Let me break it down for you:
There was a bird on the glass. It reminded me of an ancient Hungarian fairy tale, “The Glass Man and the Golden Bird,” that describes a king who must travel to the Kingdom of Magic to find The One. Along the way he encounters great foes, like a witch who has turned herself into a monstrous black spider with two swords for two front legs. A little golden bird accompanies him on his journey; it serves as companion and songbird in times of peace and protector during times of trial and despair. Eventually the king finds The One when the golden bird sings a song for a lily, transforming the lily into a beautiful maiden. Sometimes even the best travelers need looking out for.*
Behind the train was a fire. The fire meant burning wood and burning wood means the most glorious smell in the cosmos. An old man with boots, a wrinkled sunburnt face, and a chocolate hat would coax the embers and continue the mile-high pile up of parched twigs, forest green and gray.
The smoke floated in my direction and I considered floating towards it, like a cartoon hero and his antigravity and his window pie. I was hungry and thirsty, but I didn’t really care. I considered the inhalation of the best smell in the cosmos sustenance enough.
All was quiet in eastern Hungary, all but Hungarian crickets in grass. Tall yellow dry grass, the one that sways together like a collective and sings in the wind. Occasionally a dog would bark in the distance, the rural country kind of bark of a dog from nowhere.
So that’s it on air. It was heavy and thick like warm peanut butter, by the way, as July summers tend to be. It was so hot, in fact, it would do me well to fit in a Bill Bryson quote. It was a day so hot that “even the flies just laid on their backs and gently gasped.” I would think about these flies later in December when I was in Petersburg and it was -20 at least and knife-winds would try to slice me up like blood red beets in a can.
There was an ant on my finger. Clearly it was lost. And I thought of my favorite Solzhenitsyn quote from The Gulag Archipelago:
“The Universe has as many different centers as there are living beings in it.” I wondered if the ant knew that it simultaneously was and was not the center of the Universe. There was no way of knowing what the ant or any living being thought (short of asking), so I wasn’t about to assume.
At that point it was already dusk, the sky the pink of my backpack, skipping colors and fading into midnight blue. Even sunsets are lazy on hot days. I plopped down on the cement and took a good look around. I didn’t know where I was, I wasn’t sure where I was going, but it was Kerouac nirvana.
Notice the train. Which way was it going? No one can be sure. It could have been sailing back to Budapest, but Budapest was a long way off. It was not going to Bucharest because that was where I intended to go, and I was not on that train. Perhaps it was looking for Kosice or Belgrade, Zagreb or Sarajevo or Sofia. Throw a coin on a map of the Balkans, you might hit a city; you’re bound to hit a smoky beautiful place with paprika on your food.
This Kerouac nirvana, I tell you, is one of the best things in the Universe. The one where everything is okay even when it’s not, the one where your happiness is contingent upon small present realities, like a lazy sunset or being empathetic towards an ant or the smell of wood burning or just the state of being in a place you’ve never been.
Eventually I’d end up here, as romantic a place as any:
Transylvania in summertime. Now that’s a treat.
* * * * * *
*The other, and possibly preferable, explanation for the bird is that someone from Portland came to this tiny Hungarian border village and decided to “put a bird on it.”