A Man Passes Through

By Jackie Thomae

Translation Deborah Langton

Translator’s Note:  ‘Momente der Klarheit’ has received high critical acclaim, and its promotion by Hanser to English language publishers will include this sample translation in English. This unromantic comedy about love presents a range of metropolitan characters united by the thread of relationships which start and fail. We meet Bender in this chosen extract from this ‘Episodenroman.’

 

                             I’m standing alone, I’m watching you all,
I’m seeing you sinking
‒ The Stone Roses

Fools’ inferno, thinks Bender, who’d long forgotten how to traverse a dance-floor without being trampled on and constantly jostled. It’s not so much people’s behaviour that amazes him but the time of day, so early for hysteria. Bender turns and faces the DJ console and could so easily say to the whey face behind it: if you’re playing B-sides of hits with a decade or so on you, you can’t have had an original set in years. Get hold of some rare stuff and play A-sides instead. And more than anything, you’ve got to know how to mix. But he doesn’t say anything and stands quite still in the dancing crowd. He’s really turned off by the long hair flicking him in the face even though it smells good. In the old days everything smelt of smoke, now it smells of people and perfumes. People smell stronger than perfumes. Hair, skin, breath, sweat, snatch. Bender’s surrounded by whooping and whistling, flailing arms and is surprised. Has this flip-side got anthem status thirty years on and without him realising? Dry ice and strobe lighting kick in. For a moment he thinks nothing’s actually changed. Then he sees a couple of blokes in suits and recognises them as his contemporaries and realises a few things have changed, after all. Two women in long dresses push past, saluting him with ‘Cooeee, Bender!’ ‘Evening’. The first one he’s seen naked, the second he’d really like to have seen naked way back when. She’s gripping a champagne bottle by the neck, waving it round so much she catches Bender a glancing blow on the chin. ‘Whoops.’ ‘No problem’. But it is a problem, you silly cow, but what can you do. Bender rubs his chin. Engelhardt’s ex, Isabel, is wearing a backless evening dress and standing so firm in the crowd that Bender has to get hold of her shoulders and push her to one side to get through. It occurs to him he hasn’t spotted Engelhardt himself at all. ‘Hello, Izzy, where’s the old bastard?’ No reaction from Isabel who carries on talking away at someone opposite. It’s far too early to behave like that, too.

It’s as if two dress-codes had been issued at the same time. Come as you are and Black Tie. La Grande Bellezza, thinks Bender, as glitter rains down from the ceiling, best disco scene ever. The guy from the movie is pushing 65 so that makes us almost young. He walks stoically on through the glitter shower, letting himself get pushed around and messed up. The suit needs dry-cleaning, in any case, and gin and tonic doesn’t stain.

When he’s on his second visit to the gents and asking himself what he’s actually doing here, two young women squeeze into the adjacent cubicle. He wonders fleetingly whether he should leave and come back later, and stays put. He can hear fumbling and giggling. The dividing wall stops short of the floor, he’s looking at a pair of shoes which leave him bemused at first glance and, at a second, no clearer. Rectangular pieces of wood, each with two blocks under the middle of the foot. Geisha girls wear shoes like this, Bender doesn’t know how he knows this and assumes that a geisha is a woman with pretty feet while the toes on this one are nothing more than lumps of bowed flesh with toenails planted somehow in their midst, ending up like miniature windows, all a bit skew-whiff. The other woman’s wearing black boots which, if these women were of any interest at all, old Bender could go with. He forces himself away from their feet, stares at his shoes, folds his arms, and waits.

‘So what’s up afterwards, then?’

‘Lachner’s girlfriend and someone or other are having a joint ninetieth.’

‘Is that two or three people?’

‘Good question. Two, I reckon.’

‘Jeez, they’re all so bloody old…’

Bender raises his eyebrows.

‘Come on! Frankie’s knocking 40.’

Bender nods. In amusement.

‘It’s quite different for guys.’

