Many memories come and go, but this one flipped up like an ace in a deck of cards, a new face that could never be forgotten. It was in West Berlin, a chilly morning of March. A howling wind, like the cold cry from a grave was blowing over the high wall into the corridor. A fog had just moved in, and its clouds hunched over a street, blanketing a lane next to the barrier that led to my school. I was walking near the slabs, thinking of the concrete train and its endless line of boxcars continuing for miles into the heart of the city. Alone, I turned my eyes to the murky cloud, the fog holding only a jar of silence. In those days, being a ten-year-old schoolchild meant more heavy books inside a backpack full with papers and a soggy lunch sack. Sometimes I put a hand on the wall just to ease the strain of this burden.
When the game of touching numbed my bare palms, I slipped them into my trouser pockets, fingering the red candies that jumbled freely from within their pocket folds. I felt the rubbery film of the candy with a thumb and thought of mother, who had dropped the sweets there before I left home for school. She told me words of advice, as her hands went busy at pulling down my red snowcap.
"Do whatever the border guards tell you," she had said to me. "Remember that."
I saw the guard in his big brown uniform. Atop the wall, he traversed a small path along its concrete edge, his gloves holding a black machine gun. I wondered if he was a tightrope walker, who in practice wore a military watchcoat to master his balance on less formidable obstacles before going onto the wire. The red stars on his collar flaps were awards for harrowing acts he already demonstrated to his comrades. Under shadowy clouds, the pigeons pranced above and around him, a few from the flock resting their wings on the crest of the barrier. The birds' beady eyes watched me as I walked below them, yellow beaks chirping and cooing at the morning air.
I did not mind these inquisitive onlookers, and walked on, my black boots tapping on the cold pavement. I felt the erect slabs of concrete stood aware of my presence-as if they had eyes staring at me.
Suddenly, I found something not seen before. The guards were blind to it being there, and they passed without giving it a glance. A hole as big as my head had penetrated one of the slabs, shining a light on the ground. I ran to it, threw down my heavy backpack, and found a pile of fallen white ash spread below the puncture. I stepped where it lay.
"Pssst!"
I leapt with fear, turning my head nervously.
"Over here," a small voice called.
I made a quick glance at the hole and saw a white face staring at me from the other side. I stood still, unsure whether to scream or run.
"Don't be afraid," spoke the chapped lips. As I looked at the onlooker's thin complexion, he appeared to be a boy around my age. He came closer and put his mouth to the opening.
"How'd you get over there? Did you crawl through?" I asked, surprised.

"No, I live here."
"What? How do you live there?" I said.
"I do," he cried. "I'm an East Berliner, and my mother stays at the end of the street. My name's Ivan, what's yours?"
"Christian. Mine's Christian."
"Oh, do you live on that other side?" he asked.
"Umm, yes. How you live over there? I thought Berlin the only one. The only place I, anyone, could live in."
"You're wrong, there are other cities than yours."
"Really," I said. I put a cold hand on the cleft of the hole and the white ash went to powder against my fingers. "Did you make this hole?"
"No, somebody I don't know did."
Ivan took a few steps backwards, and I could see the boy's pallid forehead, a black sweater embracing his small body of stick arms and scraggy shoulders.
"You're skinny," I remarked.
"Skinny. What do you mean, skinny?"
"You're as skinny as a broom," I said.
"Skinny? Well, you know what you are?" the boy hollered.
As I stepped back, the treads of my boots printed themselves on the pile. Ivan stared at me with cold blue eyes. A sharp smile broke his lips.

"You're a fat swine!" he giggled.
"A fat swine?" I said angrily.
Ivan put his hands on his waist, spitting his tongue out at me.
"Yes," he cried.
"What? A swine? I can't be a swine!"
"Well, you are for calling me skinny."
"That's it, that's it, you're going to get it!"
I spun around quickly, and put my hands into the pile of ash and small crushed bits of concrete, bunching it into my arms. Gritting my teeth I swore into the wind.
"What's he calling me a swine for?" I whispered harshly. "I'll show him. No one calls me a swine."
"What?" Ivan shouted from the other side of the barrier, his voice echoing.
"Nothing-come to the wall. I have something for you," I said.
"What?" Ivan cried, cupping his ear with his hand and bowing it toward his shoulder. "I can't hear you."
