Saturday, October 12, 2013

How I Met Myself Part III

Chapter 9

The date gets closer again

At three 0' clock in the morning on January 11th I suddenly sat up in bed. I listened. Kati wasn't crying (in fact, she usually slept all through the night by then).

But I was cold and afraid in the dark.

Suddenly, I realized what had happened. I had the dream again. The street. The door. Me running out. The man on the ground. Me. Meeting myself.

I felt terrible. Since little Kati had entered my life, I hadn't had the bad dreams. I thought they were a thing of the past, but here they were again, as big and black as before.

I couldn't sleep, so I went into the kitchen and made myself some tea. Then I went to the bookshelf in the living room and took down last year's diary. You see, I always keep a diary where I write down what happens each day. Monday January 18th was when I'd had the strange meeting last year. It was seven days until that date now.

Then suddenly, a new idea came into my head: it was the date that was important! It all seemed so dear! It was not surprising that I'd never met myself again on all those evenings I'd waited in Felka utca! I needed to be there on January 18th. Next Sunday evening. And I'd had the dream again to make me remember!

I walked up and down again and again, with thoughts running quickly through my head. It was the date that was important. My reading about ghosts and life after death had helped me to find out about doppelgangers, but I still didn't understand. What I needed to do was to find out what had happened in Felka utca or Gergely Utca one January 18th in the past.

The six days which followed that night were very difficult.

The next morning, I told Andrea that I'd had the dream again.

'I think it's the date, January 18th, which must be important,' I said. Andrea carried on giving Kati her milk.

'I want to do some reading about it,' I went on. 'I'd like to start looking at some old newspapers to find out what happened there on January 18th. Where can I go to find old newspapers in Budapest?'

Andrea was angry with me.

'Leave it alone, John!' she shouted. 'There are more important things in your life now!'

'But Andrea . . . ' I started.

'You've got a baby to look after,' she continued. 'And me. You can't use your free time looking for something you won't be able to find!'

Kati started to cry. It seemed that she understood that her mother and father were unhappy.

I decided to tell Andrea everything I was thinking and doing this time; it had been no good keeping the truth from her last year. So on Friday January 16th, after having the dream every night that week, I talked to her about the coming Sunday.

'Andrea, I have to go to Felka Utca on Sunday,' I started.

She said nothing. 'And I'd like you to come with me . . .'
'You must be joking!' she said.

'But listen, love,' I went on, taking her hand, 'I need you to come with me.'

'How would that help you?' she asked, taking her hand away.

'There are two reasons,' I continued. 'First, because I'm afraid to go by myself, and second, because I want to know if you see anything.'

'But how do you know that this man will be there?' she asked.

'I don't,' I replied. 'But it's the only idea I have about what happened - that it's the date which is important.' Andrea said nothing. I watched her.

'Please, love,' I said. 'It would help me a lot.'

'But what about Kati?' she asked. 'I'm not taking her with me.'

'Of course not,' I said, happier. 'We'll get your friend Petra to look after her.'
She said nothing again.

'Yes?' I asked, carefully. She sat thinking for a long time. I waited.

'All right,' she said. 'But this really is the last time.'
'OK,' I said. 'OK. But. . . thank you.’

I was very pleased, and went to telephone Petra at once. Petra was an old friend of Andrea's who sometimes looked after Kati when we went out. I told her we'd unexpectedly been invited to tea at my boss's flat. Luckily, she said yes.

I hoped that I would sleep better knowing Andrea was coming with me on Sunday. I didn't. I had the dream again that night and on Saturday.

The dream was almost the same, except that I now seemed to hear a loud noise in the street just before the man came out of the door. I tried to understand what the loud noise was. I listened in my dream, but it wasn't very clear. I knew it was something important, something that would help me, but I couldn't be sure what it was. I often woke up after the dream and felt afraid. I stayed awake in the dark trying to decide what the dream was trying to tell me. I also worried about what was going to happen if I met my doppelganger again on Sunday.

Chapter 10

January 18th

Sunday started very quietly. We didn't talk much to each other. Both Andrea and I were unsure of what we were going to do and what might happen.

At three o'clock on Sunday afternoon, Petra arrived to look after Kati.

'What's the matter with you two?' she asked, as we put our coats on. 'You look as if you're visiting someone in hospital rather than going to a tea party!'

We tried to smile as we left the house, but we were both afraid.

