KEYS TO THE CITY
I: A New Career In A New Town
II: Dream Life
III: Paintings As Prayers
IV: Late Summer Evening
Rose Crowned Evenings
Moments Of Pure Ashtray
The Personalised Circus
Blind Children On Western Streets
Lucifer Says He Won't See Me
Swans On The Surface
Girl Smoking On Balcony
Stained Glass Window
The Insurance Was WILD
The Sea's Smile
Van Gogh's Lights
The Disappointed Prince
A Night At The Circus
Chekhov In Kreuzberg
A Stolen Dress
Two Contract Killers Get Arrested
My Uncle Dick
Death In The Cafe
Performing To The Curtain
Getting Past The Curtain
Living With Samuel Beckett:
An Anti Essay
KEYS TO THE CITY
Part IV: Late Summer Evening
1: The Situation At The Apartment
Despite the setbacks with my work, I had found exceptional accommodation. I was renting a room in a refined and elegant apartment, just by Museum Island, overlooking the Spree. It belonged to a doctor, or rather, the Doctor, who was never in – in all my three months staying at his apartment, I don’t think I saw him more than six or seven times. I say six or seven, but it was most likely more than ten, and I did indeed spend many hours with him, but the apartment was often empty, his absence the one undoubted constant in our time together. The reasons for his absence were professional: he had to attend conferences, and if I’m not mistaken, often hold them himself. This meant that effectively, the flat was mine, and in this flat I would have many strange nocturnal adventures, both solitary and accompanied. If I think about it now, there was not that many adventures, and I shouldn’t refer to them as ‘adventures’ (erratic absurd episodes would be a better description), yet the whole time felt never ending. Constant gazes out the window across the courtyard, staring and marvelling numbly at the grey beauty of Berlin, absent-mindedly wondering how much time I would have until it all exploded, ‘it’ being my time here in this city. This fear of imminent catastrophe was fundamentally down to my own acknowledged innate recklessness, the undoubted stimuli to these ‘adventures’ - for I don’t look back on these episodes with any great ‘fondness’. Indeed, talking of them now is for me something akin to psychologically picking at a scab that will not heal, my doing so perhaps a morbid perversity to see if whether I squeeze the cut hard enough, the cut itself while worsening, will at least transform into something else.
I cannot explain my total loss of perspective, nor my deep fall into a life of extreme illusions, the ‘scab’ of my time here – I can only convey the mood of the time. It changed when I moved into the Doctor’s Apartment, that’s all I know. What I saw was most certainly no longer reality, becoming more and more distorted and disfigured day by day, until peaking of course with that late summer evening.
One morning, I found myself waking up very early, only to find the Doctor’s fiancé bizarrely getting changed for work at the bottom of my bed, pulling up her tights and brushing her long shiny blonde hair, applying make up, staring duly into my wardrobe mirror. I watched her for a few moments. She smiled pleasantly, sweetly, or bashfully, or confusedly, or lustfully, I couldn’t tell in those seconds, and I mumbled good morning, and then we both had that mutual feeling of realising what we had to do, and instead of having breakfast, we ended up having sex, hearing the Doctor’s loud snores from the other room. When it was over, we rested on each other’s naked bodies for a few silent moments, and in shock and perhaps awe, held each other close. No words were spoken, and I can’t remember if we even looked at each other in the eye afterwards. She went to the bathroom, and I lay there half asleep. I awoke some minutes later, and reconvened with the Doctor and his fiancé in the kitchen, where we shared toast and orange juice in respectful, uncomfortable or perhaps just ordinarily tired silence, I wasn’t sure as to which. Either way, this was all for the best. ‘You are fine?’ The Doctor asked, or rather, announced in my direction, and I nodded, whilst his fiancé smiled at the Doctor amiably, kissing him lightly on the cheek as she took his plate to the sink. They then both went out to work, and I made a coffee, stared numbly at that courtyard that I spoke of moments ago, from the fourth floor as it happens, and then when exiting the apartment, walked out into a freeze of fear and paranoia, my project in jeopardy, my mind calculating and assessing the risks, like a gambler in last chance saloon, worrying whether I would be deservedly kicked out of the Doctor’s apartment (though why would she say anything?), our friendship, sporadic though nevertheless fruitful, effectively over – for I should admit, he and I had become good friends by then: each time in his company (save for that last narrated episode) was linguistically memorable; a natural conversationalist, he and I would hold long debates on Austrian cuisine, theoretical physics, on classical music, on Goethe, on the very nature of intoxication. He was a remarkable fellow and cared very much for me.
The late summer evening that I speak of began when I looked in the hallway mirror of the Apartment, no more than a week after my early morning encounter with the Doctor’s fiancé. I was obsessed with mirrors and reflections in those days, always curious as to what I’d see, which mutation of myself would stare back at me. On this occasion though, I looked into the mirror and found my skin turning grey, charcoal forming under my eyes.
I had long been aware of my skin’s gradual changing of colour: what had once been fair and fresh, in this time became pallid and at one with dust and darkness. Though, in fairness, I feel it important to acknowledge my own neuroticism (that forever growing elephant in the room), something with which the Doctor used to pleasantly tease me about, his long running joke being, ‘your colour only exists in your mind,’ or it may have been ‘your perception of yourself’ or ‘how you think you are is not how others see you or think you are like’ – whatever, it loses something of the beauty and indeed wit in the translation, but it was along those lines – and the way he often said it (again I’m getting carried away with the Doctor, but I cannot forget him), with that way of his, with that winking smile – to my mind, there was always something covertly sinister about it, like he knew who I really was, as if he knew that a terrible fate lay in store for me. And to think further now, of how he moved so lightly from room to room, quietly rearranging things, scanning various surfaces quite happily and thoughtlessly, his old radio in the background, playing contemporary chart music (an anomaly I never quite figured out in his character), and then off to another conference, somewhere in Europe…leaving me alone in his apartment to run amok with myself.
