Authors: Harry Bingham
Tags: #Fiction, #Literary, #General
The old man said, ‘
The border guard responded,
but with a strong Russian accent, indicating that he was on secondment from some Soviet unit.
The man smiled.
he said, with a faultless accent.
The guard stared at him with pale eyes and said nothing.
The couple walked on into East Berlin. On the wall behind them, young men and women were still struggling up onto the wall from the western side. As they watched, they saw a young man, fair-haired, haul himself up onto the rounded concrete top, followed soon after by a larger figure, also fair. They were joined by others. Then still others again. The top of the wall had become a party ground, a picnic place.
The couple walked on. They were very close, very physically affectionate for an old couple. They walked hand in hand or, when their hands got cold, so close that their arms and shoulders were touching. It was a way of moving that neither one of the two appeared to think about. It was an instinctive thing by now, automatic.
They walked through East Berlin. So many of its citizens were on the other side of the wall now, that the place felt like a ghost town, depopulated and eerie. They walked mostly in silence, but every now and then the woman would point things out, saying, ‘That’s the Mühlendamm. My offices used to be there, that building. Top floor.’ Once she said, ‘Marta’s house. You remember. Harry’s agent. She died twenty years back. She was nice.’ She would have pointed out other things too: her barracks, the SMAD headquarters in Karlshorst, the prison where she had once been locked up. But the two of them were ninety years old now and not as energetic as they once were.
Besides, like them, the city had changed. Brutalist concrete constructions had replaced the war-torn city they’d once known. They ended up at a café near Alexanderplatz. The place was deserted: a large yellow-painted room lit by fluorescent tubes, with sixty or seventy Formica tables and cheap wooden chairs. A single waiter took five minutes to come to them, then another fifteen to bring coffee and cakes.
‘Willi’s in his element,’ said Tonya.
‘Yes. He’s lived for this in a way.’
Willi had led a happy-go-lucky sort of life. He’d worked variously as a cartoonist, an artist, a photographer, a journalist (probably the journalist with the worst spelling and the least concern for deadlines anywhere in the Federal Republic), and lately as a documentary filmmaker. Everything he did was touched with his own unique style. Right now, he was as busy as an ant, working twenty hours a day with his film-crew catching all the exhausting glory of the moment.
Rosa was happy too. Married now, with three children, and a good job as an administrator with the Free University of Berlin. She lived not far from Tonya and Misha, and saw them most days. But that wasn’t all. On settling in Berlin in that long ago summer of 1950, Tonya’s only possible regret for the wasted years was that she hadn’t been able to have children with Misha. But as Misha had pointed out, why have kids when the orphanages were still so full? So they’d formally adopted another four children, two boys, two girls, and had the largest, happiest, youngest family they could have wished for. They had kept their cottage by the orphanage – twice extending it as their family had grown – and most of the orphanage children had treated the cottage as a second home.
Misha had started up his foundry again. With a proper currency and free movement in and out of the city, there was no stopping him. His factory grew to employ two hundred people. His products were among the best in a Germany that now brimmed with excellence.
Harry Hollinger had been a close friend all the time he’d been in Berlin. But with the partition of the city and the withdrawal of the bulk of the occupying forces, Hollinger had been transferred back to London. He was still a family friend though, and visited often.
As for the others they had known, old age had carried most of them away, Rodyon had had the opportunity to leave Russia too – another case of rescue by a Japanese trawler – but he’d preferred to live out his days in the motherland he’d done his best to serve. He had died eighteen years back of a lung problem, caused by the kind of damp and inadequate housing he had once sought to eradicate.
Pavel too was dead. He had risen one more step in the NKVD, from lieutenant-colonel to colonel, but he hadn’t been able to hold onto his position. In the turmoil following Stalin’s death and the arrest and shooting of Beria, Pavel had been caught out in a game of politics. He’d been briefly sent to the Gulag, before his sentence was commuted to internal exile. His drinking problem had returned with a vengeance, and liver disease had carried him off in 1969.
The two old folk drank their coffee and tasted the cakes. The cakes were very bad – old, stale, made from cheap and bad ingredients. Well, it wouldn’t be for long. The unrest on the streets of Leipzig had begun with the slogan
‘Wir sind das Volk’
, we are the people. But the slogan had already changed to
‘Wir sind ein Volk’
, we are one people, one Germany. The divided country would unify once more; and its reunification would seal the new order in Europe. In a reunited Germany, Berlin’s cakes would soon improve.
Misha dropped a lot of money on the table, a hundred Deutschmarks or more, everything he had in his pocket. Tonya watched him, smiling. They walked back out into the sunshine, heading back to the Brandenburg Gate.
‘Well,’ said Misha, ‘I was right.’
‘Right? You’re never right. Right about what?’
‘I said it would all be over soon.’
‘What would all be over soon?’
‘The revolution, comrade Lensky. We had a discussion about it in 1918, if I remember right. I said that the French revolution hadn’t lasted long, that our own Russian revolution would have to change.’
‘Well, it has changed, hasn’t it? Not just here, and Poland, and Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. But everywhere. Russia can’t go on as it is. It’ll change too. It’ll have to.’
He smiled at her. Her hair was now completely grey, but her eyes, always a little slanted, were still the same clear green of old. He used to think they were the most beautiful eyes in the world. He still did.
‘Well?’ he persisted.
‘I was right. You haven’t admitted it yet.’
‘I’ve admitted that you’re an idiot.’
‘Comrade Lensky, you have to admit it or I will make you dance, right here, right now.’
She laughed at him. He pushed her gently. She pushed him back. The pair of them, old as they were, walked like young lovers back under the shadow of the Brandenburg Gate.
Harry Bingham was born in England in 1967. After graduating from Oxford University, he worked as an investment banker for ten years, before giving it up to care for his disabled wife and to write his first book. Harry Bingham lives near Oxford with his wife and dogs. He now writes full time and also runs the Writers’ Workshop, an advisory service for first-time writers.
Also by Harry Bingham
The Money Makers
Sweet Talking Money
The Sons of Adam
This novel is entirely a work of fiction.
The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.
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First published in Great Britain by HarperCollins
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