The rain served him well. Forgetting the unwritten rules of the socialist community, not caring what others did, with their minds fixed on their journeys, the good citizens of the state were rushing under umbrellas, trying to avoid the deep puddles at every kerb on the road and the occasional spray from heavy trucks. Samu entered the public toilets of the Southern Railway Station. Pop music roared from Radio Kossuth. The suspicious attendant searched his face from behind the People’s Freedom, his eyes zapped like mosquitoes. Averting the attendant’s scrutiny, Samu smiled back at a hopeful Brezhnev on the front page. He could not find enough money in his pockets and the attendant, getting bored, waved him to go in.
Once inside the cubicle he got down to work. He unfolded the rope tied tightly around his body under his Mackintosh. He lifted the seat and stood on the edge of the toilet bowl. He reached up and managed to tie the rope onto the pipe well enough. Then he slid his head into the noose. Now he had to jump and, hopefully, be found in time – before he choked. He put one foot on the door handle to be able to kick it open, if necessary. He had designed each step of this show precisely, nevertheless, he was nervous. Anything could go wrong. Just when thinking this, his foot on the bowl slipped and, instead of jumping, he fell. The rope strangled his neck uncomfortably, but he held onto it, trying to swing from side to side to make a noise; not able to shout, or even breathe, for that matter. When he kicked the air, his bum banged into the wall of the cubicle, but not loud enough to drown out the twelve o’clock bells on the radio. Another swing – no result. He could feel the blood rising in his head, feeling less and less confident about the whole business, when, at last, the pipe broke. Samu fell on the ground, breaking down the door. Finally, he could breathe.
The attendant ran to him.
Samu, defeated, and still with the rope around his neck, scurried out of the public toilets into the streets of rain-soaked Budapest. He threw the rope into a waste bin and walked on. A number four bus stopped, and Samu managed to jump on. He sat down and let the bus rock him into quiet retrospection. They took the tunnel under the castle, and then beneath the grey-green Danube, whirling under the stone lions of the Chain Bridge. In Pest the sycamore trees that lined up on both sides of the People’s Republic Street seemed naked, with their arms hanging down lifelessly. Only the wide space of Heroes’ Square cheered him up and he reminded himself to go and see the travelling exhibition of Van Gogh’s works in the Museum of Fine Arts before it left the country again. A huge billboard with a Van Gogh painting plastered the side wall of the building; the only source of vibrant colours, sunshine, and life. Samu glared at it, bemoaning his meek existence, where it was raining inside, too.