I was in a cheerful mood, oblivious of all cares. With a great deal of flourish I lit a cigar, and then we started down Andrássy Avenue. My dear, beautiful wife-—she was smiling at me from under her veil; yes, she was smiling, my dearest love: for she loved me and allowed me to love her.
I came across the young man on the Danube Embankment, at about six o’clock. He had passed us—it was the hour of sunset and I had failed to notice him. He might have progressed some twenty yards when I caught sight of his back. I stopped dead; I felt flustered and uneasy. His slender waist stood out sharply defined against the background of a loading craft: still, I think I recognized him by his walk. His clothes were rather seedy. He was clutching a large notebook. . . Might be eighteen. . . maybe only seventeen. . . I was still undecided—I dared not believe. . . I wanted to turn away, and suddenly felt a sharp twist in my heart, which palpitated so rapidly, that I was compelled to halt. I saw him make a gesture: he lifted a hand before him. . . .Oh, dear! It was the very same hand! I even recognized the scar on it from that cut in the gymnasium. . .
My wife looked at me in astonishment. ‘Er. . . just a moment, my dear,” I stammered. ‘I—I’ve got to speak to that young man. . . ”
I turned and walked swiftly off. A little while later I slackened my pace. Dusk was falling. The young man never looked back: he knew that I was following him. He walked quietly on, then stopped quietly to face the silent river, and turned his gaze far off, towards the hills opposite. I felt terribly embarrassed and cleared my throat. I placed myself beside him, to make him aware of my presence. Furtively I studied his lips, which were as yet younger and thinner than mine. His eyes were larger and of a lighter shade. Ah, yes, it was he. And that note-book he was holding! The good old note-book. . . I had put it in the bottom of my cabinet and forgotten about it. . . This was an oppressive, anguished sort of excitement.
“Well. . . can’t you see me ?” I said at last, in an undertone.
“I can,” he said. But he did not turn towards me. I maintained an embarrassed silence. Then I was overcome with shame. How ridiculous! A young man of eighteen! A strange encounter, no doubt—still, I must adjust myself to the occasion. Take it lightly. Make him happy to be able to see me.
“I recognized you the moment you passed me,” I said aloud.
“I know,” he said.
“Why on earth didn’t you come over to me, then? Aren’t you curious about me?”
He made no reply.
I felt nervous.
“All right. I know just how haughty and aloof you are. But, don’t you see, it’s quite pointless . . . Take it from me—I’ve come to realize there’s absolutely no point in it. . . I’ll tell you about it—and then you’ll understand that it was impossible for me to remain haughty and aloof. . . Tell me, why won’t you look at me? Look, I’ve grown a moustache. . . I’m twenty-six now. . . Aren’t you a queer ﬁsh! Got a down on me, perhaps?”
He made no reply, just pressed his lips together bitterly.
“Now really,” I said. “That magnificent reticence of yours! All right, all right! I do remember . . . So what? You can’t go on doing that for ever, you know. Are you going to haul me over the coals, perhaps? It’s all very well, this reserve of yours is not very impressive. . . I don’t see that it’s profited you very much. . . Your clothes are rather shabby, my boy. And you’re skinny. Forgive my saying so, but I could never bring myself to wearing clothes like that. . . Hullo! What’s the matter? Cry, baby, cry. You’ll get a penny if you try!”
Now for the first time he looked at me. He looked me squarely in the eyes, then once again turned away.
“You’re talking too much,” he said dryly.
I took offence at that.
“You don’t say so! You think yourself perfection itself, don’t you? I’m talking, yes, because I want to show you. . . see? After all, I’m older than you. . . And I’ve seen something since that time. . . And I’ve had a good deal of experience. . . You’re a kid . . . A fat lot you know—”
Suddenly my voice choked me, and I hung my head. I smiled a faint, abashed smile, gently lifted my shoulders and, with a discomfited grin, murmured.
“I couldn’t help it. . . It just couldn’t be done the way you’d worked it out to yourself. It couldn't, believe me... I tried hard. . . but it was no use. Really. . .”
He now turned to face me. His lips curved downwards, he looked at me with hatred.
“What about your flying-machine ?” he said huskily.
“Er. . . Well,” I said, stammering in confusion. “I couldn’t help it. . . It’s been invented. Farman. . . the Wright Brothers. I wasn’t there. . . But those people have done a pretty good job of it, believe me. Not bad at all, on the whole—er—You can fly it, you know. . .”
“I see,” he said contemptuously. Then once again he looked at me.
“What about the North Pole?”
I dropped my eyes.
“A certain Peary reached it. I—I just didn’t have the time. . . You were wrong. . . You can’t do everything yourself. . . I happened to be at the university at the time . . .”
“Ah,” he said.
“What about Hungary, proud and independent?”
“Well you see. . . Odd that you should ask that, really . . . We are working towards that goal, I and other people. Still, it isn’t something you can achieve overnight. . . After all, one’s got to make a living too.”
I began to jabber.
“But, listen... I did work hard... for something to come of. . . the things I promised you . . . I have done some writing. . . I’ve written some things that are pretty good. . . Do please go and take a look at the shop-windows. . . My name is well known. . . I’ve made a name for myself. . . just as you wanted. . . I am fairly respected. . . And, look, I’ve written books, too. . . just as you planned you would . . . Look . . . Here’s one of them . . . It’s pretty good. . .”