I think now of one of the last times that I, the Doctor, and his fiancé, who is called Zenia, shared company over dinner and wine in the Apartment.
We were talking about sleep, about it’s kaleidoscopic nature, how it determines days, weeks, and so months and years of the living (the conversation was admittedly a little convoluted and intoxicated). It was towards the evening’s end, with quiet classical music playing in the background, when the Doctor, moments after tickling Zenia’s ear and extravagantly filling my glass, leaned in and said knowingly to both of us:
“But you know, one thing I count my lucky stars from, and one thing which at least Zenia has long known, is that I never, under any circumstances, snore!”
This was followed by what could only be described as a fit of laughter, all watering eyes and flowing tears, the most unnatural state I ever saw The Doctor in, and of course, Zenia and I laughed too at first, perhaps a little forcefully, and then I even started to find it slightly amusing (yeah, to hell with it!), but then it became uncomfortable again, excruciatingly so, all this forced laughter and repressed guilt, until thankfully the Doctor proceeded to clear the plates and go about his arranging of things and scanning surfaces. Zenia looked at me with melancholy eyes and I looked away and drank my wine with feigned concentration.
Hours later, when our little party had ended and we had retired to our separate rooms, I awoke with that familiar nocturnal urge to use the bathroom. As I flushed the toilet and walked back out into the hallway, I suddenly noticed thudding noises in the Apartment. I was first alarmed by these noises, and was worried whether someone was in distress, but then I quickly realised that these noises were actually deep, rumbling groans of satisfaction from the Doctor’s and Zenia’s room. I could hear the bed banging against the wall, the sound growing louder and louder, the rhythms of the contact on the walls like a well-improvised metronome. Almost without thinking I edged closer towards their door, which I now noticed was hardly closed, and I could make out that the room was lowly lit with their strange Oriental rouge lamps, and incense smoke circled their room like depraved perfume. As I moved closer, only meters away now from their door ajar, I realised that these loud groans belonged to the Doctor, and underneath those groans, I made out light breathless sighs that were clearly Zenia’s. I could make out their shadows on the wall, the Doctor almost upright and Zenia bent down, her nipples dancing in shadow across the room, her hair and head out of focus. I was so close that I could even hear the union of their bodies beat against each other. I myself was in a trance, and though not aroused, my heart beat in it’s new race with impossible curiosity, until, inches away from their door, I stepped on a part of the floor that made a noticeable sound, and in fright, tiptoed slowly backwards, hearing the Doctor’s groans change in expression (they became confident and knowing, or so I imagined in my paranoia), whilst Zenia’s moaning became more and more audible and high pitched, transforming now into almost a melodic shriek, the effect and my imagined image of her turning me on and yet also repulsing me, my nerves jangling like loose change as I made it back to my room and tried to sleep, while the moans from the other side of the apartment lowly echoed throughout the night for what seemed like hours.
I’m talking too much and going off on tangents. I only wanted to talk about that late summer evening, but it’s clear now that events had been transpiring and in motion that made such a night inevitable.
Nevertheless, I shall try and proceed with describing the evening itself, but how to properly encapsulate my terror, how to do that justice – for can you imagine how it feels to see charcoal actually forming under your eyes? Completely alone in the apartment, and ignoring my fears about the Doctor and what he so happened to think of me that day, I scrambled into the bathroom to examine his enormous collection of medication. The need for an immediate remedy was of desperate proportions and took priority over all other issues, dominating my spacial awareness, dictating my sensory perceptions, informing my erratic temperament: what was happening to my eyes scared me like nothing before in that city, and by then I’d already seen a few things.
