LUND—The last day came as it always does. That night there was an incredible storm over Transcarpathia. The power was knocked out almost immediately. Arpad and I stood on the porch while the rain blew in on us and the lightening came down so fast as the storm’s center approached that it was like some weird and disorienting strobe light. I drank some of the Isabella wine a local vintner had given us and we spoke of life and family. I told him of how I missed my parents and my friends, how strange it was to have moved across the ocean, far away from those people who made me. He talked, and had talked about the closeness of the Hungarian family. How he, as a minister, was, whatever happened, committed to staying in the area where he could trace his family roots back to the 15th century. We said goodnight and I finished the last bit of packing by flashlight and went to bed while the storm crashed on outside.
I woke early. Power was back on but I couldn’t get the Internet to load but Lena knew when my plane was supposed to arrive. A little before 0700 we got in the van and drove to the Hungarian border. We were there an hour or so while the guards went through everything in the cars and trucks in front of us. Smuggling cigarettes and liquor from Ukraine is a big business. A carton of smokes costs around three dollars, a liter of vodka or other spirits often less. The guard had me open my bags and made a cursory search and then we were on the road again. In the city of Nyiregyhaza I bought a ticket to Budapest and found, much to my delight, that it stopped at Ferihegy airport. I had thought I would have to take the train into the city center, far from the airport, and take an expensive cab back. The three or so hour train ride was pleasant enough, my car not even half-full, plenty of leg room and big windows that showed the rich farmland of the Great Hungarian Plain flashing by, mile after mile of flat fields, just harvested wheat fields, golden brown like a summer-tanned girl, vast fields of sunflowers just come into bloom, high green corn and enormous orchards. The stops were brief, just long enough for people to get on and off and by around 1300 I was at Ferihegy 1. The terminal could be reached by a covered walkway over the highway. I envied other travelers and their slim backpacks. I was humping over 100 lbs. of gear but it didn’t matter much, it wasn’t far and I was in no hurry. My plane didn’t leave until 1930. So I got inside, found a nice cart to wheel my bags around on, bought a bottle of blessedly uncarbonated water and an expensive National Geographic special edition on modern China and settled in on an outside bench to wait until check-in. I tried to call Lena but somehow my phone was dead though I thought I had charged it the night before.
I was ¾ of the way through the excellent magazine when a slim, dark-haired girl who had been sitting nearbye came back out with an annoyed expression on her face and a tall glass of beer in her hand. The beer looked good but I didn’t feel much like spending he money and so went back to China for a while. In a bit a tall British man walked out and began chatting her up. Since the Americans had left Transcarpathia a few weeks before I had heard almost no English except Arpad’s and had mostly been in a linguistic isolation chamber so it was pleasant to hear a language I understood. I was a little surprised when the dark-haired girl answered the man in excellent English with a slight but familiar accent. I had simply taken her for Hungarian but I overheard her say her plane to Stockholm had been delayed. I decided to go check mine and then the day really began to grind on. My plane was pushed back until 2130 and a bit later it would get delayed another hour. I came back and decided I didn’t want to spend the next hours in China or Russia (I had recently begun War and Peace) so I joined their conversation. “Where did you get that beer,” I asked, “My plane to Malmo just got put back.” They told me and I went and got one and came back out. “Cheers,” said everyone, “Might as well drown or sorrows.”
The girl actually had been there longer than I had and her flight left after a bit so the Englishman and I continued talking, trading off buying rounds and watching each other’s gear. He was waiting for his friends to arrive in several hours and then they would be taking a hired car to a big music festival in Serbia. The time passed, as it does with a good, casual conversation. I let him copy the small Hungarian lexicon I had acquired and taught him the few basic words I had learned. We spoke of travel and music and then got into politics and global warming and American hegemony for a moment but on mutual agreement decided that was a bit heavy and it would be better to speak of breasts and beer and bands and that was a lot more fun. His friends arrived and began to get organized. I took their picture and gave a couple cards out, wished them luck and gave a little advice to one couple in the group who was meeting the rest later after spending a couple days in Budapest. It was nice to be a good representative of my country, traveled, politically aware, linguistically competent, and they asked me to go on with them. “Hell, mate, make a documentary about us going to the festival!?” And for a brief moment I thought about it, “Nah, I have a woman I need to get back to. If I was still single I’d be putting my bags in with yours.”
But the truth is I did want to get back. And a lot of that was true. I was not single anymore and I missed my girl and I missed our home and that is where I wanted to be, not tramping through the mud at a big rock show in Serbia even if Manu Chao and Juliet and the Licks and a lot of other good bands were playing. So I said good bye to them and went through check in and waited in the airless waiting room pressed in by a bunch of Italians waiting to go to Milan and a bunch of Germans for Frankfurt and a load of Swedes for Malmo and by the time we finally boarded my temper and nerves were beginning to finally wear thin and just a little bit now I didn’t want to go back to Sweden, I wanted to go to where they spoke English, spoke it all the time. I didn’t want to be in a linguistic bubble any more, not even a little bit.
But I found my seat and settled in then was asked to move so a family could sit together. So I did that and we took off and I don’t know if I slept or not but soon we were landing, at a bit of an angle, bumping off the runway and back down and I gritted my teeth a little at the incompetent flying. We deplaned and I got my bag and walked out and Lena wasn’t there. I looked around, circled the crowd and she still wasn’t there. It was after 0100. I walked out and there was a bus, probably specially carried over, going to Malmo and Lund. I bought a ticket and settled in again for the long ride that stopped five places in Malmo before finally at the central station in Lund. It was raining. I shouldered my bags and humped them through the dark and silent early morning city. I was tired, very tired and each step made me increasingly furious. I stopped for a while and tried to cool down debating whether to lett it go or to say some pretty terrible things I imagined to Lena, that I didn’t care how damn late it was, that I would have waited. I finally got to the door and punched the code. A flight above I heard the door open and she was in the door, her eyes flooded with tears. The sight of that cooled my anger a little but I also thought, damnit, I don’t look that bad, just wet and dirty and tired and about crushed by the bags.
I got up and she took first one camera bag then the other. I shrugged out of my pack and she gently helped me out of my weighed-down jacket with its full, heavy pockets and then wrapped her arms around me.
“My father is dead.”
And suddenly I was crying too.