by Carl Polgar
They were the smallest set of teeth I had ever seen – two rows of baroque pearls barely making it out of her gums. They were grey, too. But she was pretty, making it simpler for me to turn my focus away from her discolored imperfections.
It was my last night in town – my last night to get something out of Budapest. Jet lag had ravaged me over the previous three days, leaving me wide awake in the middle of the night, then completely out of energy by early afternoon. In the morning, I’d be on the bus to the airport. Ten hours later, I’d be half a world away.
One last chance. I was ready to keep going until all my forints were spent, or until the latest possible moment before I’d have to gather my things and head over to the bus station, whichever came first. I wasn’t going home without a story.
Which is why I pretended to be the photographer she so emphatically thought I was.
“You were at the show earlier,” she said in shaky English through those little grey pearls. “You were up front, taking pictures of band.”
“Yes, yes I was,” I replied, lying through my perfectly normal teeth. If the venue where the show took place was as dark as the bar we were currently at, then I could probably get away with this, even though there was no camera on my person – just a pack of French cigarettes and a giant beer that, cumulatively, only cost me about two dollars US.
While the show she had attended was underway, I was struggling to pull myself out of bed. Even without the jet lag, the fatigue caused by an entire morning and early afternoon walking around both sides of the city would have led me to take a nap around the same time as I was waking up. I had a camera with me then – took almost three whole rolls of films, with one of those coming from an overpriced tourist kiosk in Buda Castle after I had exhausted the rolls I brought into the country with me – but there were no rock bands to be found in any of those frames.
As the band played – as she admired both the band and the handsome bald fellow taking photographs at the front of the stage – I was washing the lethargy off me in the bathroom of the small room at the hostel above the bar. The photographer slipped past her view – disappeared, but not before leaving an impression on her. And she ended up at this bar, moments before I made my way down the stairs that led from the hostel to the bar’s entrance.
I smiled. And she smiled. And I would have preferred if she stopped smiling.
I told her it was my last night. I told her I photographed the Castle, the Parliament Building, the Danube, the Opera House, the City Park, and the facade of a jewelry store whose name was the same as my last name, which I just-so-happened to inherit from my Hungarian grandfather. After all the truth was out of the way, I told her that I wanted to finish up my final roll of film by taking pictures of some local nightlife. I randomly picked that show, thought the band was worth photographing, and snapped away.
She seemed impressed and very interested in me. I was interested in her. She looked a little like the girlfriend of a friend of mine – same brunette bob, same slightly-buggy eyes, a similarly-appealing preference towards low-cut tops. A sexual conquest – in a country so used to being conquered in its turbulent history – would definitely be a good way to end this trip. I could get over the teeth thing pretty easily.
“Would you like to come sit with me and my friends?”
“Of course I would,” I said excitedly. She looked over to a crowded table where another attractive girl and four ragged-looking guys sat. The guy-to-girl ratio was not in my favor – and what if one of those guys was her boyfriend? – but I was cocksure enough after our initial conversation that her attention and possible affection would stay focused on me. Plus, I was a foreigner – someone new and exciting – that was surely an extra advantage.
I grabbed my drink and pack of cigarettes. As we started for the table, she flashed another smile and said, “the boys I’m sure would love to meet you. They told me they were surprised to see someone take pictures of them while they played. It made them happy – they said it made them play better.”
published 30 April 2014