There is a village. A village almost like all the other villages dotted around Hungary. Almost. The church. The shop. The bar. The cemetery. The old ladies sitting on the benches outside their homes, watching the world go by, which it must be said it did quite infrequently.
Almost like all the others. The village had at this precise moment two differences to define the “almost”. One ancient. One transient.
The ancient? The village had its very own castle. Perhaps there were more impressive structures defined as castles, but this castle had the distinct benefit of being intact. Quite an impressive feat for a 500 year old tower in a country that was prone to invasion and conquest.
The transient? A person. Someone many thousands of miles away from home. A different world. A different culture.
In fact he was even more transient because at that precise moment he was travelling at 76.69 km/h. Though he probably had other things on his mind, If he had wanted to follow the simple physics of the moment, he had 2.26 seconds to admire the 25m high tower and its surroundings. Marvel that such a tower had survived invasions by Turks, Austrians, Romanians, Germans, Russians. A tower from the top of which, he had departed those few seconds earlier. No wings, no parachute. 2.26 seconds to oblivion.
The waves of the sea of history had led this person to sink. To fall. Currents pushing him to be in a country distant from the place of his birth. And he was falling without life jacket, or indeed it must be said to his obvious detriment, without said parachute.
The storms of the second world war, of the Hungarian uprising, had fallen many years behind. The sea current change that would become the fall of the Berlin wall was still ten years hence. This minor piece of man-shaped flotsam had been floating on what he probably felt was some provincial backwater, as the competing winds of the Cold War blew him gently around Europe.
But those 2.26 seconds were the calm before the hurricane.
She didn’t like the telephone. It didn’t matter that it was one of the few in the village. A privilege. A sign of status. As far as the village was concerned, anything noteworthy she picked up from the frequent conversational stops she made on her bicycle. Stops between home and post office, post office and shop, shop and church, church and home. The village telegraph didn’t need wires or handsets.
Who had died? She knew this before they were cold. Who was ill? Street physicians were on every corner. The prescribed medicines discussed with dispassionate expertise. Who was divorcing? Who was having an affair? Often the names of school friends interspersed with the language of local intrigue and scandal. Tragedies? Local, national, international? It didn’t matter. All equally dissected. A plane crash in Russia discussed with as much relish as a car crash near the village.
It was a given fact that the national sport was football. The famous Magical Magyars as much a part of the folklore of the country as the chieftains who settled the Carpathian basin a thousand years before. Football? She often thought the national sport was actually melancholia. Perhaps that was just the effect of her job.
It was her village though. Her escape from the world that was on the other end of that telephone. But even being her world, even though she had grown with these people, and could count many as her friends, she knew she was treated differently.
The greeting “Good day Réka” could be a prelude to not just gossip, but to a request for advice or favours. She knew she was treated differently. Being on first name terms with “Dear Réka” was never seen as a disadvantage. She didn’t mind. She had learnt to recognise sincerity. And had tried to earn respect and not expect it. The old man had seen to that.
It was her village, but the outside world was ringing. The telephone ringing for Detective Réka Farkas.