Nervously I snatched from my pocket one of my books, a collection of humorous sketches and stories, and showed it to him.
“Look at this. . . It’s pretty good stuff . . .”
He only cast a glance at the book, but did not reach for it.
“Yes, I’ve seen that,” he said curtly. “It’s pretty good.” ’
He stretched out an arm towards the darkening horizon, the sweep of the hills.
“What about your Great Symphony? Your awe-inspiring play about the grey horizon and the vibrations and convolutions of the proud gods beyond the horizon?”
“Well, you see . . . It was no go. . . It was impossible to do it, not in three acts. . . You were wrong. . . The Grey Horizon—that isn’t something an actor can play. . . And then I realized that it wasn’t the right medium. . . and that I shouldn’t be able to finish it either . . . But I’ve written a pretty good sonnet on the theme. . . It appeared in print in a distinguished review. . . People liked it. . . And I’ve been a better-paid writer ever since. . .”
He made no reply. He subsided into sombre silence, his gaze lost in the distance. I wanted to say something more, to explain to him just how young he was. . . but I had a vague recollection that he was not to be disturbed on such occasions, when he was looking like that. Suddenly I remembered my wife and began to feel uncomfortable.
“Look,” I said. “Come along with me—I want you to meet my wife. Oh, you’ll be pleased about that. She is very pretty . . . she’s a wonderful, splendid person. . . You see. I’ve conquered her. . . She loves me. . . you see?. . . I’m somebody. . . just as you wanted me to be. . .”
Now he looked at me, and I saw infinite scorn in his eyes.
“You conquered her?” he said. “Indeed! Aren’t you proud of that! You went to her and conquered her! . . . The castle left the top of the hill and took the valley after a siege! . . . The oak conquered the dwarf ivy and in amorous embrace wrapped itself around it. . . Why doesn’t your wife come over here?”
I screwed up my eyes.
“You’re a fool,” I said. “A kid. These are all illusions. You’re wrong. I am right. I am an adult and have acquired a knowledge of life. What do you know about life? Why, you’d be the laughing-stock of the world!”
He stepped quite close to me and looked me in the eyes. Now I perceived his thick head of dark hair.
“I didn’t want to know Life. . . I wanted Life to come to know me. True, I would have become the laughing-stock of the world, and you didn’t want to be laughed at on account of me. . . But you know—Look me in the eyes . . . dare to look me in the eyes—You know very well that it is you who are the laughing-stock and a midget. . . and that I'm the one who’s right. . . and that what I am saying isn’t ridiculous at all. . . You know that I’m the one who’s right. . . You pitiful creature . . . you midget. . . you nobody . . . Dare to look me in the eyes.”
I had to look away. The situation was ridiculous and awkward. He drifted slowly away from me, and never looked at me again. Lost in thought, he started to move away.
It was some minutes before I was able to speak, in an undertone.
“Where are you going?” I whispered. “Stay here. . .” But he never looked back. Words spoken by him came drifting toward me from afar.
“You will remember this last meeting of ours. And if you still retain something of me in you, dip your pen into the fire of the westering sun and describe how I have abandoned you, how I have vanished. . . young, handsome and infinitely free, never to see you again. . .”
The words came to me from a very great distance. The slender figure was thinning, melting away, rising. I continued to stare after it, thinking that I could still see it, but became aware that there was nothing in the red sky but a light cloud hovering.
My wife became impatient.
“Who was that young man ?” she asked.
“An old acquaintance of mine,” I said to her in confusion. “He’s a nice boy. . .”
“Yes,” she said, somewhat acidly. “Only he’s bad mannered. Why didn’t he introduce himself? He had a striking resemblance to you.”
Then we came here, to this café. The spasm that had twisted my desolate spirit was very slowly relaxing.
“It’s a good subject,” I told myself, brightening up. “A bit too long for a poem. But it should make a good story. A short, satirical one. Today is Tuesday anyway: I’ve got to turn in some copy.”
I asked for some notepaper and after some hesitation wrote down the title: Meeting with a Young Man. . . .
And the wound rankled a little less.
SOURCE: Karinthy, Frigyes. Meeting with a Young Man (Találkozás egy fiatalemberrel), translated by István Farkas, in Grave and Gay: Selections from His Work, selected by István Kerékgyárto, afterword by Károly Szalay, binding and jacket by István Bányai, 2nd ed., (Budapest: Corvina Press, 1973), pp. 89-94.
See also (offsite):
Encounter with a Young Man, translated by Balázs Kis (The Third Tower, September 21, 2015).
Karinthy, Humorist and Thinker"
by Miklós Vajda
Frigyes (Frederiko) Karinthy (1887-1938) en Esperanto
Futurology, Science Fiction, Utopia, and Alienation
in the Work of Imre Madách, György Lukács, and Other Hungarian Writers:
Sándor Szathmári (1897-1974): Bibliografio & Retgvidilo / Bibliography & Web Guide
Frigyes Karinthy @ Ĝirafo
Frigyes Karinthy @ 50 watts
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Uploaded 23 May 2021
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