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Rendezvous At Liberty Bridge
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Ken Orford

Romantic Fiction


Andras Detari was my uncle. More than that though, he was my favourite uncle. Actually, he was my only uncle, but even if there had been a dozen others, he would still have been my favourite.

When I was small he’d sit and play Lego with me, or race my Scalextric, or help me build and paint a plastic Spitfire. Even at the age of eight, it was obvious to me that he enjoyed doing that more than talking to my mum and my dad, his brother. He’d come with me to football matches, and he used to tell me about the legendary Hungarian team of the 1950’s, and how he’d seen Ferenc Puskas play. Then just over ten years ago, when I was fifteen, my dad was killed in a car crash and Uncle Andy became my surrogate dad. Besides helping me get over losing dad, he supported me in the things I did, and when I graduated from Imperial College with a Masters in Civil Engineering, he was there at the Albert Hall sitting next to my mum.

But it was me that mum was sitting next to in the offices of Gammer, Lloyd and Selwyn. We had buried Uncle Andy the previous day, and we went there to read his will. He’d already told me a couple of years previously that he’d left almost everything to me. I remember it was Boxing Day, we were in a pub in West London after watching Fulham beat Southampton. I remember joking that I’d never get my hands on any of his money because anyone who lived through what happened in Budapest in 1956 would probably outlive me. It was one of the very rare occasions when he spoke of that time. My father had been a lot younger than his brother so hadn’t really got involved. But Uncle Andy had been on the streets, and had stood side by side with my granddad and fought the Russians. But in the end, in the face of the crushing might of Stalin’s Army, they had followed the path of two hundred thousand other refugees and got out of the country.

It was also one of the rare times when I saw him upset. He turned to me, and I could see the tears gathering in his vivid blue eyes as he looked at me:

“In fact, if I die before November 2006, there’s something special for you in my will.”

I remember shaking my head, saying there was no chance of that because he was as strong as an ox. But there we were at the solicitors, August 21st 2006, he’d failed by a few months. Mr Lloyd went through the details of the estate, I was going to be reasonably well off, but I will remember that day not because it was the day I became rich, but because of one paragraph in the will. It said that because my uncle had died before November 2006, I was to follow the instructions that were contained in an envelope. There was no condition attached to it, Uncle Andy knew me well enough to know that I wouldn’t hesitate to do what he requested.

After the meeting, mum and I had coffee just down the road from the solicitor’s office. I had the brown envelope in my hands. I kept turning it over, looking at Uncle Andy’s careful handwriting on the front and wondering what it was going to tell me. Mum watched me with a bemused smile.

“Well unless you’ve developed X-Ray vision, the only way you’ll find out what’s in it is to open it.” She was obviously as curious as me.

I carefully tore open the envelope, and pulled out the folded letter. As I unfolded the solitary page something fell out from inside. It was a black and white photograph. Well, to be precise it was half a black and white photograph, slightly creased and obviously well thumbed. At the sight of it, I heard mum mutter a “Well, well, well.” I looked at her with a questioning frown. I remember, she didn’t take her eyes off the photograph, and said:

“That must be Aniko. I always wondered what she looked like.”

“Who’s Aniko?” I asked as I studied the black and white photo of the woman. In the eighties, Dudley Moore would have called her a “ten”. My mates would just say she was “seriously fit”. The bottom line is the woman with short dark hair in the photograph was spectacularly attractive.

“Aniko is the reason Andy never got married. I think you need to read the letter. I’m sure Andras will explain.” I glanced at mum, thinking it odd she used his Hungarian name.

Even with just that bit of information, you didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out what had happened to the other half of the photo. Presumably it had my uncle’s face on it, and Aniko had it.

As I started to read I relayed the main points to mum …

“Yes, you’re right, it is Aniko.” I scanned a few more lines. “They met in late September 1956, and he says they fell in love… then of course, it all kicked off. They were split up when granddad and the rest of the family fled the country. Aniko’s family stayed. On the night before they left Uncle Andy and Aniko met to say goodbye. They tore the photograph in half and agreed that no matter what, they’d come back to that spot in fifty years time at noon. Although he says they knew they would be able to recognize each other, they agreed to wear a white rose.”

I reached the end of the letter and looked up at mum.

“He says he wants me to go in his place and meet Aniko. I have to be at the middle of the Liberty Bridge in Budapest on November 5th.”

