Pictures of Oslo by Alf Nasheim.
Otto Kiss ( 1963- ) lives in Gyula, a town in East – Hungary. He published several books, one of which became the Book of the Year 2003. He is a regular contributor of the well known cultural review Bárka.


The chapel’s colour window fell out onto the pavement. It wasn’t deliberately smashed or thrown at with a stone or pebble, the mosaik pieces were lying next to each other as if someone had pushed the window from inside into the street.

A view can sometimes be so impressive that it cannot be removed from one's mind any more – Javrik thought. He was standing in front of the broken picture, but he could see the complete one, just like hundreds of times before, when he was watching the chapel from the bus stop at Mágocsy street, at that time the picture used to be impact.

He suddenly remembered Berta Fáry. The girl was standing on the stage. He saw her there for the first time, she played a nun in a loose frieze, with a rope around her waist, an iron crucifix on her chest and with ackward clogs. For Béla Lung, Berta Fáry’s headmaster and the most committed history teacher in school wrote a six-hour-long play on the history of the world, a one-act play with thirty three scenes, based on Madách’s play, but his was more detailed as he emphasised many times after the performances. All students had to go and see the play at least once, for Béla Lung besides being a committed teacher was a very vain man too. Javrik saw the play only once, and because of the loose clothes he could only see the girl’s face, neck and arms, but he kept a very vivid memory of her in his mind just like of the chapel's colour window. He called the nun Kumria or rather the whole short scene, because Berta Fáry didn’t play a significant in the History of the World, Béla Lung hadn’t even given a name to her.

The boy wanted to bend to put the mosaic pieces together, but he gave up his plan when he noticed that somebody was watching him from the other side of the road. He looked at the broken glass once again then he walked to the bus stop and started to study the timetable. The girl, whose curious look he felt in his back, was standing in the waiting room in front of the orange seats. She was watching Javrik from there, but she only looked at him from time to time, from the corner of her eyes, then she turned away. She might live in one of the blocks of flats in Mágocsy street, thought the boy, and he almost adhered to the tiny board. Last winter he saw her in the neighbourhood many times, but then she disappeared for months until spring. As he was watching her in last winter’s early snow, he thought she was Berta Fáry. She seemed to have the same figure, stature and walk, even her dark grey furcoat and purple boots seemed to be the same. Now, turning away from the board, he saw the woman walking a few steps in front of the plastic chairs and he realised that under her skirt even her hips moved the same way as Berta Fáry’s.

Only in his childhood did he see so much snow as last November. One Sunday morning the entire city was covered in snow. When he left in the morning, crystal dust drizzled from the sky, tiny pricks tickled his face, and the sun looked like a halved peach in the grey sky. As he was walking, the white carpet of snow crunched under his feet and when he stopped there was a perfect silence; if he had coughed it could have been heard on the other side of Mágocsy street. He didn’t cough though, he looked at the circle in front of the green plastered house, next to the chapel. The snow was trampled down on a twenty-centimetre-thick lane, as if somebody had been walking round and round the whole night. But this somebody wasn’t there now and there were no footprints going to the downtrampled part. He looked up the sky and realised that no object could have come from there either, an alien spaceship or something like that, because a branch of an acacia hung down above the circle with a thick and untouched layer of snow on it. It was a symmetric circle with a diameter of about four or five meters. He looked at it amazed for a few seconds, he stood there paralyzed like a bronze statue and suddenly, for some reason it came into his mind that the circle is feminine, it is female. Then he thought that the snow on the branches and the lace curtain pushed aside behind the windows of the green plastered house are female too. The branch that hangs above the circle is male. The tree is male too. The idea comforted him. That he found the circle's place in the world.

At this moment two figures appeared at the end of the street. They were close to each other, a girl and a boy. One could see their breath. As they were coming nearer, Berta Fáry’s red hair, sophisticated neck, red cheeks, brown eyes, fragile wrists and red imitation leather watch appeared more and more sharply. Our Lord’s good sense of humour is infinite thought Javrik, he didn't only cover us in snow in November or draw an unidentified circle but he even put a girl in Mágocsy street who looked exactly like Berta Fáry.

A thin blonde boy was coming nearer with the Berta lookalike in last November’s snow. He was wearing a long, open winter coat, with a red scarf around his neck, and he was two heads taller than the girl. He looked like the prince in children’s books illustrations. Like real lovers, they were holding hands, then the boy whispered something into the girl’s ears and she gently but without any hesitation kicked his ancle and stuck out her tongue at him.

It was the first time he thought about writing. That he should write down everything that happened to him. How it all happened with Berta Fáry, the circle and the couple. That day he took a piece of paper but couldn’t write a word. He didn’t know where and how to start, he kept jumping back and forth in time, and the locations kept changing in his mind too. When he finally tore out a detail from the series of events he still couldn't get any further because he remembered and added more and more details . He was sitting there for hours when he understood that writing is frightening. It’s an action, a confrontation and a judgement at the same time. It shows how we have lived until now and how we should go on with living. Writing is a critisism of everything that has happened but it doesn’t redeem us, it only gives us the possibility of redemption. He also realised that night that if he wanted to write he needed to conquer his fears but didn’t know how. He raised the question, he felt the weight, and he felt that it had to be removed and placed somewhere in the world.

