The last time I saw Dom was when I was living in Budapest. He was coming through for some business conference or other, and he emailed me a month before to say he’d have at least one evening free, if I was still there and alive and wanted to meet up.
I hadn’t seen him since he got married a year or so earlier, so I replied after a fortnight of ignoring his mail, telling him yes, I was still alive and in Budapest, here’s my number, text me when you get here.
The day he arrived he texted me midway through a class, saying, still on for tomorrow? Six ok? So I texted back with, better make it seven. By the entrance to the Moskva ter underground. He replied with, sounds great, and the next day we met exactly where I said, shook hands, smiled and headed down the escalator together to catch a train, and have dinner and drinks in Pest.
After he’d bought his ticket, he said: I thought you weren’t going to show.
I was ten to fifteen minutes late, so I told him, sorry about that, my bus got stuck in traffic. By the way, there’ll be some other people joining us, that ok?
He said, sure, why not?
On the train we caught up. He told me about his job and the conference and what he’d been doing, while I nodded and hmm’d. He said his wife, Jen, was doing fine, by the way, and – some news – was three months pregnant. I congratulated him, and he showed me some pictures of her small bump on his phone, while he chatted and pointed out this and that.
When the train stopped at Kossuth ter, he said, how about you? This must be the life, right, living abroad, living the dream or whatever they say. Must be better than home anyway. I told him it was the same as anywhere else really. I worked Monday to Friday. I paid bills, went shopping, did the dishes. He said, but you get to be in Budapest. I replied: I suppose.
When we got to Astoria, I told him this was our stop, and we got off, headed up the escalator and out to Szimpla. No one else was there yet, so we got a round of drinks – two beers and two palinka – checked our phones, and sat down at one of the tables in the main room downstairs.
Dom said, this place is great. How’d you find it? So I told him I couldn’t remember. I’d been coming here ever since I moved to Budapest, good, though, eh?
We raised our palinka, said cheers, chinked our glasses and downed them. After he’d coughed and swore and laughed at the drink’s strength, he said, so how long are you planning on staying out here for? I said I didn’t know. If anything, I’d probably move to another country before going home, if I ever did go home. I was thinking about Korea or something like that next. Dom wiped his mouth and said, you really never want to come back? I said I didn’t know. I just can’t do my job there.
After that, we got drunk. Dom got another round of beer and palinka, and I texted a couple of people asking where they were. We downed the palinka again, and Dom spoke to Jen – she says hi – while I checked my phone to see if anyone had replied. Dom asked if my friends were going to turn up and I said, who knows, and texted them again. They didn’t reply, so we drank some more, and Dom sent some photos of the bar to Jen with kisses and a look at this place.
When we’d finished our fourth round, I got two texts, one saying, sorry, mate, I’m still hungover from yesterday, the other saying he was in some bar I’d never heard of in Buda. I said, he always does this, texted we’d maybe see him later, and asked Dom if he wanted food. He said, yes, I was just going to ask, and we left Szimpla to go to this all-you-can-eat buffet place on Kiraly utca, where we ate and drank some more, and began talking about cartoons from the 1980s.
Dom said he preferred The Mysterious Cities of Gold to Ulysses, but I said, what about the theme tune? Ulysses won hands down. He said, but the story, and I said, weren’t they same? One was looking for gold, the other for home. Neither of us could remember if Ulysses got to earth or Esteban to his gold.
When we got to dessert, Dom asked if I’d seen anyone else recently, Gavin or Dave or Mark. I told him, no one. Last time I’d heard, Gavin was in Spain and Dave had just split up with his girlfriend. Mark I had no idea about.
Dom brought me up to date, and said he’d seen Mark last month. He was back living with his mum after his business had gone bust. I asked what kind of business and Dom said, who knows? It’s Mark, yeah, and we laughed.
When the bill came, we split it and I asked Dom if he wanted to head over to Buda, my friend was still there, but now in a place I knew. Dom looked at his phone to check the time and said, sorry, I’m going to have to call it a night. Got an early start at the conference tomorrow.
I said, come on. Just one more. You’re staying in Buda anyway.
Dom said, I know, but you know, I’ve got to check in with Jen, too.
I said again, come on. You know you want to.
Dom smiled and said, I’d love to, but if I drink anymore I’ll puke. Good to see you again, though. We should do this more than once every three years.
I said, yeah, that’d be great. Shall I get you a taxi?
He said thanks.
When it came he got in, and with a wave he was gone. I haven’t seen him since.