Free Metropole by Ferenc Karinthy

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Authors: Ferenc Karinthy
fence, racing after the dark figure, and they only just managed to grab him so that however he kicked and hung there eventually he too was brought back down. The crowd was going wild, now encouraging, now threatening, though it was far from clear to Budai which of them was supporting whom. Whenever somebody tried to escape from the pitch there were shouts of support for him, though once the others were in pursuit, grabbing and tugging at him, the crowd seemed to transfer its sympathies to the pursuers, roaring them on with furious, bloodthirsty vehemence.
    The most enthusiastic grabber and downer of fugitives was a brave, powerfully-built, little fellow who stole the ball from the tall black man. He sprang from the ruck with such vigour, so unexpectedly, that he was quickly up and on top of the fence and by the time the others got to it he had leapt over, scrambling down the other side. They made to snatch at him through the fence and got hold of his vest, trapping him tightly against the wire so he hung there as if transfixed. But the little guy was not giving up so easily. He kept thrusting and twitching, wriggling until suddenly he freed himself from the vest that continued to hang on the net and sprang to his feet, bare-chested, waved happily to the crowd and dashed off into the dressing room, patting and bouncing the ball as he went, disappearing just below the stand Budai happened to occupy. The others stared after him from beyond the fence as they might from a cage in the zoo. The crowd too took a deep breath, resolving the tension by clapping, laughing, drumming, and having formed a solid mass before, now dissolved and began to leave in a series of slowly pulsing, wave-like movements. Budai too drifted out, his heart light with a dizzy kind of joy, all confidence and delight.
    After that he wandered here and there, all over town. It was evening again and the streetlamps came on while far off in the distance the red and blue neon letters on top of a skyscraper started their regular rapid blinking. He found himself in some kind of downtown area with bars, clubs and theatres from which music of both the live and mechanical kind poured into the street where lights flashed and sparkled and the window displays were filled with images of performers, dancing girls and strippers. This part of town was just as packed with heaving crowds; there were even people dancing on the pavement, the rhythm of constant movement faster here, an infinite rolling patchwork of yellow skins, black skins, creoles wearing flowers in their hair reminding him of gypsies, and a number of soldiers. There seemed to be a lot of uniforms about generally. Policemen with rubber truncheons patrolled the area, mingling with the crowd. He had noticed them earlier in the market and by the stadium too. And besides them there were bus and underground employees of both sexes, firemen in red helmets (if that is what they were), postmen – or were they railway workers? – in blue tunics, and a number of children, many schoolgirls in a uniform of green raincoat and similar coloured trousers or skirts. Most numerous, however, were the heavy, brown canvas dungaree-wearing manual workers whose uniforms carried no insignia, men and women dressed exactly the same, probably for practical reasons. Or were they perhaps members of some organisation?
    It felt like the evening of a public holiday, a leisurely jostling in the streets, vendors selling things from trays, shouting their wares, and everywhere the press of the crowd. Budai was tempted to behave like them and spend the money in his pocket, so he went on a spree, buying and consuming whatever he could, for did he not owe himself this much at least? He bought a paper from a paper boy so he could examine it properly back at the hotel, then stood in queue for pancakes being fried at a stall by a young man in a white coat, a bowtie and straw hat, whose copper-coloured Native American skin was glistening with sweat.

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