*Published in May 2015 issue.
Laszlo Kontra Laszlo was a 15-year-old Hungarian. But he neither looked like a 15-year-old nor ever stepped into Hungary in his life before. He passed through the Austrian border in his mom’s womb, and Switzerland in his dad’s arms. He took his first steps in France, but learned to run the tram illegally – so he wouldn’t have to walk much – in Belgium. And I met Laszlo Kontra Laszlo on one of those trams. Tram number 92; the tram that splits Brussels through north to south. We both noticed the ticket inspector that got on the tram at the previous stop, and for some reason caught each other’s eyes. We were surrounded by people, who were grabbing onto anything they could find with a sense of great civic consciousness. Despite the bumpy ride, we were the only ones that would refuse to hold onto something and that start walking rapidly through all the Belgians, who were standing like the Statue of a Belgian. Then we caught each other’s eyes once again and heard the inspector’s voice, in spite of our efforts to avoid: “Tickets please!” This was a warning: There was a shark in the sea and we had to get to the shore right away. However, the only place we could go was the end of the tram and the only thing we could do was to lean the tip of our noses against the window and wait. So we waited for the next stop, looking at the buildings that were moving away from us on both sides of the road, at the tram tracks that were running behind the tram and occasionally at each other. It was just as we expected. Just as the words, “tickets please” were at the back of our ears, tram decelerated and eventually stopped. Laszlo sallied out as soon as the doors opened. I was about to go after him just before a hand grabbed my left shoulder as strong as the voice in my right ear: “Tickets!” I turned around and looked the inspector in the eyes, but this glance didn’t last too long, because my life was saved by a hand: It grabbed my right arm, lifted me up in the air and pulled me out of the tram with a magnificent strength. I was only able to see the tram closing its doors and moving away from where I had fallen. And it was that hand reached my face once again: Laszlo’s hand… I held on and got up. We started laughing. “He should be at least 20 years old,” I had thought that day. That great strength, pulling me out of the tram with only one hand and that massive build… I couldn’t believe my ears when he has said he was only 15 years old. “13”, I answered when he asked about my age. In the end, we were two kids that had gotten on a tram without tickets. Two ordinary kids… For that moment, between the two stops, we were under same the conditions. But now that we were off the tram, everything was different. Our lives would never be similar again. That day, Laszlo got on that tram to visit his mother in the hospital. So I was going to learn the meaning of the word “oncology” a couple of days later, and lapse into silence together, in his mom’s funeral, a couple of weeks later.
Laszlo’s dad had left them years ago. His mom had been the only family Laszlo had and now she was also gone. As a boy, who always preferred to be on the streets, Laszlo was kicked out of one school to be dragged to another to eventually become a drop out. A couple of weeks after his mother’s death he left Brussels and went to Paris. And I received his first letter two months after that. As his story goes, he met acquaintance with a bunch of “punks” in one of the smashed-up districts of Paris: Les Halles. “They are not punks to be precise” he wrote, “they call themselves redskins.” Later, he was explaining how they were searching for fascists every day and smashing their faces up as soon as they find one. What he meant by fascists was actually skinheads. The letter, which was like an exciting adventure thus far, was merging into a deep darkness a couple of sentences later and continuing as: “I’m on the streets for now, couldn’t find a job yet…” In the final sentences he was writing about how much he was missing his mom. And I was finding out within those sentences, how lonely this giant man that looks like a “devil-may-care,” truly was… How great his yearning for a family was… As a matter of fact, I was thereby able to understand that the real reason of his affiliation with that gang of skinhead hunters was actually to find a family. Months had passed, and the second letter had arrived… There was no adventure this time, just darkness in his words. He was saying that he got tired of living on the streets and grew distant from the boys in his gang. Just for a brief moment, he had thought he found that family, which he feels the absence of like a piece of bone, but soon after figured out that he was mistaken. He was saying, “I want to go!” Repeatedly… At least ten times, one after another… For sure I would have given him a reply, if only I had his address. Of course I would have written him a letter and said, “Laszlo, you will definitely find where you belong to.” Would it have helped? I had no clue, I was only 14 years old.
Third letter arrived right after the previous one. A few days after… It was written on the back of a torn calendar page. Month September… “There is a guy…” he was saying “A German… Name is Marc… Talks about a place in Germany… A city called Hamburg… There is this place… People can occupy houses and live at their will… I don’t know exactly what that means, but it seems like the best plan so far… We’re leaving tomorrow… We are going to hitchhike… Maybe a tram stops for us! Ha ha ha!”