Ralf Bender, 48, notes his sense of relief.

‘Shall we go by bike?’

Bender looks at the geisha shoes again. Those little lumps of flesh were moving as if they were actually doing the voices. Grotesque. The toilet flushes, the woman talks over it.

‘The old one on the bar thinks she’s Madonna.’

On the bar. Bender pauses for thought. At the bar, surely?

‘God, yeah, really bad. Doesn’t get it.’

Something metallic falls on the tiles.

‘Saddo.’

‘Sad ‘n’ menopausal.’

Giggling, snorting, coughing. The flusher goes again. Zips go up, the door next to his opens, heels go clopping away. Bender sits down on the closed toilet-seat.

‘Cooeee.’ A moon face peers over the partition wall. It’s crowned by a top-knot positioned so centrally to the head that Bender can’t help thinking first of an apple, then of William Tell, and then of William S Burroughs, who shot his wife in error during a drunken attempt to re-enact William Tell. The face is chewing gum and giving him a hard look, cheeky with it.

‘Hi,’ says Bender. He’s not going to apologise for being a man in the men’s toilets. Moon Face nods knowingly. That’s bloody cheeky, too, he thinks to himself.

‘Everything all right with you?’ asks Bender.

Moon Face’s eyes take in every inch of the cubicle and linger on the cistern. There’s Bender’s Lufthansa credit card, expired.

‘Everything’s cool, thanks.’ Bender hadn’t expected anything different. He holds her gaze. He’d like to let this prying kid know just who he is. Only then would he be able to do a bit of what you might call a chat-up. In Bender’s case this is only a minimal deviation from his usual behaviour, noticed only by very few women and thus on Bender’s terms. He doesn’t like it all flowery, he likes it targeted. And, of late, extremely infrequently. If we’re talking about the one with bare feet stuck into clattering geisha platforms then even the most casual of chat-ups would barely get off the ground.

‘Serafina?’ Her friend’s calling her. Moon Face winks at him and vanishes.

Behind the bar two girls are moving fast and ineffectively. Bender doesn’t feel like elbowing his way through so just waits. He wants a beer because he doesn’t like getting a short measure of vodka drowned by a bucket of tonic in which he’d find swimming a mucky, pesticide-packed slice of lemon, just like the one being sawn off with a blunt knife by one of the girls.

Bender’s attempt at a bit of a high in the gents had given him what he describes privately as a Pinocchio Effect. His mind’s in overdrive and actually watching itself thinking. He nods imperceptibly at a few familiar faces and imagines the conversations. Yeah, things are great. It’ll be out soon. Or else, it’s in the can. Let me congratulate you. Thanks. How about you? You really must come to our place sometime. Right, yeah, when the weather’s better. Or then again: bought a boat, done a marathon, got a decent osteopath at last, so-and-so’s moved to New York. Jack and Jill have split, the project’s live, the kids are growing up all the time, house move in the cards, taxes stressing me out. Next! Giving up: my car, carbohydrates, cholesterol, nicotine, drugs.

Tonight’s the night we give up giving up. Focused, justifiable excess in honour of Engelhardt. But still Bender doesn’t feel like talking.

Not even with Reza, who pushes through near him and says hi. He was once Engelhardt’s producer and isn’t anymore. Bender doesn’t know the details and doesn’t want to hear them. Viktor comes over with a big bear-hug for Reza. Their combined joy is so over the top you’d think they hadn’t seen each other for decades. Bender indulges them even though their mood couldn’t be more different from his. He would hate anyone touching him right now.

Two women in their early twenties slide in between Bender and the bar. Girls’ night. He finds himself looking at yet another top-knot and a mouse-coloured mushroom-cut adorning a closely shaved nape. Bender darkly remembers a time when a shaven nape could drive him crazy. Provided there was make-up, ear-rings, no horn-rimmed spectacles. Bender misses for a second time his chance of a beer. The girls push through again, leaving him there, and two six-foot young guys block his line of vision. He stays fixed and immovable in a growing wave of youth, feels a bit isolated but not bad about it. He can’t remember ever being invited as a twenty-something to a fortieth.

