I arrive half hour early at the district marriage office, a converted palace on the Korut. The entry hall is open, but doors to all the offices are shut. I take a seat. It is cool and silent. Mysterious. Where is everybody? About ten minutes to twelve, the appointed hour, the street door lets in a rush of noise and I recognize my wife's friend from childhood who will be one of the witnesses. According to my wife, she was against the marriage. She says hello, sits down briefly, then rises and says she'll come back. Silence again in the hall. After another five minutes, the second witness arrives. Says hello, and also excuses himself and passes out through the door.
When it is noon, I too go outside. Maybe everyone is out there. But no one is. I go back inside, take a seat again. In a rush the photographer friend of my wife arrives with camera and her assistant. So my wife is coming in fact, I ask? Yes. They leave too, and the silence of the hall returns. And then the door opens once more, and my wife sweeps in wearing a beautiful wedding gown, says, "you're here!", and sits down next to me. "Do you have rings? I forget to tell you to get them." I tell her I had gone to the second hand store to buy a black tie that morning, and then seeing across the street a display of silver jewelry across, went in and bought a simple silver ring to match my own. She can barely keep her attention on my words. The two witnesses, the photographer friend and assistant have returned, and are expressing their admiration for her dress. They all go out to smoke cigarettes. Silence again in the hall. Then the door opens, and the middle-aged civil servant who is to perform the ceremony appears, catches my eyes in passing on the way to her office. A building caretaker unlocks the doors to the ceremonial chamber and steps inside, closing the doors behind him. The quiet resumes. It's a lonely business, this getting married.
And then everyone sweeps back in together, my wife says, "come on" and I join the crowd going into the room for the ceremony. Absent is anyone I know, friends don't want to be parties to the crime, absent also surprisingly even one of my wife's three brothers and her parents, absent maybe because they are parties to the crime, how do I know? The ceremony is over in a matter of minutes. We sign the register, assemble together for a group photograph, whereupon the parents rush in just in time to get into the picture. Documentation is, I well know, an important part of this production. Everyone passes out of the chamber together, congratulatory remarks made, and wife and I stand together on the sidewalk alone. I look at her, in her wedding dress, she looks at me, in my black tie. What now? Let's go return the dress: it's been rented for the day.
We walk to the stop to catch the tram, the light is a soft glare this afternoon. A newly married couple on the tram is decorous and appreciated. I wait downstairs while she goes up to the office to return the dress and get into her street clothes. And then back on the tram. There is a dinner in preparation at the house in the country, she tells me. Everyone will be there. Am I invited, I ask? Very funny. What do you want to do until then? Let's go home.