Every day people pass each other…

Today I revisit one of the underlying philosophies of the bridge guard residency – to cross boundaries.

I run down my usual checklist for my bridge walk : camera, notepad, pens, reading glasses, water, peppermints, lip balm, tissues…

Today I add copies of two photos I took of women in Esztergom – one sweeping streets and one looking out from her window down onto the town square, plus invitations to my exhibition.

I decide to walk along the track beside the Danube in Esztergom, maybe head up to the basilica before walking through the parts of town where I first met the women, hoping our paths might cross again.

I reach the end of the bridge and begin to cross the road to the riverbank. Glancing over my shoulder for no reason, I catch a flap of trademark fluorescent yellow vest, broom and rubbish bag in the distance. I can’t tell if it’s her, can’t even tell if it’s a man or a woman but the basilica isn’t going anywhere. So I change my course and on approach notice the same solid build, same long dark greying hair pulled back off the wide olive-skinned face, same direct gaze.

Almost but not completely sure it’s her, hesitating to look back and forth from the photo, I simply hand it over with a small smile, eyebrows raised questioningly. She looks at the likeness and laughs warmly, calling out for a work colleague to come over. Encouraged, I hand her the invitation. The invitation is written in Hungarian and Slovak, neither of which she seems to understand. If she is Romani, as has been suggested to me, their language is an oral not a written one. She may also speak Hungarian fluently, while I am monolingual. I do not possess her kind of intelligence.

She is trying to say something else to me now, looking past the photo, into my eyes, wriggling her fingers in the air. Is she asking if I have more copies of the photo? I mime what I hope is an assurance that I will leave and return with more.

When she refines her gesticulations to rubbing a thumb and forefinger together in what I interpret as an age-old sign for money, I catch the word ‘Kava’ (coffee) …

I leave the photo and invitation with her. Will she throw it away with the leaves she sweeps up? Or will she keep it, find someone to read it to her? If she came to the exhibition would she feel proud or violated to find herself in it?

I move away from the perimeter and into the town square, wondering about chance and design and the ethics of ‘street photography’  …

Once in the square I get my bearings, recall which side I should be on, look up at the row of window boxes and closed windows. I will sit for awhile on a bench with my back to the building. I’ve no sooner retrieved my notebook and pen from my bag when I hear a window opening behind me. I turn. It is unmistakably her. The smooth well-brushed white hair, the gold earrings, the polite yet slightly reserved expression.

I smile and raise a hand in greeting, she seems to recognize me, returns the smile but the window remains shut. I hold up the photo knowing it’s big enough for her to make out, to recall the day I asked and she acquiesced.

She opens the window, looks down and lights up momentarily. When I mime wanting to give it to her, pointing to the heavy wooden doors below she regains her composure, giving a slight but unmistakable shake of her head. I shrug my shoulders in what I hope is a sign of regretful acceptance. This is a very old, very Catholic town, I was told some people can be insular, keeping to the safety of their own households and routines, is this it? Is she suspicious of the stranger tourist proffering gifts? Does she think I am trying to sell the photo to her? Have I become the peddler? The beggar?

I’m about to give up when she calls out ‘Posta, posta …’ pointing down to a slot in the wooden door. A compromise. I walk over and peer through to a small attached metal basket. I let the photo and invitation drop gently in, walk away to her quiet call of thanks ‘Köszönöm, köszönöm’. Is she just being polite? I have no way of knowing.

Every day people pass each other, some days more slowly than others…