06. 05. 2017. 11:13

An excerpt from All That Man Is by David Szalay

Brody Lit Night

A Monday lunchtime teaser from All That Man Is! We'll be talking to the writer David Szalay tomorrow night at Brody Studios at 8pm. Come!

1.

 

The easyJet flight to Luton is four hours delayed. Gábor does not take this well. He seems especially concerned about Zoli, who for a while he is unable to reach on the phone. Zoli is evidently some associate of his in London, who will be meeting them at the airport, and Gábor is frantic at the idea that he might have to wait for them there for hours. When Gábor finally speaks to him, Zoli already knows about the delay.

They are by then installed at a table in the sun-dappled interior of the terminal. Gábor finishes apologising to Zoli and puts down his phone. ‘It’s alright,’ he says.

Balázs nods and takes a mouthful of lager. The two men each have a half litre of Heineken.

Balázs wonders how it will be in London. He imagines meetings in soporific offices, himself standing near the door, or waiting outside. For Emma, though, this is a sort of holiday so she and Gábor will probably want to have some time to themselves.

It is extremely stressful, he finds, to be in her presence outside the safely purposeful space of the gym. It was the same in the car, in Gábor’s Audi Q3, when she was there. Sometimes Gábor would go in somewhere and leave them in the car together — she in the front, Balázs in the back — and he would be so intensely aware of her presence, of the miniscule squeaks when she moved on the leather seat, or flipped down the sun-visor to tweak an eyebrow in the vanity mirror, that, just to hold himself together, he had to fix his eyes on some object outside the darkened window and keep them there, unable to think about anything except how he had masturbated to her, twice, the previous night, which did not seem like a promising starting point for conversation. They never spoke. Sometimes they would be alone in the car for twenty minutes — Gábor was always away for at least twice as long as he said he would be — and they never spoke.

What she is like ‘as a person’ he has no idea. There is something princessy about her. She seems to look down on the staff in the gym — she isn’t friendly with them anyway. The women who work there hate her, and it is assumed that she is with Gábor, who is slightly shorter than her, for his money. She always listens to music while she works out, possibly to stop people trying to talk to her. Balázs has never seen her smile.

He was surprised to see what her mother was like, where she lived. He had expected something smarter, something in Buda maybe, a house with roses in front and a well-preserved fifty-year-old offering them coffee, not that wreck of a woman living in that smoky hole of a flat. The time-browned tower-block, the odours and voices of the stairwell, the neglected pot-plants by the yellow window where the stairs turned — those things were all familiar to him. Most of the people he knew emanated from places like that, himself included. That she did, however, was a surprise.

He finishes the Heineken and says something about stepping outside for a cigarette. Gábor, waggling his fingers at the screen of his phone, says, ‘Yeah okay. We’ll just be here.’ She does not even look up from her magazine.

 


 

He smokes on the observation terrace, from where, through a barrier of hardened glass, you can watch the planes taxi-ing to the end of the runway and taking off at intervals of a few minutes. Standing there and watching them through the feeble heat-haze, the sound of the engines coming to him across several hundred metres of warm air, makes him think of the days he spent at Balad Air Base, with the rest of the Hungarian unit, waiting for the flight home. He now looks back on that year with something like nostalgia. He should have stayed in the army — it was safe there, and there were things to do. Since then he has just been treading water, waiting for something to happen … What was going to happen, though?

Gábor is standing there.

He lights a cigarette, a more expensive one than the Park Lanes Balázs smokes. ‘Sorry about the delay,’ he says.

In moulded plastic wraparound shades, Balázs nods tolerantly.

Gábor seems nervous. It is as if he has something to say but isn’t sure how to say it.

Balázs has started to think that maybe he doesn’t have anything to say after all, so long has he just stood there smoking furtively, when Gábor says, ‘I should tell you what we’ll be doing in London.’

There follows a few seconds during which they stare together at the scene in front of them — the open space of the airport in the sun, the smooth-skinned planes waiting in the shade near the terminal.

‘Emma,’ Gábor says, as if she was there and he was addressing her.

Balázs half-turns his head.

She isn’t there.

Gábor says, ‘Emma’s going to be doing some work in London.’

They watch as a narrow-bodied Lufthansa turbo-prop starts its take-off. After a few hundred metres it leaps into the air with a steepness of ascent that is quite startling, as if it was being jerked into the sky on a string. They watch it dwindle to a point in the sky’s hazy dazzle, and then, at some indefinite moment, disappear.

Gábor says, ‘And your job…’ He finds a more satisfactory pronoun. ‘Our job is to look after her. Okay?’

Balázs simply nods.

‘Okay,’ Gábor says, with finality, having performed what was obviously an embarrassing task. ‘Just thought I’d tell you.’ He drops his cigarette and extinguishes it under the toe of his trainer. ‘See you inside.’

Mimicking his employer, Balázs toes out his own cigarette. Then he lights another, and squints out at the shimmer standing on the tarmac.


 


 

 

Join us and David Szalay for one last glass at Brody Studios before the heat really kicks in and the stag parties arrive.

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18.00 Doors open

20.00 Discussion starts

 

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David Szalay