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Essays

 

 


Ghost Train: Transylvania to Bucharest
Extract from Facing the Music, Chapter 14
by Patrick Henry

Joseph Cotten as writer Holly Martins (left) and Orson Welles (right) as Harry Lime in The Third Man (1949)
Joseph Cotten as writer Holly Martins (left)
and Orson Welles (right) as Harry Lime
in The Third Man (1949).
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/
wiki/Orson_Welles

Waldemar's network must know of my journey now. I looked around the compartment. No Carpetbaggers nor Civil Servants, nor Luigi's Boys, nor the Auschwitz Woman. No Irish Soccer Lads, who'd be handy when things turn rough. Five people shared my section. Anyone talking about Opera would give a clue. That phase maybe ended. All over for me. But not as in crime movie jargon. One hoped.

I must have mumbled all this aloud. The young man nearby, thought I spoke. I asked, "What time do we reach Bucharest?" To cover this indiscretion. He shrugged.

"No idea." His English poor. "Trains, and many things, go wrong."

This struck a chill note. We now crossed into Romania, a risky area. "Bucharest arrival at ten thirty this evening," the man opposite declared. Well-dressed, middle-aged: going back to his newspaper, Hungarian, presumably.

"You from America or maybe Germany?" the young man asked me. I put him right. Few think I look English, whereas Sir Geoffrey Evans could be taken for nothing else. I wondered about that gent. How he felt about meeting myself, and Luigi.

"I am Osman, from Bucharest. Glad to meet you." The young man shook hands. Was I on holiday, he wondered. I agreed, things too complicated to explain. Back at Buda, Luigi might have kidnapped Pinkie, or thrown him in the Danube, or gone in search of Sir Geoffrey again, thinking abduction or blackmail pickings available.

Osman, of Turkish origins, had gone from home in Romania to Budapest, playing music, busking, or in clubs. He nodded to the guitar case on the rack. Folk, he played, or Balkans Gypsy style; or Western Blues. I mentioned hearing Gypsy jazz guitarists in Paris. Manouches, the Romany there, not liking questions by strangers. "Who does? In countries around here? No one. Listen and sit quiet," Osman advised.

"If you were real Romany, not just Bucharest, you would never tell me," I said.

"That's right. Why do you want to know so much? Enjoyment, travelling, friends. Journeys are for that," Osman said. "You are lucky, at leisure always. I work all the time, practising, playing in clubs, restaurants. Jobs in their kitchens if nothing else is going. We all need eat. I had slots in Budapest, but now must go back home. You heard music in Pest? Might have seen me there!" On venues I named, he remarked: "Tourist stuff. Opera, Jazz, The Octagon? You should have gone deep into real Pest."

"You know Cave Vladivar there?" I asked. He shook his head. I gave him the card.

"They have live music, Balkans type, Folk?" he asked. I said maybe so. Call them. I thought Luigi's grim cellar needed cheering up. Maybe Luigi was facing the music at this minute, or making someone else take it. Sir Geoffrey, Pinkie: whoever. One of my fellow passengers here might be linked to the set up. Osman, or The Newspaper Reader; or that raw youth; that rustic couple? None looked the part. Still, I never know who were The Carpetbaggers, or what became of them. Osman might think a simple Englishman on holiday knows nothing of Central Europeans. But he could be right. I better not mention the street mugging in Vienna, possibly by Romanians; to avoid putting that nation in a bad light. Also, not to show myself stupid and naive. Now I talked about Hungarians and Romanians known in London, when I worked in street markets, and wrote stories. Osman asked, were they true. "Mostly," I replied.

"If so, that's terrible. If not, it says even worse," The Newspaper Gent snapped, and rustled pages. He could be authority. Immigration. Vice control? Or an International Literary Judge? My stories to be failed submissions. On the cutting room floor? "Hungarians are not all like your so-called friends. Every land has bad sorts. We get rid of them. You deserved that scum, if they really were from Budapest," he said.

"They were genuine, although misled. Not their own fault," I said. I knew another story, about a Romanian character. Osman, and everyone, listened.

The train passed through Transylvania, a region once partly Hungarian, now all in Romania. We stopped at Sibiu. A tall, dark, man and a blonde girl came aboard. "Remote area, this. Takes ages. Nothing happens in Transylvania," Osman said.

