20th November 2020
Part One. Berlin. September 1993
It became very clear, as the evening wore on, that Steffi was here to do Chris, and if Richard happened to be in the same room, so be it. As he later summarised, he could have been sitting there, stark-bollock naked and she still wouldn’t have acknowledged him. Her position, it may be discerned, was that of a woman on a mission, part of which may well have involved the missionary position.
Steffi, who also worked at the studio and was reasonably new to Berlin, followed Chris, and introductions were made. She threw herself into the room, entirely at home, and sat on the floor, removing her light denim jacket and revealing a charming, loose blouse that in turn revealed more than was decent. She shouted out, in her whiney, Australian accent,
“Got anything to drink ?”
Chris returned with a bottle of cheap vodka drink, a 20% blend of the spirit with blackcurrant, and three glasses. He poured, passed them around and they clinked. In a flash, Steffi had downed her drink. The two men looked at each other.
“Hey, steady on, it’s still early.”
“Ah, you Poms, all wimps, c’mon, drink up.”
They did, and poured the second round. A Repetition. Steffi was quite small, but hardly delicate, she filled out her jeans to straining point and sometimes her top rose up, showing a series of stomachs that appeared to have sampled the delights of German cuisine. Chris spoke up, wanting to leave a bit of time between the second and imminent third round.
“You hair looks good, now.”
He was referring to her dye-job. Her hair, hanging limply past her shoulders, was a deep-purple, mauve, brown concoction. When Richard looked closely, he was sure that her forehead, as it met the hairline, was also purple-mauve. Chris later confirmed this. He had seen her the morning after her unaided attempt, and she had, indeed, managed to dye most of her forehead, neck and ears.
“Yeah, thanks. Seen any more good films ? Chris took me to a French film. It was great. Real intellectual stuff. Where’s the drinks ? What’s wrong with you ?”
“Just need more ice.”
Chris excused himself and went into the kitchen, clearly meaning Richard to follow. The hint was taken and the two conversed by the fridge. Chris spoke,
“What are we going to do ?” He indicated the bottle that was rapidly emptying.
“I don’t know, but I can’t keep up with her. I’ll be dead.”
“Me too !”
“You went out with her ?”
“No ! Well, yes, yes, we went … out, but I didn’t go … out with her.”
“Does she know that ?”
“Yes, when we were in bed, I told her … “
“You went to bed with her ?”
“No ! Well, yes, yes, I went to bed, no, we were in the same bed together, but I made it clear, the Berlin Wall exists down the centre.”
“Looks like that Wall’s also fallen.”
“What are you two up to ? I’m dying of thirst out here. Where’s my drink ?”
“She’s from the Outback where it’s bold and brash … just like her.”
“Yeah, you couldn’t have left her out back ?”
The third round was duly poured and consumed. Richard felt that he had to recuse himself, citing his flight the following day.
“Oh, you’re leaving tomorrow. Good.”
Then something happened. At first, Steffi became very quiet. She was sitting cross-legged on the floor, opposite the men who were on the coach. They were having a little private conversation and listening to the radio playing some request show. Slowly, Steffi began tilting to her right, then toppled right over, and, adopting the foetal position, fell asleep on the floor. Snoring followed.
The men let out a relieved laugh, and went into the kitchen to slowly finish the bottle before turning to the beers, drinking away, very respectfully, by candle-light, with the faint background of 50’s Rock ‘n’ Roll hits. Over an hour passed, pleasantly enough, and it was decided that Richard would come back, as soon as he’d saved enough. They did basic costings and realised that the biggest expense would be the airfare. He could stay rent-free, just help out on food and the beer money. Richard predicted that he could make it back in early November, but that they should look into the possibility of his moving here, as well. Chris would ask about a job at the studio …
Then it happened.
The first rumblings were ominous enough, so much so, that they rose from the kitchen and caught the whole performance live.
On the floor, a little way in front of the sofa, was a pallet, the kind used in factories to transport goods. It served as a table, of sorts, maybe in the Japanese style, with imagination, or maybe Shoulder could have viewed it as a perfect accompaniment to his conceptual chair, ‘a table ? What do you want a table for ?’
Chris had put various everyday items on it, and Richard had taken one side for his passport and airline ticket. In the very centre of the pallet was a large blue-painted metal bucket, to be used for carrying coal, or briquettes from the cellar to put in the Ofen. Chris had used this for collecting all his small coins, bronze Pfennings and silver Marks.
Steffi had begun to make sounds of demonic intensity, a bastard hybrid of belch and hiccup, as she raised herself, resting on her knees and knuckles. In this dignified position, she crawled over to the bucket, put her head in and emptied her stomach.
“This is so far outside my frame of experience,” said Richard.
“I had a lot of money in that bucket. Let’s have a beer.”
It was another hour before Steffi emerged, and they could hear her cleaning up in the toilet. She came into the kitchen, with a lack of self-consciousness that they could only applaud, and asked for a beer.
“I don’t think that’s the best thing for you. Have some water.”
Steffi clearly liked being looked after by Chris and allowed herself to be taken back inside, where they sat and passed the evening, Steffi drinking tea while the men finished off the beers. They decided to stay in and anyway, Jens was working the bar tonight, or ‘Geschlossen’ as they called him due to the fact that the once or twice they had gone there around One in the morning, the bleached-blonde barman had barked out, “Geschlossen !” or ‘closed’ at them, despite the bar being half full and other people seemingly having no difficulty in procuring drinks.
One small incident occurred as they were getting ready to sleep. It was decided, by Chris, that he would take the floor and leave the other two on the couch. While Richard was next to Steffi with very little breathing space, she called out to Chris to join them, as there was plenty of room. Chris declined and gave a very poor impression of a man already asleep and not to be disturbed.
The packing took no time at all, and all three went out for a breakfast in a normal-looking, locals bar. They ordered refills of coffee as they started on the plates of meat and cheese and rolls. It seemed as if Steffi was also going to come to the airport, but, to the delight of the men, she changed her mind and decided to go home instead. She asked Chris what he was doing that evening. He made up a story about helping a friend in Steglitz, a Bezirk in the South West of the city.
They travelled with her as far as Alex, where she changed for the line to Kreutzberg, and they for the S-Bahn.
The journey was slightly melancholic, but they only had to think of the previous night to raise a smile. Anyway, Richard would work and save to fly back. Chris parted from him at the airport gate with a:
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a bucket of vomit to deal with.”
He waved and walked away. Richard kept his word, he worked and booked his ticket for early November. Only six weeks had passed since he left, but when he returned, the whole situation was different and he next left, not planning an immediate return, but convinced that he would never come back ever again.