Upon finding the cabinets locked, I searched for a key. I looked through the Doctor’s room, through his books, his files, his drawers, through the soles of his shoes, occasionally open mouthed in surprise as to what I found, though too pressed for time to properly take in information. When I couldn’t find the key, I unsuccessfully punched the glass cabinet door. My first started frantically bleeding, my blood dripping all over his impressive and exotically tiled bathroom floor. I returned to my room with a cloth and sat there for five minutes or so, waiting for the bleeding to stop. Returning to the bathroom with renewed optimism, I this time picked up his prized zebra-patterned marble ashtray and smashed it through both of the glass cabinet doors. As the doors broke, shards of broken glass and then packets and packets of medications spilled out from within, shooting out like wild confetti. I bent down and picked them up and placed them all in the sink basin, wondering what I had just done and what kind of implications this now held. I was searching for someone to stop the ringing and incessant chanting noises in my head, to stop the dust, the unending allergies. I was ultimately searching for something to stop the pain under my eyes – Ibuprofen would be fine – anything to turn this tide of never ending nonsense into something that made sense, that held purpose. Going to the chemist was not an option – I don’t have time to explain (or rather, there were none open locally and I feared entering the outside world in such condition). And yet, despite the Doctor’s necessary absence for all the above to take place, I ironically wished he was here with me now: I could have done with his expertise whilst sorting through all the hundreds of packets of tablets, drops, sachets, bottles and powders that he seemed to have collected over the years. It looked like a never-ending task, and one that admittedly, I became distracted by: whilst I was initially solely concerned with countering the allergy and it’s debilitating effects (the charcoal, the grey skin, the hysteria, perhaps even the loneliness), now I became deeply entrenched in restoring order to the Doctor’s medicine cabinet –and yet I soon realised that this was a task for a man beyond my logical capabilities, for where does one start? Does one arrange the medication by the type of product (whether it be a bottle or sachet for instance), or by the product’s manufacturer? But this speaks not of the Doctor’s own no doubt idiosyncratic order that he prevailed with over his collection, thus rendering my own attempts at camouflaged organisation, somewhat bereft of a point. Quickly, this task became abandoned, and instead, I quite ruthlessly shoved them back into the cabinet – those that would not fit, I put in conspicuous places, like on the toilet seat, behind the door – even in the bathtub itself. In retrospect, by this stage I was incapable of simple logical mental cognitive thinking – if you’d have asked me to make you a cup of coffee I would have returned with a glass of tap water with perhaps even a slice of lemon. And yet this task in the bathroom did nothing but distract and distress me – in a fit of panic, I would check if the medication I had slung behind the door was in fact the medication required, or if in fact I had accidentally placed what I needed now back in the cabinet – this was why I longed for the Doctor, even if meant exclusion, vilification, harsh criticism, homelessness, exile – even imprisonment, for the whole business was driving me mad, and I can’t bear to imagine what you make of the matter either.
Soon I began to imagine the Doctor and Zenia walking in and finding me like this, crawling around on the floor amidst glass and hysteria. All sorts of questions would be asked, like why are you doing this, why are you even here, why do you do the things you do, questions that I wouldn’t know the answers to, a situation that would culminate most probably in the final termination of my work, which in truth, I secretly longed for. Oh how I hated my work. You try hunting down a person who – no, that’s another story (see how I distract myself!). But perhaps this would be the end.
The point of no return of course had indeed been the ashtray. I had long known almost from the get-go that this zebra patterned marble ashtray (now with a terrible chip due to the smashing of the cabinet doors) was an object of great sentimental value for the couple. It had something to do with one of the Doctor’s mysterious expeditions to Africa, where he was said to have come back greatly changed and with one eye visibly lighter than the other, though I myself knew and still know very little of what these ‘expeditions’ entailed, remembering only how Zenia’s face would turn quite pale if these voyages were mentioned – she would stare impenetrably into the distance, fiddling restlessly with this mysterious ashtray and her eyes looking like they might burst into tears. I could speculate of course, but again, I don’t really know. My guess is as good as yours. Arms dealing? Who knows? It was pretty obvious that the Doctor was not just a doctor, put it that way. But he was a great fellow.
After some minutes of staring at myself in the mirror, I decided to turn the shower on and run it under my hand to cease the bleeding (which had returned with fervour), but I misjudged the dynamics of the nozzle and sprayed water everywhere, first over the walls, then the floor, then the mirror, the sink, and then finally, myself, which was irritating as I was, at the time, fully clothed. In frustration I then dropped the ashtray on my foot, which I had still been holding in the shower (I know not why). My left toe then began to bleed (for I wasn’t wearing any shoes or socks for some reason). In this moment, I may have started sobbing – yes I believe I did – it was all becoming too much for me, but then I winced and cursed myself for succumbing to tears and started barking orders, to me, to someone, I cannot remember. Nevertheless, I stepped out of the shower – clearly that hadn’t worked. On the bathroom shelf I fleetingly stared at a picture of the Doctor and Zenia, and found myself thinking of the outline and curve of her back, of the brief moment of shocking early morning intimacy we had spent together in my room, I remembered the colour of her finger nails, violet, the almost yellowness of her skin, the light cellulite I gripped by her upper thighs, the strange humming sound she made throughout it all, the gasps of almost horror we made as we both climaxed together, and the beautiful perfume she sprayed as she dressed herself again.
Zenia and I had rarely talked, but I felt that we were in agreement on certain things. One of them was the unsavoury company that The Doctor kept. On one occasion a quite nasty looking man turned up at the Apartment. He called himself Ralph.
The thought of him now makes my stomach turn. Simply put, he was a nasty looking man with a long brown pony tail and a strange goatee, the colour of which almost felt painted and cheap, much like the things he spoke of.
I cannot remember the exact reason behind his visit, but it had apparently caught Zenia off guard, who was dressed in a casual T shirt and jogging bottoms (I noticed that she wasn’t wearing a bra) and was barefoot as she came out of the shower. I recall Ralph embracing her as she joined us in the living room, and shortly afterwards making an inappropriate lewd remark, of which the Doctor also found funny yet made me wince. I’ve always struggled in the company of men being ‘men’: I always have the feeling that we’re banging on a cage, trying to catch the attention of onlookers, who in general, are often disinterested in our antics. Zenia caught my eye and gave me a look as if to say, see what I have to deal with, these men and their egos, and I confirmed the look. Perhaps she saw something in me more effeminate, perhaps more subdued, I don’t know. Yet I am a hypocrite: as she bent down and removed something from her foot, I glanced at her almost exposed breasts and felt a wave of longing pour through me. I then quickly looked away, and started coughing, my face darkening with colour. ‘You are fine,’ the Doctor said, and I nodded. Ralph then began a seedy anecdote about how much he hated his young lover, who he referred to as a ‘slut’ and a ‘cunt’, though, truth be told, he loved fucking her, ‘and her cunt’, he made that clear. ‘That’s why your lucky, Boris. You have a beautiful fiancé, soon to be wife, who you can fuck quite happily, and then when she opens her mouth afterwards you can even be interested in what she has to say.’
