It’s evening here in Balaton. After a sweaty day of sunshine and heat, we are clustered on the screened outdoor terrace trying to enjoy the hint of nighttime coolness. I have been reading Jane Eyre on my e-reader, and I think it’s effecting my writing. I’m feeling somewhat reflective.
Here is what is happening: there are massive spiders in the corner of this terrace – massive, as in, huge, as in, several centimeters wide. The terrace feels like a lit-up stage, with the rest of the world, including the nearby train line all in the darkness outside – almost as if they don’t even exist. Almost. Mosquitoes hum but can’t reach us. The standing fan whirs as it gently blows the air. My skin is sticky with sweat. Everyone is on their laptops, phones or tablets.
And, to boot, I’m enjoying a glass of wine. I think tonight will be quiet. The heat has done us all in. We couldn’t even bring ourselves to make dinner as planned. It was leftovers from the fridge instead.
Zsolt’s family’s cottage in Balaton is very, very close to the train line. In fact, the train tracks are just across the street from the cottage itself. So we are neighbours with the rumbling engines and their screaming carts.
And when I say screaming, I mean screaming. For minutes before their arrival, we can hear the rumble of approaching freight trains. The air carries a growling noise and by the time the trains are finally blasting by and shaking the little stone cottage, the sound of their wheels and carts and chains and power are erupting into my ears and skull and mind. I used to describe it as a waking nightmare where for a few seconds, the world sounds like chaos. Now I just cover my ears instead.
But not all trains are the same. Some sound aggressive, and that is all I can make of them from the bright terrace as I look out into the night beyond the screened wall. Others though, others trains are a slice of magic…
The train is coming, rumbling but not screaming. It’s not a freight this time; it’s a passenger train carrying the holiday crowd from Budapest to the local Lake Balaton stations for this hot weekend. It a slower train, but not slow. It’s a smaller train, but not small. What I love about the passenger trains of Budapest, particularly at night, is that while they can see us perfectly in our glowing terrace while they are driving by, I can also see them – the passengers – perfectly in their lit up cabins.
Many are standing with elbows resting on the window ledge and their heads out into the fresh air. They are watching the windows of the cottages, like I am watching the windows of their train. Others are sitting in their seats, some are walking through the aisle. I spot one couple kissing by the doors. And as the train passes, with only the windows glowing, it’s as though I’m witnessing many separate moments – separate cabins, different people, and because of the windows they are like flickers of channels on the television, glimpses of stories and lives.
I love watching trains for their passenger windows. The long and screaming freights are not to my taste; I’m still negotiating a fear that they will jump off the tracks and come roaring into this little Balaton village of Fonyod by the lake. But the passenger trains don’t scare me at all. Instead, they absorb me.
Sometimes I wave, and sometimes I feel too grown up to wave. But in any case, I always watch. I always smile. I’m always glad for those glimpse of stories as the train hurries by.
And that is Balaton at the night, as we are here on the terrace, feeling rested and warm and waiting to cool.