We had decided to go to for a walk to use the time before our meeting. We went to Margaret Island - the lovely island park in the middle of the River Danube. It was a place we always liked going to, with its huge trees full of singing birds. We often took Kati there to get some fresh air. But today, although it was quite a nice winter afternoon, we were thinking about the meeting too much to enjoy it. We didn't speak much. At quarter to six (17:45) we started to walk back over the wide grey river and into the streets of the Thirteenth District.

By half past six we were standing opposite number 7 Felka utca. It was evening by now, and the street was as dark as usual.

'Where do you think we should wait?' asked Andrea. 'You stay on this side of the road,' I answered. 'When it's time, I'll go and stand outside the door. You watch and listen carefully.'

At ten to seven I walked across the road. There was nobody around, just Andrea and I.

Then suddenly I heard a noise, then an inside door shut. I looked across at Andrea. I heard the sound of someone running. The door opened and out ran a man, straight into me. I fell to the ground, shouting, 'Hey. .!' The man looked round. He had my face.

'Sorry,' he said in Hungarian, and went off quickly to the end of the street. I stood up. Andrea was standing there looking at me. I could see she didn't understand what had just happened.

'Quick!' I shouted. 'Follow him!'

I ran up to the end of the street, and crossed over into Gergely utca. The man was just going down into the wine bar. Andrea arrived by my side a moment later.

'There!' I shouted. 'Did you see? He went down into the wine cellar. Come on!'

I ran along to Zsolt's bar, pulling Andrea after me. I went down the stairs and pushed the door. It was shut. Of course, it was Sunday afternoon, Zsolt's afternoon off. I sat down on the steps and looked at the locked door. Andrea sat beside me and put her arm round my shoulder.
When I looked at her she had a strange look in her eyes. As we walked home we talked about what had happened.

'It was just the same as last year,' I said. 'Just the same.'

'But I saw nothing and heard nothing. All I saw was you falling over and shouting,' she said. 'And it was very strange - you just fell over.'

We walked the rest of the way home without speaking. When Petra had left, we didn't talk very much all evening. For me, everything had been the same as last year. Except that this time there had been no snow to show that the man had left no footprints, and the bar he went into had been closed.

That night I had the dream again.

I was standing outside the building. I heard the new noise - much louder now. The door opened. The man ran out of the door and knocked me over. He turned to say sorry, and when I looked at him it was me I saw. The strange thing was that every time I had the dream the noise got louder and louder. And I always woke up feeling terribly afraid.

Chapter 11

A little bit of history

The next Monday there was no important new work to do for a few days, so I asked my boss for some time off work. I told him Andrea wasn't feeling well and needed some help at home with the baby in the afternoons. He kindly said I could go to the office only in the mornings, for a week or two until the next big piece of work arrived from Britain. I decided not to tell Andrea what I was going to do. She had been kind enough to come with me to the meeting that Sunday when she really didn't want to, and I didn't want to make her angry or worried again.

At two o'clock in the afternoon on Monday January 19th, I was sitting in the reading room of the Budapest City Library with a lot of big books in front of me. They were not really books, but newspapers that had been made into books. I wanted to find out everything that had happened in Budapest's Thirteenth District on every January 18th. I decided to read one of Hungary's best-known newspapers, because it always had lots of news about what was happening in Budapest. I had asked the librarian for this newspaper for every month of January, starting from ten years before.

I went through the Budapest pages for each year very carefully. I studied the days between 12 and 25 January, as this was the week before and the week after the date of meeting my doppelganger. Of course, I was always very. Of course, I was always very careful when I got to each January 18th. It took me longer than I'd expected, and I was only just able to finish the first ten Januarys before the library closed at five o'clock. My Hungarian was good, but it still took me a long time to read the old newspapers.

I went to the reading room each afternoon. I discovered all sorts of things I never knew about Budapest. Much of what I read about from before 1990 was, of course, about the Communist Party. There was more and more information about groups of politicians and workers who visited from other Eastern European countries the deeper into the past I went.
I sometimes found information about the Thirteenth District, but nothing interesting, and I had found nothing about Felka utca.

I was beginning to think I would never find anything, or that my reading would have to go back into the nineteenth century. On Saturday I told Andrea that I had a meeting at work, but instead I went to the library at half past eight in the morning, with a complete day ahead of me. By early afternoon I had got back to the 1940's.

