by Inês M.
His annoyance, his pride, it all made him unbearable for most people. Just not for her.
|“I shouldn’t have gone there”I was standing next to the fridge, facing him. He sighed as he reached for the pack of cigarettes on the table and pulled another cigarette – it was his 3rd pack already. He was quite an indulgent smoker, just like his father. There was no use telling him that though, he wouldn’t stop. He was just as stubborn as his father too.
“If you hadn’t gone there you would have kept on feeling miserable and guilty”
“Well, I still feel that way”
“For a completely different reason. It wasn’t not your fault. That was just a repressed memory of hers, and you brought it back. People shouldn’t repress memories, things happen and you can’t change what’s already happened. So you should always remember”
“But you’ve never lost a daughter”
I didn’t say anything else. There was nothing I could say; he was right, he was always right and even when he wasn’t he still thought he was. We stood quiet for a while, and didn’t look at eachother – his eyes were glued onto the floor and I just let mine wonder around, gazing around that small untidy apartment. Heff, his cat, flaunted around the kitchen, showing off his well groomed furcoat. He let out the occasional “meow”, seeking attention and, perhaps, food. I pat him on the head, and his tail curled around my legs as he purred with pleasure.
“If only I had got there some time sooner, if only I had left the car and gone looking for her at the platform…”
“She was supposed to meet you outside, she knew that. There was no reason for you to go up to the platform or look around the darn subway station. You’re being unreasonable and completely unrealistic, and that doesn’t seem like you at all, Daniel. She’s your mother, I get it, but she’s been inside that place for years and you know she isn’t well. She’ll forget about it”
“I don’t want her to forget. I don’t want her to forget her daughter, or me! Fucking hell!” he picked up a plate he had been using as an ashtray and threw it against the wall, it crashed into a thousand pieces. Poor Heff jumped and ran away, and found safety on a small place behind the sofa.
“You didn’t have to do that… You really didn’t have to be rude, I was just trying to help”
“I don’t need your help, get the fuck out of my house”
“As you wish” I picked up my coat and bag and walked quickly to the door, and made sure I slammed it as I left. He was the most unstable, impolite, obnoxious man I had ever met… And yet, there was something about him…
I remember the first time I met him, inside a badly lit pub on what used to be the Soviet-side of Berlin. Things hadn’t changed much; the pub certainly hadn’t, and even though there were no more Soviet Union flags or portraits of Erich Honnecker on the walls, it still had that incredibly cozy feel to it that both me and Daniel were fond of. It was cold, starting to snow, and I had stayed in the office working late. I had just started working for the newspaper “Die Zeit”, the most importante newspaper in the whole of Germany, and had to work up my way from scratch to prove that I truly deserved being there. I had incredibly high hopes, and on my first day I actually believed I would already be writing articles and receiving praise – however, I got inevitably stuck with the chores that the naïve, recently graduated “journalists” had to do, which included getting coffee for people, running up and down the stairs to deliver files and making sure everyone was happy. I wasn’t a news repórter… I was an assistant, and that hadn’t been the job I had applied for. I was on the bottom of the food chain and had to work my way up to the top.
There weren’t many people in the pub; in fact, I can’t remember it ever being less crowded… At least not for a Friday night. I walked up to an empty bar stool and greeted Gunther, the bartender, whom I had seen every day for those last six months. I looked around once again, and that’s when I saw him.
I saw a head full of messy dark hair, black-rimmed glasses and brown eyes, a blue shirt tucked into an old pair of jeans and a sweater. He looked frumpy and tired, had a three-day stubble, dark circles under his eyes and definitely did not make a great first impression – he saw me and passed me by, dazing around the room in a state of semi-confusion (or perhaps drunkness); he smelled of a nauseating mixture of cigarette smoke, aftershave and cheap cologne. He sat next to me, not looking my way, and asked for “another beer, Gunther”.
