The Jew whom I loved was given to be with me by the Lord, but of course, not to ease my life, but rather to make it harder. I was conceited; I should say, I deserved it. I knew exactly that the real goal in life was to pour God’s love out of me, as from a tiny pot. Because He somehow prefers it if we keep pouring that tasty sauce on each other, rather than if He poured it on us directly. (Maybe His pot is too big, and we would drown if He poured it on us?) So I knew that the most beautiful thing was to keep pouring out love, but I believed nobody would have any of me, I was a misfit, ungainly, and false, so that I’d rather not keep pouring. Had He created me better, more chaste, more upright, I would advocate His splendidness with my mouth full. But like this?
I was conceited. Like the musician who knows he is talented, but instead of playing he claims that until he gets a fiddle appropriate for him, it’s not worth the trouble. Of course, he says, if he had a Stradivarius, everything would be different, then he would launch like a rocket, he’d glow, he’d burn, he’d fly; but this way it isn’t even worth the exercise.
The Jew I received from the Lord wasn’t a Stradivarius. He was handsome and good-hearted, he even loved me, but he didn’t have real depth or height. Or maybe I just didn’t manage to lure it out of him. After twenty years, who can distinguish the fiddler from the fiddle? How much I resisted, how much I fought against it. It was not my problem that he was Jewish, it was not significant (what nonsense I’m speaking: it always matters if somebody is Jewish), so that wasn’t what disturbed me, but rather that he was a man. I had implored the Lord before this several times that He should take this mark off me, let me run, let me go back to the sober four-four time rhythm, to the world of the normal beat. But He didn’t. A conceited musician is punished by the Lord with a fiddle.
We were young; we lived in love and shame. I couldn’t bear it for long: by then I had cherished my teenage ideals for such a long time that nobody and nothing could have suited them. I broke off with him. Like a coward, in the bus stop, after a year and a half. I got on the bus, and he stayed on the sidewalk and looked after the bus with his mouth agape, only his Adam’s apple was running up and down. I say to the Lord: “Lord, I am ashamed about this thing; you lengthen my neck like that of the giraffe, my nose like that of the elephant, my hooves clatter like that of the chamois, you treat me like Nebuchadnezzar; everyone can see I am hairy, everyone can hear I am an animal.” “Yes, you are,” the Lord says, “because you don’t love the Jew I gave to be with you.” “But he is not right for me,” I say with sincere crying, “give me another.” And the Lord laughs, he laughs considerately so I don’t die from it. To speak such rubbish, that’s funny.
I was able to get along without him for one year; I didn’t love anyone, neither parent nor child. I lived in immeasurable, diligent desolation. Neither back, nor forth; neither spit, nor swallow. Only shame. And slowly I realized that I was even more ashamed of not doing it than if I did.
And then, one gray day I was going along Kossuth Lajos utca in Pest; I had to wait at the corner of Szép utca at the lights. I gazed up at the ugly Hungarotex office block (they’ve recently modernized it, it’s a bit better now), and I saw Jesus in the clouds for a flash. I couldn’t swear He was there as an image, but I felt He was looking at me. Or rather that He saw me. Or at least that it did matter to Him what I did. If I got it into my head, after all, that I should love people, because that is the only thing I have a real talent for, and this love can only be anchored in a male partner, then I should go back and love him, and through him the parent, the child, the pupil and the policeman. I was standing at the lights, with my head held high; a mist was sprinkling. Silly me, I thought that the Lord had taken His hands off me, that I couldn’t even be taken for a hairy Nebuchadnezzar.
Within a year I worked myself back to the one who still loved me. I learnt how to be small, like a Gypsy musician, to strike up what I was supposed to. By the way, he wasn’t Jewish formally, he didn’t really know the Holy Days, he didn’t go to temple, he wasn’t even circumcised. Yet, every inch of him was just that: he was a stranger, mysterious, hungry for love, suspicious, and old. He was five thousand years old.
We buried him two years ago; he wanted to leave and in the end I didn’t hold him back. I ask the Lord: “What else do you want, Lord, are you pushing my boat to sea again?” The Lord says, “You pushed it out; you pushed the Jew out of your boat into the sea. It was you who wanted motion, salty breezes, an opening horizon. You’ll get it.” I tell Him, “Lord, I didn’t want him to die.” The Lord replies, “I’m not so sure about that. You’d had enough of him. You got tired of him. He wasn’t a Stradivarius, was he? He never sounded really beautiful, he was never absolutely perfect. You wanted to play more nicely, eh? You’re still a prima donna, a self-appointed virtuoso.” I say, “Lord, I didn’t want freedom. I used the fiddle honestly for twenty years, on leaving and on entering, for waking and for falling asleep, as an accusation and as a comfort. Was it not enough?”
The Lord keeps silent, and I kick the door-post. Why is the last word always mine?
(First published in Hungarian literary weekly Élet és Irodalom, Vol. 2001, No. 51–52. Original title: Az Úr hegedűje; translated by Fábián Sebestyén)