It was almost closing time when I reached 19 January 1945. By now I was tired, but then I saw something at the bottom of the Budapest page of the newspaper. It jumped out at me. It said in Hungarian: YOUNG MOTHER AND CHILD KILLED AS FIGHTING ENDS IN PEST.

The story said that the day before (18 January) was the end of the fighting between the German soldiers inside Pest and the Russians who were all around them. It then said that the happy day for Pest was also sad for people in the Thirteenth District: a Russian bomb had hit a Gergely utca building; it didn't explode, but it destroyed the cellar, killing a young mother and her daughter. The dead woman was later named as Mrs. Szabo.

I made a copy of this story and went home. I decided to tell Andrea about what I had found out.

'And where have you been?' Andrea asked as I walked into the flat.

'What do you mean?' I asked back.

'I rang you at the office to tell you I was taking Kati out this afternoon,' she replied. 'The receptionist said you weren't there, and she also said that there was no meeting.' Andrea was very angry.

I looked at the floor.

'Well, John?' she went on. 'Where was it this time? Felka utca? Gergely utca? Some other stupid street?' 'Andrea,' I started, 'I've been reading the newspapers.' I took out the copy of the newspaper story. 'Look,' I said.

She read it quickly.

'And what do you think this shows?' she asked. She looked angry.

'Well, the date,' I said, 'and the street. They're the same. January 18th and Gergely utca.'

'So, what are you going to do now?' she replied.

'Well, we must try to find somebody from this Mrs. Szab6's family, I think,' I replied. 'Perhaps they still live in the building.'

'Don't say "we",' she said. 'I told you that last Sunday was my last time. And anyway, which building: Gergely utca or Felka utca?'

'I don't know,' I answered. 'But just think about it. My doppelganger comes out of the building in Felka Utca and runs round to Gergely utca on January 18th. Perhaps the people were hiding from the fighting in his house. He was visiting a friend. He heard about it, and ran home to see what had happened. So he lived in Gergely utca.'

'You're very good at telling stories, John,' said Andrea, and walked into the bedroom.

'But, Andrea,' I said, following her, 'I've got to find out, don't you understand? If I don't, I'll never be free of this dream! I have to know the truth it could be important for me in some way. There has to be a reason for this meeting.'

'Look, John,' she said. 'You do what you want, but just don't expect any help from me. Do you understand?' And with that she picked up Kati, who was already dressed to go out, put on her coat and walked out of the flat.

Chapter 12

Looking for the truth

I stood looking at the closed door and listened as Andrea took the lift down to the ground floor. I tried to decide what to do. I knew Andrea was tired of the doppelganger story, and so was I. And I knew she wanted me to spend more time with her and Kati, and so did I. But I needed to know why this was happening to me.

After a few minutes, I put my coat back on and walked round to Gergely utca, and met the housekeeper again. This time I had to do the talking. I asked lots of questions. Was there a family called Szabo in any of the flats? No.

Had there ever been a family called Szabo in the time she'd been housekeeper? No. Were there any old people living in the building? Only Mrs. Kovacs on the second floor, who was probably in her seventies. I decided to try her. She was a very nice old lady, but she had only moved into the flat in 1979 when her husband had died, so she could be closer to her daughter and family who lived nearby.

After that, I walked round to 7 Felka utca and found the housekeeper. I asked her the same questions, and I was very happy when she told me that there was a Szabo family on the third floor!

I took the lift up, and found the flat. The door was answered by a big man wearing a dirty vest.

'Mr. Szabo?' I asked, feeling rather unsure of myself.

'Who wants to know?' he answered, looking angry.

'I'm. . . er . . . trying to find part of my wife's family called Szabo,' I said, thinking quickly. 'I . . . er. . . want to know if you can help me.'

'What do you want to know?' he asked, in an ugly voice.

'Did your family live in this, flat at the end of the war?' I asked.

'It's none of your business,' he replied, starting to shut the door.

'Oh please, Mr. Szabo,' I've come a long way, and it's very important for me to find out.'

'Look,' said Mr. Szabo, 'how do I know you're not the police, or a detective or something?'

'Mr. Szabo, look at me,' I replied. 'I'm English. I work with computers. I only need to know if your family lived here during the war.'

He seemed to become a little softer.
'No. My parents moved here after the revolution in 1956,' he said. 'They're dead now. I was born here in 1958. OK?'