"Come over here!"
Ivan returned, my ears hearing the torn soles of his shoes flop on the pavement. I knelt below the hole that lay four feet above the ground, very silent, the pile of white ash spilling from its cradle in my arms. Ivan's hoarse breaths could be heard as he pressed his body against the cold concrete, a stale air wafting out of the hole.
"You have something for me," he said loudly. Leaping up, I shoved the ash through the gap, pushing the clumps against his face. His eyes shut in quick response to the white clouds seeping out the jagged hole. Both of us coughed wildly, fleeing the dust and debris. I could see Ivan's head, shone white amidst the chalky clouds. His eyes were dark slits in the haze and ash fell from his black shoulders onto the ground.
"I got you, hah, hah! Cough! Cough!" I shouted, throwing an arm against my mouth to muffle the outburst.
Ivan fled, gagging.
"Are you okay, I didn't mean-I didn't mean to hurt you," I said in a low voice, listening to the boy's barks. With an eye close to the hole, I stared at Ivan, who bent to the ground with hands on knees, spitting out the white clouds.
"Hey, are you all right?"
There came no answer, his white powdered back to me.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to," I said.
His hands were over his mouth and he vanished from my viewpoint.
"Where'd you go?" I cried, only seeing a wisp of gray smoke where the boy had once been. "Come on, come back," I pleaded. "I didn't mean it."
His flopping footsteps receded into silence. He was gone.
"Hey, aren't you going to come back?" I shouted out.
The white dust rose into the fog and I saw the dumps that lay at the other side. Dull and lifeless tenements stood like dead trees in a torn down forest. Smoke stacks crowded the tops of their roofs, and many of the windows were cracked or shattered. A woman in a black dress and brown sweater leaned on a metal door rusted red by years of hard rain. She did not stare at the hole, but had her bleak eyes turned to the right. Her long nose, similar to the crescent curve of a faucet, bent crooked over her lips.
"Is that his mother?" I thought.
Suddenly something was thrown at my face. It bounced off my forehead, a sharp pain sprouting from the hit. The object fell and clattered around on the pavement. I looked down at the small rock, flinging a hand onto my forehead to ease the hurt.
"Ha!" Ivan jeered, his yellow teeth opening wide with joy. He suddenly hopped in front of the hole, pointing a finger at my dumb look. Instead of being angry over the wound, I laughed at him.
"Very funny," I said. Then I knelt to the ground, took up the black pebble, and threw it back. Ivan, who stood ready, dodged it with a gallant leap to the side.
"Missed!" he cried.
"Ah, you're too quick, let's play a game," I said.
Ivan shone again in the hole, looking leery, as if he thought I would throw another rock at him.
"Don't worry," I said. "I'm not going to throw any rocks."
Ivan grinned from his white powdered face, and thrust his hand into the gap. Out of his dirty palm, three rocks fell. He then slipped his hand back to the other side.
"Let's play a game." I gazed up at the tops of the cold gray slabs. "Okay, I throw a piece of candy up this wall, and the only way you can eat it is when you catch it."
Ivan distanced himself from the high barrier and I saw him stop in the middle of the wide black street that spread in front of the broken tenements. His head rose up to look at the sky as he waited eagerly for the throw of the candy.
"I'm ready," he said.
"Okay, here it comes," I answered. Grabbing out a hard red candy from a trouser pocket, my hand squeezed it tightly. "I'm going to throw!" I hollered, as my left arm made two powerful winding strokes against the air. "Here it comes!"
I cast the candy out and watched it fly. The red nickel shot to the top of the wall, vanishing as it fell over the side. I heard a loud jeer.
"I did it, Christian! I catched it in the air!"
I thumbed out another hard candy and readied it for another throw.
"Wait, here comes another!" I shouted as it was flung. The candy leaped the top and then fell over the concrete crest.
"Let me get ready," Ivan said hurriedly.
I heard the shuffling of feet against pavement then a deep sigh. Ivan's sad face appeared in front of the hole, his eyes downcast.
"What happened?" I asked.
"You know the second throw?"
I nodded.
"I didn't catch it," Ivan said.
I walked up closer to the wall, wishing to relieve his pity.
"It's okay if you lose, you know," I said.
The boy put his hand through the gap and let drop a candy onto my side of the pavement.
"What's this?" I asked.
