"Heidelberg: the mountain of shrubs"  (a novel)

 

 

                 by   T.Wignesan

 

                                                        Chapter None

 

 

 

     A dull gleam filled the room. A room, neither common as an oblong space nor square as a found object. The ceiling, a patchwork of sloping and angular, abrupt slabs. A lair. An unused womb even. Outside, the greyish slate-coloured rooftops peeked in shiny patches. Overnight the snow must have melted in places from fires raging in hearths. The sky looked dull and dense and heavy and thick and spongy all the way to the Hauptbahnhof. The still transparent-looking station glowed, seemingly dabbed in an aureole of fog. Beyond, all the area enveloping the Eisenbahnwerkstatt, the American Army European Head Quarters installations and the Wieblingen township and the riverside road to Mannheim simply melted away in blotches of glaucoma. Amerika Haus, down the street to his left, at Adenauer Platz, appeared dwarfed amidst the shifting mists and bare linden trees. So were the low and drab compound houses along Gaisberg and Rohrbacher streets. Shades of dirt brown of bare trees, dark metallic grey of roofs, and dull muddy white of roads. A whiff of dull white curly puffing smoke struggling up through probably an unraked flue climbed out of the huddled and cowed dreary brick mass in the grip of a mantle of hard relentless ice. The trudged ground turned to light-brown slush. Everywhere the streets stretched like sheets of white paper with hyphenated parallel tramway lines running through them while exclamation and interrogation marks stood  for lampposts. Stark dark brown underfoot; white sprinkled with dark dirty brown everywhere else on the ground. Here and there hopping scratches showed on the paper like some famished bird hunted for a worm. The view over the Neckar and the opposite bank sketched itself only in patches as swirls of mists lifted or parted their soft screens. The thought that spring was already working its inexorable thrust in the upper crust must have buoyed his morose and inconsolable nature. 

 

     Theson lifted the latch on his round porthole window sill and shifted the creaking wooden frame a few inches to let in the chill and with it the only blast of fresh air he got for over thirty hours. The single round pane had filigreed overnight in the fast reducing centre; the fine nerve-like encrusted shavings upon hard snow layers trembled with a burst, unlatching and slamming the room’s only door shut.

 

   Theson turned his face to look, his hand still on the sturdy yet rusted iron latch.

   

    “Hey, close that window, will ya,” she said and turned over in the bed set alongside the full wall ending at the door. She reached back and pulled the eiderdown trailing on the floor. Her legs trundled the sheets under the blankets as she curled up. Only her flaxen hair lay spilled on the long dark dented stuffed-sausage pillow.

    

     Theson, distractedly, it seemed, watched her movements. His eyes settled for a moment on the bulging mass in the middle. The stale musty smells, he must have thought he breathed all night, the previous day and the night before, receded from his nostrils. He dug his hands in the striped dark blue trousers saddled over the highbacked pinewood chair and retrieved a used handkerchief, looked for a clear patch and brought it up to his nose. In one blast a twisted greenish yellow scab lay stuck to the cloth; he gazed at it for a moment, folded the flap and stuck it back into his pocket. He then – probably in disgust - withdrew the now dull yellow handkerchief and left it on the sill. An icy gust draftshot through the slightly opened window and slammed the door again. Melka groaned. Theson pulled at the window latch. It resisted. He reached for a thick beige pullover lying in a clump beside the washbasin on the marble top dresser and draped it over his slightly concave torso; the shoulders appeared to fold slightly inward. Once again the door came loose as someone four flights down pushed the front street-door open. He hadn’t a stitch on apart from the pullover Brigitte had knitted for him during the Christmas holidays.

 

     He searched for a smoke. He looked through his padded jungle green overcoat. Then through his trousers. He opened a drawer and turned things over. On the chair in a pile were Melka’s things, her stained pale white panties now on the floor. Theson picked it up with the tips of his fore and middle fingers and dropped it on the top of the pile. He blinked at the brownish red stain in the thin of the suspenders, turned it gently with one finger; a shiver raked his slouching body, and he braced himself, and wrapped his arms around his torso. He gazed askance at the rolled up figure gently rising and falling under the covers. A steady throttled rhythm. Just once in a while, it sounded like croaking, and the masked ball went back to an easy pulling and thrusting melodious wheezing. Theson’s eyes darted from the bed to the broad oakwood table on which lay an old Remington, its livid white letters embossed on stark black keys. They looked so piteous, each separated by the dark fathomless void in between. Did he wonder how his fingers found the letters? They were like so many faces begging for love; so many fingernail-indicator faces of the ineffable, indecipherable brain. His hands automatically reached out and displaced a row of borrowed books stacked against the sloping wall of the roof. He grabbed at a used Swan match box; on the yellow grainy striking patch glared streaks of dark brown frantic scratches. Traces of quarks. His hands turned paper and waste over in a metallic bin under the table. Still no sign of a packet. A porcelain bowl used as an ashtray lay on the floor at the head of the low sagging bed. He knelt down and poked at the ash and butt mash. One butt riveted with lipstick stains, with the middle hurriedly splashed open showed through. He picked it up and then stuck it back. He poked at the ash. Some spilled over onto the floor. He rose, went to the pile on the chair. Under Melka’s reeking pile of hurriedly shed outer shell– a twisted heap of scent and sweat and semen – he found her light brown leather handbag. He was about to flip the metal clasp open when the figure in the bed groaned and turned towards the table. Theson put the bag where he had found it, went back to the ashtray and retrieved the lipstick-stained butt. He pinched free the butt where it had stuck to her lips and stuck the rest into his own. He had difficulty lighting the remnants. When it finally lit up, it lit up in a flare and ruffled his senses.

 

     He paced up to the porthole and leant his left elbow on the sill while he sucked at the butt. He held the smoke in his lungs for as long as he could till he felt he was choking. He coughed. Melka groaned and turned over again. Theson snubbed the butt on the outward sloping grey tin outer sill caked in ice. The butt smudged, the ice fizzed. He breathed the chill in and coughed again; this time rather loudly. He grabbed the handkerchief and spat into it a glob of phlegm the size of a cherry. It shone reddish-yellow. There was a rich yellow streak in it that looked like a live embryo of sorts in the dull gleam around the porthole.                

 

     “Hey! What…What the hell are ya doin’ tha?” Melka poked her head over the covers, her eyes in a slit, her lusciously leathery dishevelled hair enveloping her fine full forehead and skull. Theson did not stir. He kept his looks outward in the chill. Like sticking one’s head into the freezer. The sky grizzled over. Gusts of wind swirled down by the river and up through bare branches with their myriad-studded inchoate buds. The dark thrusting mass of a tug boat under low hugging fog hooted twice as it approached the bridge. Another, bulkier, ringed with clotheslines, except for massive rugs and tarpaulin flapping, ploughed up the Neckar with a barge-full of charcoal in tow.

 

     It seemed hours before Theson turned to look. Melka’s full turgid breasts loomed over the sheets as she propped herself up on her elbows. Even in sleep, even unkempt, even without a put-on smile, she emitted an enveloping charismatic charm. She never ever seemed excited about anything. Perhaps only in bed, but that was normal behaviour. Just once in a rare while, she let out: “I think, the doctor said: it’s cancerous already down there!” Every feature on her head was just rightly placed in relation to the others. Full forehead as it domed and receded to the temples. Eyebrows cut evenly on the arches. A lusciously rich but not so glowing crop of strawy ripe wheat-coloured hair. A hot shampoo spell would no doubt bring the glow out, Theson felt. She knew Theson felt that about her chevelure, for he always shied from keeping his nose too close to her flowing cascades.

 

     Evenly set-apart eyes, neither bulging nor sunken. A small sharp nose-bridge, just the right length, firm nostrils closely hugging the bridge. Firm upper lip that curled slightly outward from the deep and spotless furrow under her nose were shaped like braces. Her lower lip, full and rosy, lay like a tranche of unsqueezed mandarin and only as wide as her nostrils were apart. Two tight cheeks and a chiselled chin with little or no showy flesh. Only her neck appeared thick and fleshy -- in bed. And when she opened her eyes, everything else receded, as if she had two faces; two beautiful faces: her eyes and the rest. Her eyes even when slightly closed emitted a conniving “you know me bugger” gleam. Two veritable slightly hooded unpolished gems. Sounds corny to say such a thing, but they were just that, and better still, I suppose: you couldn’t wish to have them settled in another direction. And whether it were her eyes or just something like an aura, or perhaps even a sort of nimbus-like magnetism enveloping and accompanying her, you felt that distracted, placid glow whenever she cared to look in your direction, right down and into your guts. To hold her head in your hands while she rested on your chest and to run your fingers through her lush slithering hair, with her humming in spurts of satisfaction, left little else worth doing more. Yet one thing was lacking, you felt. Her eyes were perhaps not too kindly; not ruthless, mind you, but just with that amount of detachment to leave your bed without remorse without so much as batting an eye, only to jump into another with as much feeling and gusto with which she may have come to yours. The only complaint you felt she made of herself, and that too once too often, which may have after all been true, she was not quite tall. In fact, she was only five foot six. That gave her a compact and stocky look but still luscious torso and limbs which were yet to mature, though her body with age and use was bound to push in all directions but inwards. But while the going was good at twenty-one, she was irreplaceable, and she must have been aware of it. Her voice, never too hurried, never too bubbly, always remained a tinkling but measured whisper.

 

     She was spying Theson through the merest of kept-open slits. The pullover went down his behind and halfway to the knees. Melka had miscalculated. She let the sheets and disarrayed blankets slip further down. Her downy bulbous abdomen rose to view as she adjusted her buttocks under the sheets. She waited for Theson to turn. She must have known he would. She didn’t say a word. She just kept watching him.

 

      After a while, Theson turned, looked at her, speechless. Their eyes strayed from eyes to exposed bottoms. It was always like that with Theson. He said little. Long moments passed between them as the cold stole under their skins. With her left hand, Melka gently let the disarrayed bundle of blankets, sheets, and the puffy white German Federbett uncover her worth. The smell of the woman’s private juices pricked his nostrils. Theson moved towards her.

 

     “Wait, Theson, I…I’ve got to wee.” She looked under the bed, her long flaxen hair streaming down to the floor. “Where’s it?” she said. “Did ya empty the bowl last night?”

 

     Theson reached under the foot of the bed and came up with a chipped white enamel bowl with a curved mouth at the opposite end to the handle in the shape of a question mark.

 

     “Don’t look, you Peeping Piper” she said and pissed voraciously for a full three minutes. She rose from her squatting pose still dripping. She ran her hands under Theson’s pullover and lifted it off his head. She tickled and pinched him in the process. Theson fell headlong into the sunken bed, his head buried under the long pillow looking stained and oily in parts. She thrust her forearms under his armpits and hugged him close.

 

     “Gad, youae stone cold…” she said and rubbed his chest and sides. Then she ran her fingernails on his back. There were already other fingernail dents on his back. Theson stretched a hand out back to stay her action in vain. She bit him on the clavicle, and again on the shoulder blade. Then she brought her hands down in front and fondled his loins. Theson twitched and tried to turn around. She held him fast. She brought her left hand down back  and touched his balls. Theson’s thighs parted. Her fingers played with them, squeezing ever so lightly the tight folds of bristly skin, while her right hand came round the front and lassoed the by now distended member. Theson was helpless. He seemed to protest, but it was of no use. She had him where she wanted. In her arms. Without him being able to use his. She kissed him on the left ear once, twice, thrice, and again and again and coated the hairy mid-ear well with saliva from her swivelling tongue. Theson brought a hand up to push her away. Then, he grabbed a portion of the sheets and quickly proceeded to dry his ear. It was of no use. She began anew and practically chewed and tickled his ears and exposed cheeks.

