2nd December 2020
Part Two. Berlin. November 1993
Chris, leaving Ute’s flat, decided to take the S-Bahn four stops east from Shönhauser Allee instead of the quicker U-Bahn, to get home. He needed to be above ground, to be able to look out of windows, see sky and open spaces. He felt so claustrophobic.
He would get out at Storkower Strasse and have a long walk through an elevated, covered tunnel that straddled a errie concrete wasteland full of disused factories. At the end, just a short walk to Rigaer Strasse, the Czar Bar end, and a slow stroll to number 16. This would be his only time to himself and he intended to make the most of it.
He genuinely loved having his friends to visit, but the timing couldn’t have been worse. Why did they all have to come at once ? Though he remained positive about his flat’s shortcomings, he knew it wasn’t adequate to deal with the needs of people used to basic western standards. Again, one guest at a time would have been fine, but there had been four recently and even now there were still two people crashing on his floor. He thought of Samuel Johnson’s famous aphorism, how guests are like fish; they begin to smell after three days, but in a flat with no bathroom, those three days dwindled to one.
But the resentment he felt lead to guilt. He hadn’t been so pleasant to Melanie or Will and had hardly seen Nuno so far. Then he began to justify his feelings. Will had merely used the flat as a base for further travelling, basically a free hotel. All he had heard about was how they were economizing to pay for the rest of their trip. They hadn’t even offered to buy any groceries.
Nuno was being too much trouble. Ute wouldn’t even speak about him, and he wasn’t welcome back at Biberkopf, so what to do ? It’s not as if they were especially close. Another one just after a cheap holiday. Then again, he had almost beaten the crap out of Ross and for that, he should surely be awarded freedom of the city, or at least the flat.
Richard was happy doing his own thing. He was here for the whole month, so he couldn’t expect Chris to spend every night with him. Besides, they needed time apart, so that they could have things to talk about.
In many ways, this was the best his life had been, and as he walked along the street, covered with rubbish and dog shit, walking past punks and drunks, he thought what a comment that was on his life so far.
He was still in the initial euphoria of a new relationship, thinking Ute the most beautiful woman he had ever met. Certainly the sweetest.
This was the over-riding sensation, the factor that allowed him to deal with all the negative aspects. She was his first really serious girlfriend. All the others had been short-term affairs and it was always the girl that had broken up with him. Now he was scared that the pattern would continue and that Ute would find a reason to leave.
He thought about how happy they were together, but just as he was believing that everything could actually work out, that the guests would soon be gone and that he and Ute had a future, something happened to throw it all into doubt.
That morning, Chris had gone out to buy some bread and food. When he returned, letting himself in with the borrowed key, he heard Ute on the phone. She was speaking emotionally, upset over something, but she stopped as she heard Chris. He was able to understand her say something to the effect of ‘I can’t speak now. We speak later.’
Ute had very pale skin, but now she flushed from her neck up. She walked into the kitchen saying she’ll make coffee.
He asked who she had been speaking to. She replied that it was no one, an old friend.
They breakfasted in silence, then he left, heading north on the U2 for the S-Bahn connection.
At least he would have time to spend with Nuno, which could be just what he needed, a red-blooded Latin view of things. Richard would probably come along. Chris wished he’d go and get his own life, not invade other people’s. But then he couldn’t be rude to Richard, because there was another problem. He hadn’t paid Frau Holtzengraff the extra money. She had let October slide, provided he pay double by the end of November. But he had been taking Ute out and been forced to socialise with his guests, so knew that there was no way he could afford an additional two hundred Marks. He also knew that Richard had at least that amount in travellers checks.
He would have to turn on the charm. Otherwise, he would be truly fucked.