15th November 2020
Part One. Berlin. Spring 1993
It still came as a surprise to Claudia that she should have an English boyfriend, whom she had met in her home town of Berlin. Not only that, but they would work, and live, together. And be happy.
She and Marina had been friends for years, probably because they were so different. While Marina was collected and inoffensive, Claudia was spontaneous and blunt, speaking first, unapologetic for any hurt she may have unwittingly caused.
Marina’s sensuality came as something of a surprise, slowly revealing itself through an accumulation of subtle nuances, Claudia’s was full-on and immediate. Her wavy hair, dyed jet black, hung on her shoulders, which were usually bare, exposing a dark bra strap. The loose white T-shirts were low cut and several large pendants or necklaces swayed enticingly around her neck. The jeans were always tight, the bare feet displaying freshly painted toenails, blood red. She gave the impression that her clothes had just been slung on, and generally that is what happened, but the clothes had been carefully selected for maximum effect beforehand.
As students, Marina and Claudia had thought of travelling to London to improve their limited English. Claudia hadn’t liked the city and when she met a fellow German girl at their hostel who was going on to Ireland, she had decided to join her. Marina stayed alone, spending her days in museums and galleries and learning English. When they met again, in Berlin, they would converse in English to practise, Marina in a mannered, polite, formal way, Claudia in a rough drawl, littered with expressions and vernacular.
Neither had yet started on a career path, but earned money in various ways, Marina working in shops or waitressing, Claudia in various offices, filing and photocopying. A customer at a bar where Marina was working told about a film studio that was employing people to paint film cells for animation movies, Marina passed it on to Claudia and she went to work there part time, preferring to spilt her jobs, to divide the boredom as she put it. There she met Simon, a law student from Hampshire, taking the ‘year off’ before settling down to a lifetime of briefs and suits, who had the flat in Ackerstrasse. The two seemed to have nothing in common, yet within six weeks, Claudia had packed up and moved from her western flat in Schöneberg to go slumming in the east ‘where the Proles are’ as she charmingly explained.
Simon of course was crazy about the flat, which was ludicrously cheap by his standards and so atmospheric, and even more ecstatic about Claudia who was surprisingly low maintenance. She was, he told his friends in letters home, ‘amazingly laid-back and mellow’.
Chris would have agreed with this description. She took him to a local bar and spoke to him freely, as if they were old friends, not two people who had only met that day. He still couldn’t believe that this woman was going to let him stay in her flat for a week, it was an offer of help so beyond his experience. It also helped take his mind off Marina, who was clearly going to be with Ross for some time.
Chris got two beers from the bar, Claudia saying it would be good practice for his German, and they clinked and drank from the bottle. He carefully brought up Ross, without expressing an opinion. He hoped to gauge her opinion.
“He’s a fucking nacker.”
Chris laughed and knew that it was going to be all right between them. After a few beers he started forming ideas about how their relationship would develop, but when she spent time talking about Simon and how he was extending his sabbatical so as to stay longer in Berlin, he got the hint.
She told him not to get too drunk, because she had arranged for him to start work tomorrow.
“What, no interview ?”
“No ! Can you hold a brush ?”
“Never tried. Think so.”
“Well, then. I told them you were an art major.”
“What ? “
“Haha, look at you. It’s nothing, easy work. Idiot work, just that it’s in a studio so it sounds cool.”
“What time do I start ? Nine ? Nine-Thirty ?”
“What time do you want to start ?”
“Is this even a real job ?”
“ ‘Course. You go in when you want, work for as long as you want, leave. Get paid by the hour, so you can choose.”
“Hey ! Not really what I’m used to in London.”
“I’m going in about ten-thirty, eleven-thirty, one … you know ? You can come with me.”
“So that means we have time for another drink ?”
“There’s always time for another drink.”
And Chris thought that here was another wonderful woman who would never be his.