The Writing on the Wall.
Sometimes, when I am woken by the early dawn light streaming relentlessly through my threadbare curtain in midsummer, I will walk to the Wall and I will watch it. Today is one of those days. I silently get out of bed and pull on clothes, before tiptoeing out the door, and then shutting it silently behind me. My parents don't notice me going because they are exhausted from being forced to work the nightshift in an automobile factory. I descend quietly the flights of stairs, making sure I skip the sixth one on the second floor because it creaks loudly. I walk through the streets, as our half of the city pulls itself out of its slumber and slowly awakens. Shop owners open their stores, cars start and the air is filled with the smell of petrol and smoke from the chimneys of a nearby factory. I stride along, nodding hello to a few people I know and walking along the main road my apartment block backs on to. I know that I shouldn't attract attention, so I don't jog, just calmly walk. The weak morning sunshine bathes the grey, dirty pavements. It is cold, the morning air biting at my exposed fingers but I do not bother with gloves because it will heat up later in the day. My name is Jessika Vogel, I am nineteen and I live in East Germany, or rather, am a prisoner there.
I stalk like a prowling cat to the fence that lies in front of the empty dirt block that sits between the buildings and the wall. I do not cross it. There are rumours, of mines, of bombs buried in the dirt to stop us from escaping. It is only a short walk from my apartment to the Wall that divides East Germany from the rest of the world, from the West. The Wall that traps me and my family in communism. It completely looks like the symbol of oppression and communism that it is. It is not tall, but menacing none the less. Guarded by soldiers and impossible to escape. It is heavy, clunky and entirely grey concrete, like many things in this city. Graffiti covers it, graffiti from the people who are determined to show their resentment in a physical way. They tried to paint over it but people just kept tagging it, so the Wall is a mess of hastily applied grey paint and anti-communist graffiti. When I was a child I used to dream about getting out of this prison, but dreams are only fantasies and when the crushing weight of reality hit me after coming out of them, I stopped dreaming.
I feel my face form a scowl as I glare at it with my hazel eyes narrowed. I feel so much resentment as I stand in the shadows so to avoid attention from the soldiers that guard it, so much anger at the communists for crushing us and not letting us escape. Anger at the wall, the very physical object that shows the ruthlessness of the iron curtain, anger that slowly builds up inside me and threatens to overflow. A soldier walks past me and I shrink back further into the shadows. I make no noise; I am as quiet as a mouse. He looks around, blows on his hands to warm them and then turns around and walks in the other direction. My heart rate returns to normal. Today East Berlin is calm on the surface, but the ripples are forming, driven by a force the authorities cannot control, a force that cannot be contained. The people.
There is nothing more dangerous than an oppressed people.
Like a pot left on a hot stove for too long, the pressure builds and builds until it is at breaking point, and the lid is blown off and the water spills out, flooding over the stovetop.
I turn away from the wall and with feet that feel like they are filled with lead, walk home. Back past the now open shops and the children in their poorly made uniforms trotting off to their schools to spend another miserable day subjected to propaganda. I myself pushed through the wall of propaganda and enforced thinking years ago, or so I like to think. My school was called, in typical communist imagination, number twenty seven. I was nearly expelled because I wrote a short story about a man from the US, which was supposedly anti-USSR. I smile proudly at the memory. I walk home through the backstreets, wanting some time to think. I pass a baker's and breathe deeply to inhale the scent of freshly baked bread. My stomach growls. I am about half way home, away from the wall, and walking down a dark back alley which smells like rotting food thrown out and is the type of place where lost souls gather at knight to sniff glue. I usually wouldn't go near a place like this, but today for some reason I am here I am wrapped up in my own thoughts when I hear a moan from the shadows.
I reel in my thoughts and I freeze and glance around with widened eyes when see him, lying in the darkness, a soldier, moaning and obviously injured. In my head I immediately see him as the enemy, but I look at his face and he is just a boy my age, scared and injured, wearing a uniform that is too big for him, a conscript, a kid. A wave of empathy washes over me and some buried maternal instinct forces me over to him and he looks at me whispers, "Please. Help." He then moans loudly. I have no idea what to do. Should I leave him here, where he will suffer, or do I take him back to my parent's apartment and risk being caught harbouring a fugitive? He is the enemy! The oppressor! However in the end, compassion overrules any political motivation and I grab him, pulling one of his arms over my shoulder and help him half-consciously limp toward my house.
I feel the barrel of the machine gun he has strung around his neck dig into my back, but I try to ignore that. I pull him into my building, praying no one will see, and thank whoever is up there looking over me that we are not seen. My heart pounds and I desperately hope we will not be seen. I glance frantically around as I drag him through the streets and then the back door to my building. I drag him along, his feet scraping along the threadbare carpet and I have to stop and lean against a wall that is covered in peeling wall paper to catch my breath at one point. He moans involuntarily and I tell him to be quiet. I pull him into the elevator that miraculously works today and then help him into my apartment. He groans again and I put my hand over his mouth. I feel sorry for him but I just can't afford to be heard. The elevator doors open and I pull him into my apartment, thankfully still unseen. I am panting, he is heavy and I am not that strong but I couldn't just leave him to lie in pain.
An hour later I sit with a bowl of warm, salty water gently cleaning the soldier's wounds with a cloth. He stares at me with huge blue eyes and although we speak each other's languages he says nothing but repeats "Danke. Thank you." Over and over, his expression conveying a thousand thanks. His fatigues and weapons lie in a corner, not of interest to either of us. My parents are not home, they left before I came back, and this doesn't bother me. They are working shifts at the car factory they are forcefully employed in. They are not meant for this kind of labour, but it is the only way to earn a living. Working for the government is dangerous, if you tell them what they do not want to hear, you wind up somewhere you do not want to do.
I learn that the soldier's name is Gunther. I tell him mine. We talk no more, words are not necessary. He is wearing some of my father's old clothes and has no bad injuries but is concussed and beaten up. Some group of rebels found him alone and beat him up for the heck of it. I do not want to admit my own people are cowardly but this action certainly sounds like one of cowards. I sigh; hypocrisy is rife amongst those who fight each other. My father and mother walk through the door, looking tired and haggard; see Gunther, and their jaw drops. I quickly explain everything, assuring them I am indeed not harbouring a fugitive.
My father talks to Gunther, treating him like a villain and keeping his voice low and hostile. Then Gunther says the seven words that will change our lives forever. "I can get us across the Wall." My mother and I whip around and I stare at each other. A grin involuntarily fills my face. Happiness fills me, happiness I have not felt in a long time. We talk for the rest of the evening about what we will do. Suddenly I am imagining my life outside this prison when a stark realisation hits me like a ton of bricks. I have to stay here and see this out. I will not take the opportunity to get across the wall because only I and only I have it. I want to stay here and see East Germany to democracy. I think about the opportunity, the thought of getting across that wall...but I know I will not take it, I cannot. It would be selfish to abandon my country and my people when they need me most.
My parents beg me to reconsider but I am stubborn, I want to see East Germany off on its journey to the new world, the one of democracy, and free elections, and worker's rights, and everything I long for on this side of the Wall.
A/N. I am thinking about extending this to a multi-chapter story (with a different plot, obviously). Opinions anyone?