'Oh, I see,' I answered. 'Thank you so much for your time.'

What a horrible man, I thought as I walked back to the lift. And what's more, not the right man!
I went back down to the housekeeper.

'Not the right Szabos, I'm afraid,' I said when she came to the door.

'Oh dear,' said the lady. 'I'm sorry, but we haven't got any more!'

'But are there any old people?' I asked. 'Or are there any families who have lived here for a very long time?’

 'Yes,' she answered. 'There is one person: old Mrs. Fischer on the fourth floor. She's been here for ages.'

 'Oh, wonderful,' I replied with a smile. 'Thank you.'

I got back into the lift and went up to the fourth floor and found the right flat.

I had to ring the bell again and again before the old lady opened the door. She couldn't hear very well. But she let me into her small-kitchen, and offered me a cup of coffee.

'Mrs. Fischer, how long have you lived here in Felka utca?' I had to repeat each question about three times before she understood what I said, because of my Hungarian and her hearing problems.

'Since 1937, my dear,' she replied. 'I moved into this flat as a young wife with my new husband Pal. He died five years ago.'

'I'm sorry,' I said. 'Did you live here during the war?'

'Yes, we did,' she answered. 'Well, I did. My husband was away fighting most of the time.'

'Were you here in 1945, when the Russians got the Germans out of Pest?' I asked.

'Yes, I most certainly was,' Mrs. Fischer replied. 'We didn't know who were worse - the Germans or the Russians!'

'And can you remember any of the other people who lived in this building then?' I continued.

'Well, some of them, , she said. 'Lots of people were killed.' Here she seemed to lose herself thinking about those bad days again.

'Perhaps you remember a family called Szabo?' I asked.

She looked at me with a very strange face. I thought she was going to say that she remembered nothing, when suddenly she said very quietly, 'Poor, poor Janos.’

I looked at the old lady and waited.

'Would you like some more coffee, or a glass of juice, perhaps?' she said, standing up.

'No, that's fine, thank you, Mrs. Fischer,' I said. 'I'm sorry, but what were you saying about Janos Szabo a moment ago?'
Again I waited.

'Oh, it was terrible,' she said. 'We were all so sorry for him. It was such a bad thing to happen. And right on the day when the fighting ended here in Pest.'

She stopped again. I waited, thoughts running through my head.

'He had looked after his family all through the war.' She said. 'His health was not very good, and so he didn't go away to fight. Then in 1943 his wife had a baby. A sweet little girl. They were so happy.'

I smiled, thinking of my Kati.

'His wife used to go and help in a shop in a cellar,' she continued. 'Then on that day. . . '

'But where was the cellar shop?' I asked quickly.

'Oh, not far,' she replied. 'Just round the corner in Gergely utca.'

I looked at her very hard. I couldn't believe what I was hearing.

'And on that day - the day when the fighting stopped - in January 1945,'  the old lady went on. 'Janos was down in the courtyard, the small outdoor area where children played. He was talking to a few of us neighbors. We knew the fighting was nearly over. You could just hear a few guns from outside and sometimes a bomb coming in from the Russians. Suddenly, a man ran into our building shouting for Janos, telling him to go to the Gergely utca cellar shop quickly: something had happened. He ran out immediately. And when he came back he had changed completely.'

Here she stopped again for a long time.

'Can you tell me what had happened, Mrs. Fischer?' I asked quietly.

'Oh, it was too bad,' she said, her eyes wet with crying. 'It was such bad luck, so unfair, after all that war. A Russian bomb hit the building above the cellar shop in Gergely utca. It didn't explode, but it was heavy enough to destroy the cellar. And so that poor young woman and the baby were killed. So unfair.'

I looked at the old lady feeling both happy and sad. I had finally found out the truth from someone who had been there.

'What happened to Janos after that?' I asked.

'Oh, the poor, poor man!' said the old lady. 'He was never the same again. He stopped wanting to live. In the end he died fighting in the streets in 1956. We all thought he wanted to die. He had nothing left to live for.'

Chapter 13

Problems at home

I'm not sure how I walked back to our flat. I was terribly worried. Andrea came home with Kati at eight o' clock, and put her to bed, I wanted to tell Andrea what had happened. But I didn't know what to say because she had been so angry about it that afternoon. I also wanted to talk about what I had been told. I was both very interested and afraid at the same time.

'Andrea,' I started, 'I've found out what happened.'

