AKA The Land of the Slave Children
We’re spending the afternoon having a delightful family trip on a railway train run by slave children.
“Honey. What the hell are you writing?” says Zsuzsa who has just appeared over my shoulder and is reading what I’m writing.
“I’m just writing about our trip on the train run by slave children.” I say.
“We’ve been over this! They aren't slave children honey!”
“Are they children?”
“Do they get paid?”
“Then surely they’re slave children?”
“They’re volunteers! They can leave if they want!” Zsuzsa protests, before adding “You’re still writing this down aren’t you!? Why are you writing this down? Stop it! This isn’t court!”
So anyway, we’re spending the afternoon travelling on a railway run by child volunteers (aka slave children). I first became aware of the peculiar child-railway phenomenon when watching a programme about Budapest on Channel 4, and then soon after discovering that it was basically next door to our flat. It sounded freaky, so naturally I harangued Zsuzsa in to agreeing to visit it. Eventually the haranguing worked.
As an aside, 'harangued'! Great word isn’t it? I make a mental note to do more haranguing so that I can use it more often.
We arrive at a railway station in the Buda Hills. Mila has just fallen asleep and Zsuzsa asks me to go and buy the train tickets. I enter the railway station and stand at the counter. I then notice a tiny boy, maybe twelve years old, peering over the counter.
“Halo (Hello)” he says.
“Halo. Kettö jegyet köszönöm (Hello. Two tickets please?)” I reply, like a bloody native.
He stares at me.
“Bocsánat (sorry)?” he says.
“Uh…kettö jegyet köszönöm?” I repeat.
He just stares at me blankly. Another child approaches. Another boy. Maybe fourteen years old.
“Halo.” he says
“Halo.” I say. “Kettö jegyet köszönöm.”
“Angol (English)?” he says.
“Igen (yes)” I reply.
“What would you like?” he then asks, switching to perfect English.
“Uh…two tickets please?”
He nods knowingly, turns to the twelve year old and says “Kettö jegyet.”
Hold on! What are these infantile clowns up to? That’s clearly, exactly what I’ve been saying all along!
A few minutes later and we’re on the train.
“I just don’t get it.” I say. “Kettö jegyet köszönöm! What’s wrong with that? Why didn’t they understand me?”
“I understand you.” says Zsuzsa reassuringly. “But then again I think I understand you in the same way that a mother understands their mumbling toddler” she adds, a little less reassuringly. “If you’d emphasised the ’t’ I’m sure they would have understood you. Ketttttttttttö”
She sounds as though she has a stammer.
A tiny little girl in a hat is approaching us to check our tickets. I look at her and can’t help but chuckle.
“I don’t even know why we bothered buying tickets.” I say. “I reckon I could take these children if they tried to kick us off for not having a ticket. Probably all of them, or at least ten at once.”
Zsuzsa rolls her eyes, pretending not to be impressed that I could defeat a bunch of small children at wrestling.
“Also, I’ve been thinking." I say. "I’ve decided that the owners of this railway might actually be geniuses! Think about it! Employ a bunch of kids, you don’t have to pay them as they’re too young to legally be paid, AND, they get twice as many customers because of the kids! I mean, people are curious! I wouldn’t have been bothered about coming here if it was just a bog standard train run by a group of grumpy, middle aged men.”
“I don’t think that’s the point.” says Zsuzsa. “I think they're scouts (aka slaves) and it's an honour for them.”
At least I think that’s what she says, but the truth is, I’m not listening. My mind is alight.
“I’m amazed there aren't more businesses following this model! Imagine it! A hotel run by children! Or shops run by children! Or prisons!”
But now Zsuzsa is the one who doesn’t seem to be listening, but it’s not a problem. Let her enjoy the child slave railway with our little baby today. She deserves it. They both do. Anyway, she’ll listen soon enough. She’ll listen when I'm rolling in money from my billion pound prison empire run by little children, you mark my words.