ONE PIGEON, TWO PIGEONS
Its okay to believe now and then that everything around us is somehow interconnected. Its also okay to be remindedespecially when thinking about parts and the wholethat a human being is a little like some sea snails in that he, too, carries his center of gravity outside his body. Otherwise why would there be so many uniformly monotonous days? Or, for that matter, disgustingly damp and gloomy fall days, when the city feels even more cramped, when fog drifts over from the Buda hills and the windows of dark rooms are covered with carelessly drawn curtains; chilled pedestrians try to avoid puddles and steaming manholes and kick aside the dried-up rubbish piling up alongside walls; there are endless lines of cars on the roads, and around them, on brick walls, the grainy shadows of exhaust fumes creep higher and higher.
This is what that Friday afternoon in late November was like, the Friday before the first Sunday of Advent, when János Vince and his wife Katalin Vince were walking home from the subway station, having already done their evening shopping. The Boulevards lights were on, a crowded streetcar rattled toward the Western Station, and over on Margaret Bridge a blue light flashed, which now you saw, now you didntit melted into the stop-and-go bridge traffic, the sound its siren never quite making it this far. The wet pavement reflected the shop window lights, for it was drizzling monotonously, and this even patter seemed to be the answer to the revving of engines, the clatter of footsteps, the slamming of doors. Evening had just arrived, but the day that passed already seemed far away.
Turning into Visegrádi Street, the Vinces had to stop. A little beyond the intersection the sidewalk was blocked by a crowd of no more than twenty people who hardly fit into the narrow space left free by parked cars. They huddled together in the cold, a few of them holding little red paper flags glued to thin sticks, their umbrellas shining above their heads like the armor-hard wing of some giant insect.
What are these people doing here? Katalin Vince asked her husband.
Trying to avoid the crowd, they stepped off the curb, onto the street, and now could see a man in the doorway of an apartment building; he stood on the staircase, raised his left arm over his head, and making a fist, pointed upward, somewhere far away. They even heard what he shouted: Eighty years ago, it was exactly eighty years ago, on November 24.
What happened eighty years ago? Katalin Vince asked.
They must be commemorating something, János Vince said with a shrug. In such miserable weather, too.
It was at this moment that the ambulance from Margaret Bridge reached the street. The sound of its siren, which had already penetrated the buildings, now crashed into Visegrádi Street like a sudden explosion. From the building in front of which stood the commemorating group, or from the roof perhaps, or a ledge, a flock of pigeons took off, first flying straight up, until they shrank into tiny gray dots in the diminishing light, then they seemed to plummet, until the whole flock, like a cloud of heavy, dense smoke, kept hovering over peoples heads.
How come there are so many pigeons here? Katalin Vince exclaimed, and stopped in the middle of the street. How very odd. Pigeons dont usually hang out here. And certainly not this many. And the way they flew about. As if wanting to show us something.
And what might that be, János Vince said and shrugged his shoulder again.
This cloud of birds may be tracing something in the air, dont you think?
No. Theyre not trying to tell us anything, if thats what you mean. Its late, lets go home.
Later that evening, well after ten oclock, the rain finally stopped. From their balcony door János Vince watched as the wind swept the sky clean. Afterward he turned off the TV and went to sleep next to his wife.
They woke up early the next morning with the woman gasping for air; her eyes were upturned, there was a rattle in her throat, she was unable to move. The ambulance, with only its blue light flashing, pulled up to their house rather quietly. Two men in black jackets brought a stretcher and just for a moment, the red-haired, bearded doctor put his hand on János Vinces arm.
Between then and Saturday night Katalin Vince regained consciousness one more time. She opened her eyes and looked at her husband sitting next to her. She smiled. When will we die? she asked, still smiling. Nonsense, János Vince said. Youre talking nonsense. Wait for me, Katalin Vince said. What are you saying, mumbled and shrugged her husband. What are you saying.
It was early Sunday morning when János Vince returned from the hospital. He had trouble letting himself in: the door lock had become worn in a peculiarly unpredictable way, simply not yielding to the key at times. His wife had a much subtler touch, she knew you first had to gently push the key in, then pull it out and at the same time turn it. Once inside, he didnt bother to lock the door, he just slammed it shut, threw down his briefcase in the hallway, walked into the bedroom, and without undressing flung himself face down on the unmade bed.
It was noontime when he awoke. A drowsy, grayish light filled the room, the curtain patterns sat like shadows on the wall.
János Vince stood in the balcony door, looked at the slate-colored sky, and listened to the noises coming up from Visegrádi Street. He didnt feel cold, though the thermometer he had tacked years ago on the balcony wall showed that it was one degree below freezing.
All of a sudden he heard the flutter of wings, and a moment later a pigeon landed on the balcony railing. Its feathers were light gray, almost white, and smooth and shiny, as if they werent even feathers but skincool, moist skin. The bird sat there perfectly calm, tilting its head gently to one side, its gold-ringed eyes fixed on János Vince.
Shoo, János Vince said to the pigeon, but the bird didnt move. Its feet were a deep red and a black streak ran across its neck.
Ill bring you something to eat, okay? János Vince said and rubbed his face.
The pigeon watched without moving.
Hungry? János Vince asked and stepped closer to the railing. He stretched out his arm, the left one, and pointing upward, into the distance, he made a fist.
Apparently without beating its wings, the bird jumped rather than flew, and suddenly landed on the mans closed fist, clinging to his skin with its little clawed feet.
Well, well, said János Vince. It looks like you really are hungry. Sit here on the floor and Ill bring you something.
When he returned with a piece of bread, the bird was nowhere to be seen.
It was quiet; then a very low, hardly audible cracking sound could be heard, as when the last section of a tumble-down wall gives way and collapses a few streets away, on an abandoned building site, or when a rotted-out tree trunk topples over, only to lie unnoticeably on the muddy ground, with its branches pressed together from the fall but not cracking and scattering all over. So first it was quiet, then there was that low cracking sound, after which, slowly, lightly, it began to snow, the first snowfall of the season.
János Vince threw the crumbs on the stone railing. He stood on the balcony a long time, until he suddenly realized how cold he was.
Days later, he bought kernels of wheat and corn, and every morning he threw the grains on the balconys tile floor. He checked often after that, but everything on the floor remained as it was, untouched.
Translated by Ivan Sanders