7th August 2021
Part Nine. Berlin. December 1995
“So, have you . . . ?”
“No, early days. Don’t want to rush things.”
“Third date coming up.”
“I know,” Richard replied then, to change the subject, pointed to his new CD player. “What do you think ?”
“Very nice. All you need now are some CD’s.”
“One thing at a time.”
“Yeah,” Chris added, “don’t want to rush things.”
Chris had arrived at Richard’s with a bag of cakes which they had demolished. Fresh coffee perpetually brewed in the kitchen. They took turns making it, and keeping the Ofen stoked. The kitchen door open, gas rings and fire lit to the max, to combat the Berlin winter.
The reason Chris was here was to see when Richard was flying home, so was surprised when he learnt that Richard intended to spend Christmas in Berlin. Chris, however, had to get away. His life depended on it.
Despite the fun of working in the bar, the sense of rebellion he felt by living in a squat, paying no rent or taxes, and a steady supply of one-night stands, he had also experienced the other, less glamorous side.
He felt wretched all the time. Truly wretched trying to keep up with Jake and failing miserably, waking up with Baustelle headaches, frequent vomiting and an increasing sense of paranoia. He rarely felt relaxed, always sure he had done something terrible, but exactly what always eluded him. The only cure seemed to be to get drunk. The cycle continued.
Winter in the squat was no fun, the Ofen inefficient, and he was always too drunk after returning from the bar to spend time lighting it. Burning down the squat house wouldn’t go down too well with the other squatters.
He was wearing clothes far longer than they ought to have been worn, knowing full well that he smelt, but, as he justified, it was only Berlin, and what was the point in wearing fresh, clean clothes if he was only going to the Czar Bar.
He was also imitating Jake’s eating habits, which comprised of fast food exclusively, either burgers or something deep fried from the local Turkish Imbiss. He could feel the spots multiplying on his face.
As for the women, he was getting used to finding an unattractive malodorous naked body snoring next to him, when he was sure he had gone to bed with a far cuter angel, just hours before. The speed at which the women got up, dressed and left indicated that they, too, were less than impressed with their conquest.
To balance this, he would often go to Richard’s, take a bath, spend time in a warm flat, and sleep a little, without having to worry about being woken by some screaming in the Hof, or someone knocking on his door, barging in, shouting in loud German and expecting him to be as lively as he was when working.
Today, there was another purpose; a new travel agents had opened on Richard’s street, and Chris wanted to see if they should book their tickets together.
“So, it’s getting serious ?”
“Yes, it is. You’re right, there are only so many times a guy can play ‘Monster’. I need some new CD’s”
They walked to the travel agents, looking at the posters of sunny, tropical resorts, while the very tall owner, with a very receding hairline ending in very long hair, scrutinised his computer, with almost comic intensity, to find a flight.
“Nice guy,” said Chris, after having bought his ticket. “I especially liked the John Lennon glasses.”
Richard agreed and they walked a little down Schönhauser Allee. They went into one of the Überraschung shops, a ‘surprise’ store filled with household goods at cheap prices, made by companies with very similar names and logos of established brands. They marvelled at the packets of cheap shirts, endless shelves of crockery and gaudy kitsch items that defied description, wondering how such items got designed, manufactured and sold, wondering who would buy them, when a small albeit very well-built old woman barged in between them to grab the last remaining flower pot-vase-thing.
They soon lost enthusiasm for their constitutional, and returned home. Richard left Chris in the flat, to go to work. He felt a bit relieved, as Chris had mentioned checking out universities back home, or at least some courses. He thought about how things were changing. It was now Chris who seemed lost, having no purpose remaining in Berlin. It was now Richards’s turn to be happy, to be in a relationship. This thought made the job bearable. That and the expectation that in Johanna he had found what he had always been looking for; someone beautiful, intelligent, kind and . . . he was allowing himself to believe, falling in love with him.