In Budapest, if you wake up in the middle of the night by a flash of lightning and a burst of thunder when you go out in the morning to the rain-washed sidewalks of the city you will find snails. After every rain the byways of this grand city must be shared with the soft creatures. The pavements inhale the scent of the rain and snails begin their journeys back and forth, as though reborn from the downpour.
The Hungarian snail, or csiga, is renowned by the Magyar people as a harbinger of good things. The Hungarian language announces this quality of the invertebrate creatures by gently referring to them as puhatestuek or the soft-bodied ones. There are enough species of Hungarian snails that the language reaches into poetics in order to properly designate them with names like the pretty door one, the water-through-crawler, the bright spindle dweller, and the towering zebra.
You will notice the snails on the sidewalks because they often bring with themselves a crowd of admirers. It is not uncommon for young mothers and fathers to bring their children snail-watching and occasionally snail-feeding. A few fragments of fresh lettuce are enough to provide the snails with a feast as they are creatures accustomed to dwelling in green places and will eat all organic matter, proving themselves to be true good citizens, always recycling after themselves, cleaning their concrete plates.
Various Hungarian folktales and legends tell of the wandering snail, intent on embarking on a long journey, patient as the countryside slowly . . . slowly goes by. A fast pedestrian may occasionally stop, transfixed, in awe that the small pavement creatures could possibly be willing to take that much time to cross from one side to the other.
The appearance of the after-rain snails offers passersby a chance to modulate their own pattern of life, in that, it will be necessary to slow down to avoid stepping on them. Leaving behind a glistening trail, they create parliaments of congregation across every inch of the city, wandering up to one another with their questioning antenna, oblivious to us, entirely unworried that they could, at any moment, be crushed. In this burst of social activity, the snails extend to us an invitation. If we choose, we too could walk up to one another, baring our souls to the possibility of being stepped on, with a gentle willingness to share a chat with anyone who also might walk by on the newly washed sidewalks.
Zary Fekete grew up in Hungary, has a debut chapbook of short stories out from Alien Buddha Press and a novelette (In the Beginning) coming out from ELJ Publications. Fekete enjoys books, podcasts, and many, many, many films. Twitter: @ZaryFekete