Zenia called out something in disagreement, and Ralph put his hand up, and said, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t really think that Zen.’
‘You quite clearly do,’ I said, becoming irritated myself.
‘What’s that boy?’ Ralph said, rolling a cigarette.
‘You know I read something the other day –‘
‘You read something! Well I’m happy for you! That’s a rare thing in your generation, not if you don’t count people’s Facebook posts. Haha! The narcissism that these people have,’ he added, turning to Boris, ‘should be medically treated. There’s a chronic problem here. Psychological.’
‘You might have a point there, but let me finish.’
Boris looked up expectantly with a proud smile and I could tell that Zenia had stopped what she was doing and was listening with eager interest.
‘I read something about how misogyny is not just developed through our cultural values. Adverts, films, what have you. It also stems from feelings of betrayal an infant feels as he grows up and learns to not just depend on his mother’s love. Feeling almost ‘abandoned’, and bitter at having to join the world of ‘men’, he vilifies his mother, or women in general, to cover up his own embarrassment at having been forced to depend on her in the first place. Of course, there are many contingents involved in such a delicate process; how loving the mother is, how secure the child feels, (that’s why men’s attitude to women cannot be collectively defined, though misogyny in some part no doubt stems from this formative time in a boy’s life). In my opinion however, what I find most ironic from this study is the fact that how men can end up punishing women for the rest of their lives, blaming them and insisting that their sex is intellectually and physically inferior, when in the majority of cases, they are completely ignorant, oblivious and incapable of understanding their own feelings as to why they even think this in the first place, thus almost, by consequence, defining their own stupidity and more or less dispelling their perceived superiority.’
Ralph nodded slowly, smiling and then dismissing my point by making a fuss about how his lighter wasn’t working.
‘Boys and girls. It’s complicated eh!’ He finally said. Then he turned to The Doctor and said in a murmur, ‘The reason why I’m here, is about that other boy we met today at Tito’s. There’s more to it than meets the eye, and things are already in motion. Let me talk to you outside in the courtyard for a moment if that’s all right? Won’t be more than ten minutes. There’s something in the car I wanted to show you too.” Then he smiled and the Doctor nodded calmly, putting on his shoes.
Zenia stopped what she was doing and said. ‘You’re not going to Africa again are you? If you are, I’d rather you didn’t lie about it Boris.”
Ralph smiled. ‘Men are liars, Zen. If we knew the sick truth about each other we wouldn’t stand each other’s company. But I admire your company, and I apologise for my earlier remarks.’
Zenia stared at The Doctor, to which he shook his head with that angelic smile of his, and I stared at Zenia’s concerned face, and longed to be resting on her bosom again and doing once again what we had done the week before. She looked at me with melancholy eyes, and when the men went outside, we quickly and quite madly did it on the kitchen floor as if our lives depended on it.
This was the last time I saw her.
After calming down for a few moments, I went through all the medication once more, but this time with more care, as if it were a basic problem that need solving, until finally, I found a packet of Paracetamol.
They were seemingly of Greek origin (and I must confess, that it always struck me as strange how the majority of the Doctor’s medication I discovered that evening came from Greece). And come to think of, why did he have such industrial amounts of medication? From what I can remember, his scientific endeavours were not of a pharmaceutical nature – and in fact, and yes I do now remember, quite clearly actually, that his exact areas of expertise were theoretical quantum mechanics, particle theory, anti-matter – I know this because we discussed these topics on several occasions: he was a doctor of science, not Greek medication. Despite these suspicions, I took two tablets, hoping that the medications anti-inflammatory and pain relieving qualities would soothe my dust and charcoal nightmare, that my allergic reaction would fade out into the night. In truth, taking these two tablets turned what was a wildly peculiar reaction into a full-blown existential catastrophe. In truth, my night was only just beginning, and escalated in absurdity with each passing moment.
2: Bombardier Berlin
I understood nothing of the packaging, nor did I pay much attention to the instruction manual. I just saw the words ‘Paracetamol’ and swiftly swallowed two capsules, rubbing my eyes in pain. I must confess: I thought it was all the same, that Paracetamol, in all it’s various forms and guises – it was all the same, was it not? Similar to Ibuprofen, an effective form of short term mild to moderate pain relief. And yet, part of me knew I was being naïve, perhaps the final corner of my mind that was still interested in cognitively functioning. It seemed slightly silly and risky – why two tablets? Why not one first? And were they even Paracetamol? On closer inspection, it turned out the drug was called Paradegamol, and there were only six tablets in a rather large and serious looking packet. I did not check the instruction manual because there wasn’t one supplied. There were four lines of text on the packaging, which seemed to be an address of some kind in Amsterdam. Alas today, with the benefit of hindsight, I can safely say – that I made a mistake, a mistake that lit the fuse for a night of mayhem. I supposed I should press on and narrate what happened next.