Engelhardt hasn’t had a woman to snuggle up to lately, nor even a woman who could’ve helped him stage something with a bit of style. And so Engelhardt, understandably not wanting to turn forty alone, had revived his natural raver bent and invited old friends, each ‘plus one,’ for a general tipple, plus a busload of ‘yoof’ for a booze-up. The party differs from the average club night in only one respect, and that’s the table at the entrance for presents. Bender’s contribution is an excellent single malt for which he doubts sufficient reverence will be shown. He’d love a slug of it right now.

He orders a scotch but the girl behind the bar can only start on it after studying the labels on all the bottles, pouring the measure into a schnapps glass, then tipping it over a mountain of ice-cubes which Bender pointedly picks out again and piles up on the counter. Beer and non-alcoholic stuff was on Engelhardt, Bender pays for his whisky and tips the bar girl generously just to confuse her, something which he actually fails to do.

A female chum of Doro, his girlfriend, warmly puts her arms round him. Bender puts his Pinocchio arm round her shoulder and nods minimally.

‘Soooo?’ says Ariane, putting the ball into Bender’s court, a man who never says ‘So?’ but does now. Then he does a fair bit of nodding, even though he can’t hear a word, whereupon she laughs and gives him the thumbs up. Nodding’s good, Ariane’s gorgeous.

Now a young woman joins them, looking around in a bad mood. Bender’s just wondering whether Ariane goes round with younger girls now when he remembers she’d had a baby well before any of the others did. He adds about eighteen to 1996 and hits present day. Yeah, that fits. He doesn’t recall the baby as a baby but he does recall the baby as an issue. She’s got protruding ears which stick out from beneath her long, sleek hair, green eyes set wide apart, a fixed expression of complete disdain on dark-red lips. Ariane and a photographer, whose name must have been known at the time but which Bender can’t now call to mind, brought into the world a mythical creature who seems as at odds with this party as he is.

Ariane hands her daughter a drink, Bender raises his beer, they chink glasses but the girl remains motionless. Bender wonders whether she thinks it’s passé to do cheers or whether she’s just never come across this ritual before. She’s wearing an asymmetrical black dress that Bender would have recommended for a middle-aged woman with an art gallery. She just doesn’t want to look like her mother, that’s normal, he thinks tolerantly. He hopes Ariane isn’t going to force a conversation across the generations because the girl is sending out disdain in unsettling waves. And anyway, converse about what? School? Ariane starts to dance, her daughter sits herself on a bar-stool and looks bored. Bender’s jostled by his lawyer who’s letting his girlfriend pull him through the crowd. Clemens waves to him, looks the girl up and down, then glances back at Bender and vanishes into the throng. Bender wonders how people would take it if he really was with a sixth-former. When the girl smiles at him with good grace, he smiles back in relief but is annoyed at himself for doing it. Since when has he let a young kid make him look a real tosser? Obviously since this very moment.

Slap her, someone, thinks Bender, and says, ‘Another drink?’

‘I’m OK, thanks,’ she says, and addresses her mother’s ear.

Ariane shakes her head and poises her finger close to her self-satisfied child’s nose. Looks like a ruling’s on its way. But what about?

Perhaps the child wants to go to bed and isn’t allowed to. Ariane draws Bender’s ear down towards her mouth: ‘Party….Neukölln area…no chance,’ is all he gets. ‘No way!’ Ariane speaks forcefully and, quite superfluously, repeats it as he soothes his ear and looks at the girl whose composure has collapsed and is now almost in tears. There you go, thinks Bender. Neukölln will just have to get along without you. He’d always had enough cash not to have to live in Neukölln. And now he was no longer of an age to have to go with the hype. No bad thing in the case of Neukölln.

