The bearded stranger came to Pecs in May, before the tourist season started. He had learnt to say ‘Nem Beszel Magyarul’ (‘I don’t speak Hungarian’) but when he came to my front door all I needed was the slip of paper. Tourists could go to an agency or the tourist office and say they wanted to stay in a private room. The agency writes out a slip which says ‘Widow Szombothely’ (that’s me) and the address of the flat. Then the tourist finds the flat and stays the night. I like the company and, frankly, I need the help as well as the money. I’m old and tiny, less than 1.5 metres (4 foot ten inches), and increasingly weak. It’s a long way to the market near the bus station where the gypsies, in their colourful aprons and headscarfs, sell fruit and veg on tablecloths on the street.
I don’t live in one of the ‘chicago’s (as we call the more dangerous inner-city ghettos) so I didn’t feel bad about asking the stranger to go and buy the food even though he had had an active day already. He’d been to the Vasarely Museum, meandered down the wonderful Kaptalan, and walked through the oak-covered hillsides past the old summer palace at Tettye, ending at the four-towered cathedral.
He had a shower before dinner and he knew the system from his friends in Budapest: wet yourself, turn off water, soap yourself, turn on water – save money. He had a problem with the shower head: my husband was as small as me and the shower wasn’t much higher than 1.5 meters.
We eat our main meal at lunchtime and usually only one course in the evening. I made a nice soup, spicy salami and beans, served with salad and solid white bread. After that he was tired, and as I wished him ‘Jó éjszakát’ (goodnight) I hoped he’d be comfortable: the bed is my late husband’s and is little more than 1.5 metres long.