 

     “Alright, Buster, now youae sizzling hot. Start slogging, you…you mountain of a …a…fountain … mount…mounting buck,” she said and turned Theson over in her lap and planted a fully drivelling mouth on his. She steered him into her with as much dexterity as she got under him in a matter of seconds. Theson seemed to weaken instantly at the initial thrust and held his breath. He held himself back for a further few seconds. She wrapped her thighs on his pulsating posterior and crossed her ankles under his buttocks. Her heels kept bumping into him every time he rose and thrust into her. She said, “Hai..gher… higher…Theson” and worked herself into a frenzy, squeezing the lean torso in her grasp. She dug her fingernails again into his back. It hurt. He stopped. “Don’t stop, man…go..go..gooo..” she screamed into his ear. Theson let go. It was far too much hard work for him. He made an attempt to revive himself and then flopped on her soft and heaving belly, his face buried between her heaving slithery-rubbery tits.

 

     For a long while neither of them said a word as Theson ran down his breathless heaving and slumped into her warm welcoming clasp.

 

     She said, “Ne’er mind, Baby, yowae great last night.” She fixed her eyes on his closed lids. She must have felt he needed re-assuring, or maybe even convincing. “I sure mean it, Baby”, she said, seeming a bit incredulous. She patted him on the back and soothed his dark satiny skin. She held him in her clasp, drew the blankets and sheets up above his shoulders and watched him snooze gently, rhythmically. Soon they were both off.

 

They woke to loud knocking a little past eleven. It was the landlady.

 

     Frau Pfeiffer tried the previous day to no avail, so she walked up and down the dark and dingy narrow corridor several times, making as much noise as she could with her brooms and dusters and pails until she planted herself squarely at Theson’s door. The other two occupants of the corridor were away, working as usual. Only one side of the corridor opened into rooms; the other had two cubicles from an older era: one wooden hole with a lid connected to a coarse metallic funnel and another with a tap and a small pig-iron half-moon basin. No bathroom facilities. The hardwood toilet cover when lifted brought forth a rush of cavernous stench, the same stench that stuck to the corridor. Occasionally the stench was replaced by what smelt like caustic soda.

 

     There was the Hallenbad, a public bath on Römerstrasse, the road leading to the Hauptbahnhof, a little way from the Bismarck Platz, opposite the Universitäts-Kliniken. The bathhouse  reeked of fetid soap the moment you pushed the front street door open. Steam always lingered choking the air. There was no shortage of hot water though in there, but the row of dilapidated showers hardly concealed their constantly worn and flooded drainage system. Low slippery wooden frames sat awkwardly in the slimy, froth-edged sloping floors, wet and weary and wallowing from the previous occupants’ passage. There was hardly room to turn around or lift a leg up for scrubbing. The clothes one hung up on the door-peg though separated by another half swing-door, soon carried a fresh-soap reek. From the left-over lingering scent you could almost divine if the previous user-occupant was a man or woman, young or old. The vast majority frequenting the place during the week however were young and mostly appeared to be students. Friday evenings saw another breed: workers, all noisy, calling out to their comrades and slapping their thighs and chests to simulate their jokes. They, as regular customers, stayed longer than the prescribed twenty minutes each.

 

     A forty-ish handsome Latin-looking woman, lithesome even for her age, with satin-smooth olive complexion occupied the flat next to Theson’s; a fifty-odd old tall man who apparently lived elsewhere with his family and commuted back and forth over the weekends and holidays occupied the room at the top of the stairs where the door to the landlady’s flat remained closed on the right. Since he left early and returned late, no one ever really encountered him long enough for a chat. Only the usual “Guten Tag”, more the “Tag” than the “Guten”, as one passed him up or down the stairways leading out into an alleyway.

 

     Theson’s immediate neighbour “Eva”, as she was known to all in the building, hardly ever stepped out. She worked the same hours as her Hausgast, a shortish slightly pot-bellied man of about her age with dark unruly eyebrows and dark piercing eyes. Struck one as an Andaluzan or even probably of Gypsy descent. He never said a word either to her in public or to anyone; not to Theson in any case. Once they were in, they stayed put for the night. They only went out for beer and for würst, it seemed. They spent the evenings drinking and what would seem like making much noisy lustful love. Judging by the regularity of their departure and arrival times, they must have been working in the same place. Perhaps she worked for him. Not the other way round, surely. Though silent and sullen, there was no mistaking his bossiness. No returning of wishes for him. Now and then, his barked yells could be heard penetrating the walls, followed by some vase or glassware or wooden or metal thing crashing on something or other. Eva or Evelyn’s whimpering voice would then take over.

 

     Frau Pfeiffer occupied a spacious apartment which gave onto the Bismarck Platz, the hub of the town where all the tramways criss-crossed noisily. Steel wheels and brakes on steel rails grated and screeched all day long. For some four hours in the wee hours, they remained silent, but by five-twenty, the sound of electrically ignited motors suddenly wailing and gratingly pulling at enormous weights would resume.

 

     Frau Pfeiffer was always a bit blear-eyed and a bit too jumpy. She was on high tension wires all day and probably at night too. Lean and tall and wiry and yet stiffly erect when she had to confront anyone. She always seemed to rush about. She had no time for herself, she said, and she reminded every tenant in the house of this fact by monopolising the conversation and putting an end to it by opening the corridor door, after only a mere three minutes while getting the door, with her taut hand on the white porcelain door knob drawing by well-managed stages, to close. By the time she had finished her last sentence, there was only a two-inch breach in the doorway between her and her interlocutor.

 

     She lost her husband to the war effort on the Russian front. There were pictures of him in uniform, little jaded framed pictures looking like daguerrotypes with medals dangling down his tunics; they were placed where everyone could see him: on the low round glass-topped tea table on swan’s neck legs; on the huge bright brown ornate cupboard; on the spotless walls opening out from the front door; on the grey-and-dullred-grained marble fireplace. Her three daughters, two grown-ups and a school-leaver, were never around. If they were, the tenants never really got to talking to them. Every time there was a knock on the door coming from the tenants’ corridor to the rear of the flat facing the Bismarck Platz – a door which was always under lock and key – she must have bidden her daughters gain their quarters behind the lounge doors. The side of the door facing the corridor was old streaky wood, distempered from top to bottom, and the lock-casing looking rusted and worn; indoors, the door looked solid, pale pink in colour, with a porcelain knob; a curly polished iron coat hanger remained skewered at eye-level.         

 

     Occasionally another older well-dressed woman loomed in sight. All the women in Frau Pfeiffer’s family wore glasses. She must have been the mother-in-law or perhaps the landlady’s own. She just simply said, if she was around, “Frau Inge”, so there was no way of finding out, for from that moment onwards; it was she who held the conversation going and at hundred an hour, until she virtually hovered over you and ushered you past the corridor door. 

 

 

     The landlady then tried the door handle, and it gave under her impulsive jerk. She got a peek of the gently pulsating mass on the bed; she gazed in silence for a while. She betrayed no abrupt movement. She kept the door slightly ajar, her left hand on the rough rusted door handle. At the first signs of movement, she quickly pulled the door firmly and silently back in place. Then, she knocked with compulsive force, and after a pause, resumed with less ardour.

 

     Melka groaned and turned over. Theson had difficulty getting his legs out of the scrambled bedclothes. He shoved the mass of intertwined blankets, sheets, and eiderdown with both his hands and legs and slipped out; he grabbed a bright yellowish brown garberdine lying loosely over the headboard of the bed and draped it over his body. It didn’t go right down and just stayed about his thighs. It was Melka’s smock. She had brought it over with her bundle on a stick when she trudged through the high border terrain from Czechoslovakia. Theson wondered if she wasn’t really from Bohemia rather than the Jewess she said she was from Prague. There was that deep, unfathomable look about her, self-contained and almost always defensive and yet ready to take flight. He pulled the latch open. He could hardly discern anyone in the dark. Frau Pfeiffer stood there surveying his thighs and legs.

  

 

     Frau Waltz knocked ever so gently and pushed the door open with her right hand. In her left she balanced a heavy blue-lined deep porcelain plate wallowing with soup. A round of Bauernbrot sat on top of a lump of sauerkraut swimming in a rich oily film of chicken broth.

 

    “Morgen!” she said in her gentle warm and hardly audible voice. “Why? Theson, what are you doing? Still in bed?”

 

    Theson who was already up for hours and wondering in bed, managed a surprised “Morgen” too which stuck to his palate; he tried  sitting up in his light chocolate-coloured pyjamas; the stuffed quilt in its white case lay lightly across his slightly exposed torso. The bottom half of the pyjamas was somewhere in or under the bed, or stuck against the wall and blankets. Frau Waltz put the soup plate down on the table with as much tenderness as if it were a time-bomb ready to go off at any moment then. She pulled the quilt over Theson’s exposed parts.

 

    “You’ll catch the death of a cold, if you lie there with the window open.” She went up to the porthole and pulled it close. Then she stooped under the bed and reached as far as the wall and brought up Theson’s other half of the pyjamas. She put it to her nose.

 

     “Hmmm. So you’ve been up to things lately, I see.”

 

     “Oh, give it to me please.” Theson stretched out a hand.

 

     “Now I’m going to wash this. Let me have the other piece as well. No use washing the bottom half only.” Theson knew better than to argue with his landlady. She was more than a mother to him, she was his” nurse” as well. Thoughts as simple and urgent as when he was going to be able to pay her long-overdue rent, already three months gone, seemed to worry him.

 

     “Frau Waltz, you know, you shouldn’t be doing these things for me. Karl will not – does not - approve. Neither does your daughter.”

 

     “Now, Theson, you stop worrying about all this and that about money. Get a hold of yourself. Eat, get strong quick. Put some flesh back on those bones.”

 

     “But…”

 

     “There are no buts to worry about. You just eat and get some flesh back upon your ribs.” She looked at him with her hand on the doorknob, her tired looking round honey-coloured eyes and greying thin hair gracing her soft pallid ears and cheeks.

 

     “You, too, Frau Waltz. Look after yourself. You work too hard. You never sleep, it seems. I hear you in the kitchen late every night.”

 

     “There’s work to be done every day and for the next. Inge is always on the early shift. Hospital work is urgent work. She must be there at seven in the morning.” She looked at him and then at the soup on the table. “Now you get up. The soup’s getting cold. Otherwise I’ll have to spoonfeed you…” and she faked a movement with her right hand in the direction of the bed.

 

     “Alright, Frau Waltz, I’ll be up the moment you close the door.” Theson watched her as she turned, her slight stoop compensated by sturdy legs, now bulging with varicose veins.

 

   

     Where do you go when you feel your legs buckling under you? The head reeling in thin air.

The eyes open and which see really nothing. The voice weak, even inaudible. The mouth kept closed for so long no saliva loosens the tongue. The throat dry. And when you swallow thin air, the Adam’s apple gets stuck. Hurts. The cold quickly climbs up the toes and fingers. And makes you feel like a  zombie sans head, sans hands, sans feet. The wind tears into the lungs and the tripes. You become a papier-maché object fit  for a Chinese funereal procession.

 

     You might venture out and hope to knock into an acquaintance He might invite you to his digs. And maybe to a bowl of thin pale tea. With sugar lumps if you care to help yourself to more than you are invited to; the eyes of your host growing wide watching your fingers absent-minded-like trundling the cubes into your bowl. And maybe to a biscuit or two.

 

    Better the bed. And the listlessness. For hours at a stretch.