He reflects on his own situation. Even he had always kept on the move through the city, trying to find a better place to be. But without his mother. It’d been good and was now long behind him. Now this lot are all at it, too. Make something of your lives, pack in this backward-looking retro crap and for once come up with something new to shock us, the guys who once did all the shocking. With a sigh he interrupts his private rant about the zeitgeist, caught in the act by Ariane’s daughter as she scrutinises him with a yawn.

A DJ from another era, but apparently still in service, is dragging a case of records towards the dance floor and pulling another one on wheels. Old guy goes on holiday. His lived-in face briefly acknowledges Bender. The nameless child, still perched mournfully at the bar, studies her black nail varnish. Kids want to party without their parents, never mind how their parents do it, thinks Bender, believing for a moment he’s really got something there.

By the time he’s back from the third toilet trip he’s had two brief conversations and one attempt at dancing. He tilts awkwardly back and forth on the dance-floor, keeps a half-hearted lookout for Doro and decides that for Stone Roses it’s better just to sit and jig.

The weathered-looking DJ puts a schnapps glass right under his nose, Bender drinks with him and enjoys the shared silence while staring at the dance-floor as they might the sea. ‘This lot are on a different planet,’ says the DJ down his ear, quite differently from Ariane, so that it’s comprehensible and doesn’t hurt. The DJ nods towards the crowd. ‘I can’t tell whether they’re feeling good or about to kick off.’ He gestures towards the people dancing in front of them but Bender doesn’t see anything he hasn’t already worked out for himself. ‘No idea what they’re on,’ comments the DJ whose suave fragrance didn’t suit his shabby look. Bender just shrugs. So what are they supposed to be on? Recreational chemicals? Prescription stuff? So what’s new? He’s not just too idle to ask, he doesn’t set any store by the old guy’s theories, either. Bender doesn’t like conversations about drugs, they bore him and insinuate a use that’s nobody’s business. ‘One thing’s for definite, their vibes are totally different from what ours used to be. They switch from being complete Neanderthals one minute to touchy-feely hippies the next. Totally weird.’

The DJ points out examples of what he means but Bender can’t see why he’s so puzzled by it all, had always thought he was the weirdo but just nods in agreement. His innards thud in time to the reverberation off the bass, at least the sound system’s good. One man’s practically licking his girlfriend’s shoulder off, a good-looking woman’s so off the beat she looks brain-damaged and two guys dancing at her are pushing away two women who move really well but are neither tall nor blond. Nothing indicates a new aspect of drug use. Maybe it’s nothing more than a few beers, maybe even nothing at all. A matted youth takes a mouthful of water from a bottle and lets it trickle into the mouth of an elaborately tattooed woman. ‘And,’ shouts the DJ, pointing into the crowd again, ‘they don’t even get pissed anymore.’ Bollocks to that, thinks Bender. People’ll always get pissed. Giving the old veteran a friendly pat on the shoulder, he moves on.

Less wooden now but far from being the vibrant soul of the party, Bender goes up to the bar again and orders another whisky. Ariane’s daughter has meanwhile become engrossed in a conversation with Viktor and Reza and they look like three adults having a serious discussion. The men’s faces, particularly Viktor’s, are glowing with interest. When Reza wants to introduce Bender to the girl, she just looks dismissive. What’s that supposed to mean, Bender wonders. That she already knows me? That I’m a friend of her mother’s and that means I’m old? Uncool by nature? Do people still say uncool? Bender laughs to himself, looking bemused.

Next to him, Viktor’s wife, Natalie, attempts to order a tea and is greeted by the bar-girl with obdurate incomprehension. ‘This lot can’t speak German,’ calls Reza who seems to know the place. You can understand ‘tea’, thinks Bender, if you know any English, French, Spanish or anything else. ‘Detox,’ shouts Natalie. ‘Great,’ says Bender and decides to leave but, instead of moving towards the exit, he lets the crowd suck him back into the throng.

