I’m not one for taking a walk just to walk. I do it, of course, but on some level it seems rather pointless. Yes, I know there’s the benefit of exercise and getting those steps in every day can be a challenge. But walking without purpose for some reason doesn’t sit well with me. If there’s a shorter way to get from A to B, I’ll usually take it. The long way home isn’t for me. Take today. After the unseasonably cold spell we’ve been having – the coldest Monday on record last week in Budapest in 133 years I read, a whopping 5.5 degrees C on János hegy – it climbed to 18 degrees down the village. It was a sunshine and blue sky day with enough of a breeze to remind me that the chill had only temporarily abated. I was woken out of a deep sleep about 9.15 with the postie banging on the kitchen door. I’m never good when woken abruptly. I fumbled my way towards the sound of agitated conversation, not even stopping to put on my glasses and opened the door before remembering I was still in my nighty. Her-next-door was engaged in some sort of verbal contest with the new postie, trying to convince her to let her sign for a notice from the insurance company that I’ve less than two weeks left to notify them if I intend cancelling a policy that runs out at the end of November. Such efficiency. My appearance stopped the conversation in mid-sentence as both of them looked at me aghast. Mid-morning and she’s not even out of bed! I wondered how long that would take to get around the village.
I gave a cheery good morning (jó reggelt) even though protocol dictated that it was now time for a good day (jó napot). My ignoring the threshold elicited a deep sigh from her-next-door, who, bless her heart, has been doing her best to educate me in village ways. The postie conversation I’ve had before. I know the words. I know the questions. I know the answers. I even know the sequence in which they fall. And I rather impressively remembered my passport number. I signed for my letter, gave another big smile, and briefly considered going back to bed. But I was awake now.
Top of my list of things I could do today was going to the post office to post a letter. It was optional – nothing important. But as I also wanted to get the insurance cancellation out of the way and needed to drop something off at a neighbour who lives near the post office, I thought why not. And I thought I’d take the long way around. As it was such a nice day. Anyway, I wanted to see if the dirt track I’d spotted earlier in the week ended up where I thought it might. It was a walk that would accomplish three things – a purposeful walk.
Walking through the village at any hour of the day or night is guaranteed to get all the dogs going. I’ve gotten used to it but I don’t like my presence being announced. Cutting across the fields made far more sense. And it was beautiful. Just me and the birds and the fields of yellow. One van passed me by and slowed down to an even slower crawl just to see if what they were seeing made sense. Me, with a large white envelope in hand, walking down a paved road that leads nowhere, seemingly sure of where I was going.
At the end of the paved road, dirt tracks lead off in three directions. I headed right, walking the rutted trail more used to tractors than people. It eventually brought me out on to the top of the post office road. New territory. I’d not been up that road this far before. I saw two young mums with their toddlers and wondered where they’d been hiding – I’d not seen either of them around the village before. I didn’t disturb any dogs. All was quiet. I stopped at the three houses with for sale signs on their gates and had a nose. I peeked into gardens and spotted signs of new growth everywhere.
And then I hit the post office during the morning rush: one person leaving, and three more inside. I sat and waited and listened to the banter, catching enough of the conversation to know it involved moaning about the price of something.
I thought I’d take the long way home, too, and go back by the fields rather than take the main road through the village but first I had to stop at the shop to get a couple of baps. There was quite the crowd there, too. Four different women. Seems like everything goes on before noon – what have I been missing? There were laughs all around as I tried to ask for baps…
I tried kicsi kenyér (small bread) which yer woman understood as kifli (crescent-shaped rolls) – not what I wanted. I tried kerek kenyér (round bread) but that got me a big round loaf. Rapidly running out of options, she asked if I wanted zsemle, which I know now is the Hungarian word for roll. Yes, please. And I’ll take two. It mightn’t sound like much but I was inordinately proud of myself. I hoped they’d all remember my efforts by the time word got around that I’m a sleeper-inner.
I headed back the way I came, confident that I’d have a quiet, reflective walk home. But the dogs on the street are sneaky little things. Far from staying quiet this time, they all came out to say hello, with one setting off the next, My leisurely stroll turned into a brisk walk so that I could minimise the disturbance. I was glad to be back in the fields.
A chap on a bike passed by just as I turned out the field of rapeseed and on to the paved road. He looked at my bag of baps and the wire brush I’d bought, no doubt wondering where I’d come from and why I was taking the long way home.
A trip that could have taken 10 minutes had taken 40, not counting the stops. But I didn’t begrudge the extra time. Because, strangely, time is something I have plenty of in the village. That’s the sort of magical place it is.