It seemed we had just returned from Budapest, and life resumed its routines. As a family we had travelled by train to Budapest to stay with Grandmother for my 10th birthday celebration. There, Father took me to the Nepmuveszeti Muzeum, where he introduced me to the paintings of Mihaly Munkacsy and couldn’t manage to drag me away from in front of a large composition. This became a remembered story about me, much joked about for a long time in family. Our return home was by evening train. Sparks from the burning coal firing the train engine flew by our compartment window and provided a shower of light to accompany the symphonic labourings of the wheels, the mesmerizing metronome regularity of moving train sounds. It was a magical, memorable trip!
Ildiko and I returned to school; Father resumed his rounds of clinic, hospitals, home surgery and house calls; Mother once again took up her unending chores of lining up for food-stuffs and the ever present domestic labours that so consumed her time. In the evenings we gathered around the radio to listen to domestic news and often to Radio Free Europe.
It was one evening, ten days after my birthday, that we first heard news of the violence that had broken out in the capital. Life thereafter was irregular, changed suddenly, never to be the same for any of us.
We no longer attended school. Our street, Stalin Utca, was daily filled with vast numbers of people aimlessly moving about in shock, eeriely quiet for such large gatherings. Mother would not let us leave the apartment; we stood at windows, watching the forming and reforming of groups of people outside, the strange, unexpected massing of townsfolk. Father went out every day and returned in the evenings full of news. He and Mother conversed in undertones while Ildiko and I were banished to our room. Late at night, there was much activity in our living room. People arrived, stayed for a bit and left, to be replaced by more people coming, talking quietly, taking their leave. Ildiko and I sat in the dark by our barely opened bedroom door; we tried to make out the reason for this unusual traffic in our home.
Several days passed, and one morning the distant popping sounds of gunfire broke out. Stalin Utca emptied of crowds, people retreated to the safety of their buildings. Ildiko and I had heard many stories about the war and asked Mother what was going on. She was very frightened, admitted it was a revolution and explained we would have to wait safe, inside and away from the windows until father returned home.
Ildiko did mostly as she was requested to do, and busied herself with practising on her piano. I could not help myself and curiosity overtook me. While Mother went out into the kitchen I sneaked onto the front balcony and lay down on my stomach to peer through the bottom gap, to see what was happening. Across the street was the Justice Building, behind which attached by a fenced in square lay the County jailhouse, a dim grey faceless monolith. The gunfire seemed to be originating there, intermittent bursts followed by utter silence. The whole scene was an ashen grey – leaden, lowering sky, grey buildings, concrete, the charcoal tracery of trees. I felt like I had melted into the balcony concrete, and was secure and unnoticed from my vantage point.
What seemed like a long time later, a huddle of men bearing a large bundle among them emerged from behind the jailhouse and scurried, awkward, toward Stalin Utca. As they neared the street, closer to where I lay, it became apparent to me that the bundle was a grey-faced young man, his clothes disturbed on his abdomen, blood dripping from under his body. This grouping, in desperate motion, had the cinematic appearance of a strange Pieta. Riveted, I watched until they became as small as ants in the distance.
I ran inside, found Mother and told her what I had witnessed. She was adamant that I had only imagined this, that it was impossible that such a thing had occurred. “You are always imagining things,” she admonished me, “go find a book and busy yourself.”
Ildiko was playing something by Bach on the piano. I was confused, but clung to the idea that Mother was wrong, that I had witnessed just such an unexpected thing. This revolution became very real to me, the news of it underscored by the gunfire and even more by the huddle of desperate men carrying a friend toward help.
I went off in search of a book to read. A thick book on the book-shelf, ” War and Peace”, came to my attention. This was an appropriate title to read from, and pulling it from the shelf, I curled up on the divan and began to read.
In the background the silvery measured regularity of Bach continued on, reassuring.