She didn't answer; she was looking at a newspaper.

'Andrea,' I tried again, ‘would you like me to tell you what I've found out?'

She looked at me coldly.

'Look, John,' she said, 'you know that I've really had enough of this story of yours, but I expect I'll have to hear the next part. Go on.' She looked very tired and worried.

I told her what Mrs. Fischer had said quickly and quietly. She looked at me as I talked. When I had finished she said, 'And so what?'

'Well, don't you understand - it's him I see every January 18th,' I replied.

'Who?' asked Andrea.

'Janos Szabo, of course,’ I said.

'Oh, John!' she said. 'How can you see a dead man? I really think you must be ill.'

'What do you mean?' I asked.

'I mean that you're probably very tired from work, and because of the baby,' she went on, 'and that you need some help from a doctor.'

'But, Andrea,' I shouted, 'you came with me on January 18th and saw what happened. . . '

'John, remember that all I saw was you falling over and shouting,' she said.

I sat looking at her without saying anything. My wife didn't believe me. She thought that I was ill. And yet I knew it was all true. This man - Janos Szabo - my doppelganger - was there for a reason. He was there to tell me something, to help me in some way.

Over the next few weeks, I often tried to talk about it with Andrea, but she never wanted to listen to me. Sadly, my doppelganger seemed to be building a wall between us - talking to each other became much more difficult than it had been before. We often spent evenings without talking much, or my wife went to bed early, saying she was tired after a day looking after Kati, and I stayed up watching old films on the TV until the early hours of the morning.

I thought about it carefully, again and again. Some things were true facts. A man called Janos Szabo had lived at number 7 Felka utca. On January 18, 1945 his wife and daughter had been killed in the cellar that was now Zsolt's bar in Gergely utca. Other things were difficult to understand: I had been outside the Felka utca building twice on the anniversary of that date - January 18th- and I had met the man. And he looked the same as me. What did it all mean?

Chapter 14

Another year goes by

The year passed very quickly. Andrea and I still lived in the same flat; we slept in the same bed and ate the same food. We both took care of our beautiful little girl, but really we weren't very close any more. It was as if Janos Szabo stood between us. I spent longer at work each day and quite often worked on Saturdays, too. I usually had a, glass of wine at Zsolt's bar on two or three evenings a week. On two evenings a week Andrea went out to yoga classes.

Then things slowly started to change. We had a very good time when we took Kati for her second visit to England in August. England was so far away from Budapest, and there were so many things to see and do, and so many friends and family to visit that I was able to forget about my meetings with myself.

Of course, everyone loved Kati - she was such a pretty, happy little girl - and this seemed to help Andrea and I to build our love for each other again. Perhaps the best moment of the summer was when we took Kati to the sea for the first time. She loved playing in the water and on the beach, and we enjoyed playing with her.

After we came back from our holiday in September things seemed better at home, too. I began some very important work which took much more of my time. Andrea decided she wanted to start working again, so we put Kati into a very nice school for small children. It was just mornings at first, but the little girl liked it so much that in November we let her stay all day. Andrea taught a few Hungarian lessons here and there and also helped Zsolt in his bar again for a couple of mornings a week. It seemed as if our problems had gone away.

We spent the Christmas holidays at home on our own, as a happy little family. Then for New Year we went to the country to stay with Andrea's family, as usual. We had a very good time there, as well.

It was only when I went back to work on January 6th, and I started looking at dates for finishing the work I was doing, that I suddenly realized that it would soon be January 18th again. I very much wanted to talk to Andrea about it, but I was afraid of destroying the happiness we had found again.

As if to make me remember what had happened on January 18th the last two years, I had a terrible dream. It was really the same dream - the door in Felka utca; the loud noise from somewhere near, the man running out, me falling onto the ground and the man running off down the street. I followed him, and this time I watched him as he started looking for something in the destroyed cellar in Gergely utca.

Suddenly, I woke up and shouted out, 'Help me!' I was crying and hot. I felt terrible.

Andrea woke up. 'What is it, John?' she asked. She looked really afraid.

I looked at her, and pulled her very close to me. I had a horrible feeling that this dream and the meetings with myself had something to do with her.

Chapter 15

I discover some more facts

The next day, I was walking home from work. Of course, I was asking myself if I should go to meet my doppelganger, Janos Szabo, for the third time on January 18th.

