An English teacher gets excited while talking about the weirdos who roam the streets of Bratislava.
The Bratislava Intruder is a series of short stories written by an Englishman who lives in this Central European city.
‘What means ‘’weird’’?’
‘What does ‘’weird’’ mean?’ corrected the teacher.
The student look nonplussed.
‘The way to ask the question is: ‘’What does weird mean?’’ Can you say it like that for me, please?’
The student continued looking at the teacher like he was a freshly beamed down alien. Finally, they got the point, but complied with an exaggerated lack of enthusiasm.
‘Well, the word today generally refers to strange, exotic, bizarre behaviour or people or things. I do not much care for the word myself, I think it is a lazy adjective to use. It just means it is something the speaker cannot immediately understand, and rather than attempt to understand or enquire about it, the speaker just writes it off as ‘‘weird’’. ‘
Some of the students seemed further puzzled. A few were consulting their smartphones. There were whisperings going on.
‘Let’s try to think of a few examples. Let’s look no further than Bratislava itself. Now every city, every town, has its share of ‘’weird’’ characters. Let’s see if we can’t think of a few examples of ‘’weird’’ characters in Bratislava. First of all, how many people have lived in Bratislava all their lives?’
Six people confirmed they had. Six out of ten. Another had spent four fifths of their life in the city. The remaining three had spent several years studying or working in the capital.
‘Good. So we all know the city well, and all of you better than I do. Now tell me, in all the time you’ve spent in the town, the streets, shops, buses, trams, parks etc, what kind of weird characters are there on offer here?’
There was a blank look on each face. The students looked at each other. No-one was harvesting inspiration.
‘Tell me about someone you have seen behaving strangely, acting in an unusual manner, someone who does things in a bizarre way.’
The sound of crickets chirruping was the only noise to assail the teacher’s ears.
Trying not to sigh, the teacher said, ‘OK. Let me give you an example or two of my own.’ Glancing at the clock, he noticed there were still several minutes until the end of class. ‘Actually, there is a monument, a statue, to an eccentric character, a weirdo, if you like.’ He wrote the word ‘WEIRDO’ on the whiteboard. ‘’’Weirdo’’ is the slang for someone who acts weird, who does things weirdly. Who is the famous weirdo of which there is a statue in the town?… Think about it, it’s in the city centre… In a pedestrianised area.’
A female student tentatively offered up, ‘You mean Schoner Naci?’
“Bingo! Exactly. Can you tell me something about Schoner Naci?’
The student turned up her tentativeness. ‘I do not know. I am not from Bratislava.’
‘Me neither. And…?’
The student looked around at her classmates’ faces. A male student came to her rescue. He seemed pleased to have had a question asked of which he felt relatively confident of the answer. ‘He was a man, gentle man, he always wear…how you say…special hat. And…I don’t know how say…long coat.’
‘A top hat and tails.’ The teacher wrote this on the board for them. ‘Do you know anything else about him?’
‘He is dead.’
‘He is. He died in 1967.’
‘How you know that?’
‘I like to enquire about the place in which I’m living. So anything else?’
‘He was very slusny.’
‘How do you say slusny in English?’
The student shrugged.
‘Can anyone help him? How do we say slusny in English? No, I don’t want you to Google translate it on your smartphones. Try to explain to me what it means, or give me examples of such behaviour. What, for example, does a slusny person do?’
‘He no say word ‘’fuck’’.’ A short burst of laughter.
‘He doesn’t say the word fuck. He doesn’t say the word ‘’fuck’’. Can you repeat that for me, please?’
‘No, not just the final word. The whole sentence, correctly.’
‘He don’t say word ‘’fuck’’.’
‘Listen to me. He doesn’t say the word ‘’fuck’’. I don’t, we don’t, you don’t. She doesn’t, it doesn’t, he doesn’t. And what doesn’t he do?…OK, I’ll tell you one more time. He doesn’t say the word ‘’fuck’’. He doesn’t say the word ‘’fuck’’, he doesn’t say the word ‘’shit’’, he doesn’t say ‘’ty kokso’’. So what does he do?’’
‘He might open the door for others, say ‘’please’’ and ‘’thank you’’, he might let someone behind him cut in line in the supermarket checkout queue.’ This required a little further explanation with a touch of charades. ‘Anyway, our Mr Naci, wih his German mother and Hungarian father, was an eccentric gentleman who basically lived on charity from local cafes and did the odd bit of cleaning work to survive. I am personally very glad that, in a city fast being swallowed up into one consumerist megamall, there is nonetheless a statue to someone of non-material values. So, anyway, what about the weirdos of Bratislava of today? Tell me what people you have noticed who might also be tagged as weird?’
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Pin dropping. Or landing, at least. Or neither of the above.
‘OK, let me give you a few examples based on my own observations, to maybe jog your own powers of recall. There is, for example, one gentleman who walks around, rather tall, with hair shaved into a tight Mohawk, usually coloured gold. This man wears women’s clothes, quite gaudy women’s clothes, and also tends to carry with him some plastic supermarket carrier bags which are stuffed rather full. I am not sure if he is homeless, but he is certainly colourful and noticeable for the fact he wears women’s clothes. Have you seen this man?’