“I’ve never seen you here before” I flashed him a smile “And I come here pretty much every day”
He muttered a dry reply, and took a sip from his beer. I waited for him to repeat what he had said, and when he didn’t, I insisted on continuing the conversation.
“Are you foreign? You look foreign. You have such dark hair and eyes… Where are you from?”
I waited patiently for a response, but this time he didn’t even say anything, he just ignored me.
“You know, in Germany we are usually polite to eachother. Aren’t good manners common in your country?”
He laughed. He had a deep, hoarse voice, and when he looked right at me I shivered – he looked like the kind of man who, in films, would trap young women in dark alleys, disembowel them and watch them die laughing in the exact same way that he did.
“Pardon me for ignoring your poor attempts of striking a conversation with a man who clearly does not want to talk. I reckon that if you didn’t get the first time, you still wouldn’t get the second time. So, now that I’ve explained this, can I continue drinking my beer without further nuisance?”
“I’m sorry, you’re clearly ein Berliner. Rudest people on the face of Germany.”
I looked the other day, and avoided looking at him. I was ashamed, to a certain point, for everytime I tried to strike a conversation with a stranger, they usually retrieved with either contempt or superiority. I wasn’t from Berlin – I had been born in Leipzig, which wasn’t too far from Berlin – and after six months in the capital without being able to make any friends or to sympathize with anyone, I began to feel sorry for myself. People always seemed to be so distant, like they were trying to distance themselves from me as much as possible, and I couldn’t help but wonder whether there was something wrong with me.
“I’ll buy you a beer” he nodded at Gunther as I turned to him.
“What made you change your mind so fast?”
“It’s my first day back in Berlin. I’ve been away for two years. I reckon it’s enough of a reason to celebrate, I might as well celebrate it with someone else. I'm Daniel” he smiled, showing a perfect set of glistening white teeth, and suddenly… He didn’t look as scary as before.
"I'm Agnes" I smiled back at him, and accepted his beer. We talked for hours over things that didn’t even matter. And we agreed that we would meet there every Friday, at the same time.
That Friday had been different though. It was the first time I had ever set foot on his crappy apartment – and I had known him for six years now. I was still working at the “Die Zeit”, but I wasn’t an assistant anymore – I had been responsible, together with three other people, for the “Local news” section, and was fairly disappointed and frustrated. I had always longed for a busy and interesting life as an international correspondent or maybe as a journalist for the political or world news section. I couldn’t complain, the pay was good and I had a good relationship with my colleagues – it simply wasn’t going the way I was hoping it would go.
My friendship with Daniel had evolved a lot during those six years, and it most certainly had its ups and downs. Right from the night I had first met him, he was always stubborn and incredibly proud – very rarely did he apologize for anything he had done, whatever happened it always had to be someone else’s fault. He was moody and often rude and obnoxious, and most people would find him impossible and would just give up on him, but I didn’t. I found him intriguing, and interesting, and I knew that under that hard shell of a man who was trying to come off as a big tough guy there was his real self struggling to get out.
As I rushed down the street in order to get to the underground station, absolutely freezing and crossing my arms so to keep myself warm, I couldn’t believe what I had witnessed. I could have sworn I had seen tears in his eyes, an actual sense of guilt. I didn’t know much about him or his family life other than the basic stuff… However, I had stumbled across a dark secret that had scarred him for life. He had never discussed any of his family issues to me… Tonight had been special, it had been different. It had meaning.
I turned around and looked above to one of the many apartment buildings in that area, and searched for his. It was dark outside and the lights were on already. Heff, his cat, was sitting by the window, and I could see him there, leaning against the window sill. He had a cigarette on his left hand and was running his right-hand fingers through that mass of dark hair on top of his head. I looked at him, observed him from afar, and after a while he saw me. We looked at eachother for a while; after that, he closed the window and went inside. I turned around and walked away, and hoped he would be at the pub the following Friday.