There was a homeless man just around the corner from here snarling and muttering to himself by the side of an old building. He was using a concrete window sill to roll a cigarette and as I walked past I noticed with shock that his fevered mutterings were not in Hungarian but in English. “They’re all fucking dead to me now, fucking dead.”

The other bums of this city (I use this word not with derision but with curious affection) tended to sit swathed in blankets and sleeping bags in old doorways. They all seemed to be reading, thumbing the pages of decaying books with bland, contented concentration.

A man stood at the large intersection, brown, lined face and one eye locked shut, the other bizarrely wide, staring at the world with a hostile leer. He was there on his corner everyday for three days, sometimes in the company of an equally lined and battered woman, clutching a small cup of coins.

On the fourth day they were gone, their space taken by an old man in a wheel chair with plastic tubes under his nose connected to a small whirring machine on the street. He had long hair and once may have cut an elegant figure, but now he sat there, dead eyes, emanating illness and death and hopelessness, smoking a cigarette in defiance of the small box at his pumping oxygen into his withered lungs.

Others were intent on displaying their wounds to the world. A crippled leg, a mangled foot, persons who 100 years ago would have been displayed as “freaks” were still peddling their deformity as their commodity.

The bums are of interest to the traveler for in their crippled and pain-ridden way they represent they ultimate exaggeration of the idea of freedom. They have no ties, no obligations, fret not about taxes or utility bills and never stress about their hair or their clothes.

They are beholden only to themselves – or at least that is how we see them. In reality they are probably as bound and enslaved as the rest of us, incarcerated by addiction or hunger or illness, trapped in their isolation, a false freedom that would be foolish to idealise.


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