The music has switched to minimal techno and then slipped into disco classics. The dancers look forced, like at a company do. Balloons float around, no thanks. What’s going on here? People alive in 2014 are sending up the people who rediscovered the seventies in the mid-nineties? No, that’s not it. It’s uninspired, purely and simply. Bender breaks off, knowing he’ll end up going round and round on his eternal monologue and boring himself the while. Anyone who knows Bender knows all about this, and Doro best of all, Doro the world’s most patient woman. Where is she, anyway?

Bender makes his way back to the bar like a neurotic tiger. The man who always does the photography at these gigs says hi and stands next to him. Then he asks Bender, oh so politely, if he could just move aside and he takes a photo of Ariane’s daughter, framed by Viktor and Reza. She still doesn’t know that one day she’ll recollect all these nights as a single blur of high points and shit mornings-after but she does know for a photo you have to suck in your cheeks, lower your chin a bit, and fix your gaze just above the camera. Only her chubby face stands between her and her modelling career.

Bender’s done his duty at Engelhardt’s party, yeah, and the rest, quite by contrast with Engelhardt himself, who is still nowhere to be seen, definitely his problem and not Bender’s, Bender who now plans to move on without farewells. Bender’s just deciding he really does want to find Doro now, when there’s a load of whooping and whistling at the other end of the bar. A diminutive figure in a cat-suit is climbing up onto the actual counter and then whistles through her fingers. With pride, Bender ogles her perfectly shaped little backside as she bends over to pull Ariane up there beside her. OK, one more performance, then we’re going, thinks Bender, in a better mood now and waves his empty glass at the girl behind the bar. She gives an apologetic shrug and nods towards Ariane and Doro. This act is not be interrupted by bar service. Nor by Bender, who has been with Doro for almost ten years, Doro who sometimes writes her name as D’Oro but Bender’s talked her out of that, as well as the equally fictitious and outdated surname of Sapporo. D’Oro Sapporo, alias Dorothea Conrady, is a brilliant mover. It had been her moves that had first attracted Bender. It hadn’t been obvious to him that he’d been looking for a woman who could lift his mood but the first time he’d seen her she’d released something in him, something which felt so good and exhilarating that he had to have it. He wanted Doro’s effortlessness and, contrary to the received wisdom about finding true love, got it without any prolonged struggles or need for self-promotion. Bender had seen her, made her laugh, taken her home, and turned them into an item overnight.

Bender switches back to the present. Bar service has been resumed, Doro and Ariane seem to be dancing in a parallel universe. This party is so dysfunctional that even the ancient concept of dancing on the table doesn’t lift the atmosphere. Anyway, at least Engelhardt’s turned up, his clapping and whooping making people near him do the same for a bit. Lame bunch, thinks Bender, let’s get out of here. He sees Engelhardt leaning on his crutches again after his brief attempt at improving the atmosphere and wants to take back that thought. He’d completely forgotten that Engelhardt really is lame. Much more concerning is his overall state. Engelhardt the brute is barely recognisable. His temporary injury makes him look neither manly nor bold, and does not even look temporary. He looks as if he’s mislaid something really important, his mojo, thinks Bender, and searches for a word to describe Engelhardt’s new look. Non-descript? Just then Engelhardt looks over and throws him a V for victory. Poor bloke, good guy, Bender wants to go for a quiet meal with him some time soon. Then, as he looks into the charmless crowd, he finds himself thinking how they should be pumping it up some, too, just to get something going here. Even if only to show some respect to the guy, damn it, this is a sick man who wants to throw a party, so make it happen for him, will you? He looks up at the bar again. When Ariane goes down on her knees and Doro stands over her playing air guitar, her legs wide apart, he does begin to think this is a real case of less is more. He loves Doro’s demonstrative style, loves his woman being the centre of attention. But, hey, just not now. Stuff like this is out of place here. Doro should be able to see that. But instead she kicks a glass off the bar, oblivious of the disapproving looks she gets.