 

    You can read. You can think. Or you can write. What? Poetry? All luxuries!

 

    When was the last time you passed motion? 

 

 

     “Aaah soooh!” she gasped. After an awkward moment of being flustered, she resumed, “You should have more sense than to…than to wear…” Frau Pfeiffer pointed to the smock and held back her comments.

 

      Theson stood still and scratched the back of his neck.

 

     “I have to clean the place now,” she said. “It’s been three days since…”

 

      Theson opened the door a little wider and avoided her sharp eyes. Melka poked her head out of the bundle on the bed and quickly withdrew it. She curled up further down the bed.

 

     “I’m going to… I can’t keep coming back.” She lugged her pails and brushes and went straight into the annexe. The latter had a sloping roof like a saltbox which culminated in a narrow window and which could never be opened. Against the wall beside the window was an old heavy iron stove. The latter was long out of use. On it though were two gas rings. The only other furniture in there was a narrow but relatively long sturdy table on which lay two basins, one filled with unwashed dishes, the other in which wallowed three pairs of old socks in dirty soapy water. The rest of the space was taken up by two strung up wires and on which dangled a dull white shirt, a pair of khaki longs, and two short towels. Under the table lay empty beer bottles with white swivelling tops, held in place by metal clasps. The air in there remained the same all through the year. Dank, pungent, and musty.

    

     “I told you Herr Theson so many times, you can’t keep the dishes and clothes like that. You got to wash them immediately,” she called out. “And look…look at this. What are you going to do with all these bottles, uh, Theson?” As usual, Theson said nothing. She poked her head round the open door and said, “You know you can get money back on these bottles?”

 

     Theson sat on the bed, his head in his hands, and waited. When she had finished sweeping, brushing and scraping, she strode out, kept the corridor door open with her pails and rushed back into the annexe. “I’m going to empty these basins.” She went all the way down to the water cubicle and came back for the other basin. When she had finished, she said, “I’m not doing the bed today.” She looked at Theson, stopping for a while at the door. “You know, Theson, what you need is a wife, not a servant.” Theson looked down at the floor and then rose in a gesture of deference to her. It was obvious she was concerned about him and liked the idea of chiding him. “I’ll come another time for the room. And keep the windows closed. Heavy snow, you know. Also Tschüss, Herr Theson,” she breathed out, sighing amply and pulled the door close behind her. It was obvious she liked the idea Theson was keeping some kind of company, even if she didn’t appear to much care for the outre-Atlantic kind. She had even urged him several times to go out. “Go dancing, Theson. Now’s the time. Fasching goes on for a couple of weeks, three weeks or more, you know. Now’s the time to get to know the Heidelberger folk! They come from all around.” Find himself a girl friend? Now shouldn’t she be glad, after all?

 

     Theson sat still for a while. The porcelain jug and washbasin on the dresser needed filling up. Melka would soon be up. He got into trousers, pulled the pullover over himself, and made his way to the water closet once he heard the corridor door to Frau Pfeiffer’s flat being pulled tight and locked.

 

      Melka was up and dressed when Theson got back with the jug now full. Melka grabbed

Theson from the back while he was pouring freezing water into the porcelain wash basin.

 

      “Brrrrr…RRRR” she cooed in his ear. “God, you kept the window open all night?”

 

      Theson put the jug down on the dressing marble top and with Melka still hugging him from behind, he managed to shuffle up to the window, opened it and slammed it back into place tightly. The panes were dangerously perched on splintering wood. Theson rubbed a pane with his pullover sleeve to peek out. Parts of the river bank seemed ice-ridden, the underside of the bridge and eaves had icicles sticking down from them. All the undulating roads and byways and houses and gardens on the hill on the opposite bank appeared smothered in snow. The summit was clouded over.

 

     Melka had by then unclasped Theson. She pulled her woollen sleeves up and gingerly dug a few fingers in the washbasin and shrieked.

 

     “Boy, oh boy! I’m not goin’…what did ya put in there? An iceberg?” She glanced at Theson. She seemed to be mocking at him, or was it her way of excusing herself from a wash? She dashed to the kitchen annexe and dashed back with a towel. She dipped one end of it in the basin, squeezed it out and dabbed her cheeks and passed it over her eyes and forehead. Then she mopped herself with the drier parts of the towel, and cried; “That’s it, Baby! Thaa’s as far as I’m going with my ablutions.” With her hair-clips in between her lips, she tied her hair up in a bun at the back, buttoned her sleeves, and sat on the unmade bed. Her eyes strayed all around, looking for her socks on the floor. She then leaned her bundled torso forward and brought her head between her legs to look under the bed and managed to drag out her beige woollen socks.

 

     “Hey, Thesz, hows abou’ some tea?” She looked at him with those fulsome and intelligent-looking cold-fire eyes of hers. Now and then gold streaks gleamed out of her eyes.

 

     Theson gave her a brief unsmiling gaze and took himself to the annexe. Meanwhile Melka had gone down the corridor to the water closet, and soon enough as the water boiled in a small dented aluminium pan, he could hear her pull the rusted chain several times. There was a pause and again he could hear her tussling with the chain. At long last, it gave, and Theson could hear the rock like bundle of water, strips of newspaper and mush thrust and shoot down the metal funnel down several floors with a clatter and bang daba bang bang bangsooooossshhhhcchH. Melka was back and rubbing her hands together and blowing into them. Theson poured out the vaporising water into two mugs with tea bags.

 

     “Hey, You…You bucking Buster! No milk?” Theson shook his head. He went into the annexe and came back with an opened packet of white sugar in grains and a long tea spoon. Melka stirred the sugar, three spoonfuls. There was a half-eaten packet of three-day-old grainy wholewheat biscuits on the table. They fell apart to the touch. Theson offered the opened packet. She shook her head. Then she reached out and extracted a couple and handed one to Theson. She sat on the chair sideways, her legs doubled up, her back in a stoop, her busts crushed in her doubled-up lap, her usually bulging mont veneris, now thrusting forth like a male ballet dancer’s bulging jock-stripe.  Theson sat on the bed. And they sipped their tea and nibbled at the biscuits in silence for a while.

 

     When she had finished, she jumped up.  “I must go, Theszz. See ya at the pizza joint”. She kissed him on his right ear and drew the door close behind her while giving him a quick ambiguous concerned and/or worried look. She must have felt he didn’t approve of her scant post-coital ablutions.

 

 

JANUARY 16, 1961: Tuesday?…what day is it, after all, today? I wonder if it’s already sunday? i must set the paper on…no, i’ve still not finished the novel…. i’ll have to work through the closing chapters fast if I’m to set the exam by the end of the month…as for the poetry, it’s ok…let’s see (he reached out for the light blue copy of sound and sense) …hmm.mm… i’m fine there, even a little ahead i think… (he flicked through the pages and paused on page 132)…he read: “…choose between these two philosophies…but this commitment should not destroy…enjoyment of either poem… if it does, they are reading for plums and not for pies.” (He turned to the previous page and read both poems upside down, taking any line any phrase, from bottom to top, one line here one word there and re-read:) “But I have promises to keep,/ And miles to go before I sleep/… (He gazed for a while at the window giving under a gust and felt the pelting snow droplets as if blown on his face…”…The only other sound’s the sweep/Of easy wind and downy flake.//…(His eyes fell on the next page and seemed to take in the paragraph about good and bad ideas in poems, about a rotten plum spoiling a poem, but good readers through exercising intellectual flexibility and tolerance will know how not to mistake plums for pies.)… what’s a plum or what’s a pie of a poem? supposing you don’t like pies, cold sodden pies? who wouldn’t want a fresh fleshy plum? a young ‘un to drooping flesh? is the critic a pédophile? can the image or the metaphor chosen to represent your thoughts, represent the explication, ruin the poem? i’ll be mean and set them this puzzle… no, this conundrum…why did this word intrude? what’s a conundrum anyway? (He grabbed the blue Webster’s hardback with “Government Property” stamped into the inside cover. …) …contumelious…contumely…contuse…what’s contuse?...oh…contusion…so you can contuse…didn’t know it could be a verb…(He thought of Melka…did he really contuse her these past two days.)…she’s gone, fresh as a chick…nothing washed, nothing so much as brought close to water, not even her hands, not even her teeth brushed…who’s to know? who can see her lack of freshness.. cleanliness? the scathing cold outside will brace her up, will put blood on her cheeks, the winds will uncurl her hair and rub all scent of me from her face but what about the wrapped up rest…(He felt revulsion turn and contuse his senses…his breath, his stench, parts of his hair, his skin even…sperm…spittle and chromosomes…gone with her…to stick to some other guy)…hey, whose did i have to lick the last two days …aren’t we all…aren’t we all suckers under the skinand who knows under the psyche too…(He felt revulsion contuse his senses…his mind…his eyes rested for a while on the word) conundrum…origin unknown…1. a riddle whose answer is or involves a pun …what’s a riddle? …how does punning make for a conundrum?...(He read on)…2 a: a question or problem having only a conjectural answer b: an intricate and difficult problem  syn see MYSTERY..(He turned the pages quickly, voraciously to…) from Gk  mysterion…mystos keeping silence…from Gk myein  to be closed (of the eyes or lips)…1 a: a religious truth that man can know by revelation alone and cannot fully understand (…the stuff of prophets …not for mortals…He ran through the bit about Christian rites) …2 a: something not understood or beyond understanding: ENIGMA ..(He skipped the bit about trade or craft)…d: a piece of fiction dealing usu. with the solution of a mysterious crime 3: profound, inexplicable, or secretive quality or character <the ~mystery of her smile> syn MYSTERY PROBLEM ENIGMA RIDDLE PUZZLE CONUNDRUM…shared meaning element: something which baffles or perplexes…

 

....where am i…shut in a riddle…or just a pun  on melka’s lips…and will her punning make of me an enigma during her… her myein in somebody else’s… mystos… mysterion… the puzzle of her laconic smile riddled in the conundrum of her mystosed orgasm …will the problem persist every time I riddle her… myein to my repeated states of mystos…me as my own enigma caught forever in a conundrum from an unlived past…a past like a puzzle slowly falling into place…one mysterious piece after another…constituting a lost body…a mysterious body…that gave over to another bodiless body…

 

…the air in the island circulates… breezes through the pong of ponds and landlocked rivers ploughed with sampans caving blotched atap roofs mounted on junks tongkang with tongkan bringing in the opium from deepwater boats anchored off-shore… stone one-storey shophouses laden with hoarse hawkers in the pillared five-foot ways…children growing up in the sweat of steaming baked sex sold for a sliver on the climb up a march to the sodden room without ceilings or lockable doors dirty linen sarongs kebayas cheongsams loose baggy handstitched underwear on bamboo poles stuck out to dry in the stifling air…not long after in a room back to a window opening out to a pockmarked tar road under the block shadow of the Cathay building… the slightly lazy hazy light of the morning shut in the bare except for a calendar hanging loose a wad of paper in the centre containing the tear-off for each day of the year…with the richly garlanded Murukan on his peacock the vel at his side staring with those rounded eyes and following you as you shifted…in the oblong unpapered room a rough wooden table two chairs on either side face to face two dusky men one slightly rotund moustache glasses spaced-out thinning hair  in dark chocolate longs a belt holding up the front where a plain silk slightly mauve shirt… one tail loose… the other younger around mid-twenties or thirty athletic tight some bones showing no belly like his colleague… in white a dull coarse white for trousers and a silk plain Manilla shirt hanging loose…

 

