My arm was aching again; a heavy, deep ache which gripped from the elbow joint all the way down to my fingers. As I walked I realised I was stiffening it, so that it didn’t swing so freely.
Kurfürstendamm was alive with girls in summer dresses. They floated along the street in their many colours and styles, with an ease and joyousness that made my cast of pain seem all the tighter. I must have seemed so old to them — if they even noticed me at all. My disillusionment must have issued from me in some grey, negative aura. Or perhaps it was only that I felt like a man older than my years.
The shop windows up and down the Ku’damm were full of luxury. They seemed so noisy compared to the austerity I had been accustomed to in East Berlin. Even now, all these months later, I wondered if I would ever get used to it here.
However, one window display caught my eye and I stopped to look. The image of a short black dress with white polka dots burnt through to my mind, and revealed memories of the nurse who had plucked the bullet from my arm. Many things reminded me of her: red shoes, brown hair tied up in a neat bun, broken umbrellas. She’d been wearing a dress much like this one when she’d run to my aid, discarding her umbrella and immediately tending my arm. It had been a miracle, she’d said, that only my arm had been hit. But I hardly felt inclined to believe in miracles: my brother had been shot dead beside me at the Wall and all I could think of, as she wrapped my arm with her white head scarf, was that I should have gone back for him.
I turned from the window, remembering I needed to buy some cigarettes, and bumped into a woman who was also staring at the polka dot dress. When I saw her face I felt both elated and somehow ashamed. It was her.
“Peter!” she said, as surprised to see me as I was her.
“It’s so good to see you,” she said, smiling.
I noticed her hair was down today. It suited her.
“How are you?” she asked.
“I’m fine,” I said. “What brings you to Kurfürstendamm? A new scarf perhaps?” I lifted my aching arm and she laughed politely.
“No, I’ve got plenty of those. I’m here with my husband, we — ”
“Yes, he’s treating me to a new dress and then some lunch.”
We made small talk, although every word she said seemed magical to me. I only wished I’d noticed her wedding ring when she’d rescued me. It might have saved me so much time thinking about her.
We said our goodbyes and I drifted down the busy street. The shop windows now seemed even noisier, the pretty girls in their summer dresses even more stiflingly carefree.
Perhaps it wasn’t such a miracle that only my arm had been shot. Perhaps my brother had really been the fortunate one. He’d escaped all of this, and hadn’t had to see what little we were rewarded with for our daring bid for freedom.
I sat down at a table outside a large bar. From the chatter at the surrounding tables I realised I was encircled mostly by foreigners — something else I had yet to get used to — but I was too tired and too in need of a drink to want to try somewhere else. I ordered vodka and then remembered I hadn’t bought any cigarettes, and this small frustration was enough to make me drop my head into my hands. I’d noticed lately that I cried over the most stupid of things: spilt milk, dropped coins, waking up each morning.
I felt a tap on my shoulder and looked up to see a small boy staring at me. He studied me for a moment and then asked, “How are you?”
I could tell he wasn’t German, and I was impressed by his thoughtfulness to ask me in my own language.
“I am okay,” I replied in English, thinking he would understand that better.
He shook his head, clearly not fooled by my answer, and pulled out a wrapped sweet from his pocket.
“For you,” he said, in German.
I slowly took the sweet from him, rendered quite speechless.
He then skipped back to his parents who were sitting at the far end of the rows of tables.
I stared at the red sweet in its clear wrapper for a long time, long enough for the waitress to have brought me my vodka and for it to have been sitting there some time before I noticed it.
I unwrapped the sweet, and placed the hard candy in my mouth. It tasted of strawberries and reminded me of summers spent with my brother in my grandfather’s strawberry patch.
I watched Berlin from my table while the sun shone, and after a while I smiled at the Ku’damm girls as they floated by.
JC Piech is an author, content writer, creative confidence mentor and pyjama lover who lives in southeast England. Her debut novel Don’t Be Afraid has been likened to works by Richard Bach and Paulo Coelho, and is now available from Lulu and from Amazon Kindle. Be Twitter friends with her @JCPiech!