With another sigh, the thin boy with scraggy shoulders answered, "It's the one I didn't catch."
I bent over, snatched the fallen candy, and gave it to him through the hole; but Ivan refused.
"Keep it, Christian. You've been very good. A good friend to me already."
"I don't get it."
"You don't have to. Just keep it."
"Keep it? But why? Don't you want it? It's candy; keep it."
"You don't know."
"Don't know what?"
"Know what it's like over here."
"Why do I have to know what it's like over there? I don't care, I want you to have the candy."
I pushed the candy at the boy's face, but Ivan gave it back.
"It's bad, bad over here," he said with a tone of uncertainty.
"Bad?" I said, pushing a foot back.
"My mother told me about your place. How she wanted to go up this wall and to your place, and she tells me I will come of something if I go over there. Well I live here, you there, I guess that's the way it is, and must be."
"Must be, but no!" I shouted. "I can dig you a way out. I can get my shovel and make the hole big, so you can climb in."
The clatter of boots and hollers of grown men broke the air with their harsh echoes of chaos. Ivan stood startled and his cheeks flushed crimson.
"What's happening?" I asked.
"It's the Red Guards!" he screamed. "They've found us!"
"Where?" I asked, craning my head to the corner of the gap to get a better look.
"Here take this," Ivan said hurriedly. He sunk his hands into black trousers and came out with a white flower.
"What's that?" I asked.
"Something I picked up from the street. Keep it, it's, it's, so you know me a long time from now," Ivan said.
The flower's dovelike radiance surprised me. The petals were brilliant as the bouncing clouds of heaven. I took the flower from his open palm and shoved it into my pant pocket.
"See you. I must run!" he shouted.
Ivan ran as if vicious dogs were chasing him, away from the harsh voices and marching beat of boots. I looked through the viewpoint to catch a last glimpse of my friend, but he had vanished and only the gray tenements could be seen at sorrowful vigilance over the street on the other side.
Three bodies came in front of the hole. They wore heavy brown coats and held machine guns within leather-gloved hands. One man wore an officer's cap with a shiny red star atop its black brim. He stood as the commander of the tightrope walkers, and he walked up to the gap in the wall. His pockmarked brow pressed against the viewpoint. With a steadfast desire to see Ivan for one last time, I stared at the face of the officer. The guard spoke with a voice that would make men flee in terror only not to hear its wrath.
"Go home, boy. You don't belong here."
"No," I said. "I can stand here as long as I want."
"I'm warning you boy, go home!" he roared. I wished I had the guts to answer the officer's order with a simple "no"; but my mother's advice and the man's beastly features turned me into a coward.
"Yes, sir," I said coolly, backing slowly away. I ran into the fog, left my backpack where it lay, fearful the guards might catch me. I ran to a future that held only the memory of Ivan and the flower he left in my care.

With my return to the wall after a twenty-year absence, I thought of Ivan when the large steely van drove up next to a grassy lot surrounded by old tenement buildings. Bright in the sun, trees with white flowers swayed in the afternoon breeze, blowing down white feathery blossoms onto the green grass. I leaped out of the van, and gave the driver my thanks for the ride. He only smiled from his front seat, nodding his white bearded chin in homage.
"Knew someone there?" he asked. He watched outside the open door.
"Yes, twenty years ago. The memory of him has changed my life," I answered.
"Really," the driver said. "Was he from East Berlin?"
"Yes, and his name was Ivan. Do you know him?"
The driver shook his head side to side in negative reply.
"He was a kid like any other kid," I said. "But he was my friend."
The driver gave me his hand. I held hard on his wrinkled palm, my eyes filling with tears ready to fall.
"It's tough, it's tough, I know. It's different now, a lot different. I hope you find him," he said.
"I have already found him," I said, as I saw the trees.
I gave the driver a nervous nod then went past the van, brushing a hand over the tears on my cheeks. The van drove off down the street and disappeared behind the bend of an old gray shop.
I turned to look up at the white flowers as they fluttered on the branches of a tall tree. The flowers made me remember again the day Ivan gave me the gift. In my left hand, I still held its withered petals. My palms made the leaves crack and turn to ash against the skin. With thoughts on our brief friendship, I let go of my fears. I stared at the low hanging branches, and talked to the boy who sat with the white shoots that shone brilliant in the rays of the sun.