…a self-proclaimed great poet acquaintance of his sent Theson to the man accompanied by his office subordinates at the Employees Provident Fund Board…the up and boiling new-local-grad PAP officer said: for the life of me I’m not coming with you…  he looked at me, eyes narrowing…was it a trick? this fella’s as slippery as a well-head-to-foot-oiled Persian half-naked loin-clothed wrestler I thought… or did I think that up? I’m dead scared of the guy. He sees everything, he sees through you…he knows everything that’s going to happen to you…god…he scares the devil out of me.…yet the man could have been in cohorts with the astrologer with the local special branch…seen my secret files seen my life story unfolding in typed order culled from notes wiled out of my family…my poor unsuspecting mother who could not have guessed could not have divined the purpose of distant schoolmates calling when I was away…away in other lands…who never called while i was there…and who when they did… got caught unable to rightly say why they were there…

 

…you are dead you shouldn’t be alive…you have neither friends nor family…no one on your side…

 

…why should he live…of what use is his life to this world…where’s it going…who does it satisfy…who does it  help…whose vengeance assuaged…he didn’t ask to be born…if it only could have ended as it should have on the number of life-threatening and endangered moments of his youthful days…now it’s too late…he has to live…he’s the cause of at least one and perhaps another life…call it an excuse call it what you like that’s the truth…if you think not… what does it matter? who the devil are you to accuse anyone? He has no past…  no past worth knowing…no possible future with meaning…is there a pain more painful than the act of putting into this world a life marred by birth…what karma demands it…isn’t the creation of an un-willed un-thought-of-life the worst crime on earth…why…why did you you put me on this earth says the child…the woman who cheats… the woman who thwarts thwarted by her absent father thwarts her life to thwart her son’s…and you get caught in this muddle this riddle this windowless boxed-in huit clos …think your son’s your son…think of another life gone fart what matter if yours works out… can it… must it work out…so you’d say his karma is tied to yours or rather it’s your karma to exact his pound of flesh…karma or no karma how do you justify this world if your own blood and flesh or even somebody else’s says

 

                                         why did you put me in this world

 

…there is no present nor no past…only the future…we are all creators…creators of the future…a future without a past…only an ever-present future that has come to pass… past  long long years ago… aeons ago…a burgeoning future dead to the seer…he who sees ahead dies in the present for he sees his death the death of all that is…look into the future and you have modified it for yourself…have appropriated a universe all to yourself with your modified future…the rest of the future other peoples’ futures goes on as usual…how many futures and universes are there? shouldn’t there be countless numbers in countless dimensions each a novel in his own handwriting in his own blood…other lives to serve his own modified future…close your eyes and think away all the other universes the other myriad dimensional universes…open your eyes and drop into this static common unvarying universe the same sun the same streets convoluting in and out of your pathless memory past the same signposts past the same faces thinking ill of you wanting their bodies their love their trust their support their joys 

 

…give a child a mother any but a cheating treacherous mother…no mother worth her juices will touch bathe kiss caress dress feed breastfeed hug or sleep with her child after sucking a thieving cowardly Graham-Greenish coot: “married women are the easiest to get” date rope tryst and thrust in hotels  after waiting for the husband to leave for work for duty for the family’s keep after waiting for him to fall off to sleep after waiting in the shadows to lurk past when the cuckolded fool walks past thinking he’s some bold and honourable king loved and respected by his kin oblivious to the many who shake his hands even as his woman shakes trembles and thunders in their loins after men who look coolly in your eyes with contempt and snigger at your innocence at your ignorance of the betrayal of trust in the name of your child…she says all amused: my mother says any woman who cheats ought to be burnt alive with the mattress soaked in kerosene…

 

 

NOON in the Hauptstrasse was as usual noisy. Except for the evenings around six to eight, the highest number of people went past both ways. One half perhaps to Bismarck Platz to catch a tram going west across the broad low open bridge over the Neckar, leading to relatively comfortable housing on the hills and to stern and sturdy stone housing on less busy streets, or going southeast to a sprawling complex of ageing compounded houses along dimly-lit rightangularly cutting streets and to the American army headquarters with its cordoned-off installations, and their long low barrack-like pre-fabricated temporary hostel-housing. M.P.s in close-fitting light khaki, white boots, arm-straps, and helmets patrolled in open jeeps. Eastwards and around the foot of the Schloss hills and slopes, the low housing and less-well-kept roads and gardens…southwards the sprawling flat open land that now got worked upon with new low pre-fabricated yet apparently costly shacks, intermixed with by the then tired-looking un-refurbished and  délaissé-looking stained stone houses, with encased rocks in all their ruggedness - all showing and dripping like coalmining township lanes all along the river bank and projecting past the new and flashy - for those days – Hauptbahnhof: the spacious open glassy entrance and the open public toilet to the left, a must for many without proper sanitation or faucets, the one gaping eye-sore just – on account of that – to the left in the station.

 

Theson turned left twice and found himself at the mouth of the Hauptstrasse. He was in two minds. What! Yet once again down the same road, the same glances alongside shop windows, the same ‘Hi! Hello! Morgen! Wie Gehts! Tschüss! Bis später! See yea later! Buddy, Später!’ He stopped for a while to look into a window. A shoe shop. A thick-boned but sleek-looking woman in a dull cream-coloured two-piece suit was leaning against a counter, an air of unresponsive expectation lying vacant in her unobtrusively fixed gaze. She eyed him. Theson merely let his eyes wander over the arrangement of jilted high-heels perched at different levels on the precariously strung-out window display. Like trees shooting listlessly on a Javanese stepped mountain rice cultivation slope. The stilettoes sleek and tapering like shorn trunks.  He looked down the road. No one he saw wore high heels. Maybe they were meant for evening wear, for a formal occasion; a dinner appointment, a cocktail…His mind strayed…he had no desire to proceed along the same route his legs had led him. Wasn’t I walking down this very same street years ago? With the same thoughts? Wasn’t it just there…he turned his face and looked ahead of the new coffee place across the road where some one or other of his acquaintances would be sipping hot, sour, black coffee in shallow yellow cups standing around small round table tops on tall solitary stilts against yellowish walls. All along one wall ran a sliver of a counter with no seating arrangements nor mirrors…the waitresses in stiff yellowish aprons brought together in front by darkish mauve buttons like pieces of chocolate biscuits; behind a high long counter to the right, the coffee machine belched, coughing every now and then; the clatter of cups in saucers as the waitresses sauntered rapping the solid floor on squat sharp low heels, their blond swathes wrapped around their heads…For long moments he stood and turned his head…the woman in the two-piece suit now fixed him with her dark eyes, her expression changing from expectation to curiosity and then a tinge of disapproval crept through her face and stayed there…Was I peeping? Was I looking? Or was I peeping? What right had I to look into her window-dressing? Was I blocking from view her wares? Who was looking with me? Who among the passers-by cast even a mere glance at the window?... Many among those passing though shifted their pace, broke élan, even stopped to let others pass before they avoided Theson in their hurry to lunch or…Theson could not/did not stir. His eyes searched the patch of pavement past the coffee shop leading past the department store whose doors opened into two streets, its neon lights bright and chirpy in the brazing air.

 

there she goes…i wonder…could i…maybe she’d look back…anyway if it’s not she…it’s got to be her…that brown plaited skirt spreading below the knees…black long stockings tightly drawn over thick fleshy but vollschlang legs…oh yes that wilfull bounce in her step…flat brown canvass-cum-leather shoes…loose woollen cardigan hanging down over what-looked-like a shirt…light-blue furling out and around her stiff long thick pale neck…her dark streams of tough hair tied in a chignon and bobbing at every step…her expressionless face…dead cool eyes…wan complexion…broad forehead and almost flabby cheeks…the blood hardly coursed through her China livid paleness… she must have come out of  some shop…she was gaining ground threading her way nimbly through the charging crowd on the pavement…can’t keep up with her…got to run…giv’er chase boy…go …go..it’s now or never…semester’s at an end…the summer’s hotting up…lads and lassies are teaming up for the holidays…

…I just simply got to thank her…can’t leave things as they are…yes i did make her look cheap that day standing in the alley opposite the church beside the corner ice-cum-coffee place…she had her leg up on the wall…i had just hailed her when she was on her way up so late at ten to the West African chappie’s place on the first floor…she always said she went there to type up something or other for him…

 

my eye… at that hour…who’s she kidding…what, it was going up to ten…ten-thirty…or am i exaggerating…no, it was late …at the earliest…not earlier than nine-thirty…it was always so with her…she could spend a night in some place and it was only for this or for that… not for anything intimate…sodomy for her was not sex…it was not part of love-making…besides there was no need for protection…it was a way for her to preserve her lesbian tendencies… if asked if she had ever had sex…she’d say she was a virgin…and she would clam up…that put an end to the interrogation… remember the time she was up a whole night with Eckhardt who lived in a first floor corner-house in a huge room with windows opening onto both the Kettengasse and Merianstrasse…the spacious dimly-lit double-room… constantly damp but with entrances announcing a big set-up wood-carving bannistered broad stairways leading up to a huge thick castle door fixed to the outer wall but the lavatory was on the landing the place smelt of a trysting demeurre probably the block itself belonging to some noble with livery stables not far away…Eckhardt too looked the part… erect lean elegantly bootstrapped… an air of good times gone by…perhaps a hint of the spoilt child…a profligate prodigal son now on the mend the gentle wistful pose as of a time wet-nursed by fussing ladies of the court and in his voice the reminders of un-chastised breeding by example…he was always glad of the knock on the door… there were never girls in his company if ever a girl lurked in the casual remark it was only to excuse his immediate contact conversation and he was back again all ears all attention a glass of tea without sugar nor milk the record player always open ready for the demonstration of Bertolt Brecht’s The Three-Penny Opera which he explained after every line, lifting the needle-head ever so deftly every time the explanations followed by translations called for it…you should pick up all the German you can, you know, Mein Herr you are missing a whole world a whole world of wit and satire caricature and repartee…

 

Sabina said: I didn’t sleep with him he’s dreaming imagining those things he’s been listening to those penny ha’penny records day in day out he must think he’s in the opera himself or maybe he has re-written the opera with me in his bed…but he says you spent the night in his bed…but that’s because he wouldn’t letgo of me…i brought him back from that Fasching party all but drunk unable to find his way back…didn’t you think some boy was best fitted for the task…anyway what’s so far from anywhere in these darkly lighted up alleyways one couldn’t hold on to walls and be back all safe…she was stuck…she said: no i wanted to leave as well it was late he was heading in the same direction as the Anlage… i had merely to cross the Uni-Platz to get back home…i thought we could hold each other up, i mean keep each other company…there was that guy that Canadian fella and then that Ghanaian who was eyeing me all evening getting too close in jiving touching me in the wrong places breathing down my neck i thought the best i could do was to hook up with Eckhardt so we left together…did he tell you that…did he say i went up to his place to sleep with him...wait till i see him…wait just a bit i’ll go and catch him right now and slap him right in the face…no…no..that won’t be necessary…so now you believe me…but what did he tell you…did he say i got into bed with him…i held my silence i could see she meant business she was going to make this a big enough case to rile my relations with one man someone who did no harm to me someone who practised a form of total hospitality on the level friendship someone i liked someone of the kind from another age from another world of decorum open respectful always willing to instruct with his sense of courtesy and enthusiasm his culture his knowledge his admiration for the creative spirit a refined and evenly reserved sensible fellow feeling i couldn’t find it in me to hurt in any way and even if he was confronted face to face with Sabina he was bound to play the noble part and aver his lack of consciousness of his possibly self-induced state of drunkenness or fantasy of a sleepful night to excuse her from blame…what’s the use you can’t beat her in this surnoiserie…she always had an answer and if she didn’t she’d clam up and that was it you’d have no way of prising open her obstinacy and who knows what other phobias obsessions psychic barriers she rolled out of or hid behind…you either gave up and continued as if nothing had happened while quietly letting her win… letting her have her way… letting her believe she was right above all… letting her set up her own truth as the unverifiable but only truth…in any case she was not going to drag you to Eckhardt’s place right away for the confrontation right away to clear up the goings-on of the night when she was up there…she was merely playing her game and if you agreed then and there to go up to Eckhardt’s she would draw out her sabres and carving knives and would be willing to lay her reputation on the chopping block with such denials as would make the poor man relent and break down unable to come between us unable but willing to remember whatever it was that happened as she would have wanted it…even if the fact was that she really did accompany him… she admitted it… to his apartment undressed him put him to bed and because he wouldn’t let go of her went to bed with him and left the next day while he was still asleep…this she didn’t dispute…what she disputed was having sex with him…how curious for if he was so drunk as to not know what he was doing he could have done what he said he had and not remember what he did…likewise she could deny what he did knowing he was drunk and wouldn’t remember what he did so that she could deny it to his face…in any case she had no answer to the question: do you go around sleeping with naked young men in their own beds just because they happen to be drunk and wanted you in bed as well... 

