In Hungary, deep country, at a bus stop, people began to gather: a Romani man, an old peasant couple, our family of western kids, Ervin and me. The Romani man began to speak about us westerners, so Ervin began to converse with him in Hungarian, so that he would know he spoke the language. It can get embarrassing otherwise.
The peasant man asked in Hungarian, ‘Hey Cigány, [Gypsy] where are you off to?’
and the Romani answered, ‘Up to the mountains to shovel snow.’ Of course there was no snow, it was late spring, so the old farmer just huffed. Ervin’s conversation with the Romani man went something like this:
Man: Hey, those your children?
Man: How come they don’t speak Hungarian?
Ervin: They don’t need it. They’re Australian.
Man: My kids speak Hungarian but I taught them Romani.
Ervin: Yes, but my kids weren’t persecuted.
Meanwhile the old peasant woman was jabbering away to me in Hungarian, holding my arm, as they do. I said in my best Hungarian, ‘Nem értek magyarol’ [I don’t understand Hungarian] and she kept chatting and I tried, ‘Nem beszélek magyarul’ [I don’t speak Hungarian] but she kept chatting. Ervin spoke to her a couple of times and she kept looking earnestly at me and speaking. Then the Romani spoke and she looked bewildered.
To this day, I don’t know what the old woman was saying, but apparently she spoke to me in Hungarian and Ervin said, ’Sorry Mama, my wife doesn’t speak hungarian. She only speaks English.’
So the old woman tried me with Slavic. To which Ervin said, ’Sorry Mama, she don’t speak Slavic either. She only speaks English.’
So the old lady tried German, and Ervin said, ‘Mama, I’m sorry, she don’t speak German either. She only speaks English.’
(Meanwhile all the way through I was telling her how I don’t speak Hungarian.)
And then the Romani man piped up, ‘Hey Mama,’
‘Yes Son?’ said the old woman.
’Speak to her in Spanish.’
‘I don’t speak Spanish, Son.’
To which he replied, ‘Of course you do Mama; it’s written all over your face.’
the young woman
under her brother’s
she spits and curses
does not yet know
he’s her future lover
the Romani plays
for the bereft man
a weeping violin