So after taking the two pills, quite theatrically might I add, and in a combined state of fear and excitement, I tidied up the bathroom and picked up the shattered glass from the floor. The cabinet doors were broken – that much was plain, but they could be fixed; after all, it had been an accident… I had slipped, upon climbing out of the shower and…somehow managed to…smash through the cabinet doors…more than three feet away. I must move out, I told myself, within a week if possible (and truth be told, I did move out, the very next morning in fact, running for my life and with no destination in sight).
Standing in the hallway, staring strangely at myself, my cut up fist and toe, my troubled face, a phantasmagoria of reds and greys, a complexion of onions, to say nothing of the presumed dust all over my body, the charcoal breaking out in pores underneath my eyes, I wondered how long it would be until these pills got to work. And then there was the Doctor, like a phantom, forever looming in my thoughts. I didn’t know when he would return, and now I prayed that he wouldn’t. Sometimes he was gone for weeks, other times, no more than a couple of hours. All he had said to me was something about Vienna. Zenia, an aspiring actress, was attending a premier in Dresden. However, before he left for his business in Vienna, the Doctor had told me that if I did suddenly have to leave (for he knew the nature of my work), I only had to remember to leave the key underneath the Chrysantheum plant pot in the apartment’s courtyard, as his friend, an Australian barkeeper by the name of Rick, may or may not arrive to pick up a package. This somewhat reassured me, this element of trust he had placed in me (and look how I had repaid him, merely hours later).
I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bed for a few moments, numb and weary. My restlessness, never too far away, returned with vigour, and soon I began to think, quite desperately to myself: what on earth should I do tonight? That’s how it started. Perhaps I could have rang up someone for nocturnal company. I scrolled down the lists of my contacts and hovered above a girl I was seeing back then. I would call her every now and then to come round, our time together akin to a business transaction and quite unnecessary, each time making us feel worse afterwards. The Doctor even met her once and was his usual charming self. Martha was her name, who as it happens, was also Greek, like the Doctor’s medication. I believe she was also seeing someone else at the time, and would even talk to me about him, and how they worked together at a hostel, and of all the strange characters who would pass through Berlin. I decided against it: the thought of explaining the mess in the bathroom made me uneasy, and besides, my eyes still hurt. No, I was too wired up and evidently inclined to a more personal, individualistic exploration this evening. What I needed to actually do was lie in bed and relax, perhaps even read a good book. And what was on the literary menu that night? Oh, no doubt some old European tale of struggle. You see, part of my job was pretending to be a struggling artist. My job essentially was to go as deep as possible into the Berlin underworld and bring back information. But yes, a struggling artist. My disguise. A writer inspired by the modernism of the early twentieth century. One of the things I often did was feign supreme knowledge over Balzac’s Human Comedy. I was also an avid fan of traumatic family drama from O’Neil, an aesthetic follower of Soren Kierkegaard (Either/ Or was somewhat of a bible and useful guide for me in this city of never ending choices) and a warm-hearted supporter of the exasperatingly humorous plays by Mr Bernard Shaw.
I flicked through a few pages of The Morning Becomes Electric, rubbed my eye furiously for a few moments, and then, putting the book down, I looked in my wardrobe mirror and almost cried in shock: the problem was that my left eye had become as swollen as a golf ball, and was getting bigger by the minute.
That’s why I had immediately left the apartment and boarded a train to Hauptbahnhoff, for in the main station there lay a chemist that was open twenty fours. I no longer cared for the dust, nor the charcoal. Even I knew that all of the nonsense earlier had just been a figment of my imagination, but my left eye…if you could have seen it, you’d have wanted to take it with you to the golf course. I was under no illusions: at this rate, my eye might swell up to such an extent that it could pop out and be lost forever: I imagined my left eye rolling along the train floors, perhaps falling through the station cracks as I exited the train, or even bouncing down the huge station escalators, lost forever in the heart of metropolis. Thus, I’d have one eye. It would be the end of my life, but more pressingly, the end of my career and assignment out here in Berlin, and as much as I hated my work, I didn’t want it to end like this.
Finally, there it stood before me: the apotheke, seventeen hours open today and counting. That calculation doesn’t sound right. What a bizarre thing to think. But it’s never closed my friend, if it’s open all the time, and it couldn’t be seventeen hours and counting, as it’s just about to strike midnight. The eye, the eye. By the entrance to the chemist stood a huge security guard, perhaps seven feet high, who looked at my gold ball eye with disgust, spitting to the side and putting his earphones back on. Behind the counter, a very little man was rummaging around, laughing to himself and chatting to what appeared to be his granddaughter. She occasionally would call out ‘grandpa, du bist alt’, and laugh cheekily, and he would too. I looked on lost and impatient. This little man was old, frightfully so, with a large moustache with what looked like it had a paintbrush texture and he had pleading sweet wrinkled eyes that seemed to be squinting the whole time in a never ending process of invention and analysis.
‘Was kann ich fur Sie tun?” He asked me pleasantly, and I just pointed at my eye, colouring furiously. His young granddaughter stared blankly at me, not even frightened, just slightly interested in the size of my left eyeball. The chemist squinted again, and in fact, put on his glasses, and for several seconds said nothing. He then took the glasses off, nodded hesitantly, a look of analytical frustration across his brow, and then, wincing, almost immediately put his glasses back on, and said to me in broken English: sir, you have just an allergic reaction, had.
I said I know I have, for some reason pointing to my eye again with fury, which we all knew was what the matter was about, and then asked for some more information. I wanted a theory, a hypothesis, a thesis, a tract almost; something with a convoluted Latin title that I could print off and take home with me to read.