 

… she had her foot up on the step in the rough thick grainy stained centuries-old stone wall…a wall like a church’s back standing sturdy through the ages…she was in black tights and black décolletage…black ballerina shoes...her thick black hair hanging loose in cascades about her shoulders…a head of snow on a charred bumpy twisted terrain… the temptation was great because she was willing to talk…to wait…to listen…so i let my hand touch her knee…she didn’t retract her thrust-up leg…i was encouraged…my hand almost became balladeuse…then she let her leg drop…no…she wasn’t really offended she seemed to say…but she said she had to go upstairs and as if she was excusing herself for the lateness of the hour and the visit asked if i wanted to come up as well…he was the secretary of the Ausländer  african students body of sorts…she had business with him…she worked with the university’s Auslandsamt… how convenient i thought…and followed her up the two flights of stairs unable to take my eyes off her butt and the flapping instep flesh of her thighs…

 

… a drab bare large room with a huge table a little apart from the main door…he wasn’t by any guess expecting anybody else but the girl…he had done the necessary ménage…dressed in a pale white shirt and silky-looking trousers held up by a flashy leather belt with a golden-looking buckle…medical textbooks arranged on a shelf… the narrow bulging bed draped and neat near the window…in fact two windows one beside the other opening into the Wergasse…you could reach out with a broom and hit the opposite wall, except that it was bare…a window or two well-barred closed…seemed like no-one lived in there…perhaps an office during the day…in any case it blocked the light of day and at night - as then - only the street lights from the Hauptstrasse the decorative tourist shine from the Heiliggeistkirche the lights from moving traffic and the lights and obstreperous blasts from the corner student coffee joint above the Cave… a night club where ripping jazz music bee-bop and blues struggled to break through the basement door as it opened or closed letting in callers, mostly Germans come to be thrilled by the Blacks from the nearby Kaiserslautern American camp…

 

…The man was light-skinned, broad-breasted and patently broad of manner…affectedly expansive, mocking…difficult to say whether he was of English Commonwealth background, spoke German in a clear but monotonous voice …

 

“Got only tea. That alright?”

 “O.K. with me if it’s O.K. with her.”

 “Just fine”, she said, as if preparing to settle in for the night.

 

By the time he had poured out the hot water into the fragile-looking Japanese red pot of leaves, he had already sized up his potential rival through well-placed questions: name, country of origin, subject studied, under whom, living where, who i knew and so forth and so on and the greater was his desire to see the back of me, i felt…in the meantime the girl helped in giving half of the answers like who was the prof in philo…, who taught Eng-Lit., the Englishmen on the staff…she appeared rather caught in a monkey wrench between the two stark brown men, both with apparent designs on her, both set by the woman the task of having to tussle it out for the prize she became. She looked rather pleased with herself. As though she knew she would have to be won. As though the two men would have to sprout horns and lock them then and there till blood poured or brains were gashed. She tried to avert her eyes from Theson, sensing the African’s animosity. The latter kept darting looks at her to see if she was looking at me. The evening wearing on, she, a native German, nineteen, already three years of semesters under her corsette, knocking around with foreign students all the time, no thesis nor dissertation in view, no thought of the future yet. She had a stipend. Made up the rest by the few hours she kept at the Auslandsamt at the Uni-Platz, each morning. No father to answer to. He had another family with grown-up daughters of the same age; worked in the same town as her mother, a domestic science teacher at a primary establishment, which she elevated – whenever asked – to as much as a full-blown secondary school qualified teacher. Her father too whom she never wanted to see was shackled to pay up alimony, after the blood test, all her non-adult life. ‘You know, he has two daughters. I saw them a couple of times. They look like me. You’d say I was born to their mother.’ She was born in a southern light-industries town that now boasts of a ballet troupe and an American camp in its outskirts. And she was proud of the fact that her mother could prove her father’s paternity, a soldier in the army who took his fun as it came or as it was offered – in haste. She made light of her sister’s paternity, by another man, single this time, but had gone to pots, so there was no possibility of a surrogate father either lurking in the wings. All she had of “fatherly” presence was the occasional Hausgast who came to stay a week or two before returning to some one else. Somewhere in her, vengeance rankled. Vengeance writhed like a pre-historic animal waking to a thaw under fifty feet of ice after the meteor burst in the bowels of the Siberian wastes. She, a woman in her eyes, had a woman for a mother, a woman for a half-sister, a woman for a grandmother – all having made good without a man around the place. This was achievement. This was sanctity. This was glory. Whither comes the lamb for the slaughter.  

 

 

…yes, I have to thank her…can’t leave things as they are…

 

before I knew it she was gone past a bunch of summer-clad youths in paper hats trumpets in hand waving handkerchiefs and silk scarves shouting in unison some fraternity motto announcing their colours announcing their age-old insignia a tasseled penant or two rattling in the breeze lifting and whipping the dry air into a whirl of noisome colours their calves in green tight high stockings their brand of fraternity garters in striped colours their torsos flapping with opened foresters’ green gilets embossed by crests in white and red their eager faces red with beer and wurst now to be washed down by tankards over tankards of frothy beer at the Studenten Prinz near the Karl’s Gate, past the Rathaus where blared student songs…

 

            Ich hab’ mein Herz in Heidelberg verloren,

            In einer lauen Sommernacht.

            Ich war verliebt bis über beide Ohren

            Und wie ein Röselein hat ihr Mund gelacht….

 

round dark brown massively timbered tables and worn down by elbows and thumping tankards backs to wall arms interlocked and swaying side to side while booted feet stomped in unison the monotonous beat of every song the manly brazen company of either sex

 

Theson made way for the group as they passed in formation in front of the cinema entrance and by the time he searched with his eyes peeled and frantic, she was gone from view. He had no idea if she traversed the narrow Hauptstrasse and entered some shop, so he continued on his way, thinking, well, maybe, it’s a good thing I never meet her even to say thank you; could drop her a line, could leave a word with Eckhardt saying thank you thank you for the parcel of victuals: one tin of ovaltine, or was it horlicks? Two packets of cracker biscuits, jam – homemade perhaps – sugar cubes, salt, Bauernbrot, two apples, mauve with some green showing through, somewhat awkward in shape like the tortured sketches in Omar Khayyam’s Kuza Nama… pots all askew, and was there also a tranche of salami looking formidably knobbly… an unused virile member? But then he doubted if he wasn’t exaggerating the fare. Could all these go into a small brown box? What does it matter? he thought; the important thing was that someone who would not declare his or her name made it a point of letting him have something to eat when he had nothing to eat, that is, before Frau Waltz realised he was starving for over a  couple of months already and decided to serve him soup or rather broth. What he didn’t know was that the “she” who remained anonymous until Theson tracked her down through insisting vehemently with Eckhardt – the go-between who handed him the carton of victuals – to the point of even severing all his ties with Eckhardt (for whatever they were worth: Eckhardt lay much store by honour, friendship, and goodwill, especially with foreigners) – for the identity of the “giver”, actually later she confessed that she had no need of extra fat; her mother made it a point of sending a similar carton  every week or so and she made it a practice of conferring her pleasure on needy cases, or just those she invited for a nibble up at her five-floor Anlage attic flat whose only broad and high window opening onto the fresh bare-back steeply rising Riesenstein and Gaisberg. On summer Sundays certain picnickers or rather “Pick-Nickers” set down their baskets and serviettes on the hump on Gaisberg at her window level – hardly twenty yards away – to watch her take her cat-lick from a basin of water with her hand-towel while the gusty wind lifted the loosely-hanging blue bands of cloth which served as blinds. Her only dream was that she could have been born slim and tight, so that she might shine on stage with the lights focussed on her. As things stood, she was too plumpy and willowy for her liking; even her bones displayed stockiness from within the shell of billowy flesh; besides, she was “attracted” to slim and lithesome women. The Indian damsels of Bollywood make thrilled her; though even less than the girlish prudish lilt in Latha Mangeshkar’s lilting poignant sung melodies. Was she inclined that-a-way? Yes, she said. Yes, she felt so thrilled by being with that kind of a girl even if the other didn’t suspect it or didn’t react to her warm, cool coveting glares. She confessed to Theson in a moment of abandon, as though she wanted honour showered upon her for risking such confidence on the man she had finally grabbed for herself. Theson listened, amused, half in unbelief and half wondering at her boldness.

 

     “I would sit next to such a one in the lecture hall and find my heart skip in a flurry, beating a bit faster than usual; find my loins getting wet when I was about to shower.”

 

     How’s that? Asked Theson. D‘you shower between classes?

 

     Sabina looked at Theson, a blankness all of a sudden covering her face. She heard his question, the interruption, but her sights were fixed elsewhere, in a private reverie. She could have been all by herself, or perhaps at a therapeutic session in some cabinet.

 

    “After rehearsing… that was at the Stadtbühne. All the girls stringy and springy.”

 

Once she even secretly selected one such chick for herself, and always strained to be at her side, and when she saw her undress and make her way to the shower, she was in a dither: she wanted to reach out and hug her, reach out and caress her; reach out and cradle her head on her bosom, in her lap. She felt these feelings growing on her naturally. She neither felt guilty nor ashamed about her secret sentiments. She felt it was after all just right; she tall, broad of stature and bulkier, sullen and grave with unwavering eyes, and the chick of her choice bubbly, gay, lithesome and cuddlesome, and so innocent-looking, she never even once suspected Sabina’s designs, Sabina’s overwhelming concerns for her every need, overwhelming enveloping glances in her direction, and constant patience at waiting on her carefree, joyous prances.

 

But Liselotte had an admirer, too; one who parleyed words with her on  stage and had to for the part take her in his arms and kiss her longingly and then she would have to unclasp herself in mock anger, but she couldn’t; she couldn’t feign being indifferent. The kiss was a real kiss, lovingly placed on her lips and cheeks and temples, ruffling her stagelight-kissed burnished locks in the process. Every time he had to kiss her, and that amounted to many times, as the producer wasn’t quite satisfied with her feigning anger, and even disgust, she fell more and more under Wolfgang’s quiet dignity and aplomb. He never said much to her when they adjourned after rehearsals to the Konditorei for an ice cream, and Liselotte didn’t have the heart to refuse Sabina tagging along; neither did Wolfgang, for she played her best part when she was with them: concealing her inner sentiments even when Wolfgang put his arms around Liselotte’s shoulders or lit her cigarette with his, or brought his free hand down on her lap when making a point about the way the producer directed the play. Sabina betrayed none of her private feelings for Liselotte, not even when she really didn’t agree with Wolfgang’s critique of the way the rehearsals were going. She even tried overly to please Wolfgang, sometimes prodding in an indirect way Liselotte’s incipient feelings of jealousy. And when they were together alone, she would say to her:

 

“You know the trick with kissing. I know you don’t feel at ease there.”

