A Public Misadventure with Towel, Red Shoes, and Popcorn

A short, anti-sentimentalist saga

Tünde was an anti-sentimentalist. Her name; ‘Fairy,’ in Hungarian, added to her unsentimental appeal. She was the kind of person who would interrupt a conversation midflow and walk off if an acquaintance drove by in a Mercedes and mirror sunglasses, and hang onto the car with purring fingernails, ever hopeful for a marriage proposal. But she had a nice giggle and white rabbit fur coat that photographed well against the snow, and big tits.

I was having some difficulty with the fundamentals of Hungarian society, where foreigners daring to attempt Hungarian in shops were treated as if they were breaching a purity law. It was winter, and it had been pouring with cold rain for days. I had gone out for an hour or so of tortuous shopping, ignoring a large sign on the doorway to the appartment circled in red tipped felt pen. Laden like a tortoise I arrived back to the flat, soaked. I dumped the bags in the kitchen, threw off wet clothes, wrapped a towel around my midriff and went into the bathroom to run the bath.

“No water!” I’d said to myself, trying the bath.

“No water in the kitchen,” I said again to myself in the kitchen, as I tried the taps.

The doorbell rang. I went to open the door in my towel. At the door stood Tünde, whom I had very recently written to explaining we could not continue our clearly illicit affair, as I had just met the man who had informed me she was betrothed to him by the law of the land. She now stood on the landing with a worryingly half empty wine bottle, her eyes wide.

“You, you stupid sentimentalist!” she’d said delivering a stinging slap across left cheek then turning smartly and marching off down the stairs and into deep mud in red high heels.

I didn’t know I was. The sentimentalist part at least. But by the time I had jumped into my boots and ran down the three flights of stairs, and darted out into the muddy patch of land separating my block of flats from an identical, opposing block, she was marching off across the frozen mud.

I glanced up at my block of flats. Neighbours on balconies stared back through self-created cigarette smoke screens, but the neighbours below my flat were shouting in that damn language I didn’t understand, shouting and gesticulating at me rudely. I stood in my towel and unlaced boots in the pouring rain, trying to interpret a variety of signals, most of them obscene-looking and accompanied by a sprinkling of words I started to understand.

“The bath! Right! Water’s back on, must be leaking!”

I ran back upstairs to the flat. The door was locked. On the landing I patted my towel uselessly, looking for keys. A couple below came out to their landing, shouting loudly, both wearing lime green tracksuits, her dark purple toenails looking like vampire bat’s feet, and his yellow ones looking like something I turned quickly from. The neighbour next door came out, went ‘oh!’ when she saw me in only towel, and slammed the door again. Soapy water started to bubble from underneath my door. The shouting continued from downstairs. I smiled at them.

Then there was a ‘bang!’ The neighbours hesitated. I froze — Popcorn.

The smell of burning had pervaded the landing, and wisps of smoke crept through the cracks in the door. I looked at the ghoulish neighbours. They’d glowered at me and growled, werewolves now. My towel dropped suddenly and entirely accidently, probably loosened from the patting for keys. There were screams downstairs from the women, as I scrambled to pick it up.

My Chinese neighbour from the bottom floor came running up with large chisel and hammer. The neighbour opposite opened the door again, an inch. Downstairs they hollered. The door cracked open, and then we were in. Taps off, burning pot smothered.

I turned to my splintered front door, where a motley crowd of neighbours had gathered, looking in, heads poking around the door frame. Water poured out from my appartment floor onto my landing. The neighbours started at once, their voices competing for a crescendo, as if guided by some mysterious conductor. I pushed the door closed.

“Thanks mate,” I said to my Chinese neighbour and market trader.

My front door pushed open again, and Lime Tracksuit with Long Purple Toenails screeched at me like a bat. She gestured to me and I followed her downstairs, looking through the open door at what was presumably her mother, sitting under opened umbrella and shivering, as drops of water plopped down from the ceiling. Lime Tracksuit spoke her one word of English: “Money,” she said.

“Okay,” I sighed.

My Chinese neighbour and I saw the new year in.

“China differen-” he said.

“Oh yeah?” I said.

“Yeah,” he replied, as the clock struck twelve and we clinked bottles.

year of the monkey
my chinese neighbour believes in horoscopes
for the first time