The old chemist argued that it could be none other than Paracodia, smiling almost embarrassedly, as if he had once taken it himself, recreationally I presume, for he glanced at his granddaughter and said: you shall drink water, lots of it. I was unsure as to whether he was talking to me or to her. So was the girl.
When I told him that I had in fact taken Paradogmal, he just laughed and shook his head and said, nein, Paracodia. I didn’t have the energy to argue with him.
He also asked me whether I had issues with dust, and I said yes I did in fact have many issues with dust, and so he nodded, took out a folder, closed it with a smile, took his glasses off again (something I noticed he enjoyed doing or at least did habitually) and then bizarrely took out a can of Diet Coke from within his white apron, as if pulling a rabbit from a hat – but he was then straining to open it, for the lid wouldn’t come to. I waited for the situation to explain itself. Becoming exasperated, I also tried opening the can for the chemist, but truth be told, the lid was stuck after all. The chemist then called the huge security guard inside, who spat again to his left and with a sigh removed his headphones, and after struggling for a few seconds, broke open the lid, at the expense of a large amount of the contents within the can, we all jumping back as the Diet Coke sprayed quite tempestuously all over the shop floor. The old man then coloured with gratitude at the security guard, who said nothing and returned to his post outside, and I then watched the old man put his glasses back on and inform me that the first thing I should do was clean my room, and remove every particle of dust I could find, which was, if I’m honest, you know, something I had often contemplated, you know, doing a spring clean, getting rid of all the junk in my life, all the paralysing thoughts and phobias, but with regards to my stay at the Apartment, the Doctor and Zenia, they never once, never…complained, never once…inferred that my cleanliness, my mental capacity was a problem. Grandpa, grandpa…
O you and I, she says to me now, the eternal spirits of my hard nights, try not to be so hard on yourself. O how I was made to forget you for all this nonsense, to lose myself completely in hope of finding myself again…but then it changes, as it always must, and you’re outside the Chemist now, (my son, ,my brother, my friend, my lover), all three of those supposed people who reside and work there further ghosts for your indifferent and disconnected mind, outside the apotheke, the apocalypse, deciding how you’ll head to the grave; trains are leaving for Paris, Rome, Athens, New York. The clock strikes Midnight again, and you let the third pill decide, and it all changes, even though it surely couldn’t changed again so drastically, not in this short window of time, and yet anything is possible, and there is no control of thought, fool, beautiful boy, no purpose when you’re like this – you were by the platform, and now you’re on Oberbaum bridge, staring at the dark waves, such waves for such a city, and like I said, it’s changed, yet you do what you have long planned to do – to do everything you didn’t plan on. What the hell was that before? I don’t know, I’ve forgotten all about it. But what happened to your hands? Fell off my bike. Cracking open such beautiful cold bottles now, drinking beer, juice and water all at the same time, walking around like a defeated sage, frightening even the scaremongers and zombie tour guides – the exit’s there – but the street is out of the question, and the question’s answer no doubt on that very same street. What do you think of the devil sir, of nilhilsim, one of your followers, one of your disciples ask. Not much, for I am the devil, I am all nilhilsm and all darkness you say, or rather, proclaim, to yourself in your head as you wade through puddles of trash and dirt, or was that the person next to you who uttered those very same words which you mistook for your own, who stood by the bridge and imagined it and you as a pit, as a watering hole, as the secret labyrinth found in the mysterious windmills of dreams – this is the very talk that nullifies your soul, hence you taking your leave, your taking of the long way round, to the next entrance, bizarrely revisiting the apotheke, it seemingly closed, and the onlookers no longer interested in their role as onlookers, Bombardier Berlin, the huge sign says high up on the ceiling, Bombardier Berlin. Upon arrival at your next destination, there’s a scene, or many potent ready-made moments of documentation, impressions impersonated, the shy swaggering around, the assured long having lost what they found. A middle-aged lady sits opposite you and predicts a new war, one for the future, telling you to leave Germany soon. You contemplate having sex with her, and not with her, but with her, not her, her: these moments and possibilities are appetizing, these feelings and outcomes not: lower your eyes and look away, the fiddling of hands, the tripe discussed in the name of something, our usual what-nots, what was it, who are you, what did you say and what do you do. Now God loves you, but tomorrow he won’t, and that middle aged lady said ‘there’s another war coming’, and didn’t you tell all your friends about it, proud of the disconnection and the day’s long now trivial fear, all these fading affairs and worries leaving you and taking you with them – meet scarecrows, meet Cinderella’s, Marilyns, James Deans, Hendrix in drag – meet yourself in the noir-murk reflection of the club’s bathroom mirror as you sigh lustfully into the morning’s aching nowhere. By the great Breakfast Bar, everyone’s arguing over each other’s prices, but they can’t even argue properly, because they stayed up too late – and you finish your brain’s sentence, and sip yet more drink. The whole place and debate and breakfast: it leads nowhere. Non-participation as a concept is shattered, so you opt out. Powder is spilt all over your nervous system, make up applied, a new image artificially born here now in this residency, the show having long ended, must apparently now go on in spite of it all. Someone comes up to you and underneath the ironic disco ball tells you she’s a fan of your work, having confused you with someone else. You nod like an idiot and as you dance, she licks your ear, and in the point blank range light, she laughs like an old chum, like an old nun, the lights making her look green and rouged, like something out of Paris, or Hamburg in the twenties, you laughing to yourself as you try to decide which one, is it Paris or Hamburg!? Where are you going, you ask as she leaves gracefully. To catch a plane, she says, I’ve always wanted to, and then huge noise, like a delicate and low frequency pleasant siren takes over all matter, in your eyes, smoothing out in alignment with your body, splashing off with the slightest motion of your fingertips. Feline, perfumed and neurotic children skulk the rooms, each one looking for their own private personalised circus, or having found one, a never ending good enough reason to finally