I peep through an opening, standing behind the wall-hanging, it’s red and orange, heavy felt, some type of macramé, it runs across the side of the upstairs lobby from ceiling to floor, and smells of yarn. My brother must be four years old, he’s down on all fours, crawling back all serious, I must be ten; we play hiding behind this upright curtain, we don’t know we’re Jews.
The truth is that it’s dark in here with or without concealment; outside the hotel the sunshine glistens on the Danube’s ripples under the bridges, inside the dim men sit and laugh, it’s carried down to us in waves, the flow eastward, it will never stop. Squared between the marble cubes and concrete blocks and brown glass-panes of the ‘60s the building’s belly’s carpeted, the plush burns your knees and palms when you want to hide.
I watch the men who should be watching us past the red hot fibres of our game, their Viennese coffees and cakes, the hard to lift watches, the gold double-bridge aviator glasses, globalist tie-knots so large it makes their head shrink, in pockets passports just printed, their positions on a redrawn map, freed to buy, browsing English menus that are all new.
I watch them and I understand power.
The plan-making and strength-pushing and league-forming are for taking part in a change that had nothing to do with either their tactics or their talents. I listen with a certain pain, a pain that I always felt when I lived in that part of the world: that there’s something that could be momentous and portentous, but it’s all happening in the wrong place, a patch where what’s big can’t be kept, where things pass on all too fast, where what’s robust is the flow of the river. And, as you know, that café’s long closed now, the hotels have been renamed, and those men think back to days when they mattered, an ache in their stomachs and their throats and in their loins for words that would build worlds that they hoped would last. And they each dropped dead or went to prison or fled West, their heads with the knots around them against the current, and they left the children to figure it out for themselves, pressed to the edge of a wall that’s on fire. But the children saw everything, and they learnt.