The homeless and the blind- a memoir.
Just outside the “Grand Hungarian” hotel in Budapest, there was a middle-aged, short, fat, curly haired man with a kind face who used to sell groceries during the day. Don’t think that he had a stall; no, he sat on the pavement, usually with a bottle of liquor in hand and he exhibited his groceries on a piece of cardboard on the floor. I noticed him every day though my memory of him is gradually fading away; I didn’t dare to take a picture of him, I preferred that he remained a figure of my memory only. I was also too shy to actually take a picture of him; how would he react? How could I explain that he was not some bizzare man to my eyes but someone I wanted to remember? So I said, let him survive in my memory.
It was my first time in Budapest, I was travelling senza parental control for the first time and I had so much to absorb. The decaying suburbs and the magnificent architecture of the centre,the small streets, the Danube that was not blue at all, the people who were so friendly, the rich history and culture all around me and the experience of absolute freedom. The statues that were scattered all around the city and the buildings that were still hurt by the previous wars; the damages from the bullets were still visible; the enormous shopping malls and the paprika all over the food. Yet every morning, as I stepped out of the hotel having consumed the rich continental breakfast, I looked for the man who sold his groceries on the street. He slept somewhere there too; I saw him curled up in a corner every night. Hundreds of people passed by him every morning without sparing him a glance; he had somehow become one with the scenery; a view they had grown accustomed to. Some mornings he was awake and jolly, looking around with a happy smile on his face, talking to himself I presume as I never saw anyone stopping by his cardboard. Some mornings he was sleeping, not curled up in his corner but sitting by the wall. No one was buying the groceries. Flows of people kept passing by.
One day I saw him crossing the street; he was holding a blind woman by the arm. He didn’t actually want to cross the street; he had nowhere to go to anyway. His cardboard and his groceries where just outside the hotel; his home was that very street. I watched in awe, amazed ; that little man, had offered to help a blind young woman while he himself had been taking nothing from those around him…I only saw them for a moment before they disappeared into the crowd but that image is deeply rooted inside me ; I bring it to the surface and relive it every time I find myself questioning humanity. She was blind; she couldn’t see his rugged clothes or his dirty hands, maybe she could smell him? She couldn’t have known that this man faced no kindness yet he had enough in himself, enough in order to give back. As I watched them for that brief moment I bid him farewell and wished him love.
It’s been ten years now and I have visited Budapest a few more times since then. The streets are filled with gipsys and women with babies in their laps, asking for money. Its a poor country Hungary. I never went back to the hotel; I don’t expect to see the little man there again. Even if I did, how could I ever explain to him that all these years I have often thought of him? That I still remember him helping someone out, that he has been my little hero. “Köszönöm” would never be enough.