This vignette is about some of the driving adventures I had during my first year in Hungary. We only had a small car and being the smallest person in the bunch, my assigned seat was poor in safety, but rich in adventure.
IN THE TRUNK
I once spent six months in the trunk of a car. Our little red car could only hold so many people, so being the smallest, I was assigned the hatch-back position for every excursion. To my pleasure, my domain was ceilinged with a window and floored with a giant goose down pillow making our trips more of a delight than anything else. I looked forward to being separated from everyone to think or pray or just watch the passing, quickly passing, blurred scenery. I watched the trees turn from orange to lonely, tall sticks bearing naked branches. I began to sympathize with trees and barren land. The loneliness I often felt in winter could not match theirs. What is it like to be held down, perhaps unwillingly, exposing the shame that was covered by nature’s clothing? Their flaws, nicks and crooked branches for months were hidden, only to be exposed so quickly, with nothing but a few day’s wind of warning.
Sometimes, I friend joined be in the back. How we fit, I have no idea, but I still remember the giggling and straining to get comfortable and then resting. We would find our positions and gaze out the window. We rarely talked, she was the type, as I who would much rather think and dream then talk. Talking accomplishes little when the soul is generating its deepest desires. Sometimes she would turn her head to look at me and share some bit of insight she’d just gained by looking at a tree or a flower or a cloud. I’d sigh and understand.
I loved passing through the villages. There were five villages, if I remember correctly, between our city and our rural destination. I had memorized the curves in the road without having to even look where we were. The houses all stood along the roadside, in a row as if to greet the passersby. The houses were structured the same, but their faded splendor set them apart. Almost every home was adorned with two windows in the front with a different color around the window than that which was painted on the outside walls. Although faded and so old, the homes were so cheery and welcoming. Shades were lowered over the windows by the time we passed through on our way home and sometimes one had been left up transforming the house into a face with a winking eye. I chuckled to myself at the winking faces all throughout town. In Autumn, bags of drying peppers would hang from the side porches and look so brilliantly against the blue paint of a house I remember along the bend. The old men would then grind the peppers into fine, spicy paprika.
The roads of Hungary transport more than automobiles; it reminded me of a video game with all its obstacles. We would slow down as we came upon a horse-drawn wagon and sometimes need to stop for oncoming traffic. As we’d swing around the wagon, I’d come face to face with a red-nosed man and then his horses and stare into their eyes until they were out of sight. Nothing brings you closer to a land then to stare into the eyes of those who live there.
Between towns there would be nothing but open, wide open skies to delight me. As a kid, I’d lay on the grass next to my other classmates and tell the teacher what shapes and animals were in the clouds. I’d play the game alone in the back of the car. Silent, delighted and content, I’d find lions and girls and giraffes floating in the blue above. I loved being allowed to revert to childhood. I loved that no one knew my thoughts, no one asked and no one could have understood.
At night, my view was lost in the dark, but my thoughts were still free to roam. I don’t remember falling asleep. I loved to be awake when all others were asleep; for some reason I would think more clearly. Perhaps there were more thoughts to be captured while the others slept. I knew we were close to home when we stopped for a passing train. The gates would literally fall three to five minutes before the train passed and remained down long after it had passed; it added much time to travel. I was never anxious to get home on those nights.
Our little red car eventually met its end and whatever it was we bought after that, it did not hold my fancy. I soon learned to love horizontal beauty of the country with its sunflower fields of summer, but the same villages lost the charm they’d held from the back window.