He thought of nun Kumria, but instead of writing - he remembers the scene very well - he took a Julio Cortázar book from the shelf. While he was reading, from the corner of his eyes he sometimes looked at the sheet of paper on the table, just like the Berta lookalike had looked at him at the bus stup in front of the plastic seats a few minutes before. In his mind, Javrik elongated the line that ran alongside the white paper. The line descended at the leg of the table and proceeded on the floor. The boy turned the page. The line ran up the wall till the street image of the seaside town, it drew itself around a pedestrian and escaped through the window , and the lightning rod to the night street. It climbed up the back wheel of the last bus and got off at the chapel on a fragile woman’s nylon tights. The line crossed the the empty road and on the pavement it described circles on the fresh November snow. Later it sneaked to the door of the chapel, climbed up the huge door-handle and disappeared to the direction of the keyhole. It ran along the semi-dark pews where a young man was standing and listening to the ravens hitting the starlights with their bills outside, on the chapel's copper cupola. The empty paper's line climbed up on the sewing of the man’s trousers, climbed further up on his cardigan to his elbow and seeked asylum in one of the lines of his palm that were touching the colur window of the chapel. The boy closed the Cortázar book again like he did last November. The Fáry lookaike smiled a bit in front of the plastic chairs then turned away and sat down on the most distant chair. Looking at her expression Javrik realised that it is her look that differs from that of Berta Fáry. Berta’s look is almost always sharp, cool and firm, her lookalike’s face on the other hand is gentle. However, one can see that the girl is aware of being God’s creature but she deals with this knowledge gently and at the same time proudly. It is this knowledge that Berta’s stage performance lacked, he thought. If a mighty power had changed the two girls looks and faces, not only Berta's acting but also Béla Lung’s play, The History of the World would have been more authentic.

He was watching the woman quietly, while she was looking at the ravens that were scratching about on the other side, then she turned her head towards the coming bus. Berta was also a fragile girl, he thought, with noble and graceful shapes like a sphisticated china, but she didn’t like to be treated carefully. Berta had to be used. Not only used but exploited, she wanted to be exploited.

In the first few weeks the boy was inclined to regard it as a pleasant component of their relationship and enjoyed that Berta was so eager to please him and anxious to see all his revelations. Easily did he satisfy the girl’s needs because he regarded their sub- and superordination an exciting adventure, a territory to be discovered yet, and first of all temporary. These days he was inclined to think that being a woman means to exist for others and as such, it is a vegetative existence, it exists only in an aesthetic sense like a flower. Later the girl had more and more strange revelations, and her spontanious actions like putting all kinds of objects, towels, jugs, stools on Javrik’s erected penis was received well by the boy. After some initial protest, he never had any objections to these unusual games, sometimes he even enjoyed them. Her request that he should watch TV, read the newspaper or light a cigarette while making love was not difficult to do, but later, when her requests started to challenge the rest of his decency he got scared. When the girl asked him firmly to burn her hands and legs with that cigarette he freed himself, stood up and told her gently that he believed to be a free man and although he wasn’t able to give orders we was just as unable to carry them out. The day when Berta wanted to sleep with him in the bed where her grandfather died, he studied the girl’s face for minutes and when it was obvious that she really meant what she said, he replied with a real concern in his voice that she was sick. The girl just laughed. Then she started to explain and justify her request, but Javrik couldn’t understand. He couldn't understand why it was comforting for her to be together at a palce where her grandfather’s body had lied a few weeks before. While the girls was talking, Javrik remembered the story that Berta had told her a long time before. At that time, Javrik didn’t think it was important, he thought it was just an ageing man's desperate reaction after realising that his disease was incurable. Berta’s grandfather, who was 68 years old when he was told to be incurably ill, underwent a transformation within days. Up to that time an open and talkative, according to the girl a lovely man collapsed mentally. Javrik thought it was a natural response. He thought it was natural too, that the old man locked himself into the summer kitchen of their cottage and didn’t let anybody, not even his wife, his daughter (Berta’s mother) or Berta inside. He came out on a Monday morning he brought some walnut boards from the local sawmill and within a week he made a coffin for himself in the summer kitchen. The day when Berta tried to convince him to sleep with her in her grandfather’s bed, the boy imagined the man making the corpse and like in a film he saw the old man plane with a mad expression on his face, he saw him put the nails into his mouth, and take them one by one to hide them by huge hammer hits into the walnut boards forever. Now the events that he hadn’t thought to be important before were put into a new perspective, they were not only unusual responses to the incurable disease but were also significant in connection with Berta’s ancestors. He was thinking that Berta did not only have a low self-esteem but she also wanted to control another person. She wasn’t content to be humiliated but she also wanted to evoke unnatural behaviour in others. Or maybe she just wanted the latter.

The bus slowed down and stopped near the pavement. The first door opened in front of the boy. He got on the vehicle and looked around but didn't see Berta’s lookalike. But in the back, he saw the blonde prince sitting on a window seat, the prince he met last winter walking towards him in the snow with the girl.

Javrik looked out of the window. The woman was standing at the bus stop and was watching the blonde boy. In the light it seemed as if their faces touched in the window glass. The prince’face looked as if he was watching a healed wound on his palm or ancle, and the girl looked as if she wanted to scratch it.

The doors closed and Javrik went to the window. The light could hardly struggle through the dusty glass so he leant closer and watched the girl leave. Before the bus turned at the corner he saw that the woman crossed the street, stopped in front of the chapel and bent to pick a mosaic piece.

Translated by Monika Rees ©


  © All rights belong to the authors or their heirs. 2004.