As I went along a street I saw some men putting up a new sign on an old shop. There was the owner's name in red, and below it the word Szabo in green. In the window there were suits, jackets and trousers. Szabo. Tailor. The tailor was getting a new sign. 'Szabo,' I thought. Then I said 'Janos Szabo' out loud. Then I thought, 'Janos the tailor. John the tailor. John Taylor.' I stopped in the street. Janos Szabo was John Taylor! My doppelganger and I shared a name. John Taylor was the English for the Hungarian Janos Szabo. My hair stood up. Here was something new and important: we shared the same name!

I needed a drink, so I went into Zsolt's bar and thought about what I had discovered. I tried to decide what to do. Should I tell Andrea about this? Perhaps it would help her to believe me? I didn't know. I remembered the man in my new dream last night, in the destroyed cellar, looking for something. I decided to go and see Mrs. Fischer again.

I walked quickly round to Felka urca and went inside and up to her flat.

'Do you remember I came to ask you about Janos Szabo, Mrs. Fischer?' I asked when she let me in.

'Oh, the poor young man: she said, looking at me sadly. 'And do you know something - you look so like him, too.'

This was quite a surprise. 'Really?' I asked.

'Come here under the light,' she said.

I moved under the strong light in the hall.

'Yes: she said, looking at me carefully. 'You look very much the same. The eyes, the nose, the mouth. Very much the same. I didn't look at you carefully when you came last time. Oh, the poor young man.'

I felt myself getting very hot.

'Mrs. Fischer, I came to ask you something different,' I said. Then I went on very slowly, because I was s afraid of her possible answer. 'Can you remember the names of the wife and daughter who were killed in the cellar?'

'Well, I know the wife was called Andrea,' she started, and I felt my face go white, 'but as for the little girl. .. let's think. . . '

I waited for a moment. She didn't seem able to remember.

'It wasn't. . . ' I waited, and then said, 'It wasn't Kati, was it?'

Mrs. Fischer looked at me and smiled. 'Yes, that was it,' she said. 'Quite right. Andrea and Kati. The poor young things.'

I thanked her and left as quickly as I could. My head was turning round and round. I felt sick. Outside in the cold street, I stood against the wall of the building. There were too many new things inside my head to understand at once: my doppelganger had the same name as me - Szabo, or Taylor - I looked like him, and his wife and daughter had the same names as mine! I started to ask myself how many other things about our live: were the same. The next week I went to the Public Records Office in my lunch break. This is the office where they keep information about everyone who lives in Hungary today, and also about people who lived there in the past. I asked for information about Janos Szabo who had lived in Felka utca in 1945 and died in 1956. It was surprisingly easy with their new computers. By now, I almost expected the information that the assistant gave me: that Janos had been born on October 23rd.

That was my birthday, too.

I was now sure that all these facts about his life and mine were not just the same by chance. I believed my doppelganger was trying to tell me something important, but I didn't know what. I wanted to talk about it with Andrea, but that still seemed impossible. First of all, she wouldn't listen to me, and then even if she did listen I didn't think she would understand. Or she wouldn't want to understand because she was too worried by the story. I decided to wait and see if I could meet my Doppelganger again on January 18th.

Chapter 16

It all happens again

Every night from then on I had the dream in all its possible forms. The opening door, the running man, the loud noise, the man who was looking for something. Sometimes it was me who ran out of the door, and sometimes it was me who was knocked onto the ground; sometimes I was looking for something, sometimes I was watching the man looking for something. And behind everything I could hear a man's voice shouting, 'Help me!' and 'Andrea, Kati!'

Again and again I woke up hot, cold, crying, shouting and always terribly afraid. I didn't tell Andrea, but I knew she knew. I could tell she had woken up when I did, although she never said anything. I felt that she, too, was afraid of what was happening to me.

Saturday January 18th was a grey, cold winter's day. It wasn't snowing, but it looked as if it would soon. I got up early and went to work. My boss had asked me to go into the office and go through a new work plan with him, before talking about it with the other people on Monday. It took much longer than expected and I didn't get home until half past six.

'Hello!' I shouted as I walked through the door of our flat. 'Hello. Where are you?' There was no reply. I walked into the living room and there on the table was a note.

