22nd November 2020
London & Berlin. September – November 1993
One of the surprises Richard received upon his return to London was an invitation to a dinner party at Melanie’s. She informed him that Nuno, the chef that had worked with Chris and Marina, was also coming and bringing his girlfriend, Raphaela.
It took place the following Saturday and Melanie seemed very interested in hearing about Chris and his new life. All about his new life, and kept asking about Marina, but seemed vexed with every answer, especially when Nuno eulogised about how wonderful and cute she was.
Among the other guests was a rather serious and intense man, some years older than Richard, called Will, who, like Chris and Melanie, was from the Midlands. After the dinner, which was a pretty indifferent affair, the party broke into small groups and Will sought out Richard to hear more about Berlin.
“Yeah, we’re thinking of passing through, Mel and me. Mel and I. Never know which to use.”
Instead of enlightening him, Richard asked:
“Oh, where are you headed ?”
“Russia, if we can get in. If not, Poland, tour around a bit, get the crack. Probably hang out in Berlin. Use it as homebase.”
“How are you getting there ? Train, or … ?”
“No, got my hog.” He pulled out some keys with a Suzuki fob. “Do the whole ‘On The Road’ thing. Are you going back there ?”
Richard explained how he planned to, soon as possible then Will explained how he had met Mel and Chris, both of whom were working in a café he would patronise [Richard mentally amended to ‘pose in’]. They saw the books he was reading and began talking to him, giving him free coffee refills. All three began hanging out, going to movies and gigs and laughing at the other students who were all so pretentious and opinionated. Richard admitted that he didn’t know too much about Chris’ life pre-London.
“Yeah,“ started Will, “I’ve been through the scenes with him. Mel, too, been there, done that, the whole fucking spectrum of emotions. Sorry, didn’t mean to lapse into the vernacular. Yeah, we’re been through it all.”
He didn’t elaborate and Richard, eyeing an exit, told him he’d probably see him in Berlin, then went over to talk to Nuno.
The contrast was striking. Nuno was pure Latino, tall and dark-complexioned, thick eyebrows and large expressive eyes that appeared to be deep in thought, then sparkled into life, as he smiled. He seemed a bit lost here, not knowing anyone apart from his girlfriend and Melanie. Raphaela was simply gorgeous, also dark, but delicate and sensual.
Richard introduced himself, and they spoke, naturally, about Chris and Berlin. Nuno also expressed an interest in coming over. Richard looked at the wine and recognised the label as being from the Howard’s store. He mentioned to Nuno that he thought it tasted familiar and then he saw the full extent of the Nuno smile, with a slap on his back for emphasis.
The night finished with Melanie making Richard promise to call her, to go for a drink, or see a movie.
Back at work, Richard had a slight problem getting more time off. He was only allowed a further two weeks but wanted four, so decided to book the two he could have and then deal with the consequences when he got back. A new girl started, Claire, and they got on well, sometimes even taking lunch together, and then one day she casually dropped ‘the boyfriend’ into the conversation. The next day, Richard used his lunch break to go to a travel agent and book a ticket to Berlin … for four weeks.
He reduced expenses as best he could, only occasionally buying a bottle of wine to drink at home. He somehow kept putting off the call to Melanie.
After buying a packet of air-mail letters, Richard would write to Chris two or three times a week. It came as no surprise that of the two, Chris was the one with the news, of developments, of things happening.
First, he had a new, part-time job in the bar where Marina worked, doing the washing up. He underlined how much he earned, and the fact that he was allowed, even encouraged, to drink on duty. The studio work was patchy, and it was rumoured that the whole operation might close down.
He had met a German girl at work, then, a week later, he wrote that things were looking good, but she had a boyfriend, (of course), then, later that week, that she had dumped the boyfriend, then, the following week, that they were going to a movie, then, finally, that they were together. Oh, and that there had been a fire in the flat, but everything’s OK.
The second flight to Berlin was from London’s City Airport, to Berlin’s Tempelhof, just south of the centre. This airport was even smaller, being mostly used for inland flights, and he cleared passport control and picked up his bag remarkably quickly, which he took as a good sign for the visit. He had written to Chris that the arrival time would coincide with lunch, so they could go to the Cinema Café, a bar they had seen but not gone into, at Hackerscher Markt, and drink their way home before having a reunion bash at Kinski’s.
He thought over these ideas as he waited for Chris. And waited. He walked around the airport which was basically one large open space, with check-in desks around the side, mostly closed, then walked outside, looking around the car park for any sign of his friend.
And he waited. Eventually, after half an hour, he decided to go the the flat alone. Chris had cut him a set of keys, so that was no problem. Still, it was disconcerting. He surmised that Chris had been called into work and had no way of contacting him.
Richard took the U-Bahn, and as he left one train, to change lines, he got a knock in the eye from a bag that a man had slung over his shoulders. The man didn’t even look back, let alone apologise.
He continued his journey, frequently wiping his weeping eye with his handkerchief, and this time, when he left the station, at Rathaus Friedrichshain, the late blue of summer had been replaced by the unrelenting grey of winter. It was several degrees colder than London and even though he was dressed in coat and jumpers, he felt a sharp chill.
At the flat, there was no note, but it showed more signs of life, more clothes, tapes, a lot more wood next to the Ofen, an extra chair and the kitchen now had two large cooking pots. But there was still no light.
Richard waited for an hour, then left to get some lunch at the Imbiss, taking his time and expecting to see the wide, apologetic smile of Chris when he returned, but as the door was double-locked, he knew he would still have to wait.
By late afternoon it was dark and the lights had to go on. He went out again, to eat, but it was now so cold, that he got back inside as quickly as he could. By mid evening he was tired from his early start, so thought he’d try and get a rest, but it was too cold to sleep. He put a blanket over him , but it had no effect. He got up, put on a jumper that was lying on a chair, and tried again, but still the cold pierced through. Finally, he put on a green army-style coat that was hanging in the hall. He threw the blanket over his head and, cold and angry, fell into a light, disturbed sleep. He thought he heard some rumblings and poked his head out from the blanket. And that was how, confused by sleep, contorted by the cold, hair amiss and eye bruised and streaming, Richard first appeared to Ute.