"Think so, my friend. You could be proved wrong," The New Passenger said. His face long and pale, his eyebrows devilish.

Osman said, "Hard to see how. It's a long haul to Bucharest. Victor has kept us going with stories."

"Stories? Really? Victor? Where are you from?" The Passenger asked. I told him, England, the North coast. Osman said I had talked about London, Paris: Hungarians and Romanians known there. No Transylvania story yet? I had one now, about a lady. "You started making a fool of yourself, might as well go on," The Newspaper Gent said. "What can you know of Transylvania, or anywhere? Making up that nonsense?" "What happened to your lady of Transylvania," The New Passenger said: "Tragedy?"

"Tell it from the start, Victor," Osman said. Petra, once met in Paris, was the subject.

"Great, but are you sure Petra was Transylvanian?" Osman said, hearing the account.

"Undoubtedly," The Tall Passenger intervened in his booming voice. "She could be nothing else. Fine story, sir. I thank you for it. Now you must hear my story, which also begins in Transylvania." As our train now pierces the heart of its secret interior, twilight came. Hours remained before Bucharest. This strange new narrator began.

Our compartment sat spellbound. The blonde lady listened, wearing a clinging purple satin suit, appearing a Superwoman. Striking eye-shadow, eyebrows, vivid slash of lipstick. Lurid in presence as her sinister, cloaked friend.

"Count Dracula came from nearby," he stated. "Well, Vlad of Pecora did: the origin of the famous story by the Irishman, Stoker. Sighisoara, east of here, his birthplace; I came from, today. Vlad, or Dracula, never dies. A phoenix. A spirit rising again.

"Believe this. Because I became that new life of Vlad.; surging through my veins, from deep in my heart. Seeing through my own eyes, light of the world he saw. Dark wasteland of nothing, needing the return of Vlad to give force, meaning and purpose. Through death, decay and the grave, comes renewal; how grass and leaves spring up again every year. Evil, it's called: once meaning power of life and nature, beyond right or wrong. Only that strong present surviving, forever." He spoke first in Romanian, then English. Would anyone pull the emergency cord on this maniac?

"This is my beautiful, incomparable assistant, Princess Pandora. Two days ago we were in Sighisoara. My town of origin, confirming my everlasting presence before my people. Then we have been in Sibiu, startling people there, that I still exist, showing my powers and victories over enemies and victims. Impressed, they are now relieved I have passed over. A huge black cloud commanding their land. As audiences relax at the end of a grand performance. Faust. Siegfried. Macbeth. None finer than myself."

"You are actors, at Folk festivals around Sighisoara? I've played there," Osman said.

"If you are actors, have you a license to perform on trains?" News Gent demanded.

"A license? Vlad the vampire? You joke, sir. Are such powers controlled by the State, like permits to keep dogs and cattle, or a wife? Not heard the news, friend? The State has gone, rolled back to Moscow, where it belongs, where no art or uprising, or soul will beat, or be let live. We drove off that Red Monster. My spirit of Vlad rules now."

"The European Union is better than Soviet control, but still means regulation and caution. Crooks and anarchists, can't do as they like. Nor actors and musicians, plaguing public train passengers with nonsense," The News Gent said.

Vlad replied, "Nonsense? I will show you who is full of that. Who says I am an actor? You say a lot so crazy and wrong. I am Vlad. My every word and act speak the truth."

"If you are no actor, what were you really doing in Sibiu?" Osman demanded.

"I am a Vampire, young man: an impaler. An unearthly spirit, a magician, a parasite, a beggar, a bloodsucker, needing fresh blood each day, to live again, the way of Faust, Paracelsus, Lazarus. All come back from the brink of doom. I feel fresh desire now the sun has gone down. Darkness covers Transylvania and this speeding train. Time for my act, drinking blood. You are the first course," he told News Gent.

"Stay away. Fiend, crook, liar," The Gent exclaimed. "I will call the guard, the police. I will pull the cord." He reached up, but Vlad blocked his way.

"You will call nobody and nothing, you coward, you fool. Nobody will. I do not need this old creep. Back in your corner, tired old dog. You shall be my first subject, young friend," Vlad exclaimed, approaching the schoolboy, who shrank terrified into his corner, yelping words in Romanian, expressing sheer horror.

