Silence and Neon Lights

If I had any serious literary talent I’d probably be able to write a short novel about what it feels like to return to my home town, luckily for you though, I do not, so this little piece is the closest I’ll get to articulating what it’s like to be back on home turf after having moved my main headquarters about two hundred miles further west.  However, come to think of it, I’ve never been away for a ridiculously long period without making the odd visit about once a month, so my experiences of home are like the tide, rising and ebbing at regular intervals without any drastic break.  

In the beginning, when during my college years I basically shared my two cities (nothing beats the comfort of procrastinating English morphology over mum’s cooking), I was almost immune to the differences- or perhaps I was young enough not to bother and just take everything at face value and trudge on with that foolhardiness that slowly erodes as you grow older.

In the long run, though, Arad became sort of a recreational weekend and holiday town and the differences I experience were filtered down around three basic coordinates: distance, sound and crowds. There is no denying the obvious: compared to Budapest, Arad is small, and getting to the centre of town from my neighbourhood can be done by a leisurely half an hour walk, or, alternatively a fast paced one gets you there in a maximum of 20 minutes- by Budapest standards, the bat of an eye.

Yet whenever I am home I am still convinced that the centre of town is in a galaxy far, far away and any outing is preceded by a Bilbo Baggins going on an adventure style preparation and steeling of the soul. And that’s because midway there’s THE BRIDGE, the frontier between my sedate, village-like home base, and the bustling heart of the town- though more about that a little bit later. In Arad, then, I still experience distances as emotions and not facts.

Crowds- that bustling heart I was talking about- are however, quite the opposite. When I was a teenager, the long journey over the bridge was crowned by meeting lots of people. And not just meeting them- but passers-by seemed to be festering early on Saturday nights, I have clear (though perhaps fake, then) memories of silhouettes dancing all around me, coming and going on their mysterious errands. Yet these days, the boulevard feels completely empty, almost like waking up in a weird parallel reality where you desperately wonder where everyone is gone. Crowds are not emotional, they are real, or more precisely the lack of them, is. 

My friends, of course, have mostly fled town, just like I did, and come home only every now and then, but still, there should be others left, shouldn’t it? I guess the truth is halfway- there were never as many people as I thought, nor is the centre really empty now by small provincial town standards. One way or the other, I still wander on what would be Arad’s main drag, I guess, looking for people who are not there and then I realize that it’s also eerily quiet.

Sure, there are occasional pedestrians, cars coming and going, the odd louder group, a honk, the screech of a tire, songs overheard under windows,  birds chirping atop the trees still left on the boulevard. But Arad doesn’t have that constant, almost mechanical rumble that in Budapest even the remoter parts of town do. You can stop on a street corner in the very middle of town an experience long seconds of a primeval raw silence that is completely alien to big cities. This silence, I call it home, and I will always long for it amid the industrial rumble of wherever I may roam.

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