On the first morning in Budapest, I awoke on the top bunk in an empty hostel room. The ceiling was inches from my face. To my left, an open window where the hard rain pecked the glass like rice. At a long wooden communal table I was drinking tea. It was probably early, though the ever-present clouds made it feel timeless.
Across from me was a man. The man was named Bill. An American, an old hippy, long faded blonde hair gathered into a ponytail. Wore a shirt from a California restaurant with a slice of pizza and the words, “Pizza My Heart”. He was thin and tall, spoke slow but energetically. We talked about a few things before we got down to what he called “the great tragedy of his life.”
As a boy, in the summer, his family would go to a house by the lake. Somewhere West Coast. Sometime in the 60’s. From the long wooden dock he watched his brother drown, a twisted body in the open water. No boats. Nobody else around. He called for help and help didn’t come.
I felt this loss personally, although I couldn’t tell you why. I had never met this boy. And if he had lived, he would be an old man now and I still would have never met the boy.
Back then I was still too young to have a tragedy like that to share with Bill. But I did have something to offer. I told him the story of myself in all its brevity. Then, I got up to get ready for the day. Even in the rain, I thought I’d cross the bridge to the old city, climb the castle in the damp and mist and moss to the aerial view of the parliament building.
When I was on my out Bill was still at the table, unmoved since I left him, as far as I could tell. He said that if I were a real writer, I would write my story down. Some days I think I might actually do it.