It always blows me away when strangers show hospitality to strangers, but I’m always glad when they do it. That is exactly how we ended up far from the city in a cool little town in the mountains, searching for the house of Csaba, a man we’d met on our train ride to Budapest. When we reached his house he waved us inside and showed us the monstrous beast which was to be our entertainment for the next hours. A huge BMW motorcycle more like a purring, growling tiger in my mind than anything else. Csaba eased my intimidations with a pile of protective gear he kept in his garage which I awkwardly strapped to my small frame.
Csaba is a comfortable motorcyclist and at first seemed difficult to follow. I closed my eyes around the curves, remembering that fear makes me stiff when I need to be fluid. It makes me freeze like a brick when I need to make my body a shadow of Drew’s so that we can be calculated as one singular weight. I did my best but the wind kicked up in the gap I’d left between Drew and I, in part because of my fear and in part because the huge helmet on my head felt cumbersome and clacked against Drew’s with every stop and start, unless I leaned back against the storage compartment at the back of the cycle. The tiger growled. I cowered.
This is how the first half of the trip went. I let my heart rate hop around and glanced out at the scenery whenever it allowed. Castles perched on the hillsides above the Danube. Sunflower fields painted the landscape gold before a backdrop of blue-gray mountains.
Gradually I became more comfortable. The tiger purred, a beast at our will. I looked around at the signs in the little towns and tried to guess as to which side of the border we were on. Are we in Hungary again? Still Slavakia? Whose foreign language is it I’m trying to read on these roadside signs?
When the ride was finished the temperature was dropping fast and a grayness was moving in across the sky. It felt like fall and the soup Csaba insisted on buying for us warmed me. After the soup he took us into his beautiful house and introduced his beautiful wife who had cake on the table for us in seconds. Her English was not as strong but she still sweetly made conversation, turning to Csaba with a quick rush of Hungarian each time she couldn’t remember a word. She held a curly-haired one year old in her lap who poked at her mother’s cake.
By five thirty it was time for us to catch our ride back to the city and leave the once strangers with the faint hint of possible friendship in our handshakes. Our status hung somewhere in that strange space of “ifs”. If we had more time perhaps…. If we had talked longer perhaps… If we were staying in Hungary…
Perhaps we’d be friends.
We said goodbye to the not-quite strangers, not-quite friends and let the if’s linger as marks of a positive encounter and time well-spent.