Ricardo woke abruptly that night, perhaps because of the scraps of noise coming through the barely-open window – music, drunken singing, the stirring voices of the television announcers – they all seemed to come from the depths of the rear courtyard. Perhaps, too, because he felt that something was suddenly different, unknown, unreal. In the dark, he reached out for the light switch on his night stand.
This had been a requirement when his mother gave him the room: Yes, he would sleep alone, but he needed a light to save him from the ghosts and terrible faces that plagued him in his dreams; a push of his finger would make them all fade away.
He had been shooed away a number of times already from the room he had shared with Karla, his mother. He had slept for one or two nights on the couch with Mr. Knippel, his teddy bear, in his arms. Mr. Knippel had kept watch over him, kept him safe.
This time Karla had planned further ahead; he was finally to have his own room. She transformed the second room of the apartment with a love seat, a colorful sofa which was an improvement on the other furniture in the living room.
Ricky crawled out of the big bed to go to the toilet. “Whenever you wake up,” Karla had told him, “go straight to the potty, and then you won’t wet yourself!”
He left the door open a crack so that he wouldn’t have to turn on the hallway light and disturb his mother.
He turned the key, sat up on the toilet and realized that other people in the building must still be awake. The old pipes were making a lot of noise, like they did on Monday nights when the feature film on TV was over. There weren’t more than eight parties living in the wing at the back of the courtyard, such that he could even tell who was flushing at that particular moment. But something else had suddenly occurred to him: Streaks of flashing blue light came from behind the glass pane of the living room door . . . Were Mommy and her new friend Semmy still watching TV?
As he tiptoed back through the hall, he carefully turned the door handle to the living room. The television was on, but he didn’t see anybody; the love seat that converts to a double bed hadn’t even been made yet. He opened the door still further and peered into the room. He saw a slipper, a foot belonging to the slipper, a leg …
Semmy was sound asleep on the corner sofa. A thin string of saliva ran down the corner of his mouth into his goatee; the tall man was scrunched up like a rag doll, his lips open and he was whistling – that was one of the peculiarities Karla liked to tease him about: “You can’t even snore properly, you whistle!” she’d say.
Karla was a person who didn’t let anyone walk over her; whoever slept with her would be vetted and his weaknesses revealed so he wouldn’t get too boastful. Ricky looked at the TV screen, but it was boring, not a detective story, not even a fairy tale; just people running through the streets. But where was Mommy? Perhaps she had gone to the neighbor’s to get a bottle of beer for Semmy?
Ricardo climbed back into the big bed, yawned and then laid Mr. Knippel beside him on the pillow and instructed him, “You keep a good watch!” The teddy bear looked at him reproachfully.
Ricardo fell asleep and dreamt he was alone in a submarine as it floated through the depths of the sea. Saw-toothed fish glided past the porthole. Suddenly an octopus appeared, which oddly enough had two tusks, like an elephant, and Ricky noticed that it had attached itself to the boat and was trying to shatter the window with one of its tusks. The porthole splintered, Ricky cried out, woke up, looked around in terror, felt for the light switch . . .
Yes, he was safe. He was back on dry land. Outside people were yelling and for a second time Ricky heard something crash and break; somebody was throwing bottles out a window. Most likely it was the mute man on the fourth floor in his apartment getting drunk; he had been gone for so long, but had been back now for a week since the amnesty for political prisoners.
Ricky was awake, so he went to the toilet again; he wouldn’t pee in his pants tonight! He couldn’t take constant scolding anymore: “Come on, you’ll be going to school next year, how long do you intend to keep wetting your bed?”
With some difficulty he climbed up on the toilet seat, got himself situated and let loose the piss water.
The television picture was still streaking chalk-white and bluish behind the living room door. This time Ricardo didn’t have to open the door, it was standing open. The room was empty. He was alone.
Ricky went into the darkened kitchen, reached up and turned on the light there, too. Nobody! He put the chair in front of the window sill, climbed up, and looked out into the night. There were still five or six windows lit up in the front of the building and the side wing, one was wide open; he could hear singing, the voices seemed to be supporting each other: “Such a day, a beautiful day like today … ”
Maybe Karla and Semmy were there?
Ricardo was clever, but he was also easily frightened. Had they all left him? Would he have to live alone in the future? His mother sometimes cried out angrily, “I’m fed up with both of you, up to here!” And she held her flat hand above her head and declared, “One day I’m getting out of here. I want to live!”
He began to cry. Still in his sky-blue pajamas, he crouched in front of the toilet door and cried and cried because nobody was there.
Somebody was speaking.
Ricky wiped his nose with his sleeve and looked into the living room. Somebody was speaking on the television, words which Ricky did not understand. Ricky sat down on the sofa. The image changed and showed something that he recognized.
That was the Wall. He had already been there with the oldest group from the kindergarten. And that was the Brandenburg Gate. Strangely, the Wall was standing in front of the gate, not behind it. He knew the Gate only from one side.
Ricky had never seen the Wall close up. It was painted all different colors! Were they allowed to do that? The craziest thing of all, though, was that there were people all over it. The people sat on the top of the Wall, drinking, laughing, and singing. Ricardo sat in front of the television and, with his mouth wide open, stared motionlessly at the gathering.
Then all of a sudden, he saw his mother.
Karla was a beautiful mother. The men stared after her when she picked Ricardo up from kindergarten, and walked down the street with her hips swinging, a cigarette between the middle and ring fingers of her left hand, Ricky on her right.
She colored her permed hair blond with black and grey tips: It flowed like a lion’s mane from her head. She wore her black leather jacket, which was wide at the shoulders and narrow at the hips. The jacket emphasized her narrow waist and small round backside, which was just barely covered by her short jeans skirt.
