A man coughs and looks about with disgust and hatred. There's a man in a dress smoking, he thinks, I guess. I hate myself. I'm tired of hating myself. I'm furious for being tired of hating myself. One, two, three, four, five, eight, seventeen heartbeats. – An excerpt from Incognito by Tibor Noé Kiss.
Tibor Noé Kiss
- an excerpt -
'Good evening sir,' said the ticket inspector stopping me. Makeup was running down my face, the wig's plastic fasteners were burning into my scalp. My shoulder bag's straps were sliding off my shoulder, the thing nearly fell to the floor. She snatched after it instinctively, but I clutched it to my side just in time. I felt like curling up in the dark confines of that bag, wedged between the lipstick and perfume, tucked into a stocking, zippered shut inside. I'm so sorry miss, I was talking to men all day. The ticket inspector mumbled apologetically as she handed back my student pass.
The tram tinkled merrily on Kálvin tér, champagne bottles popped in the hotel lobby, the church bell tolled. Passers by did not concern me. I wasn't reading their gaze, window shopping steadily instead. Ducking into a movie theater I watched Deconstructing Harry starring a blurry Robin Williams. After the film I bought a box of candies for the ticket inspector, but she wasn't at the station anymore.
My mom was coming came to pick me up from the library at ten. I sat on a bench by the fountain. Headlights from cars turning the corner illuminated my face, the office block across the street reflecting the lights of a service station. The wind picked up and my legs grew cold. The minutes crawled by. Fifty-four, fifty-five, the Skoda pulled up to the traffic island. I got in.
Mom gripped the wheel. Her wrinkled face rippling. You were okay, right? She was worried for me, couldn't have Noémi walk the street at night. Sure, I was okay. Mom looked out the window. Someone was pushing a bike along the sidewalk, flat tire. Mom watching the tires roll along the asphalt. I gave her the candies.
I met Évi at a house party. She was into all things crazy, and in two days' time she wanted to see Noémi. We talked on the balcony until sunrise, then I walked her to the tram stop. By then I hadn't ventured beyond Jászai Mari tér for weeks, longer forays were completely out of the question. It would have put me at risk of tachycardia.
Évi arrives. I introduce her to Zita and Mona, Tibor she knows already. The conversation drifts, we advance from the weather to hair dyes in eleven topical tacks. Identity, yelling, Adam's apple, confectioners, entirety, cello, crevice, India, smile, overdone, pasta, flooding, smothering, burying me in words, like they were picked at random from a dictionary. Pilot light, masquerade, centaur, carpool, Inuit, deltoid, carrying on in my head, only nouns come to mind. Waiter, plate, serviette, French fries, steak, ragout, tartar sauce, pickles, nouns can encompass the world. Salt, pepper, paprika. First, second, third, rock, paper, scissors, word. Évi brushes hairs off her blouse, Mona adjusts her glasses, Zita inches closer to the table, Tibor sits idle and elaborates.
Computer desk, bicycle, television. Floor lamp, foot stool, Persian rug. Books in boxes, notebooks, tape recordings, Mason jars, plates. Plastic bags stuffed with pants and sweaters, blouses and socks. Tarp strapped tight to the metal frame. Trailer wheels sunk into the mud. We sit in the car, Mom, Dad, Kinga and me.
Trucks, blandness, dust-choked gardens, checking the tarp, Welcome to Dunaföldvár. Parking lot, roadside café, concrete benches, bottle of coke, pine trees lining hillside, Szekszárd. Pécs approached along the viaduct, hairpin road, creeper laneuphill, downhill, uphill. TV tower, dungeons, the Highrise. Project housing on the slopes, windowless factory halls. Right at the synagogue, right at the Mosque, left in the stairwell, left after the front door. Brightly polished wood flooring, the smell of fresh whitewash, the clack of chaise longue springs. Mom stood by the window talking on the phone, dad sat at the kitchen table smoking, Kinga was unpacking a bag of clothes.
August 30th 1997, moving to Pécs with Kinga. Canned food on shaky shelves, duct tape wrapped on the dryer's cable, saltpeter on the hallway walls. Pigeons on the movie theater facade, pigeons on Main Street, in the alleyways. An old asthmatic bus turning onto Main Square. Used book store, gallery, photo salon, architect's office, pedestrian street, promenade, horse-chestnut trees, fountain, tulips, candelabra, cathedral. Clicking of a padlock to the lover's wall, key down the drain. Clink.
The coffee machine turns on, speakers softly hiss. Mona heads toward the sink, stepping over a kink in the rug, Zita and Tibor exchange a glance. Under the table something touches my leg. I shudder. Évi smiles, it's her foot. I try to smile back but the effort makes me sweat, my heart is racing, pain lashes my back, the world's about to black out. I reach a trembling hand toward a pack of cigarettes, one drag after the other. Streaks of smoke in the air, dancing around the chandelier, bumping against the ceiling, billowing in the lamplight. Translucent veil descending onto faces, I blow streaks of smoke into the air.
