Budapest Chronicles, Series

Budapest Chronicles: Homeless on the Metro, an Unusual Wedding and Free Hugs!

By Brian Friday Bwesigye

Outside the student community here, it is not very easy to find someone speaking English. I have not met and talked to many Hungarians who know the language, most times we have to use sign language. But even those who know English seem to prefer to speak their own Hungarian language – a good thing for their patriotism. The only way to know whether one can actually speak English is to find out by speaking to them, but you can only do that when you have something to tell them.

It was thus a surprise when, while walking from the metro-station with a friend, we were interrupted by a lady asking us whether we speak English. Such kindness of strangers speaking to you is extremely rare here. Of course there was that old lady who complimented my friend's beauty the other time, but that is one of the extremely few times strangers show kindness. Some stubborn person may think the people here need some cheeky tickles!

The stranger who asked us whether we speak English did not need a cheeky tickle though. Neither was she merely being kind to speak to us. She instead was hoping for some kindness from us. Sure that she had our attention, she went on; “My name is Victoria. I am homeless. I have no job. I have no money. No food. If you have little money, please give me.” I looked at my friend almost instantaneously for her reaction. I did not see the same shock in her eyes. Neither did I find pity nor confusion.

She later told me that she had experienced a similar incident starring the same story-line but was not sure of the identity of the woman who had starred in the incident then. It may as well have been the same woman. Then, it had been at night. At the university campus, I think I have heard something about a student initiative that helps the homeless in Budapest. That is what could come to my mind after we had resumed our walk towards the university campus.

After that day, my eyes started noticing more and more beggars in corridors leading to stores, in tunnels crossing roads, and even on streets. We had whizzed past all these daily but until the metro-station incident, I had not paid any attention to them. Each of them is unique in their own way. There is one that plays the keyboard, another one that plays the guitar and some simply have posters written on some things in Hungarian.

The streets of Budapest have stories of their own. Walking from the university campus another day, heading home, if one is not carrying too many assignments in their school bag to distract their thoughts, they can write as many stories as they can find paper to write on! The CEU university campus is located in the middle of town, and near it is an old and architectural church building. Besides seeing tourists at the church building daily, I did not have anything religious to connect to it until this one evening when my bag did not have very many assignments to occupy my mind.

We were a number strolling from the university to the metro station. I am not sure whether my colleagues with whom we were walking saw what I saw. Maybe one of my friend we were walking with, saw, or I showed him. A couple, the female dressed in a white-ish-cream-ish wedding gown and the male in a complete black suit and white shirt with a matching bow-tie enjoying ice-cream on the road-side. A few people were with them visibly happy and enjoying the moment. That the couple could have just left the church to say their wedding vows was the logical conclusion but hard to swallow. Where were the cars in their bridal convoy? Where were the bridesmaids, flower-girl and page-boy? And why ice-cream on the road-side?

Anyway, walking on, about two hundred or so meters from the bride and brides-groom, we saw a queue of about five people (I do not remember if all of them were female), holding posters written on FREE-HUGS! I am not very adventurous, free-spirited and daring sometimes, and this was one of the times the boring and shy side of me was dominant. As my colleagues went for the free hugs, we walked on with my friend. But the FREE-HUGS incident left many questions unanswered. Are there places where hugs are paid for? Where hugs are on sale? What are the FREE-HUGS about? Haven’t hugs always been free?

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