It had been over ten years since I went to Budapest, not since dad had died. He’d taken me after the Warsaw Pact fell apart, and things changed. Although the trip to meet Aniko was over two months off I could start to feel a mixture of excitement and trepidation at the thought of carrying out one of Uncle Andy’s dreams. What will Aniko be like? Did she marry or stay single like my uncle? How will she react when I tell her they missed each other by a few months? But the main question is … will she even turn up?

Over the next few weeks I moved into my Uncle’s old house, and settled back into my career as a Civil Engineer, but all the time at the back of my mind was November 5th. As the day approached I was getting more anxious about what I’d say to Aniko and how she would be. My mum and I put together a photo album of Uncle Andy over the past 50 years. On the first page we put the photograph of Aniko.

I flew out to Budapest on November 4th and checked in to my hotel. That evening I walked to the Liberty Bridge, just to make sure I could find the spot the next morning without any trouble. I ate in a small restaurant round the corner from the hotel, had a drink in the hotel bar then went up to my room. I sat and flicked through the photographs and as I looked I realised that while Andras had always seemed happy and bright to me, a typical jolly uncle, there always seemed to be a hint of sadness in his eyes. Or was it my imagination? Whatever it was, all I was sure about was that I didn’t want to let him down tomorrow. And that I hoped with all my being that she would be there. I remember thinking that if she didn’t turn up, it would somehow mean a big part of his life would have had no meaning.

The next morning I got up, showered and shaved and remember taking ages trying to decide what to wear. I remember feeling this was so important and I wanted it to be right. In the end I looked at myself in the mirror, leather jacket, casual checked shirt, cargo pants. But as I looked at myself in the mirror, I realized my normally gelled hair had flopped down, and that it looked uncannily like Uncle Andy’s had in his early photographs.

“So, no gel today!” I grinned to myself.

I went down to breakfast but found that my churning stomach would only allow me coffee and a slice of toast. At 11:30, armed with the photo album, I set off on the twenty minute walk to the bridge, the day was slightly overcast but the sun was trying desperately to break through. I hoped it would, Budapest looks immaculate with the sun shining on the castle, and the Danube as blue as it’s supposed to be. At the end of the bridge, with just ten minutes to go, and feeling sick with anticipation, I looked up at the Tural birds perched on the bridge’s pillars. Then it hit me. I remember stopping dead in my tracks and shouting out:

“Oh my God, you idiot!”

I spun on my heels and headed off as fast as I could. Where could I find a florist? I was frantic, there had to be a flower shop somewhere. I asked a couple of people, they shook their heads – I don’t know if that meant they didn’t understand me or they didn’t know – either way, it was bad. I looked at my watch, five to twelve. Five minutes! I was just about to give up and run back to the bridge when I saw a jewellers shop. In the display was a vase with a bunch of white lilies. Hell, they’re flowers and they are white.

I charged through the door and startled the saleswoman. I slammed 12,000 forint (about £40) on the counter and said I wanted to buy the lilies. She looked at me like I was mad, but opened the display and got them out. She asked me if I wanted a bag, but by the time she had finished the sentence I was halfway out of the door, dripping lilies in hand. I raced to the bridge, glancing at my watch. Surely she’d wait a minute.

Breathless, sweating in the midday sun that had decided to grace Budapest, I got to the centre of the bridge, and frantically looked round for an old woman wearing a white rose. My heart sank, no old women, no white roses. I looked out over the Danube, thinking that I had failed, and had let Uncle Andy down.

“It’s supposed to be roses, and one would have done.”

It was in near perfect English, just the hint of a central European accent. I turned to look at Aniko, and stopped. The face was like it was in the photo, though the hair was red. But the woman in front of me was not Aniko. Aniko would have been in her seventies – and she was early twenties. She grinned at me:

“It doesn’t matter though, I would have recognized you from the photograph – the hair especially.”

“Now you tell me,” I said thinking about the last ten, frantic minutes I’d spent.

“I’m sorry?”

I shook my head and smiled.

“Never mind. I’m Jamie, Jamie Detari.”

“And I’m Aniko, named after my grandmother.”

I held out my hand. Aniko’s grand-daughter Aniko looked at it and shook her head.

“I think this is more appropriate.” And she reached up, put her arms around my neck and kissed me softly on the lips.

© Ken Orford, 2008

©, 2010