"This what you call the Theatre of Cruelty, Herr Vlad? Terrorising the audience, of young innocents. Your excuse for lack of talent for any proper theatre," I accused.

"What do you know, storyteller. A big liar. No Transylvanian princess in Paris you ever met. Your inventions transparent, not even good fiction. Weak English gibberish, No credit to Stoker, the great Irish writer of the story of Vlad, the Dracula."

"Stoker was not Irish, born in Dublin English by blood, secretary to Conan Doyle, who wrote Sherlock Holmes," I corrected.

Vlad said I knew my country, but not his. He had praised my story of Transylvanians, minutes ago, I pointed out.

"I change my mind if anyone crosses me. Vlad, who sees all and acts on all," he said.

"You see a low opportunity to overact everything," I remarked.

"Acting, you are also expert on?" The Vampire man scoffed. I mentioned being on stage. Co-directing films Teaching drama workshops. Seeing Gielgud. Big stars.

"Amazing, you come slumming in little Transylvania. Spurning an honest, local player who entertains and inspires his people. Not grand like your great Gielgud in Shakespeare. European Union means, you come here, looking down on we poorer members? The Soviets are gone, but our problems go on. Our street theatre, songs, laughter, not permitted in your strict, superior organisation?" he objected.

"Alright. Entertain these people. Don't scare and bully them. Theatre should please the audience. Those who pay. We bought tickets, for this train. But this is towards your show, if done properly," I said, holding out a Forint banknote.

"Keep your money. Englander. Think you can buy the world, Art, talent. Silence even? Vlad, is bought by nothing," he said.

I replied, "Buying your silence is tempting. I offer to pay for your noise. Are you scared now?"

"Hell to you. The show goes on. But it needs music, atmosphere," Vlad declared, gesturing to Osman's guitar case, aloft. So, the young Turk strummed Balkan chords.

Princess Pandora stood up, let fall her silver cloak. All gasping, as she stood in a body-clinging purple jump-suit, tight as her own bare skin, looking a being from an alien planet. In dreamy, entrancing tones, she unveiled her life and her path into a forest where she would encounter the magician of Transylvania.

"Tickets please, and turn the music off. I am turning you off at the next station," the inspector came in, saying to Osman: "You know the rules. I've seen you before."

"I can explain. He was just demonstrating the instrument for a brief moment," I said.

"I make the explanations. Demonstrations are worse than busking. Protest. Disorder, not allowed. He is off at the next stop," the official said.

Vlad pleaded, now seated. "Forgive the young man. He got carried away with the spell of the Transylvania night and had to find the right note to catch its poetic sound. He will play no more."

"Alright. So long as there is no more fooling around in this carriage," the official said, pocketing his clippers, plus my banknote, Vlad slid him beneath his ticket, when handed over for checking. The door closed behind the man. My money proved handy.

"We all pay in any way we play our part," Vlad said, as Osman thanked us all.

"A successful performance. A company effort. Tomorrow, I shall appear in the streets and squares of Bucharest, with Princess Pandora," Vlad said, sinking into the deep red leather, as the train plunged through ghostly dark forests of night, towards Bucharest.

Never knowing if any fellow passenger acted for Waldemar, I felt sure he'd learn of my movements. Now I headed home with Osman, whose mother, Frau Orlik ran a boarding house: a back room available. I could hardly keep awake as Osman insisted on talking, and playing notes on his guitar long into the night. Frau Orlik burst in without knocking to say, in Romanian, Turkish or some hard tongue, that guests tried to sleep through this. I felt glad, now, to join them.

VLAD THE IMPRESSARIO, said the large card leaning on a traffic post at the corner of Revolutiei, the city main square. The theatrical bloodsucker was performing his acts of menace around stunning, scantily-clad Princess Pandora. Small crowds viewed this bizarre event I had seen in exclusive preview on the Transylvania Express. Luckily, for all, the ticket collector missed that show, and only caught Osman misbehaving musically; otherwise the Mighty Vlad might be behind bars now. Though a magician should be able to spirit himself out of anywhere.

That night, a cellar bar's cabaret acts, included Osman, street-busker, promoted. Next came Ludvik Bedovan. Sounding more an Ottoman juggling act, though the name reminded of a great German composer. He played violin well. People danced.