Then the letters stopped… I didn’t receive any words from Laszlo for a whole year afterwards. Then one day, a postman brought a box. Although the sender’s name was not written on the box, somehow I felt it was coming from Laszlo and opened the box. A quite fluffy envelope was inside the box. It was as heavy as if it was filled with the year we have passed. There was also a package inside the box but I was too impatient to pay any attention to that. I tore the envelope, pulled the pages out and started reading right after lighting a cigarette. Now that I think of it, I might have started smoking with that letter, but whatever…
This is exactly what Laszlo had written in his letter:
“Forgive me for leaving you uninformed until now… In fact, the story is so long, I don’t know where to begin… Anyway, as you may recall, the last time I wrote, I told you I was going to Hamburg. And that’s what I did. Marc took me to a place called Reeperbahn as soon as we arrived in town. You have got to see it! Brothels; pubs; madmen; punks; hippies; all on the streets! Like a circus. Then we came into a house. A building actually… Where Dockers had lived at some point. Later, when the depression popped, they all walked out, leaving the buildings completely deserted. Now artists and poets, drunks and lowlifes, all sorts of people live here. But of course, there are also people running things around in the buildings. Actually, what they are doing is not really running things around… They are simply making sure the system, which they created, is operating smoothly, so that people can live a commune life together. A significant incident happened here a couple of years ago… Cops came and tried to evacuate the occupied buildings, like the one I live in now, and people resisted so adamantly that eventually the police had to gave up. There is a group of people called Black Block. And they are the toughest resisters! Anyways, the one thing that is expected of you in return of staying in a building is to give a hand when asked and not to steal from anyone. And me and Marc were accepted right away. We are on a street called Hafenstrasse. And there are many buildings like the one I live in… Oh, listen to this: Back in the days, Beatles played in the pubs of Reeperbahn. Can you believe this? Whatever… To come to the point: There is also a football team where I stay. Yeah, football! It has a small stadium downtown. People in my building go to their games. At first I said: “What am I going to do there? I don’t care about football!” But then they said: “We are going there to be together, just to be together…” So I went with them… And do you know what I found, in that stadium? Everything I’ve been looking for! The name is Sankt Pauli. I am sending you a jersey. And a flag of it… There is a funfair right next to the stadium (It is called Millerntor-Stadion by the way). Two years ago a punk who calls himself Doktor Mabuse steals a jolly roger from that fair and comes to the stands with the flag. That flag remains to be the unofficial symbol of the team! Just think about it! Actually, there once was a very famous German pirate named Klaus Störtebeker. Not a regular pirate but a pirate like Robin Hood! That flag represents him as well! Besides, while there are Nazis everywhere in Germany, especially in the stands of the city’s other team HSV, you can’t see a single one here! I mean of course you occasionally have to tan someone’s hide but trust me on this: where I live is a total fascist-free zone. Besides, this is exactly what Sankt Pauli stands for! It absolutely doesn’t matter who you are or where you are coming from! It is the first time in my life I’ve seen a life like this! No one judges anybody… We have this goalkeeper: Volker Ippig! The man is awesome! He’s gone to Nicaragua and worked for revolutionists there! Anyhow… Hopefully you are doing fine as well… By the way, for the first time having an odd name such as Laszlo Kontra Laszlo came in handy! Everybody calls me: “Laszlo against Laszlo!” here. In fact, this is what Sankt Pauli is all about: against everything and everyone… Do you know why? Because up until now, everything and everyone were against us!…”
And so the letter went on… I was filled with tears while reading the lines that are scribbled with a kid’s impatience and joy. I was telling myself, “Here it is… You finally found your family Laszlo… You finally found it… I hope you never let go of one another…”
It was 1992 when I received that box from Laszlo and it was 1994 when I was finally able to go and see Laszlo’s family: Sankt Pauli. It was exactly how he described. Or how he tried to anyway… Besides, he didn’t have to tell me anything. Because Sankt Pauli was exactly how it was supposed to be… No more no less…
The last time I saw Laszlo was there. In that stadium, amongst his “brothers,” as he put it… Tens of thousands of people, abandoned from everywhere and by everyone, were hugging each other and singing along. And there he was: Laszlo, holding a giant Jolly Roger, saying “I am here!” to the entire world. “I am here!” The more he waved that black flag, the bigger it seemed. Like a giant sail cloth would. Laszlo was not just a pirate that day, he was a corsair alone. A ship with a deck full of his brothers! After all the storms it went through, it had finally found the port to take shelter in! Laszlo was swimming towards it. The Port of Hamburg, Sankt Pauli…
I received words of him seven months later. He has followed his mom’s footsteps. Cancer, like his mother… He was 20 years old. No more, no less… Laszlo played against Laszlo all along, and never really cared who wins, like a true Sankt Pauli fan. Because he never played to win but to live. To feel alive. To say “I am alive!” And today, I know for sure:
Laszlo was alive when he died!
*Translated by Baran Yağmurlu.