close the said circus down and close it soon. These are fragments: we move on from things we’re not interested in. We forget the most important moments, and eulogise the trivial images of our days, until finally, it becomes evident that it’s raining outside. Morning came and went. What you don’t understand is that it wasn’t supposed to matter and if we’re honest with ourselves, it never really has. If only you did understand this, then perhaps it would matter. You stare at your eyes again: no more golf left in the tank. Everything is fine. We’re coming back home, to El Dorado, to make heartfelt our spaghetti westerns. But it’s too late – no? This should have happened at high morning, not high noon, and the hours are surfacing to the depths. But since when did that make a difference? Come on. All your mornings are meaningless: it was only during morning as night and night as morning that you successfully managed to forget about the incoming days. Scientists take your temperature and hold your hand, you all striding out the door, holding hands in a line, how ridiculous you look! People start leaving, or raving, raving mad, it doesn’t matter which. The rain stops, but shelter is still required. Fortunes are revealed, not spent. The days are coming: bright horrible sunlight will illuminate your most prized hiding places and like an abandoned and isolated gazelle, you will be spotted in the middle of an open plane, waiting for the ambush from the trees that never comes. For the world will act accordingly, so you should not. And then finally, whoever that was stops speaking and I fall asleep like a tired infant on the sofa until eventually someone wakes me up, 90s kids cartoons blaring on the TV in front of me, and says, do you know where you are? And I say, no, where am I? And she tells me where, and I begin the journey back to the Apartment.
By six in the morning, I have nothing left to imagine. I enter the courtyard of the Apartment, I smoke a cigarette against the pillar, arise out of my stupor: the sky is azure, purple, it’s freezing, and by his fourth floor window, the Doctor can be seen talking with what look like the police. I stay behind the pillar, and hold my breath. I am in the courtyard but I don’t know how long I’ve been here for. A mother steps out of the block opposite and holds her son and daughter’s hand as they cross the road and head to school. The mother squeezes their hands with such such care and protection, and the children look sweet with their little school bags and lunch boxes. The mother then stops and kisses the boy, and she and the children fleetingly look at me with a sense of alarm and fear, their eyes seemingly saying, who is this outcast mummy? I look away and turn back to the Apartment. The Doctor suddenly starts shouting from upstairs. He says: I want him now, go and find him. Then the Doctor and the police, agents, men in uniform, or suits, purposefully exit the room by the window and move out of view. They are on their way, I presume, to find me. A helicopter passes the neighbourhood slowly and then follows the skyline up river. I look back out into the street: the mother and her children are, long gone, and just the wind can be heard passing through now. Up on the fourth floor, the situation in the flat seems to have calmed down, though a light is on in the hallway. Confused and full of adrenaline, I decide to head upstairs and find out for myself: I want to know what’s going on, who these people are, and why they are looking for me. I want to speak to the Doctor, receive an explanation. I want to ask Zenia out for a coffee some time. I also want to apologise for the mess in the apartment. So I walk the first three flights of stairs and then peek by the corner to see if anyone is by the Doctor’s front door. It seems very still and quiet, though not quite silent. I climb the last flight and enter the Apartment, nudging the already opened front door and bracing myself.
No one is there. The dead body of the Doctor’s fiancé, Zenia, lies half naked on the floor. I step back. The lights are on and a smoking cigarette rests in the chipped zebra ashtray on the dining table. I take a drag and stare at the body on the floor. I bizarrely note the liqiurice taste of the cigarette and touch Zenia’s ice cold cheeks. What happened? On the table rests my passport and various official documents from my family, banks, health insurance and solicitors. There is also a printed out report that confirms the true nature of my work and even lists the name of my boss. Certain things are highlighted and underlined, like my real name, nationality, academic history, bank details and places of former residences. Then I hear the Doctor’s voice again. They are in the flat next door, I can hear them now, their voices, but I cannot make out what exactly it is that they’re saying. Dull police sirens can be heard in the distance, growing louder and louder with every passing second and then strangely fading away into the distance. I stare at the body on the floor, slumped and godforsaken. I take my passport and all the documents and put them in my jacket pocket. I stub out the cigarette, and then realise that whoever was just here will notice, so I open the bin to throw away this cigarette butt, but the metallic lid of the bin falls off noisily, and for a few seconds, I stand frozen with fear and wait for something to happen. There is a long suspicious moment of silence from the flat next door: all I can hear is a dog now manically barking in the courtyard and a few passing cars. I turn and head for the door, taking a momentary glance at my surroundings: the glass doors are in tact, and no blood or medication can be seen, despite my wild goings on there earlier that evening. But I forget, for I tidied it up, didn’t I? Yes, but the glass doors were broken, shattered into pieces, only hours ago, were they not? And the woman you see now on the floor. Look at her again please. She looks nothing like Zenia. Clearly someone wants me to think that it is the fiancé, and they’ve done a very good job of it. But who is then? I pour a glass of water from the sink and drink it in one gulp, staring at the body nervously, half expecting it to get up from the floor. Is it not in fact the old man from the apotheke? No, of course not, and it may well actually be the fiancé, for who else could it be? Still I just stand there, in the middle of the en suite kitchen. Next-door, I can suddenly hear pleasant laughter and someone puts on some jazz music – my guess is Herbie Hancock, one of his records from the sixties. Thick cigar smoke wafts into the apartment with a life of its own and settles itself on me and my clothes. I hear them clink their glasses and laugh some more, and I stand there still, and listen to the questions rattle by in my head. I hear a beautiful familiar laugh and believe it to be Zenia’s. I ask myself what happened, what is happening, who are these people next door, who is the Doctor and just how much am I in danger. Am I infact even in danger? I think of the Doctor: I hardly know. I hardly know anyone anymore.
