A small town of barely five thousand residents, Pinkafeld sits halfway between Vienna and Graz and is tucked away in the wooded mountains that enshroud Burgenland, the least populous state in Austria. A river – or rather, a stubborn stream – runs down the middle of the town and demarcates the northernmost and the southernmost edges of the town, and one can take the trails that have been paved along both sides of the stream. The stroll, which guides the pedestrian from a paved trail to a gravel-filled pathway and finally onto a dirt road littered with pebbles of animal dung, takes an hour – an hour and fifteen minutes if one were to make a detour near the town center and admire Pinkafeld’s Hauptstraße and the sixteen shops that line it.
The Hauptstraße, or Main Street, stretches and yawns for two kilometers. Most stores on Main Street do not open until ten or eleven, and even then the shopkeepers routinely bring their hands up to their mouths or rub their eyes with their fists during hours. Orange bicycles and silver cars speed down the smoothly paved road, while the owner of the tobacco stand gives orders to her husband before shooing him off to the back of the store whenever a customer walks in to chat.
From the Main Street an artery of side streets branches out into small pockets of neighborhoods. There, elderly women wearing curly, white hair gossip from their windows with their neighbors and greet passersby with wistful nods and croak out hellos. The men, if they are to be seen, exchange gruff words in front of their houses and blow out puffs of cigarettes that tinge the air with the scent of tobacco and dot the sidewalks with ashes; they cup their hands to express the seriousness of their morning opinions.
Following one of these side streets leads to a corner store that exclusively sells espresso machines. Inside, a balding man dons brown suspenders and walks back and forth, waiting for someone to buy the newest espresso machine on sale. He looks outside of his window to glare at a flurry of students running from the bus stops to their schools.
One block over, the aptly named Kirchengasse takes one to the town’s Catholic church. A donation box sits outside asking passersby to donate their spare change for the refugees. Several meters away, a statue of Christ sunbathes on the cross; a leftover kebab and an empty bottle of Coca Cola have been bestowed under His feet. A young mother pushes a stroller past the church with one arm and uses the other to text. And inside this church, with its empty pews, one would find the town’s resident atheist foreigner, kneeling down by a corner to watch a brown spider enjoy its breakfast.