Dear John,
Zsolt phoned. His mothers ill and I offered to look after the bar while he takes her to the doctors. I couldn't get Petra to look after Kati, so I've taken her with me. Won't be long I hope!
See you later.
Andrea (and Kati) xxx

My blood went cold. I looked at my watch. It was quarter to seven. I ran into the hall, forgetting my coat, and ran downstairs and out into the street. Then I started running towards the bar. It was nearly five to seven. I turned right into Felka utca - not left into Gergely utca and ran up to number 7. The big front door was open. I went inside, I was breathing quickly because I'd been running. I could hear the noise of a television or radio from one of the flats.

Suddenly, there was a very loud noise like a bomb from outside somewhere. All the windows shook. One or two windows opened, and voices called out to each other in the dark.

'What was that?' asked one.

'I don't know,' someone replied.

'It sounded like a bomb,' said a third.

Just then, I heard someone shouting outside in the street. 'Help! Help! There's been an explosion in Gergely utca. Help everybody!'
I ran out of the building, the door shutting loudly behind me.

In the street, I ran straight into someone.

'Look out!' said a man.
He fell to the ground. I looked down, asking myself what I was going to see. There was the man who looked like me lying on the ground.

'Sorry. . . ' I said in Hungarian.

And then I ran along Felka utca and crossed over the road. My mind was racing. I was thinking all the time about what I was going to find.

Chapter 17

We must get them out !

When I turned into Gergely utca I stopped running. It was difficult to see where I was going. The street was full of smoke, like a thick grey cloud everywhere. I couldn't see anything, and the smell of gas was terrible. Perhaps a gas pipe in one of the old buildings had broken, and that had started the explosion.

I took my handkerchief out and put it across my mouth and nose, and walked along the street. There was also the loud noise of car alarms ringing - started by the explosion. I found I was walking on glass from all the broken windows. People were already trying to knock out the other pieces of glass from their windows, and some had started to put paper and plastic over them to keep their flats warm.

I knew, had got to Zsolt's bar because there was a small crowd of people standing around it. I looked down; there was nothing left. I couldn't see the steps going down, the windows or even the walls - there was just a lot of broken stones. I looked and looked, my mind completely empty.

Suddenly, I understood what had happened.

'My wife!' I shouted in Hungarian. 'My wife and daughter are in there. We must get them out! Help me!' people looked at me.

'Come on,' I said, looking at the people standing around. 'We must get them out!'

I started to give orders. I made everybody stand in a line, and told them to pass along the stones from the destroyed building and put them in the street. Then I got to work, picking up the broken pieces of wood and stone. The people soon got the idea, and we worked as a good team. I was very pleased to see other neighbors coming and joining in on the other side of what had been the front of the bar. Surprisingly soon, I was down to where the doorway had been.
At that moment, I heard the noise of police cars, fire engines and ambulances coming closer, and the people I was working with stopped helping me.

'What's the matter?' I shouted. 'We must get my wife and...'

'Come on out, sir, please,' said a voice. I looked up. In the grey light the person who had spoken looked very big and black above me.

'But my wife and my daughter are in here,' I shouted.

'We must get them out!'

And I threw the pieces of wood and stone that I had in my hands up into the street, and turned to get some more from the destroyed doorway. But then strong hands got hold of me and pulled me up into the street. 'Just come out of the way, sir,' said the voice.

'But my wife...!'

'I understand, sir,' said the voice, which I now realized came from a fireman, 'but it's too dangerous for you to go in there. Leave it to us. The, place is full of gas - can't you smell it?'

I could smell it now I had stopped. And I could feel it inside my body.

The fireman let me go, and I fell down onto the street and started crying. I was lifted up by more hands, and soon I was lying in the back of an ambulance parked a few meters down the street. I was coughing a lot, so a nurse put something over my face to help me breathe. I started to feel better and tried to sit up.

'Just lie down, please,' said the nurse. 'You need to rest for a while.'

'But my wife and daughter were in that cellar,' I said. 'I have to find them.'

'There's nothing you can do now, sir,' said the voice in a very gentle way. 'Just rest.'

I must have slept for a few minutes. When I woke, I sat up. Then I stood up and stepped out into the street. The ambulance men were standing outside.

'Are you feeling any better, sir?' one of them asked. 'Yes, much better, thanks,' I replied. 'Is there any news?' 'Not yet, sir,' said another ambulance man.

I pushed my way through the crowd, which was much bigger now. The air was clearer too, but the street was full of blue lights. The firemen had put some lights in front of Zsolt's bar so that they could see what they were doing, and the police were keeping people away.