A man coughs and looks about with disgust and hatred. There's a man in a dress smoking, he thinks, I guess. I hate myself. I'm tired of hating myself. I'm furious for being tired of hating myself. One, two, three, four, five, eight, seventeen heartbeats.
He helps her with her fur-lined leather coat, she fixes his lapels in place, Jim Dear minds her perm, Darling flashes her smile, Lady is staying with the neighbors tonight. Bye Noémi, bye Noémi. Évi smiles, waving with one hand, the other on my knee, on my boot. I hope nobody sees, nobody sees the hand on patent leather under the table. Lady, hazy, crazy. Smile, smiles, smiling, smiley face, must be my own smile, I think to myself.
A girl rushing from behind the counter. Cellphone to her ear, hi Jim Dear, hi Noémi, hi Whoever. Taking her steps two at a time. Waiter shies out of the way, tray in hand, keeping his balance. The boiled potato was dry and bland, I must tell him that. Smiling, tough as leather, potato, dry, bland. But what right have I to complain, a man in women's clothes?
Hairline cracks on the whitewash. Siberian rivers, the Ob, the Yenisei, the Lena. Paint blotch shapes, imprints of Romania, of Germany, tiny bumps of topography. Brașov, Turda, Cluj, Craiova, Dresden, Dortmund, Nürnberg, Bremen. A random network of imaginary lines connecting the bumps, triangle, quadrangle, octagon, pyramid, hut, fortress, crown, a growing complexity of shapes on the ceiling. Lying on the carpet with Kinga, eyes shut taking in the music, guitar resonating from beneath the closet.
Hair strands, dustballs, paper snippets accumulating around the rubber sole, the glass door halfway open, every week the doctor sits in his leatherette armchair by the window. I wring my hands, what I want to know is, am I really a woman or a man. Exhalation, panting, asphyxiation. Take these prescribed medications, listen to this relaxation tape, daily, hourly I ask this ultimate question, wringing my hands.
Our fingers clasped together, Kinga snuggled closer, my body always warmer than hers. The tape was turning. Guitar and violin.
Exhalation, panting, asphyxiation. Maybe I'm partly responsible, my boy. Or girl. My mom sobbed and laughed at the same time, tears rolling as she hugged me tight. Scent of perfume and nicotine, silence, helplessness.
The shoe pinched my toe. I slid out of it, a dull thud as it hit the carpet. My toes tingled.
Fuck you, gay motherfucker. Spitting pumpkin seed shells, shouting. They looked incredulous as they passed before me, then started laughing. The ball was bouncing. I took a drag from my cigarette and crossed my legs. The crane slowly turned toward the Danube river, workers staring from the roof, I should have worn pants. On the banks of the Yenisei, in Krasnoyarsk do you get women wearing skirts? Here at Lágymányos bridge in the Ferencváros district, apparently you don't. Fuck you, you motherfuckers. The ball bounced on, further and further.
Fragmented beats, a kettle drum perhaps. I saw a dark, cold hall before me, perhaps a church, perhaps a crypt. Trembling guitar chords, a crystalline female voice. My hands skim over Kinga's naked stomach, descending to her navel, clutching at her waist.
I fix my blazer in place, my skirt, my bag's shoulder strap. The metro door's glass reflects a woman's face, my face, my forehead, my eyes, my teeth, my mouth, my cheek, my earlobe, my hairline, my tongue, my kiss, I am all of this.
My lips leave a mark of brick-colored lipstick on the china cup.
Brick-colored lipstick of my lips leave a mark on the china cup.
Brick-colored mark of my sticky lips left on the china cup.
My lip-colored stick, brickmarks of china leaves, oh my.
Projector slides, each a mere second , flirty Noémi, coy Noémi, raunchy Noémi, masculine Noémi, feminine Noémi, bringing life to the wall, slides on the wall, projected on the brick-colored wall, my lipmarks, the lipstick on a china cup. Burned into cellulose acetate I smile, bow my head, run my fingers through my hair, wring my fingers. One role after the other, pose upon pose, I am all of this.
The light glinting on the beady eye of a stuffed fox, onion ring stuck to the rim of a plate, clatter of dishes falling on the kitchen tile, bitter beer taste in my mouth, a smoker's silhouette on the wainscoting. Confused Noémi on the last but one projector slide, the final slide.
Yes, it was lovely, thank you. Potato, dry, bland. Smiling, tough as leather.
Word, word, word on word, first second third, word. Am I really a woman or a man? Distant, unknown, unfamiliar strange words, faces valid for seconds, words valid for seconds, one after the other. Indestructible, unconfigurable, unspeakable. I down the dregs of my tea, stub out my cigarette.
My lips leave a mark of brick-colored lipstick on the china cup.
Violets heave a dark offbeat covert pitchshift, go on, sign us up.
Translated by: Dániel Dányi