Szombathely

The air was cool and crisp. It was early August and the sun was just beginning to set. It was the last day of our fencing camp and there was a general air of excitement about. People were talking in various languages generally seeking a good time.

I sat on the stoop with the definite feeling of being apart from this. I had just finished grade eight and those under 18 had been told to stay within the confines of the university residence. I was shy and had not yet learned to ignore these rules. I was also pretty much by myself in a foreign country. My sister was upstairs waiting for me to join her.

Most of the friends I’d made were older than me, either done high school or in university except for Paul. He was German and about my age. When he first introduced himself I thought his name was Pow and he seemed Spanish with his accent. I was quickly smitten with him.

Earlier that day I had been sitting watching him pack as he talked about each item. I was amazed by the number of shoes he had. (He had packed more pairs of shoes than there were days in the camp.)

As we sit chatting in the in the allowed zone I want him to stay here. I want him to follow the rules like me. A couple of his friends appear with a pizza. They speak English for my benefit. I am grateful for the courtesy.

Late he runs off down the street into town, that mysterious place. I’ve wandered it but don’t know it terribly well. I want so badly to follow him. Uncomfortable I recede into myself hesitating. This is the same reaction I have latter on at parties when friends take hard drugs. I become quiet mumbling, “no thanks”. Paul doesn’t seem to care. I am a lot farther from home than he is.

Four years later I am back at the same camp. Freshly 18, I am a lot older than I was. I’ve seen more and done a lot more. Debate has made me less shy. My sister is not here this time around. Instead, quite a few other Canadian fencers I know are coming.

The camp is a blur of socializing and training in intense heat. There is a park where we are forced to run. I remember hating it the last time around.

A group of cool kids forms. Every night they go out and party. A couple of people I know make the cut. I am not one of them. I find the idea of training for eight hours while hungover unbearable.

They go skinny dipping at the local pool that I paid money to get into. Midway through the camp someone vomits on the stairs. It is never cleaned up. We must walk past it every time we enter and exit the residence where we sleep.

The town itself is small and unchanged. The food is just as bad. Eventually we reach a breaking point and start going to McDonalds for dinner.

The dorms still strike me as insane. They are four to a single room packed like sardines with no desk or room for privacy. I wonder how students can handle this as full-time living quarters.

The last night is very much different. We go to a gas station and buy vodka and Cherry Coke. There is no question that I will be frolicking down the street with the best of them. We go to a club that has yet to establish western style capacity limits. It is packed with fencers and bursting at the seams. Getting a drink from the bar is out of the question. I foolishly wore sandals and a woman in high heels steps on my toes. I can feel the blood collecting as it drips towards the sole of my foot. There is little I can do about it. I keep dancing.

The next morning we board the buses home, groggy and sad to leave. I think of the last time I was here and my last set of goodbyes. I wonder where Paul is now, what he’s like and how he’s changed. I look out the window and smile before drifting off to sleep.

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