the first time i cried was in the Pushkin
in pest,
i had gone there to watch some silly film,
a ridiculous comedy
since others were sold out
and i didn’t have the money,
and the six other people there in the movie
were laughing
while tears ran down my face
in long streaks
right down my neck
and into my cleavage.
i was already in tears when buying my ticket
but the woman at the cash desk did not look
me in the eye
which was the first time i was glad of this
sinceiI was still hoping to catch
somebody’s eye
in pest.
i would have liked someone, anyone,
to stop me in the street and ask me
what was the matter
or at least to look at me.
it had taken me years
to understand
that here
i wasn’t even a guest
but a social problem,
the product of some
international bust-up.
and it helps if a problem
has neither eyes nor tears.
you just got to deal with it (!/?)

when the tram took
a bend or gently
applied the brakes
men did not comfort the women,
did not touch their shoulders,
there was no accidental
contact. men didn’t
look at women in pest,
or when they did catch one’s eyes
they looked ashamed of it,
as if women didn’t know
as if they shouldn’t be looking
at women
and only workmen felt obliged
to whistle at them
in pest
the men were strange creatures
the women as strange.

and i, a girl from the serbian province
thought for a while
that i was an object
of interest rather than fear
but hungarian boys hung back
when i told where i was from
and at university they said
i was serbian
which was a joke at first
and i laughed at their ignorance
and felt faintly superior.

one time i talked to a local boy
who like every boy in pest
pretended to be intelligent
and tried to hide his genuine charm
and fury behind his frown of anxiety
with clever talk.
he asked me what it was like
in the war
and i told him about things
that were perfectly normal to me,
about empty shelves,
christmas without christmas trees
peek-a-boo power cuts
windows shaken by detonations
and he gave me a long look
as if he wanted to understand my feelings
and asked:
did you kill any bosnians?

at the university they told me
i must have faked the information
on my documents
because despite the fact
that my name is terek
without diacritics
my passport
has me down
as terék.
i laughed at this
and told them that in serbian
they don’t use accents
but in spite of that
i myself pronounce
it with an accent.
stop laughing, they said
they should really call the police
and i should be happy
that they were so lenient
with me.
an american student
next to me asked for his student card
and strangely enough he did not pronounce his name
phonetically as it was written
and just as strangely
they let him go.

after that i found myself crying
in all parts of pest:,in the vár,
at the ice-rink, at hűvösvölgy, on the metro,
on the chair-lift, in moszkva square,
on the chain-bridge, in zugló, in kőbánya,
at the astoria in the rain,
in city park in bright sunshine,
and nobody looked at me,
they all looked past me,
there is no looking in this city,
no way of looking beyond it, there
should be a way out but you see
no escape route.

then after a while the tears stopped running
right down my face, their tracks grew shorter
i no longer searched for an eye
to engage with and or laughed at being
mocked as ‘a serbian’
i could avoid it:
i don’t say where i am from
because i don’t know where i am going
or where i belong.
they like to guess, could it be
that i’m not hungarian
after all?

i have lost the e
with the diacritic,
I am beginning to lose my accent
left with only a few interposed serbian words
and some swearing
to indicate that I am not
‘fully Hungarian’.
no longer can they tell by looking at me
that I’m just a splinter of what was once yugo,
and no one would guess that I can’t go
anywhere without a visa
or that when I cross the border
they closely examine each piece
of my folded underwear,
they can’t tell by looking at me
that I can barely afford to live in pest
and that when I return
no job will await me.
but even when I am nailed up and crucified
something about my body will scream:
she’s a foreigner

i can no longer slip into
the scenery in subotica,
even the mud rejects
my footprints,
i no longer recognize every
square metre of the main square,
or know how many dinars it costs
for a loaf of bread,
or a litre of milk.
no longer can I take pleasure
in the screams of the serbians
and am frightened when I see
men fighting in the street.

the little wood, the gentle
movement of air, are no longer mine,
it bothers me when I can’t buy salted pretzels
just where I like at half-past
four in the morning,
that I have to wait longer than
ten minutes for a bus to town,
that the buildings
are not so high
people are just as bad at home
but now on account of a different accent.

i no longer have my own official languge
and my culture is all mixed up,
it no longer mattesr what language
I use to buy bread in
or that my lover tells me
in hungarian
that he wants me.
it’s all the same to me now
whether christmas is or is not in december
or on what particular day new year falls.
it’s all the same to me now
what nationality they call me
though it would be nice to be somewhere
where I can really be a foreigner

translated by George Szirtes

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