I give up thinking these thoughts and stare at a cat that enters the apartment. The cat yawns and stetches out by the kitchen table. I look at the cat in the eye, surprised by it’s sudden appearance in the apartment and ask it with my eyes if it knows what’s going on. The cat rolls over, purrs lustfully, wanting to play , and then a man enters the flat, but he doesn’t see me, because he turns around whilst he is the hallway, leaving me enough time to move, the cat left behind in the kitchen, I now in my bedroom, hiding behind the door, and peering through the cracks. To the people next door, this man says: just a minute. There is no more music, and I can hear Ralph talking next door. I continure hiding behind the door, my heart beating fast again, despite all the previous evening’s heroics – it will be a long day again, I’m sure of that. I’m in my room where I was sleeping, or rather, contemplaying reading Bernard Shaw or Eugene O’Neil, if whether I would invite Martha round again, where Zenia and I slept together that morning, where all my old books are, beside my bed, the Balzac books, resting in special order: I will have to leave them behind, for I cannot take them with me. I think I am under my bed covers for a second, and then realise I’m still behind the door. The man enters the hallway this time with purpose and stands there for a few moments thoughtfully. He walks quietly towards my room. Then he stops and then all at once bursts into my room, making a racket, trying to surprise me, and then he just stands there for a moment, disappointed that no one seems to be here, smiling to himself at his foolishness. I then come out from behind and whack him on the head with the zebra patterned ashtray, which so happened to be in my hands – for how long I know not. Not a sound is made, we tussle in silence and for a few seconds he gets the upper hand and I wonder sadly if this is the moment where I get murdered. But I don’t get murdered. I win the tussle and manage to knock him out by banging him on the head with the ashtray again. I feel his pulse as he lies unconscious on the floor, relieved that he’s still alive. I search his things. In his coat is a knife that he never got to use: I contemplate taking it with me but think better of it. I pack up a few things and one minute later I’m out the front door and heading down the stairs. By the time I get to the ground floor, I stare up and see a policeman and the Doctor flashing torches at me from the fourth floor stairway. The Doctor calls out: Hey! And I run into the courtyard. A black car is parked by the entrance. I run out to the building and turn into the next one. I look behind me and the two people from the black car exit slowly and look at me with indifference, with only a trace of curiosity – they certainly aren’t chasing me. The dog barks again. No more sirens. I suddenly realise that these men are definitely not policemen, they’re something else, but where are they? I’m practically running away from no one. Despite feeling hungover, the adrenaline has restarted my whole system. Never have I have felt more sober. But perhaps I’m very drunk after all, I don’t know anymore. In the next courtyard I enter a building. Luckily the door is unlocked. I then lock it with the latch and sneak a glance behind me: so I run through a building, I jump a fence, what an unexpected route, buildings, and buildings, and courtyard after courtyard, they’ll never find me, they’ll never be able to keep up. In deed I soon think that I have all but evaded them, for I cannot hear anything save the beating of my heart. Yet they may have cars, patrols, even helicopters, so I keep going, naturally. This chase has gone on for what in my head seems like a long time, despite my seemingly early evasion, I say to myself, focusing on my breathing and trying to increase the distance from my pursuers. I continue to run and run, in unpredictable circles, making it impossible for them to guess my path. I’ve outwitted them all again. ‘Like you always do.’ And I think, as I run now, into town, taking the main road back down on to Heinrich Heine Strasse, and into the Kreuzberg labryth of cafes and restaurants, I think, how meaningless! Even in these moments of life and death. I laugh, and I feel incredibly empty, wanting to cry but telling myself to feel strong and free, the cold wind beating my in the face and I’m just running, to anywhere, just making sure I’m safe, covering as much ground as possible.
and death. I laugh, and I feel incredibly lonely, wanting to cry but also feeling strong and free; the cold wind is beating me in the face and I’m running past everyone, just making sure I’m safe, covering as much ground as possible.
Then I stand up all of the sudden, as if I’d been lying on sharp stinging nettles, and I realise I’ve been sitting on what seems to be a tombstone. Stepping back from the large piece of stone, I see my name engraved on it, with the time I’ve spent in Berlin as the years of my life and death. There’s a bunch of token flowers and a drawing of me. The sun knowingly burns my face. Years are felt flowing by the with now dry but still cool breeze, and I look around and realise that what I see is over, had never even properly started, had never properly been seen, just joked around upon a stage called Berlin. I lied down on the grass and close my eyes, and put off waking up for as long as possible.
I get up and start walking the streets again. I see a sign for Schonefeld Airport. I smile and shake my head at it and keep walking.