Thomas Hamill - Volume I Issue 3

Old Béla is famous for his cryptic pronouncements. From his position on a decrepit wooden bench in the square near the ABC aruhaz (supermarket), he issues the strangest and most obtuse of predictions, occasionally spiced with a tirade against the present government. Sometimes people on their way to market gather around, just for a laugh at his bleary-eyed one-man burlesque. They know that Béla is an accomplished drunkard, that the alcohol has seared his brain like a hot iron to the point that his words became discombobulated, and that he occasionally drools while making a particularly strident point. He is regarded as a kind of shaman-in-reverse, a priest whose mystical elixir is home-made barackpalinka, or apricot whiskey.

Béla sees shadows. Mostly of abstract things like ideas, or artistic movements gone awry. But there is one shadow he sees every afternoon, rain or shine, and that is the one of Stalin in his red-star emblazoned cap and great-coat, his massive arm outstretched in a gesture of bold progress. For years, the park he now inhabits for hours at a time had once featured such a statue, nine feet tall, sculpted in bronze. The shadow of the progressive arm would extend onto a pathway of crushed chestnuts during the low afternoon sun of winters. Béla often remembers that shadow in his drunken ruminations, how in his youth it seemed to guide him, forced him to do its bidding in an almost telekinetic fashion. These days, the statue replaced by a smaller one of the 19th-century Nationalist poet Võrõsmarty, the shadow of Stalin's right limb no longer plays with the shimmering leaves, or the dirty snow. But for Béla it is still there, a fossilized image, a phosphor burn on his visual memory.

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