Too many variables

By Nikki Papp

At first I only see what she or he would see. At this point I never know who they are. And the location changes as well.

It could be a bus stop. Everything is soaked in a lightly drizzling rain that is invisible but ruins any well-styled hairdo of the brave. Brownish slush sticks to the passing cars, same brownish slush is falling from the sky—not so invisible anymore—dark bits floating against the white clouds. Just don’t look up, it will get into your eyes. I don’t know yet what time of the day it is. It’s daylight. Of course the street looks like the one where I wait for the bus in 5 days out of 7, every week. Probably it should be something else.

Nikki Papp is a visual artist who likes stories. In her teens she wrote articles for a youth magazine and short stories for the desk drawer. Later she focused on video art and photography. She likes creating unusual word combinations but is secretly worried that they only sound like broken English. She is old fashioned preferring a fountain pen over typing. Nikki was born in Hungary during the time when the Iron Curtain was still up and running. Prior to moving to Canada, she lived in London, Prague, Vienna and Budapest; consequently mastering the art of light suitcase packing.

A typical brick apartment building with an inside courtyard from the late 1800’s somewhere in Central-Europe, in Prague, in Vienna or in Budapest. Might be in Paris, the architecture could be deceiving. The dictionary offers the word ambulatory but that seems suspicious.

The different noises from the street blend together in a monotone audio-mush that is mixed again with the voices of the neighbours. Somewhere a radio is playing music from an unrecognisable era, lunch is being prepared, somebody is chopping up potatoes, one round piece just jumped off the table and is about to roll under the kitchen cupboard. Knife bites into the cutting board.

Some are watching tv, the Formula 1. So it’s Summer then and it’s a Sunday.

It just stopped raining minutes ago, it was a quick shower, the sparkling surfaces outside are going to dull soon. Dusty potted plants stand on window stills, the leaves are entangled in the curtains like bugs trapped in spider webs. The pretty flowers are in the corridor for the neighbours to see and to feel obliged. In my teens I imagined my life in a similar place apart from the nosy neighbours: white walls, high ceiling, a room that has a front window and the street is quiet but there are things to watch if one chooses to watch those things. 3rd or 4th floor so it’s safely far from the street level. They can’t look in but I can look out. I also thought in the past that my future window still will be wide enough to sit there with a book. I might have read too many French novels written in the late 1800’s.



And there is still no main character just memories pretending to be original thoughts.


A little grocery store. The aisles are packed, boxes hide in the corners and the fluorescent lights make everything a bit more green and more tired. Even the drawn chicken on the happy looking ready-meals appear exhausted from all that joy.

One ingredient is missing. Or something simple, something that is always good to keep in a decent household. Like a child’s favourite cereal. Actually, she has two kids but she only takes one box today, otherwise there was not going to be more space left in her plastic bags and she has to take all that home on foot. Or by the bus which is not fun either.

The woman – or is it a stereotype, a woman buying cereal for the kids at night? – is still looking for something. Or she is just browsing, wandering around. She likes looking at the colourful packaging, especially at the imported brands, although years ago the local products used to be mysterious. Why can it be learned so quickly what colour combinations belong to what item? The children got that unnecessary fast.

There aren’t many shoppers in the store but she feels that she is bothering someone anyway, she doesn’t know who exactly. Everybody? That’s too many. Nobody? That’s not true.

The shopkeeper is watching tv at the counter, it’s a talk show where bright-eyed people smile their perfect teeth.

There are a few people standing at the bust stop, it’s a good sign, it means the bus must be here soon. She joins the line. She puts her bags on the ground to rub her hands together, the straps left red marks on her skin.


Now I have to be careful so nobody resembles people I wait for the bus almost every morning with.


She doesn’t look left or right, only the shop opposite the bus stop. “For lease” says a big sign on the glass. What was there before? Was it another grocery store? At first she thought it used to be a florist because they had a little display of not so fresh bouquets next to the entrance. She couldn’t really look inside because of the awning and the advertisements that were covering most of the window. Also, if there is a shop she’s already gotten used to – even if it makes her feel slightly awkward, but it’s a familiar awkward, she can handle that—trying another place seems wrong somehow. Probably others felt the same way and now the shop is closed. It must have been for the flowers.

The bus arrives finally, the woman steps back tentatively, she expects the melted snow to—or it is not raining? It’s not Winter, there is no surprise slush-shower, it’s an early Summer eve, the school break is going to start soon, she has to find out what to do with the kids. The grandma might visit but it’s always difficult with her because she doesn’t speak the language and she seems angry towards the people who do. The kids could help with that and grandma’s help would be just being a grown up in the apartment during the day. And all that guilt that builds up through the vacation can get a rest when they are away from each other. And they could go to the park together if the weather is going to be gracious.

There are free seats at the back where the lights are on. The dark in the front isn’t a problem, blue tinted faces stare at their phones like they would into tiny flash lights or crystal balls that could predict the future. What is going to happen with me tomorrow?

There is a newsprint on the seat next to the woman, the free kind, yes, so it is Thursday. She takes it and puts her bags on the seat. It’s okay, there aren’t many commuters. She opens the newspaper and starts reading. There are a few articles between the ordinary ads but she feels tired to read about anything serious. Instead she just looks at the pictures, the flight promotions, the fancy descriptions of the exotic tours: “Scandinavian Scavenger Hunt” and “Jewels of the South-East”.

Not much left of the ride when she gets to the end pages. She turns the wildly decorated sex classifieds promptly, those poor girls. The “I saw you” column can be entertaining sometimes. Has anybody every found the person they were hoping to write for?

I saw you.

Her pupils grow huge for a quick second and her heart begins to beat faster. She looks up. The front of the bus is quiet, the people are sitting motionless around their personal electronic camp fire. She pushes the button suddenly, it’s almost her stop and she is going to walk the rest of the way. She thinks for a bit about leaving the newspaper but she picks it up eventually.


It feels like the plastic bags get thinner with every step, now they can almost touch the ground. Or it could be the throbbing pain when the straps bite into her hands. They are so thin, these bags, she can’t use them again any more. She used to put them in the bin but she stopped after a few accidents involving a hole and some fallen garbage and the kitchen floor she had to clean up.

She stares at the house if that could bring it closer.

Basement suite. Instead of the French inspired apartment with the high ceiling. If this could tell a lot about the inhabitants life. How could a story be changed by a French building? Not now.

The apartment is quiet and the lights are off. There is a post-it note from the kids on the kitchen table saying they went to a friend’s place. Or maybe there aren’t any kids at all. She brought the cereal for her mother who is sitting on the couch watching tv.

“Hi Mom, how is it going?”

“Shh… The show is almost over.”

The woman puts the groceries in the fridge. The newspaper is on the table waiting to be read. Later. She takes two boxes of ready meals, peels off the foils and puts them in the microwave. Merry-go-around of the black boxes under the warm orange coloured light. The pieces of meat are the decorated horses going up and down and 1-nch cubes of veggies the mirrors around them, breaking their reflections into too many. Thinking about horses will make her sick.  She sighs and looks at her shoes absent-mindedly. This day is almost over. What’s that? She bends and picks up a piece of raw potato off the floor, it was almost under the kitchen cupboard ready to be forgotten.


The microwave rings like it wants to answer.