Ballad about the magic of poetry
The telephone booth stood on Grand Boulevard. Its door opened and closed at regular intervals as people conducted their daily affairs, tried to clear up their petty affairs, called the electric company, made dates for the night, asked friends for a quick loan, or tortured their loved ones with their jealousy. Once when an elderly lady hung up, she leaned against the phone and cried. But such occurrences were rare.
Then on a sunny summer afternoon, a poet entered the booth. He picked up the phone and called his editor. “ I have the last four lines,” he announced.
He next read the four lines of poetry from a soiled sheet of paper.
“That’s depressing,” his editor said, “rewrite it. And make sure it’s cheerful this time.”
The poet tried to reason with him, but in vain. He put the receiver back in its cradle and left the booth.
For a while no one came, and the phone booth stood empty. But then a woman approached. She was appreciably past her prime. She had an exceptionally heave frame and ample breasts, and she was clothed in a light cotton dress with large floral print. She tried to open the phone booth door.
The door opened only with difficulty. At first it wouldn’t even give. But when it did, it flew open with such vehemence, the woman was veritably propelled back onto the sidewalk. When she tried again, the door did something to her that could best be described as a kick. The woman reeled back and fell against a nearby mail box.
The people waiting at the bus stop crowded around her. A man with a briefcase – someone, clearly, to be reckoned with – tried to open the door, but it slammed into him with such force, he fell flat on his back on the hard pavement.
Meanwhile, quite a crowd had gathered around the booth, making comments on it, the post office, and the woman in the large floral print dress. Some people swore that the door was wired for high voltage, while others said the corpulent woman in the large floral print dress must have had an accomplice, and were trying to steal the coins from the booth, but were caught red handed.
For a while the phone booth listened to their confused accusations in silence, then it turned around and began walking down Rákóczi Road at its leisure. When it reached the corner the light had just turned red, so it stopped and waited.
The people watched it go, but nobody said anything. In this part of the world nothing causes a sensation unless it is natural. Meanwhile, the bus pulled up, the people disappeared into its belly, and the phone booth continued its leisurely stroll down Rákóczi Road.
It was in the best of spirits. It engaged in some window shopping, then it stopped in front of a florist. Some people thought they’d seen it enter a book shop, but they may have mistaken it for someone else. Anyway, it stopped by a small pub on a side street for a shot of brandy, then walked along the Danube and crossed over to Margaret Island. On the Island it spotted another phone booth by the ruins of a convent. It went passed it, then turned around, and having made up its mind about something, crossed the road and discretely but unflinchingly began giving the other booth the eye. Later, as the sun was going down, it headed for the rose bushes, trampling some of the roses under foot.
We have no way of knowing what may or may not have transpired by the ruins that night, because the public lighting on the Island is not up to par, to say the least. Be that as it may, the next morning early risers were surprised to see that the booth in front of the ruined convent was packed with crimson roses, and throughout the day, it kept giving the wrong number. The other phone booth had disappeared without a trace.
At the break of dawn it left the Island and crossed over to Buda. It climbed to the top of Gellért Hill, then made its way, through hill and dale, to the peak of Hármashatár Hill. Then it descended the slope and headed for the highway, where after it was never seen in Budapest again.
Outside the city limits, past the very last houses of Hűvösvölgy but on this side of Nagykovácsi, lies a meadow of wild flowers, just big enough for a small child to skip around it without running out of breath. Because of the tall trees, it is as well hidden from sight as a mountain lake. It is too small, even, for anyone to bother taking a scythe to it, and so by midsummer the grass, weeds and flowers have come up waist high. This is the spot where the phone booth camped down.
People who pass by it on their Sunday outings are delighted to see it. It makes them feel like playing a practical joke on someone who is still fast asleep, or they remember to call home and ask that the keys they’d left behind be placed under the mat. They enter the booth, which stands awry, sunk into the soft ground, and as the long stemmed flowers of the field lean in after them, they take the receiver off the hook.
The phone, however, will not give them a line. Instead, they hear four lines of a poem coming from the headpiece as softly as the strains of a muted violin. The phone does not return their deposited coins either. But no one has ever complained.