Monday came, I was back at work. Eleven hours solid with a couple of coffee breaks, then back to the hotel. But my concentration during the day was constantly interrupted by that ‘why?’ question. Still unanswered. So when I got to the bar at The Boscolo I was not surprised to see an empty table with an opened bottle of Zsolt’s wine. Nor was I surprised to see three glasses, not two. Any element of surprise was long gone. Or so I thought, hoped even.
I sat down and, on cue, Janos appeared, by himself. We said ‘hello’ then a handshake. Then a big embrace from Janos. “Hello my friend. How are you today?” “Tired. Long day at work”, I replied, followed by a minimal acknowledgement from Janos. Then I said, “And still confused”. Janos’s face changed and his eyes lit up.
“Really? I see your face is true. That’s great news, great. Really”. It was then my turn to acknowledge with a small nod. Janos continued, “Even better you don’t ask me why you are still confused. It tells me your mind is churning with unanswered questions”.
Janos split the bottle between the three large glasses, his was half emptied in just a small moment. There was no point in me asking about the third glass, that question would answer itself.
“So Zsolt told you how the Soviet Occupation took everything his wealthy family had once owned?” “Yep”, I replied. “And how the Hungarian government reimbursed him after the Soviets left?” asked Janos “Yep” I replied again, “and that reimbursement was a small council house. From a large castle estate producing beautiful wines to a run-down shed. I understand all that but it’s only a part of what still appears to me as a clouded picture”. “And so it should be my friend, so it should be”, Janos continued, “but let me ask you this……………..is that wine as nice now as it was the other day?”
“Delicious” I said. “Good, good. So would it surprise you if I said it was still produced by Zsolt?” he asked…..”Nope, he hinted as much” I said.
“Really? That’s good also. Let me ask you, ‘why?’”
“Because Janos, I now understand the citizens of Budapest are, amongst many things, resilient. As well as stubborn”. Janos laughed, “Indeed, indeed”. Janos liked to repeat his words, his way of keeping his conversations engaging.
I continued, “But the ‘why?’ question …….I still have no clear answer”. “Ok, let me help you then. This is Orsolya”. Janos nodded over my shoulder. Orsolya appeared. Late mid-thirties I reckoned. Stunningly beautiful and stunningly dressed. And married. I looked round to acknowledge Janos, he was gone. I then turned to Orsolya who immediately grabbed my hand before she gave me a very sweet and gentle kiss on my cheek. Orsolya sat down with an elegance that matched her looks.
“Janos told me about you and about our friend Zsolt, yes?” I acknowledged with a nod. “And you went to the House of Terror”? Another nod. “Don’t say much do you?” she said half-jokingly. “I have my moments”, I replied. “Good, good, then let me continue. The House of Terror is there to let everyone know and not to allow people to forget. We will never forget. Nor shall you”. I instinctively felt an urge to ask the ‘why?’ question, but I also knew it wasn’t time. Yet.
Orsolya continued, “We have all been touched by these tragedies even though they were such a long time ago. Zsolt told you the Soviets took everything – everything except his ability to survive. That’s the same for me. For all of us actually, except those who didn’t. Those are the ones we must not forget. Ever. Nor must you. Because I too lost most of my family. My extended family. And their friends. And their families too. But my mother survived only because she was so young. She was secretly spirited out of Budapest to survive. To survive and keep our family alive. She was taken out of Budapest before the Germans invaded in 1944. They invaded then rounded up the ‘troublemakers’ and sent them to prison. To Auschwitz. To die. We are Jewish”.
Whilst I was stunned by Orsolya’s emotion, I was not surprised by what she had just said so openly. My visit to the House of Terror had left my mind open and ready for tragic statements like that. Even then Orsolya managed to transfer a deep sense of shock.
She finished her wine, nodded for another bottle then said, “Let me explain”.
Orsolya had been briefly candid about her past and her present. I had also observed an American accent on top of her native Hungarian tongue. But I needed to better understand not only how she survived but what drives her today. I said, “Orsolya, that does help describe the pain but, if I can please ask, what was that pain like?”
She took a deep breath and a long pause. You could see and feel her natural beauty being temporarily replaced by natural pain. I said, “Don’t. If it’s too painful don’t. Please.”
“I have to. Once I’m finished you’ll understand. I have to”. It was my turn now to take a deep breath before I said, “ok”.