 

“Ach sooo! That! He kisses and I melt. I tell you, I don’t even know where I am. After the third time, I have a feeling we are in bed, naked.”

 

“There’s a way, you know. You don’t have to really kiss him. If it bothers you that much, just put your faces side by side, you know, mouth past mouth, and the audience will think you’re kissing.”

 

“But you don’t see, I want to kiss him. I want him to kiss me. Three times, ten times, a million times, hard, strong, lolling his tongue on mine, uuuuhh…forever and ever.”

 

It was like a kingfisher hammering away on Sabina’s temples, these words, so unexpected. She held her breath as they walked past three sleek African students in flannels and dark pullovers over bright open-necked shirts; they came out of the poorly-lit enclosure of St. Peter’s Church as they turned left into the Anlage. They looked at the two or rather they fixed them with their shiny, yellowy-livid eyes from a distance and didn’t shift them until Sabina recognising one of them said, “Tschüss!” The tall savvy-looking gentleman breathed out heavily, and stumbled out an “Afffwiedershen!” as he and his companions turned to look at their backs as they hurriedly crossed the road. It was late and there were very few people on this quieter but dreary-looking back street, running parallel to the main street. It looked as desolate at ten-thirty as at eight, but strangely came alive in the wee hours when the one or two nightclubs serving American soldiers emptied out. Huge road-filling Cadillacs and self-inturned Volkswagens whirred as their occupants shouted, calling out to some one or other on foot. The residential and official buildings set against the slope of the steeply rising back of the Schloss hills lay covered in a mire of mist, in deep retreat from all signs of confrontation. Something in the air lay beaten down and heavy. Even Gothic. Transylvanian.  

 

 

…just when Theson felt he had passed up the opportunity of  thanking the woman, just when the student fraternity group threaded its way past him, she shot out of the long, lean superstore, with entrances and exits on the Hauptstrasse and the Landfriedstrasse, her face sullen and pensive, yet receptive, as though she had been stalking Theson for hours and expecting, well, wanting, the encounter to take place. The truth is, no such plan could have been hatched. She knew him alright by sight and hearsay. She had received him at the Auslandsamt. She had recorded his name and address down for temporary student employment. She had even accompanied him to the Dolmetscher Institut to get him a false certificate about his proficiency in German in order to get him enrolled at the Philosophisches Fakultät. He needed the student card to obtain permission to reside in the country from the local police headquarters. But ever since the encounter at Kettengasse when they went up to the African student-leader’s place, she affected stand-offishness; her head held far back on the stretched spine which gave her a full-grown swan’s stiffness and coldness.

 

   Theson was caught unawares, unable to deal with surprise, unable to react with sobriety for the pent-up feeling built in him for over a couple of hundred yards, balanced by a feeling of remorse for his behaviour with his “balladeuse” hand hardly a month after his arrival in the place – accidentally – with Bob Boyd , the American air force lieutenant stationed at Kassel and whom he had met on a Tottenham Court Road junction beside Foyle’s bookshop in London while  listening to a street jazz band playing bee-bop…yes they had met the very first day when Bob decided to attend a yoga performance at the student recreation centre given by a travelling Indian “yogi” where due to a back pain earned from a weeklong hitch-hiking tramp from London via den Haag through Aachen-Giessen to Kassel, Theson sat up stiff with his back against the wall for support, all through the evening in the midst of a whispering and  giggling disinterested crowd – Sabina being one of them who was most amused, Theson fought sleep from his eyes and limbs till hunger gnawed his insides out…yes, they had already met or rather they had already crossed eyes: he as usual attracted by luscious-looking women, she hardly registering even liking or other kind of attraction; perhaps because of Bob who always wherever he was occupied centre stage, not because of his effeminate looks, chicken-chest and formless thin lips but invariably because of his self-assurance, birdy voice, always unafraid to express his opinions aloud while cracking a joke or two that none of the Germans understood but admired for the way he delivered it – head held high, deadpan face, and ending with the spoilt brat pout and bubbly laughter that he cultivated in order to conceal his less than manly un-American and un-soldierly posture and pose        

 

So they met. They could so easily not have met. What’s a thankyou? Considering what each one of them was dragged into for the rest of their lives, and the unconscionable pain of having added yet one more totally inept life to this world, a life doomed right from the start, a life by its very existence reduced either of them to the depths of horror and disgust, enmity and mutual destruction, and in Theson’s case, almost every member of his far-flung family paid the price of having to endure all sorts of slights, deep want, broken careers, unpaid dowries and the abuses his sisters endured all their lives and a mother distraught with shame and abandon…none could have foreseen the devastation that lay in store, none could have – even if they had known the truth awaiting them in the years to come –none  could have foresworn the pain and humiliation that awaited them with jaws wide open.

 

He said: Thank you very much for the parcel.

 

She said: What parcel?

 

He said: The parcel of victuals you let me have. Through Eckhardt.

 

She said: I didn’t give Eckhardt anything for you.

 

He said: Yes, I know. You didn’t give Eckhardt the parcel – directly, but you gave it to someone else and she gave it to Eckhardt.

 

She said nothing.

 

He said: Thank you all the same.

 

He looked at her. She wasn’t even interested in listening, he thought.

 

So he said: I’m leaving Heidelberg for good. I’m going back to London.

 

She said nothing and hurried her steps.

 

He said: I’m leaving this weekend.

 

She had already gone on. She might have heard him, and then again, she mightn’t have.

 

She walked on and turned into an alley. He tried to catch up with her in the first burst of steps; then desisted. He felt flattened, unburdened. He had done his bit. He got it off his chest.  

 

It had taken him some three weeks to track the unknown “giver” of victuals, some Santa Claus, indeed. It took a lot of persuasion and insistence, overall a sort of threatening insistence for Eckhardt, the go-between, to even let the mastodon out of its kennel.

 

He said as though he was vomiting the frog that blocked the passage until then: Go see … but you must promise me right now you won’t tell her I told you. I don’t want trouble with people…you know, women coming screaming out here.

 

So, it’s a woman?

 

I didn’t say, it’s a woman.

 

Eckhardt appeared strained by the conversation.

 

Okay, I promise.

 

 

Go see… He paused to look Theson in the face, but his eyes seemed to see other faces more frightening and foreboding. Go see  Annemarie. She works weekends at the nightclub tending the bar. You know, the bar right behind the Rektorat.

 

You mean, it’s Annamarie?

 

Nein, I didn’t say that. I just said, go see Annemarie. She must know. She’s the one who gave me the parcel with a message to hand it to you.

 

You mean, the …yes, I think I know the place. Will she tell me?

 

I don’t know. That’s up to her.

 

I tell you, I already feel bad about the whole thing. I gave her my word not to tell. If ever she finds out, she’d come shrieking here like the fiendish harpy she is.

 

Eckhardt looked like he had got the wind up alright. Theson must have wondered what made him fear women so much. Yet he had a girl or at least it looked like that, a small teen-looking girl with flaxen pleats. She never said a word whenever Theson was around. And he couldn’t quite remember if he was ever introduced to her properly. Perhaps a mere gesture: Here’s Annelore… They had perhaps nodded at each other, he couldn’t say.

 

Theson was thinking. Why? What’s the mystery? Why should a small thing…I mean, an act of giving some food to someone in need be such a crime.

 

Eckhardt shook his head and prepared to leave. Theson’s visits even if they pleased him, for they were occasions for laying out one example after another of German arts and culture to a foreigner, had with this incident grown too harassing for his gentle, reflective inclinations. They descended the wide and worn wooden creaking stairs in silence. Eckhardt appeared worried as he threw his muffler across his shoulders. The night didn’t threaten to turn chilly though. Only a slight breeze slided down from the Schloss. They shook hands and parted, each with his own balance sheet of gain and loss.

 

 

Theson felt elated as he passed by the bar front of the nightclub. He stopped to read through the menu in a glass case. The place looked dreary on the outside. The façade dipped low. Looked macabre without the lights. Inside, dim coloured lights showed black and white aproned figures moving about the tables and long broad bar-counter.

 

 

Sabina had turned down some lane, and Theson was feeling relieved. So, I was right from the start. I don’t know why, but I knew it was her.  

 

For Theson the world had suddenly redeemed itself. Something that had hounded him relentlessly for three weeks – in fact, ever since he got the parcel some seven or eight weeks back – seemed appeased. Whatever it was, calm seemed to reign in Theson’s thoughts and face. Even his steps, heavy and plodding in his hush puppies as he trudged up and down the Hauptstrasse and down Marstenstrasse to the Mensa day in and day out, quite by surprise loped into a stride; he moved effortlessly, a springy feeling driving him headlong towards release, towards moksha or to doom or damnation. He didn’t care. His only thoughts went towards getting ready as soon as he could pay off his debts and getting his Studienbuch signed by the profs whose seminars and lectures he was supposed to attend – and he didn’t or couldn’t – and in getting them validated by the Studentenamt.

 

He rushed up the stairs, all five flights of them, wished Karl whose door on the landing was open rather loudly and elicited a Tag at last from him, before trying the front door to his place. Karl was studiously cutting cloth with huge rusty-looking scissors on an old and massive table which took up nearly half his tailor’s working quarters. There was a window which gave into Bismarck Platz but it remained almost always tightly closed. Clothes and coats hung from it from time to time. Karl slept on a bunker space in the wall, atop an array of chests and trunks packed alongside and under the table. All over the place, wherever there was space enough to dump a bundle of old trousers or overalls, coats or overcoats, great sagging mounds of woollen wear adorned the place like dark straggly harvested heaps on a narrow plot of land. An old sewing machine capable of being fitted with six-inch or more needles occupied the table end closest to the window. Light still filtered down from the upper unobstructed panes. At the end of the table closer to the door lay thick folds of canvass cloth and to a side a massive clothes-iron fed from charcoal ambers from the ever burning stove set against the inner wall, adjacent to the lounge where Frau Waltz slept. It must have been years they berthed together, from the looks of it. Clients thus didn’t have to knock on the front door of the Waltz’s since Karl kept his door on the landing, adjacent and at right angles to the front door, always a little ajar, so that he could see who entered the flat and who came for a fitting, even if a little plaque with the word: Schneider, 5. Stock was affixed to the wall on the ground floor, and an arrow on a tin-plate with the word: Schneider – Rechts pointed to Karl’s door.

 

 Theson had at last with his temporary forester’s assistant job managed to pay the arrears of rent. Karl never thought he would; he had never really been disposed to house Theson without the promise of payment or even of a guarantee from some one else. Now, he thawed, though still unsmiling, his dark Gypsy-ish features, short cribbed stature - a legacy of a lifetime’s stooping – and old dark weighted-in-the-seams clothes giving him a hardened and weirdly grubby look of a miser or gravedigger. No-one, Theson must have thought, could be so tightly shut away from the world and be married to Gertrude at the same time. She was the exact opposite. All gentleness in every glance and look, in every gesture and movement; all openness and consideration. A voice as intimate and spontaneous as a child’s, she breathed an ever-enveloping air of concern, concern for others, of course. There was never a moment she wasn’t doing something for someone else. Always patient, always waiting on others. How could Karl then be anything but an understanding type, the thought must have crossed  Theson’s mind.  