The manager reached our table. Osman made introduction. I praised this Bedovan. "The name is truly Bucharest. Maybe a bit Turkish in origin, like your friend here. You like his playing? Want to make a request?" the manager suggested, signalling Bedovan come over, when ending a piece. "Can he play Beethoven's Violin Concerto?"

"Sir, I can play every music ever written, and some that never was. But that concerto lasts nearly an hour and takes seventy musicians. I must play more Balkan dances."

The Club Owner confirmed this. But the first few bars and minutes, I was granted. Poetic trance this music gives me, did not impress other tables. Someone tapped his watch angrily and glared at the Club Owner. Some aped dance moves, to remind of their expectations, or made obscene gestures. My choice cut out. Their own resumed.

The next act brought wilder variety. A lady clad in less than Princess Pandora wore on the train, or in the city square; now discarded more brief garments during dancing, leaving only two feathery pink fans. Tables showed appreciation, stuffing bank notes down her bra, or even the hem of her panties. The act reached me, who'd known bra payment routine in Budapest. Slipping money into her hand, I found something there already; palmed over to me, while she kept the cash and danced away. Was this receipt for donations, or payback in scorn for not daring the bra funding method?

The piece of paper read: MY DRESSING ROOM. NUMBER ONE. FIVE MINUTES. My hands shook excitedly, nearly dropping the incriminating note. Would more than swished fan dancing make this extra scene? Would the price increase? Or the danger?

Pretending to reach the toilet area, I tapped on the door in question. Pink Lady, her stage name: though her oily skin a deeper shade than pasty strippers seen in England. "I won't call you Pink Lady, but Olivia," I said when she opened up.

She said, "Whatever. You'll not hear my real name. Only listen. Waldemar the one name you need remember." No chains, whips: signs of pleasure, in sight. So, this was business.

"Will you give me a ticket for the Opera, or a book on its history?" I inquired. "There does not seem much of that staged in Bucharest." Bach's Air on a G String, a more apt piece here. A brief robe, her garment now. No fans around.

"Forget Opera," she snapped. "We know which train you took from Budapest. Better report it right." I did…Unlike her, I had nothing to hide. Knowing nothing, anyway. In this debriefing session, how did she fit in, or shape up?

"You don't mention the ticket collector nearly kicking Osman off the train, nor the intervening Newspaper Man, nor the frightened schoolboy," Olivia objected.

"If you know it all, why ask me, and why keep me in your set-up?" I replied.

"You will find that out when necessary, if ever," she said, with a grim finality. "You will carry on. We have too much on you to back out now." I had skimped details of the train journey to test what they knew. They could guess this.

"I told you about Vlad. The others were marginal. One must be your operator," I said.

"Guess on, it makes no difference. Might be somebody else entirely," she said. "You must report everything in future. Tomorrow night you take the night train to Belgrade."

"I am going to Slovenia. Belgrade is not the EU," I objected. Olivia said, no matter, they were a relevant concern. Long rippling olive legs showed through the skimpy silver robe, the cleavage well open, where banknotes, or messages, are posted. Many sins covered working for Waldemar. Was she a real fan dancer moonlighting as a spy, or vice versa? My talents never run to dance like Olivia; or play like Ludvik Bedovan. Or even Osman. Nor scaring people, in Vlad's way. But delivering smart type stories and opera books, over Europe. Why? Who were the key figures on these trains?

 

Patrick Henry: Born 1938, Yorkshire, England, Irish parentage. Customs Officer London, Royal Airforce Draftee, Cyprus, 1957-59. Wrote poetry in London, Paris, Cornwall; worked construction, farming, factory, café, bookshop jobs. Published On the Track, Peterloo Poets 1971. Published translations of Fruits of Winter, Prix Goncourt, 1970 and Women of The Celts, Cremonesi, 1975. Adult student at University of Wales, University of East Anglia, Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut during 1980s. Painting exhibition Paris, 1998. Poetry Reading Tour in New York 2001 arranged by Big City Lit. Painting Exhibition, Australia, 2003. Poetry Reading and Painting Exhibition tour New York State, 2004, arranged by The Author's Watermark and Poets & Writers. Poetry and prose featured in BigCityLit and in www.thisisull.com (UK website), 2001-2007. He is a contributing editor of the magazine.