I called to one of the policemen and explained that I was the husband of someone who had been in the cellar, and he took me over to a police van on the other side of the street.

'Good evening, sir,' said a young policeman sitting inside the van. 'Take a seat.'

I sat down opposite him.

'Is there any news yet?' I asked him.

'Not yet, I'm afraid, sir,' he said, looking serious. 'Could I ask you for some information, please?'

And for the next five minutes I gave him facts and dates about myself, Andrea and Kati, which he wrote down on many different pieces of paper. He also asked me what I knew about the bar and the people who worked there, and who might have been inside when the explosion happened.

"'What shall I do now?' I asked, feeling very unsure of myself.

'Well, sir,' he replied, 'you live nearby, so why don't you go home and wait there? I've got your telephone number and I'll call you as soon as we have any news.'

'OK,' I said. 'Thanks.'

I got out of the van, and pushed back through the crowd, leaving the lights and the noise behind me. I felt terrible. Deep inside I didn't believe that anybody in that cellar could have lived through the explosion. The bar was completely destroyed. It was impossible for Andrea and Kati to be alive.

I then started thinking about how stupid I'd been. "Why hadn't I told Andrea what I'd seen in my dreams and what I'd found out from Mrs. Fischer? I couldn't believe I had killed my own wife and child. And all because I was too interested in the doppelganger story to think carefully about the two people I loved most in the world. Too interested in the doppelganger story to think about what my doppelganger wanted to tell me... How stupid I'd been! The bar had been destroyed. My wife and child had been destroyed. And my life was now destroyed. I would never be happy again.

Chapter 18

Unexpected help

I was walking along Gergely utca very slowly, feeling as if I wanted to die. I wasn't looking where I was going. I was looking down at the ground, lost in my thoughts. Suddenly, when I got to the corner of the street, I walked into somebody.

'Sorry,' I said, looking up.

I saw it was someone like me I was looking at. It was my doppelganger again. We looked into each other's eyes. And then he lifted his arm and pointed his finger. I looked where he was pointing, and I could see two small people at the end of the dark street. One was a woman and one was a child. I couldn't believe my eyes.

'Andrea!' I shouted. 'Kati!'

As I started to run towards them, I looked back at the man.

There was no one there.

We all three ran to each other, and held each other for a long time.

'Thank goodness!' I said at last. 'I thought. . . I thought you were. . . '

'Sash,' said Andrea, putting her hand over my mouth. 'And we would be, but for your "friend".'

'What friend?' I asked. 'Zsolt?'

'No, John,' she said, laughing. 'Your doppelganger.'

‘My . . . ?' I stood with my mouth open. 'What on earth do you mean?'

And so Andrea explained to me what had happened.

'I walked round to the bar with Kati, ready to help while Zsolt was away at the doctor's. Zsolt was already standing in the street when I got there. He told me there was no one in the bar, and so we stood talking in the street for a few minutes. Then he got into his car and went off to take his mother to the doctor's. When I turned round to go down to the bar, I saw you standing in front of the entrance. I called your name, and asked you what you wanted. But you said nothing, and I tried to go down into the bar. You didn't move. I asked you to get out of the way, but you didn't. And then Kati started crying. I asked her what the matter was. "See what you've done now, John - you've made her cry." I said to you. Kati was crying and shaking her head. "Not Daddy," she said. "Not Daddy."

I looked at the man in front of me again, as carefully as I could in the dark winter light. . . and then I realized it must be your doppelganger. The coat was different - it looked old-fashioned. Suddenly, I remembered what it had said about doppelgangers in that book you'd brought home: "it can sometimes be seen by somebody close if it has an important message". As I looked, the man pointed down the street. I looked where he was pointing. There was nothing.
I looked at the man and asked him what he meant. Again the man pointed down the street, and finally I understood that he wanted me to go away. So I did. I walked home. When we got home, Kati fell asleep on the sofa. While she was sleeping I made some tea. Suddenly, I heard a loud noise like a bomb from somewhere outside. It sounded quite far away. It took me some time to wake Kati and get her dressed again and we came to see what had happened. Of course, I was really afraid that you had been in the bar, John.'

We looked at each other as we reached the outside door of the block of flats where we lived.
 'This is a very strange story,' I said.

'It certainly is,' said Andrea. 'You must write it down.'
'I will,' I said.

And we went inside and shut out the night.