 

Theson grabbed his Studienbuch, hurriedly looked for his student card, combed his hair or rather patted them down for they were ruffled, and darted out with two or three loudly whispered Aufwiedersehens  as a general salute to anybody within hearing distance. Apart from Karl, the place looked deserted but Frau Waltz could have been in the landing behind the kitchen washing clothes. Theson skipped down the flights of stairs light as an empty cigarette tin tossed downhill and with as much clatter which was unusual for him. Things indeed looked like he had been liberated. All the moroseness of the past five months since his arrival in town with Bob à l’improviste had indeed come to an end. He was leaving and maybe for good. After all, he must have thought, it was only an understandable mistake he landed here. Initially, he was off to Freiburg to sample existentialism over there. He only agreed to stay put when he was told Heidegger had retired or was dismissed or something like that. Now all that seemed a long time ago and in another land. Something truly gave in him and for good.   

                                          …………………….

 

Hunger brought Theson back at dusk, late summer dusk. Frau Waltz opened the door, a look of worrying concern sitting long in her eyes and voice.

 

“You’ve got a visitor,” she said, touching his shoulder and keeping her voice as low as possible. Before Theson could say “Who?” she said, “I said you weren’t in – I went to look – and said you were probably only out for a while, for I heard you coming in and going out only a while ago.” Theson looked puzzled. It was as if something severe and foreboding had struck his genial landlady. Was the police after him?  “But your visitor insisted on waiting.” She engaged Theson’s narrowing eyes. “I showed your visitor to your room.” Theson doubled his steps to the end of the corridor, held his hand on the latch a moment, looked at his landlady who by now was beside him and opened the door.

 

She was seated on his chair, the high and heavy Remington typewriter uncovered and a paper stuck in it. She didn’t get up. Neither did she really turn her head. She just ever so slightly in her high nasal resonant tone said in English: “I want to use your typewriter.”

 

For a moment, Theson was tongue-tied. And just as quickly, his entire being flustered and quickened.

 

“Yes, of course. Please go ahead.” He took her whole being in in one gobbled sweep. Her dark tough hair was made up into a chignon at the occiput. “It’s Trudy’s, not mine, you know,” he added, probably out of nervousness or sheer unexpectedness of the situation and at such close quarters with someone he had never thought of seeing there all alone in his room.

 

Frau Waltz stood long enough at the door to make sure Theson knew his visitor. “I’ll go make some tea,” she said and left, but Theson could sense that all was not well with his landlady. He had never had a visitor. Maybe that was all. Maybe again she never expected Theson to have a lady friend. Whatever it was, Frau Waltz wore a worried look from then on which hardly ever was tempered every time she brought the subject up. And that was quite a few times until Theson finally left his digs for London at the end of August, never to come back again during the next two and a half years; not because he didn’t want to, mind you, but the vagaries of Theson’s life from then on took a turning neither of them could even have vaguely divined the directions it would take. When at last Theson returned to Heidelberg when the encounter had run its course, Frau Waltz had shifted with or without her husband Karl to some village whose address he could not ferret out of his daughter. The latter, her daughter from a previous marriage, and concubine occupied the flat. He appeared a tough-looking sort, another breed showing no war-time regrets. Frau Waltz’s own granddaughter then was a fast growing-up lassie who didn’t or wouldn’t want to show much patience with Theson’s queries. He was even barred admission, that is, none so much as said he should cross the threshold or made a gesture inviting him to do so, or made room by opening wide the door on its hinges. They could only talk on the landing. Besides, they said they didn’t have a spare room to let. It was all done with a somewhat tactless haste. They were preparing to go out, one of them might have said, or perhaps it was something Theson just observed and didn’t want to be in the way. Everybody was rushing indoors, from kitchen to rooms, lounge to toilet and so on, you see what I mean. The old time smells from Frau Waltz’s aromatic goulashes stewing in a huge chipped blue enamel pot – some mainly bone and marrow meat and potato  – no longer lingered in the air as one mounted the steps to the fifth floor. They didn’t even ask him to come back another time, at a more convenient moment.

 

 

Theson sat for a while on the bed.  He must have thought he should, out of sheer courtesy. She typed a line or two; actually it was a letter she was composing. Then she stopped. Pulled the high-backed chair closer to the table and resumed typing. At the speed she was going, she certainly was no typist, and there was no chance she was going to finish the letter before morning, thought Theson. Then, it occurred to him that his presence might have been hampering her fingers from unleashing her sullen fury on the sticky new keys.

 

Knock. Knock. Theson always wondered how his landlady managed to knock on the door with both of her hands full. Frau Waltz brought in a tray with two cups, a pot, a small glass filled with sugar cubes, and another with milk, together with some egg biscuits, and placed it on the table between the two.

 

Theson got up to help. “Vielen Dank, Frau Waltz!” he said and looked at her again rather closely. She wasn’t at all her usual self. Theson wondered why. She left without so much as a glance at either of the two present and closed the door gently and firmly behind her.

 

Theson poured a little milk in one cup and waited for the tea to turn a shade darker. His surprise visitor didn’t say anything. In the meantime, he strode up to the porthole and gazed vacantly at the sky. A whole army of swallows were swooping in swarms over a vast chunk of sky. Their combined chirping felt like pins and needles in the ears. He watched their antics for a while and returned to the simmering tea. He poured the contents of the tea pot into one cup. Then he poured himself some tea and sipped it while he resumed his pretence of watching the swallows. All the time his eyes were thrust back through his occiput. After a while, he went over to the table. She was sitting stock still. Not a word escaped her pursed lips. Theson pulled some typing paper from a drawer and put them on the table.

 

“Take your time, I’ll pop out for a while,” he said and closed the door behind him. She sat erect and still, looking no where in particular, it seemed. She didn’t say anything either. Theson had a hard time staying out. He was hungry. It was too late to call at the Mensa. His legs took him in that direction anyway, out of habit. He walked down Untere Neckarstrasse and turned down into Neckarstaden along the stoned pavement of the river bank and continued past today’s Karl-Theodor Brücke. Oddly enough he saw no one he knew. There were lots of groups of students in threes and fives listening to each other and bursting out laughing. A lukewarm breeze was picking up over the river. There were stray couples strolling along the river bank on either side. Some accordion music reached his ears. He had no idea how long he must have roamed around, until he found himself on the Philosophenweg on the other steep river bank for the first time ever since he set foot in town and was surprised it was only a sparsely wooded red mud path. It got dark by then. Lights strung out on the high and fanned-out sandstone broken façade ruins of the Schloss, against the dark thick forest background, made it look like an entrance to a gaily decorated gate to an enormous circus. Did the French who sacked the place thrice in the 17th century wonder at the haloed ruins it would become centuries hence? His thoughts roamed around in his mind. He neither saw where he was going, nor was he aware of the time he took walking back and forth, across the river up Hirschgasse, higher up Philosophenweg, and still higher up Bismarcksäulenweg, past the Heiligenberg lookout looking like a hardened chocolate-castle chess-piece, then round and round the drab lighthouse-like Bismarck column, down back Philosophenweg again. Then he stopped. He tried to take stock of his feelings and the sort of mind-crushing ballast weights which sat on them, benumbing and confounding his thoughts. He tried to reassure himself that such things just happened without design, without any sort of plan or intelligence informing or directing them. And then, he presumed, things would/will return to their original shape and state. And so, he must have re-assured himself that she was certainly gone by then. He cut down into Albert-Ueberle-Strasse, past the famous solid but charred-looking Physik-Institut and almost automatically walked up to it as on occasions he did to see Bose, his Bengali budding astrophysicist friend working under the direction of Johannes Hans Jensen, but he just as automatically retraced his steps, turned right on Neuenheimer and turned left, his mind in a bind, in a semi-wakefulness now prodded by acute hunger, as though his frontal lobes were hooked by two padlocks on his brow. Just as automatically, he stepped heavily down the Brückenstrasse over the bridge into Sofienstrasse. He thought he saw a group of his German acquaintances on the opposite side-walk on the bridge, returning probably after taking in a movie from across the river, but he kept his eyes fixed to the ground in front of him as usual. They didn’t feel like hailing him, he must have thought.

 

How often after that moment he must have recalled this fatal error. If only he could have stayed away for good or met someone or other who could have kept him away from his digs that evening? He had all his life to review and return to this crucially cruel moment, again and again. How he wished he could have turned the clock back.

 

He mounted the stairs. Hunger pinched in the pit of his stomach, in his groins, at his loins. The place was desolate. The Waltzes had all retired for the night. He opened the front door in absolute silence and practically tip-toed to his room, and there she was! still seated: stiff, her legs fully stretched out, her torso bolt upright against the back of the chair, not having by all appearances stirred even a whit. She had not typed another word, nor had she sipped her tea.

            

           Theson’s fate was sealed, and not just for a lifetime; so many lives congealed in a lost frozen clime. How could a parcel of victuals, the likes of which she received from her mother every Friday on the dot, disrupt and destroy so many lives to come! And which she discarded almost religiously after picking at the chocolates for fear of adding to her lumps!

 

 

     Frau Waltz’s introverted ponderousness or pensive seizures every time she encountered Theson continued to puzzle the young man. Then, finally, one fine day she came dashing into his room and got it off her chest.

 

     “This Fräulein…this girl, I mean, These, this Sabina’s no good for you.”

 

     Theson was taken aback all of a sudden. He couldn’t quite understand Frau Waltz’s excessive concern for his love life. Theson was not offended, not in the least. She was after all like a foster mother to him; it was motherly advice, motherly protection. At last, he had an answer to his landlady’s persistent frowns.

 

     “I don’t know, I don’t think she’ll do you any good.” And just as abruptly, she left his room. For some days they avoided each other. In any case, Theson was hardly home thereafter for long enough alone for her to come in and chat.

 

     He was now in the throes of courtship which in those days of a still yet to come period of libertinage meant bill-cooing and joint activities like eating together, visiting each other’s place, knowing every moment where the other went or what they other did; endless hours of recounting and recapitulating over each other’s pasts; descriptions of each other’s birthplaces and narrations of family histories, and of course, finally, the declarations whether veridique or not of past escapades with the opposite sex. As far as Theson was concerned, he was a bit taken aback by some of the encounters she had had with known students, especially the Blacks, both of American and African origin, though she never divulged more than the barest details; you know, the kind of stuff like some touching, some feeling about, and the occasional kissing, and in one or two cases, whipping up the sweater and the bodice to allow for “breast-feeding”, but always, always she denied going any further. She admitted to doing all these inoffensive but obviously whetted “confidences” within the confines of the men’s own quarters and at any time of the day or night, though she insisted she always returned home – whatever the hour – to sleep it out at her own place.

 

     She got into trouble with some Germans. At Bismarck Platz, right opposite the tram station, there was a covered taxi stand with a glass cabin office-cum-telephone booth, nothing very imposing; an exaggerated bus-stop, one could say, and all night long could be heard the loud and raucous peels of laughter and guffaws of taxi-drivers. Neither did they hesitate to hurl piropos at passing damsels. On the one or two – anyway less frequent - occasions she descended in the wee hours into Sofienstrasse to regain her quarters on the Anlage, she was spotted by these taxi-men who put two and two together. They upbraided her at first by calling out names across the Platz; then they took to following her to her place while making lewd propositions. She had had to flee them. At first, she said nothing about it to Theson. Then, one day, when they had their first tiff, she brought the whole thing out, saying what she had had to endure on account of her having to stay so late at his place. She had no objections that he kept late hours at her place, or stayed on late into the night under the same blanket, either with him or with other students. While Theson understood the contretemps posed by her coming to his place, he could not understand why she could not stay with him when he wanted her to. Frau Waltz obviously didn’t impose any restrictions, not at least after Sabina had one day while waiting for Theson in the lounge to return from somewhere decided to play the old dust-caked piano standing idle in there. She also hummed along and sang a line or two of some classical tune. Frau Waltz was impressed; she was even captivated by the haunting and high nasal cavernous resonance of her soothing whispering voice.

