Stories are never linear. Read Tori's take here.
One half of our protagonist, Sándor, was conditioned, thanks to colonialism, to have a sense of subservience, which was easy to give in to in a predominantly white city that has its fair share of xenophobes. Sándor, of course, is not his real name, it’s the name of the Hungarian persona he would have liked to cloak himself in, which he spectacularly failed to accomplish. Enikő, also not her real name, but the persona Sándor decided Enikő must be donning, although she herself never made such claims and the two of them never actually talked about it, is a sweet Montana girl who likes wearing a yellow pea coat and speaks her mind, unprodded, with a psychopath's capacity to introspect, often using surgical precision.
As with any such intervention of consequence, this story begins much earlier, almost six months earlier, in Mexico City.
Sándor always made it a point to visit the same fancy restaurant in the Polanco neighborhood of the city during his visits. He detested the neighborhood for its pretense but really liked it for architectural variety in housing. Sándor wasn’t a high-flying frequent visitor to the restaurant, but you could tell he returned often enough to feel comfortable and confident in the space, some of the staff recognized him but they were all well-trained to maintain a demure, restrained familiarity. This day, Sándor was seated at the taco bar for a taco omakase, a novel concept only because it was consciously called so.
Seated alone on a corner table in the sunlit terrace area, facing the restaurant, was Enikő, looking beautiful in a flowy dress, fidgeting with her mirrorless camera. These two already had something in common: if it weren’t for Sándor’s skin color and Enikő’s American accent, it would still be possible to infer their distinct lack of Mexicanness from their early reservation time of 1 pm. The terrace looked beautiful, and Sándor, ever so polite, asked Enikő if she would mind if he took a photo of the terrace, he wasn’t trying to photograph her. Enikő didn’t mind, she said she was a professional photographer and she shot weddings.
Sándor was taken with her soft voice and mannerisms, but he returned to his taco bar for the spectacle to begin. Their gaze may have wandered towards each other, but it hadn’t triggered anything more than inhibited intrigue. As the procession of tacos (for Sándor) and tasting portions (for Enikő) ramped up, so did their consumption of mezcal. Soon enough Sándor had ridden himself of any inhibitions and asked Enikő if he could join her table. Enikő claims she was the one who asked if Sándor would like to join her, but no matter, now here they were, Enikő waiting for her main course and Sándor on his second wagyu beef taco, a trespass had taken place and now they had to make something of their accomplishment. The conversations began, surprisingly swift, engaging, rambling and without a pause. They talked about India, New York, Montana, cultural differences, travel, running, boyfriends, girlfriends, relationships, vulnerabilities, feelings and dreams.
After they had their desserts Sándor felt a mild apprehension: So... is this it? Are we going our separate ways? During their conversation it had occurred that they lived not too far from each other, Sándor in La Roma and Enikő in La Condesa. Enikő asked if Sándor would like to walk with her homeward, and so they did, never forgetting to admire the jacarandas in bloom. They continued to talk all the while but at this time it was hard to tell what about, what were more salient features of their interaction were their mutual comfort with each other and the mild evening weather.
Enikő stopped near the entrance of her apartment and said she’d be back after changing into jeans. Sándor felt a mild disappointment because he had liked her in her dress so much, but he didn’t say anything and patiently waited outside. Enikő was out soon enough, and they decided to walk to La Roma with no agenda in mind. Once in Roma they had the lousy idea of getting cocktails at a quiet restaurant. It was clear neither of them needed another drink, it was also clear both of them were tired, but it was also clear they wanted to spend more time together.
After that night, they never met again in Mexico City. They stayed in touch through Facebook and email on-and-off for the next several months, often engaging in deep and protracted conversations. Sometime in the fall, Sándor, out of the blue, asked Enikő if she had any interest in spending some time together in Budapest. It’s hard to tell what Enikő was thinking, but if one were to guess it’s not that different from what Sándor was thinking: he would have loved to spend some time with someone he connected with so well, there may have been a mild romantic interest but it didn’t overwhelm. Swiftly, flight tickets were booked, Airbnb lists were shared, anticipatory notes were exchanged, and eventually a lovely apartment in the Pest was booked.
Enikő was already in Europe, in Vienna, some days earlier, and she settled in to the apartment in Budapest a couple of days before Sándor arrived. When Sándor met Enikő not far from the apartment, there may have been expectations of instant romance, but those hopes were rather quickly shattered after their modest embrace and small-talk about the weather. It must be said, though, that it was clear their conversations were rather encumbered, they both knew it, and even for two people who couldn’t help be more open, they were perfectly coordinated bad faith actors.
They settled into a rhythm of good roommates: buying fruits and vegetables, eggs, bread and wine, always making sure the other was accommodated. In the mornings Enikő would go for a run while Sándor worked out at home, sometimes they would run together, Sándor struggling to keep pace with Enikő but Enikő always looking out for Sándor, then they would go out for coffee, read a bit maybe, work on their computers (they were not on vacation), lunch somewhere together, Sándor would sometimes nap in the afternoon, they would again get coffee in the afternoon, and then figure out what they were doing for dinner, either Enikő would cook something because she is so good at it, or they’d go out, sometimes eating traditional Hungarian food, often Jewish food, and on occasion fancy meals. They always drank wine. They made great travel partners because their idea of visiting a new city was simply to pretend to live in it.
Enikő and Sándor both really loved good bread, so like good curators they sought out all the bakeries in Budapest worth their sourdough, but often found themselves returning to Artizán Bakery on Hold u. One afternoon they ate a delicious homemade lunch of citrus salad, with good sourdough, butter and cheese, out on their balcony, fruity Hungarian white wines in hand. Enikő and Sándor were becoming good at playing their roles and simultaneously getting worse at being themselves, and their cloying politeness was awaiting transcendence.
Sándor was recovering from a breakup and was furthermore dazed from his new found love interests, as Enikő liked to tease. If Enikő’s disposition was enthusiastic and animated, Sándor's was often staid. Their conversations developed a strange dynamic: Enikő would talk about her feelings honestly and openly, laying bare her vulnerabilities, and Sándor would inevitably attempt to academize everything Enikő said – it was an intellectual exercise for him, a game of logic and reason – completely forgetting there was a feeling human behind those words. Sándor knew the interactions weren’t great, but he couldn’t be sure what, if anything, needed to change.
One day after dinner, Enikő and Sándor entered their apartment, the air about them sombre, and they kind of lingered in the foyer languidly. Enikő looked sad, she looked up at Sándor, severely, and said how talking to him seemed to be making her feel bad about herself. Sándor was momentarily stunned, not because he didn’t understand what she said, but because what Enikő said at this moment bore the weight of pent-up sadness and the patina of hurt. Sándor look at Enikő with admiration and embarrassment, and started to tear up, and said to her that he had been feeling emotionally bereft, that he was unfeeling. Ironically, this was the most Sándor had felt recently, and there was something reassuring about it for him. Further elaboration ensued, generously sprinkled with a lot of silence, and eventually an embrace.
An intervention doesn’t change anything overnight, but it’s a marker that causes a shift, a retreat from the past and a slow march onward. The intervention, then, was both an ice-breaker and a tipping point, allowing both Enikő and Sándor to dig deeper into each other, be gentler with each other, kinder to each other. They would meet again.