Nobody had. Thinking he must have confused them by his choice of vocabulary, the teacher tried to explain again, this time ensuring none of his terminology remained over the students’ heads. It still did not help to ring any bells.
‘OK. What about this one? There is a guy, slightly hippyish-looking, long hair, whom you can often see in Kapucinska. Now, does anyone know a computer program where you have a mat divided into sections that is used to train dance steps?’
‘Is that what it’s called, is it? Yeah, well, this guy sets up his notebook on a bench there, linked up to Stepmania or something similar, and practices his dance moves seemingly oblivious to passersby. He really, really goes for it too, he is totally in the zone, totally doing the dancing. Fair play to the guy, I take my hat off to him, but there is something about it that is funny as can be to see. Do you know him?’
The students studied each other’s faces but nothing was forthcoming.
‘Come on, surely you must use Kapucinska often enough? I see him there so often.’
Another heavily expectant pause. After a while, he shrugged and moved on. ‘What about the Romany woman who inline skates her way all over town? She often wears a hi-visibility jacket. You know, a fluorescent safety jacket.’
‘What kind of woman?’
‘A Romany woman.’
Someone in the class whispered ‘cigan’.
‘Aha,’ the student who had queried the teacher asked. ‘It no does surprise me. A gypsy inline skating. A gypsy never work.’
‘Um…No, as far as I can gather, this particular Romany lady is a cleaner, she cleans the street. I have also seen her cleaning off graffiti and fly posters.’
The student chuffed. ‘Yes, it is work for gypsies.’
‘Excuse me, would you like to do that work? Can you imagine what Bratislava would look like if no-one cleaned the streets? People might look down in disdain upon street cleaners, supermarket cashiers, navvies, but let me tell you we all absolutely need these people. In fact, the empires of the richest people in the world would instantly collapse were these people to stop what they are doing. We are all totally dependent on people doing donkey work, and they deserve our respect for this fact alone. They might be doing unskilled labour – although even these menial tasks are rarely if ever as simple as they appear – but they are doing jobs that almost no-one wants to do, and therefore should be rewarded accordingly, not scorned and underpaid. I am not a communist, I am not an anything ‘’-ist’’, but do you really think capitalism represents a civilised and free world where one person can earn tens, hundreds, thousands, even millions of times more than another person for the work they do?
Personally, I tend to see work in terms of time, for an hour of someone’s life is an hour of someone’s life, and that alone is priceless and can never be bought back. I would like to suggest to you that, in case anyone has any illusions of a meritocratic nature, a person who earns three euros an hour sweeping the streets is giving more to society than any multimillionaire CEO of, say, Cola Cola or Philip Morris is, and all the poison they pump into our world.’ The teacher was aware they were using vocabulary and phraseology above the general gathered heads now, but they were on a roll and the end of the lesson was virtually knocking at the door. ‘Do you at least catch my meaning?’
No answer, came the stern reply.
‘So, a few other weirdos. What about the mother and son beggars, forever arguing animatedly with each other in between asking for money? No? No bells ringing? The guy who hangs round Zochova always bundled up in an absolute multitude of layers, like a Michelin man half made of clothes?…Huh?…Or…Or, what about the poor homeless guy at Racianske myto bus stop? Do you know, I was with a friend the other day and we saw the guy at the stop and she became concerned enough to make calls and enquiries about him. It turns out he’s been there for three years, can you believe it? A guy clearly not in a fit state of mind to be able to look after himself, sat in the same place in full public view in a capital city in the European Union for three years. Absolutely unbelievable. Somehow the go ahead for Boring, oh, sorry, I mean Bory Mall was given, a project that cost three hundred million euros and very suspiciously attracts what must be around seventeen visitors a day, and yet the basic welfare of a citizen with obvious health issues, not just to himself but others as well, goes ignored for three years. Actually, come to think about it, apart from audacious, grossly irresponsible, and blatantly neglectful, that is also something that could easily be described as ‘‘weird’’.’
The clock told the assembled it was time to take their well-earned bow. They put away their pens and paper, donned their coats and straightened their clothes, and stood and readied themselves to be pardoned.
‘Ok, um, so I hope that illustrates the word ‘’weird’’ clearly enough for you. So you are all really sincerely telling me you have not noticed the transvestite, the dancer, the inline skater, the mother and son, the Michelin guy, or the guy at the bus stop then?’
There was a general shrugging of the shoulders and shaking of the head as they shuffled toward the classroom door.
‘Wow!’ said the teacher. ‘OK, bye for now then.’ He was shaking his own head at the incredulity of it all.
‘Bye,’ said the students, with barely concealed frowns. As they passed him, some turned their heads to regard him some more as they were sailing out of the room. They looked at him something like a microbiologist might look at a puzzling new strain of organism through a microscope.
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