Long legs in high heels, she walked beside him along the streets and let Ricardo tell her about his day, yawned and said, “Do you know what can save us, Ricky? Only a damned millionaire can save us. He stops in his big car and says, ‘Miss Karla? Master Ricky? Would you like to go with me to Hollywood?’ Instead of that we’re living here in Honniwood. Honniwood is shit, but Hollywood is super, Ricky!”
Ricky was proud of his clever mother.
On the TV screen he saw her standing proudly next to a tall young man who looked just like Don Johnson. He was drinking from a champagne bottle. Now he was offering Karla the flask; she tilted her head back and took a swallow – you could see her Adam’s apple bobbing. Then she suddenly discovered the camera directed at her and waved.
Ricardo understood that she was waving at him. Instantly he was comforted. Karla was still around and thinking about him.
He glanced at the empty love seat and thought, Semmi is there too, I’m sure! He returned to his room, laid his teddy bear in position for a second time and instructed him, “You’ll be sorry if you don’t keep a good watch!”
He climbed up onto the bed. But he didn’t lie down. Why shouldn’t he visit his mother now, there, at the Wall?
He found his socks under the bed and pulled them on with difficulty. And without taking off his pajamas, he climbed into his suspendered pants and pulled his sweater over his ears.
His ski jacket was hanging in the hall on the coat rack. Ricky knew how to do things for himself. He took the broom from behind the kitchen door. He could get the jacket down with its help. He slipped into it. The only thing he couldn’t do was zip it up. Either his mother or Aunt Gerda from the kindergarten usually zipped him up. So instead of that he found a long scarf on the chair and wrapped it around his middle. He already knew how to tie his shoes, so he tied the scarf the same way, with a bow. And then he opened the door, turned abruptly around again and went into his bedroom.
“Wake up, you sleepyhead!” he said to Mr. Knippel. It would be nicer if they went together. He took his teddy bear in his arm and left the apartment. He pulled the door shut, locking it, and climbed down the steep steps, holding on securely to the railing. The only place the railing was missing was on the ground floor, so with his feet together he jumped down the five steps, step by step.
The main door was standing wide open as usual; the pane of glass was broken. It wasn’t even cold outside. He ran down the street that led to the kindergarten, to the corner of Prenzlauer Avenue. And from there, Ricardo knew, he had only to walk straight down the street, on and on. It was a long way. On the way he met many people, but they didn’t speak to him or ask where he was headed. He crossed Moll Street, walked alongside the stores which his mother called “New Delhi,” past the Market Hall, to the Palace Hotel, and on to the cathedral. He could already see it, the Brandenburg Gate. It was clearly recognizable against the dark sky, and Ricardo wasn’t sure if his mother would be happy to see him, but as for himself he would cling to her and press his head against her stomach, and then he would no longer be alone.
The number of people was increasing, most of them walking in his direction. An older couple looked down at him amused. The woman asked, “Where are you going then, little one?”
He answered, “My mother is there!” and pointed toward the wall, and the woman zipped up his coat and wrapped the scarf properly around him and said, “Tell her HI for us!” and waved.
He went on.
The barriers at the Brandenburg Gate were torn down, and the people were streaming through its pillared portals, and they were sitting by the dozens on the Wall, and now he could even hear them laughing and cheering and shouting.
He hesitated and stood a while in the swirling mass of people. Where was his mother? He would surely find her, he thought, if he could only get up on top.
But that wasn’t easy. When he stood in front of the Wall, he realized that it was very high, much higher than he could reach, and he already wanted to give up.
But down the way he suddenly noticed somebody who was leaning a ladder against the concrete, and he ran to him and climbed up after him, and when the young man was up on top and wanted to pull up his ladder, there stood Ricky and said, “I want to get to my mommy!”
The man laughed and pulled him up and Ricky saw with amazement how wide the wall was up here.
At that moment Karla, the beautiful Karla, was standing with that tall young Don Johnson lookalike who had offered her the champagne, by a tree in the Tiergarten. She was overjoyed that now, if she only wanted to, she could travel to Hollywood and to Singapore or Thailand, or wherever else the sun shone for sixteen hours a day. When she thought of the gas flames which would be waiting for her at the NARVA plant in a few hours to melt the light-bulb globes, she thought, you can kiss my ass. The only thing I’ve got planned for tomorrow is to take Ricky to kindergarten and then I’m going to crash. I’ll throw Semmy out, he’s probably still sitting in front of the television. Right now, I’m going to lay this guy right here, maybe we’ll have a thing, he says he’s from Siemensstadt, an engineer, better an engineer than a damn millionaire or that stupid Semmy. How did I ever wind up with him?
She kissed the stranger and devoured his tongue, pressing herself up against him. She felt as light as a feather; she shoved her hands into his pants and dug her finger nails into his rear-end and felt how excited he was and how the air was being forced from his lungs.
Ricardo was still looking for his mother. He climbed over people who were lying in each other’s arms, squeezed between those who were drinking, cheering or who simply remained silent. He came to a point where the floodlights no longer could reach and turned around again.
He had to get by a gang of skinheads who were passing around a bottle and howling at the same time. As he took a step, standing on the edge of the wall, one of the drunkards was winding up the bottle to throw it away. One of the others, sitting across from him, cried out. The last thing Ricky felt were his legs being knocked out from under him and falling.
Ricardo had an unlucky fall. He hit his head on the extended base of the wall. The cause of death was a broken fifth vertebra.
He was found on the morning of the 10th of November 1989. Next to him lay Mr. Knippel, who stared reproachfully into the sky. And that is the story of Ricardo Schneider, formerly of Winstrasse 127, Berlin 1055.
From the anthology WAHNSINN! Geschichten vom Umbruch in der DDR. Ed. Abraham/Gorschenek. © Ravensburger Buchverlag Otto Maier GmbH, 1990.