearing jeans and a T-shirt looking like a bride from only the neck up (peonies still in my hair, just so you get the full picture), I returned to the stinky cabin and started pushing the bags with our most valuable things beneath our seats. “It’s totally fine,” I told Ber, “but one of us will have stay up all night to make sure nobody steals our stuff.” Clearly, I didn’t mean me.
While trying very hard to appease me, my husband was also kindly answering the questions of our cabin mates as to how exactly did we find ourselves on a train in our wedding clothes, and that no we were not actors in a movie, and that yes we really had just gotten married for reals.
They seemed friendly enough and showered us with well wishes. Soon they were chattering away, especially my husband and the little man with the glasses. I didn’t understand what they were saying, but the man had something wrong with his throat or his airway, and when he spoke it made a very strange whistling sound. I truly felt sorry for him, but did catch myself imagining how quiet it must be in the other cabin.
I’m ashamed to say that though I was beginning to relax and possibly soften a little by this point, it took some drastic measures to permanently adjust my over all attitude about the situation.
And that’s when it got interesting
Ber began turning to me and translating the highlights of what the little man with the glasses was telling him. The man explained how he had come to be born and raised in Switzerland. He told of how both his parents were Hungarian Jews and had both survived concentration camps during the war before they ever even met each other. His father had survived the infamous Auschwitz where his first wife had died.
That information abruptly arrested me in the middle of my pity party. I didn’t seem to mind their chatter or even the strange noise of him talking after that as I was curious what else this man might say. The noise, Bernat explained to me as the man had explained to him, was a symptom of an illness which would likely eventually be terminal.
Overnight train transporting… cabbage??
Finally I began to feel a certain weight of shame for my train of cynical thoughts upon arriving in their presence. My self-rebukes were cut short by the old man continuing on saying more interesting things. He told us that he had just been in Budapest to go to the theater. What an adventurous fellow!
Perhaps we seemed a little surprised that he had gone all the way there from Zurich just to go to the theater, and noted that he had packed quite a large suitcase for such just a weekend trip. He explained that too. His suitcase was full of cabbage which he said was something he always buys a lot of when he goes to Hungary. (I think maybe he meant cabbage salad which the Hungarians make splendidly). He then all of a sudden, for my sake I suppose, started to speak in a heavily accented English. “What is the word for someone who can never get enough of something?” he asked with his rattly voice. One of us suggested maybe he was looking for the word ‘addict’. With a funny grin on his face and of course still squinting he said,“Yes, yes that’s it. Addict. I’m a cabbage addict.”
I laughed out loud, the thought of cabbage baggage making the stress melt away. That’s when Bernat turned to me probably feeling it was safe now, and said “I know it was strange at first… but I actually really like these guys!” I smiled at him, thinking, “And I really like you, because you always assume the best about people when I assume the worst.”
At this point Ber went to the bathroom to change out of his clothes. While he was gone, the other man pulled out a cell phone and appeared to be trying to fix it. I don’t remember what the problem was, but I remember that when Ber came back, he was able to fix it for him.
To be continued…
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photos by Adam Biri