Bender gazes round the bar area and feels as if he knows nobody. Nearby, Ariane’s daughter must have cracked a good joke because Viktor and Reza are laughing. A really pissed older bloke of Bender’s vintage is trying to grope Doro and Ariane. Just stop this crap straight away, thinks Bender, as if he could be heard, as if he was in charge of the whole show. Someone’s eyes meet his. The moon-faced girl with the apple on her head is standing in a forest of waving arms and beaming. She’s smiling at him as if he’s found an ally amidst a bunch of lunatics. He feels a bit hit on and yet caught out and would really like to make it clear to her that she’s got things wrong. No, little girl, it’s not that occasions like this make me feel insecure, it’s much more that their pointlessness and absence of originality annoys me because Herr Bender is normally to be seen at events of a quite different calibre. He raises his whisky glass in her direction. Elder statesman, is that what he wants to be? Too late. She’s giving him a long look while her friend is shrieking something down her ear, then she grins at him and he attempts a smile. As she gestures with her chin towards the women dancing on the bar and raises her eyebrows in amusement, his mouth goes dry. He suddenly realises who she meant earlier on when she said that about the saddo woman on the bar, looks up once more at Doro and looks back at Moon Girl, now coolly winking at him while replying to her friend’s remarks.

He sees Doro in a different light. The light of this party. Doro is, and this is how it goes, knocking on a bit now. The unforgiving light she’s now dancing in shows up every year. Bender doesn’t know what money or time she spends on her looks but has always felt confident he was with an exceptionally ageless woman. It’s simply that she’s never changed her style, he’s thinking to himself, but she has actually aged. As he studies her well-formed profile, he notices in it for the first time a tiredness that suddenly makes him feel sad. Then she turns towards Bender and he feels a bit better because her public face is there again, shouting out ‘Word Up’. Her body, too. Perfectly proportioned, supple, petite.

He’d never been interested in what women thought of one another when together, why they would, in the same breath, fall out and yet call for greater solidarity, something which he’d always found laughable. Here at this bar he saw himself confronted for the first time with the thoughts of younger women about older women. Maybe this one’s just a complete bitch, wonders Bender and decides not to trouble himself with stuff like this in the future. Doro just needs to stop this nonsense and come with him immediately.

Frank Engelhardt makes dance moves on the spot and swings his crutches around over the heads of the crowd, his old self briefly shining through again. Engelhardt was once one of Doro’s admirers. Once. Dancing round him now are some women whose baggy coats, woollen hats and beer-bottles make them look like down and outs stamping around some makeshift brazier. Definitely not my type, thinks Bender, who feels as if he’s in a mass of identical people, the only one to stand out as remotely different. And then there’s this presumptuous top-knot girl still looking him up and down. She’s got the unfair advantage of knowing what her advantage is. At her age Bender hadn’t known that youth is priceless. He looks back and forth tennis-match style between the bored young women and the hyper older women and tears himself out of his musings. Don’t take it seriously, all this crap here. Bad party, grotty coke, daft people, through any minute, don’t give a shit. The problem isn’t Doro, Bender’s thinking, the problem is these kids here with their wannabe coolness, an unfavourable contrast with their own enthusiasm. Unfavourable for Doro. Bender’s gloom persists. Just as Doro really turns it on and makes like she’s had a massive electric shock, the Moon Girl is suddenly at the counter, swinging her body up onto it and starting to dance. To Bender it seems everybody’s staring at the girl in revealing hot pants and danceable boots and not at the geisha-girl flip-flops attached to the feet of the woman Engelhardt’s now allowing to unbutton his shirt.