 

     “She’s alright,” she said, as if to correct or withdraw her first adverse impressions. As if to pardon her earlier intrusive concern for Theson’s love life. “She has a high voice. Hmmm!”

 

     Theson did not know what to make of this sudden change of opinion. Was she after all excusing herself for her own sudden and inexplicable behaviour? Perhaps she didn’t mean what she said then? That is, of her first impressions.

 

     Why didn’t she have her own German suitors? She was averse to going into that line of recounting and, as always, whenever she was stumped for an answer or whenever she felt she might have to reveal more than she wanted to, she would just clam up for good and for hours at a time. Sometimes even for a couple of days at a stretch. Theson simply had to accept silence as an answer and not interpret these moments as an acquiescence, with the result he never knew in the end what transpired between her and her past acquaintances. He got to know a lot about her and yet he knew nothing really solid about her. She was like a marble statue he thought he could pass his fingers through, and yet, when he retracted them, they were empty, without substance, without real meaning. Where was he going in this sentiment-charged relationship? He wondered aloud in writing!

 

     Theson had stayed on in Heidelberg a few weeks more than he wanted to in August. She had her mother visit from the country, all casual like. She wanted them to meet. They had dinner one evening at a packed, low-ceilinged German basement restaurant on Marstenstrasse where the ventilation shafts had been converted into narrow oblong “windows” at street level. It was just great sitting and having dinner, and every time you lifted your gaze outward, you saw legs – even bare legs and thighs and sometimes even more – stomping along the downsloping five-foot-way. The mother didn’t look anything like Sabina. Bespectacled and beady-eyed behind thin Burgundy-coloured frames, she sported no pronounced eyebrows, her hair frizzy, straggly and reddish, her skin shone  white and pallid but appeared firmer or stockier, possibly a result of age creeping in earlier than was necessary.  She was talkative enough but spoke no English; perhaps out of shyness, though she excused herself by saying she understood more than she appeared to by shaking her head every time Theson answered her questions. Sabina translated from time to time whenever Theson’s German vocabulary was wanting. This was a meeting of appraisal for the mother. She asked the usual questions: what Theson studied, how long it would take him to finish his dissertation, did he like German food, how much of the country he had seen, and did he like what he saw? And the people? And finally, what about Theson’s family? Before they parted that evening, they adjourned to Sabina’s ever cold-timbered attic flat for coffee served in white porcelain ware: a huge jug and tiny cups, and, of course, Sofia - that’s the mother’s calling sobriquet - extended an invitation to Theson to go to her town in the country. Sabina said she could take him along when she went home for the holidays. That way he could meet the only other two members of the family: a half sister and a spinster grand-mother. The father worked in the same town as the mother’s homeplace. He paid alimony only after insisting on a blood test, something Sabina never, at the instigation of her mother and, the way she told the story, ever forgave her father for, so they never ever met socially or for visits. He merely existed as an entity in the family constellation which she rejected but which she owned up as a right. Above all, she never forgave her father for her birth in an unmarried women’s home in another dreary town where a home had been built by the Drittes Reich in the thirties for the hordes of pregnant women left behind by the soldiers sent to die in the war fronts. The resulting babies were even known as “Herr Führer’s babes”, among the foreign student community, a sly dig at the Vaterland. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

===================================================================

 

Glossary (all words and expressions not introduced as such are German in origin)

 

à huis clos:  French for held “In camera”.

 

à l’improviste: French for “without warning”.

 

Alte Brücke: Literally, “Old Bridge”, the term signifies the old red brick Karl-Theodor Brücke  linking the old part of the town or Alt-Stadt and the hill on the other bank of the River Neckar.

 

Amerika Haus: Literally “America House”, an official cultural and information US centre of divulgation.

 

atap:  Malay for thatched roofing, usually made from palm fronds.

 

Ausländer:  Foreigner.

 

Auslandsamt:  Office for foreign students at the university on Grabengasse, facing the Universitäts-Platz and where Sabina had a half-day job.

 

balladeuse: French expression for a hand that roves around the body impudently.

 

Bauernbrot:  Farmbread, wholewheat brown bread.

 

décolletage: V-shaped plunging neckline.

 

délaissé: (French) for abandoned or neglected.

 

Fasching:  Carnival, German style. During the month of February, Germans deck themselves out in fanciful clothing and bizarre disguises and let themselves go in processions through the streets to the accompaniment of much loud brass-ware music. Some draw wagons or drive vehicles, blow horns or strum lutes, while waving to spectators at windows and singing well-known melodies or cutting capers in their gorgeously outlandish costumes. It is said, you could kiss any dame during the carnival period – for free! And it is also whispered that the most number of births in the cities occur at the end of the year!

 

Fräulein: Miss.

 

Gasse:  Alley.

 

Grüss Gott!:  Greetings! – applicable all through the day in the south.

 

Guten Tag:  Good Day. [ Guten Morgen – up to middayGuten Abend: Good evening! And  

                     Gute Nacht: Good Night. ]

 

Hauptbahnhof:  Main railway station.

 

Hausgast:  Literally “house guest”, meaning a “living-in lover” in a more profound sense.

 

Heidelberg Tun:  A wine vat in the cellar of the Schloss (medieval site of a castle, now in ruins and dating mainly from the 17th Century) on the right bank of the Neckar river, overlooking the old university town centre. The wine barrel is noted for its enormous capacity: 58,124 gallons or 220,017 litres.

 

Herr Führer: Mr. Leader or Hitler.

 

Ich hab’ mein Herz in Heidelberg verloren,

     In einer lauen Sommernacht.

 

   : I lost my heart in Heidelberg

        On a soothing summer night.

 

Mein Herr: Literally “my mister”, equal perhaps to the (sometimes ironic) address: “Sir!” or “My Lord!” In any case, I should say it depends, as with the English equivalents, on who is addressing whom.

 

Mensa: The university canteen. One bought a ticket at the entrance by justifying the reduced rate with an authentic student card. The lowest priced ticket entitled one to a huge bowl of sizzling soup with all sorts of vegetables though not without an ample dose of cabbage and a variety of beans and potatoes with pieces of fatty meat chucked in. And a roll of bread to go with it all. It was a heavy meal which could last one through the day or even longer. 

 

Moksha: Sanskrit term signifying the ultimate release from the cycle of births and deaths in the transmigration of souls.

 

Morgen!  (for Gute Morgen!):  [Good] Morning.

 

PAP: Peoples Action Party, the only party in power in Singapore since 1959, that is, from six years before the island’s independence.

 

Piropos: Spanish word meaning the act of praising a woman for her looks (requebrar, lisonjear) is used here in the sense of teasing and flattering, common in the streets of Madrid where the adulation in public can easily turn to lewdly personal and intimate remarks, all of which is tolerated, but, in Germany, women take umbrage at such behaviour.

 

Rathaus:  Town Hall.

 

Sarongs/ kebayas/ cheongsams: Terms for dress worn by Malaysian and Singaporean Chinese women whether locally-born “Baba” or “Straits Chinese” or mainland Peoples Republic of China-Chinese.

 

Sauerkraut: Sour fermented cabbage.

 

  Schloss:  The Heidelberg Castle ensconced in the woods on the slopes overlooking   

  the old town centre, a major tourist German attraction, was begun as a regal

  residence in the reign of Prince Elector Ruprecht III (1398 – 1410). Opposite the

  Ruprecht residence, a Fountain Hall was added by P.E. Philipp (1476 –  

  1508). Later Prince Electors of the 16th & 17th centuries: Ottheinrich (1556 -1559)

  and Frederich IV (1583-1610) had two architecturally innovative buildings erected

  on the eastern and northern sides of the courtyard. The Westside “English

  Building” was raised by Friedrich V (1613-1619). The Castle was destroyed during

  the 30 Years’ War, but was rebuilt P.E. Karl Ludwig (1649-1680). Subsequently, the

  French – and a lightning bolt in 1764 -  reduced the Castle to rubble, despite the

  efforts of P.E. Karl Theodor of Schwetzingen in re-building the Castle. The

  dilapidated castle furnished the construction of Heidelberg houses with stones up till

  1800. Today, the courtyard and the interior Gothic premises serve as the lieux of

  open air musical festivals, banquets, theatrical performances, and classical concerts,

  with fireworks highlighting the Heidelberg Castle Festival in the summer.

 

  Schneider: Tailor.

 

Stadtbühne: Municipal theatre.

 

St. Peter’s Church: 15th Century church on the Friedrich-Ebert Anlage. (The Bohemian martyr Jerome of Prague nailed his thesis criticising the Papacy on its door.)

 

Studenten Prinz: A drinking-cum-eating place filled with memorabilia of student fraternity-life, a must for tourists and partying students, made famous by Sigmund Romberg’s musical, "The Student Prince in Heidelberg" (1924) and which the Hollywood technicolour film, "The Student Prince" (1954), with Edmund Purdom in the lead role, was made even more legendary through Mario Lanza's exhilarating tenor verve. The latter versions owe their source in the German operetta: "Alt-Heidelberg" which recounted the story of a prince who fell in love with a commoner during his student days in the old university town.

 

Studentenamt: Central office for student affairs and registration: the Bursar’s Office.

 

Studienbuch: Official student record notebook in which are noted the lectures and seminars every student attends during each semester and which has to be signed by the teachers and validated by the stamp of the student office.

 

tongkan:  Malay (Chinese origin) for moveable trapdoor in the bows of boats over hatches.

 

tongkang:  Malay (Chinese origin) for sea-going barges, used especially for transporting cargo from laden ships anchored off-shore.

 

Tschüss: Ciao!

 

Uni-Platz or Universitäts-Platz: Literally, University Place. Short form for the open cobbled entrance or plaza to the University, sometimes turned into a Sunday market, between the Plöck and the Hauptstrasse, and bounded by the Rektorat and administrative buildings – housing the Ausländeramt and the University Library - on Grabengasse,  and the new university’s main buildings with its lecture halls and inner arboured quadrangle.

 

Universität von Heidelberg, i.e., Ruprecht-Karls-Universität: The oldest university in Germany, founded in 1386. Originally established as a Roman Catholic institution, it became a Protestant centre during the Reformation, but, since 1652, after the “Thirty Years’ War”, it has remained a secular institution of great renown, and through whose portals have marched a great many foreigners, including some who have made it big.

 

Universitäts-Kliniken: University teaching hospital.

 

Vaterland (or Mutterland): Motherland, “Vater” meaning “father” and “Mutter” meaning “mother”.

 

Vielen Dank!  Many thanks.

 

Würst:  Sausage, the Frankfurter sort, thin and long and boiled that may be bought on wayside stands and served with equally long and spongy white bread and laced with either hot sauce or lavishly squirted mustard. The fried sort had to be sought mostly at indoor take-away restaurants.

 

 

              © T.Wignesan 2004 - 05  -  Paris, France                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

===================================================================

 

Text Box: Edited, Composed & Published in Paris, France

           By T. Wignesan
                      for Centre de Recherches sur les Etudes Asiatiques,
                             B. P. 90145,
                             94004 Créteil Cedex,
                             France
               
         On April 5, 2005

         © T. Wignesan 2005

         ISSN 1298-0358
         Association n° 0941011951


Web URL:      http://stateless.freehosting.net/menupage.htm



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