Doro and Ariane seem pleased about their new joiner even though this statuesque girl reduces them to support act status. Doro now assumes her favourite facial expression of big eyes and a big pout. Bender, realising for the first time that she’s deliberately making a dumb blonde face, as plain dumb as in a silent movie or a circus act, is getting seriously annoyed. Ariane simply wants to act sexy and stay sexy and it looks like she’ll manage that, so good luck to her. Doro’s tactics are well past their sell-by and this bothers him hugely although he’d really known it already, just never seen it in action. To Bender’s chagrin it all stirs up a real storm in him now, as if he’s discovered her secret flaw now so publicly exposed. Bender looks in the bar mirror and then up at his girlfriend again. He recognises himself but he doesn’t recognise her anymore. It’s not that he sees a stranger, that would maybe be better, someone transient and absurd, like this event. Bender sees someone he was once close to and isn’t anymore. Someone he hasn’t seen for a long time and who has developed along a completely different path. An old acquaintance misbehaving. And because on top of this, he’s in a state where he can see his thoughts not as thoughts but as quotations, he sums it up like this: Doro is a big kid. It’s so intolerable for Bender to have this kind of insight at this event that he’d rather be blind and deaf right now. But instead he thumps on the bar and shows his empty glass to the two dumbos standing behind it.

Women over forty aren’t cute anymore except if, please God, they’re beautiful, concludes Bender, carrying on in aphorism mode and really wanting to paint his observation on a sign and hold it in front of Doro’s nose. He wants Doro to stop the pouting stuff and making an arse of herself in front of these kids, wants her to act her age, and, more than anything else, wants to be standing at a bar where he can get some decent bloody service. And who on earth is Doro’s exhibitionism supposed to be aimed at – looks like it’s not Bender, whose presence at the bar seems to have passed her by, no eye contact from her, no smile, instead just a woman wasting her efforts on a void, expending everything on nothing, there’s no other way of describing it. The whole thing’s so shattering he nearly forgets to draw the next breath.
Miss Moon jumps down from the bar amid general applause. Doro and Ariane have completely lost any rapport with the audience, who now treat them like go-go girls and not people to be celebrated. Bender’s just turning away when someone pulls at his sleeve.

‘Pear or plum?’

Reza’s leading a countdown like a teacher with kids on a trip. ‘Wait until the oldies are done,’ Ariane’s daughter advises him and gives him such a smug smile that Bender, who’d normally describe himself as a gentleman, decides that this would be just the perfect moment to give her a slap. One of those women up there that she’s taking the piss out of is her mother, OK, another disaster but fortunately not Bender’s. ‘Just let me through,’ he says and keeps reality and his imagination poles apart while he gently, but pointedly, eases the girl to one side. The word ‘through’ stops dead inside his head. Through, through, through. Let me through, you useless twerps. I’m through. And he shoves his way further towards the exit, feeling like the one sighted man amongst the blind.

When Bender steps out into the night, he feels somewhat appeased. He thinks about the veteran DJ and congratulates himself on his own choice of profession which will not require him as an old man to stand around in clubs. With every step closer to his car his mind regains more of its usual state. He’s going to leave the car where it is but it’s reassuring to see it. Hey, look. Under the wiper there’s a parking ticket which he rips up on the spot, suddenly angry again with everyone who makes his life difficult and in that moment that really is everybody, including the taxi-driver who ignores his outstretched arm. He’ll complain to his next fare about not getting enough fares Through. Bender sets off on foot, breathes in the clammy air and feels happy for a moment without really knowing why.

A couple of blocks later the wall divided the centre from Kreuzberg, loaded with history but no longer recognisable, and Bender takes a leak against a hoarding. He reads the brightly illuminated sign about the builders and the architects, the apartments advertising the view of the river – a river which is far more unspectacular than the sign lets on. As Bender reflectively does up his flies, a car pulls over next to him. Fine, thinks Bender as he gets in, a woman wants to give me a lift, that’s new and about bloody time.

‘So? It’s you, then?’ says Moon Face while she accelerates away. And as Bender starts to reply, something’s released inside him and everything which comes out, his stories, his opinions are, all of a sudden, exciting and new again.

 

© From Momente der Klarheit. Hanser Berlin im Carl Hanser Verlag München, 2015