‘”You’ve done a splendid job. But I just can’t stop thinking about the reason I came here in the first place, and it wasn’t to see the sights.”’
Extract taken from Secrets She Kept
By Cathy Golke
Published by Muddy Pearl
I set my jaw, refusing to look back. I wasn’t leaving forever, just for now, for me. I promised to write.
The plane – my first plane ride ever – bumped all the way to New York. Courage waned as my breakfast came very close to revisiting my mouth. But I couldn’t go home or back to Aunt
Lavinia, not until I found some answers.
For two hours I wandered JFK’s eclectic airport shops, discovering scarves and sweatshirts and coffee mugs all touting the Big Apple – a world as surely foreign to a Southern girl as Berlin. Boarding took another hour, but at last we pushed back and taxied to the runway. I sat back, closed my eyes, chewed my Doublemint, and felt the world fall away.
I changed planes in Munich. It was late morning when my plane taxied to the gate in Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport. The little German I’d gleaned from an English-German dictionary on the plane through the night did not help much through customs.
Weary and bleary-eyed, I finally stood in the middle of a terminal aisle, doing my best to read signs and thumbing through the book for inspiration.
‘Fräulein Sterling?’ A silver-haired gentleman of perhaps fifty-five spoke softly.
‘Mr – Herr Eberhardt?’
‘Ja, very good, Fräulein.’ He smiled.
‘Oh, I’m so glad to meet you. How did you know who I was?’
He gestured towards my dictionary, then glanced around the terminal.
No one else looks so green or lost. I didn’t know whether I should be miffed that he’d pointed out my inability to blend in or show my relief at being rescued. I felt very much like Alice having fallen down a rabbit hole. ‘Thank you for meeting me.’
‘You must be greatly fatigued from your journey. Allow me.’
He lifted my hand luggage bag from my shoulder – a weight gladly released – and grasped the heavy suitcase whose contents had been rummaged through and turned upside down in customs.
Gratefully, I trailed after him through a maze of corridors, out the door, into a frigid German morning and to a waiting Mercedes.
Carl Schmidt waited by his car for me the next morning, ready for a tour. But I bore no stomach for touring Berlin, no matter his insistence and unadulterated enthusiasm for ‘the city’s world-renowned Tiergarten, boasting animals in as near their natural habitats as possible’.
A respectful audience, I nodded at the loveliness of the pond he pointed to, listening only with my face. All the while my brain conjured pictures of concentration camps and Jews being shamed and beaten, worked to death and gassed – by someone who might have been my father…
‘And the hip bone is connected to the leg bone, and the leg bone is connected to the ankle bone, and they’re all connected to the eye socket. Wouldn’t you agree?’
‘What? Oh, yes, yes, of course.’
Carl stopped in the middle of the Tiergarten path. ‘You’ve not heard a thing I’ve said.’
‘Of course I have. I’ve heard …’ I stopped too. Those raised eyebrows again.
‘I don’t usually have such a poor effect on my clients, especially my female clients.’ His smile disarmed me.
‘I’m sorry. I’m really not very good company today, Carl. Maybe you should take me back to my grandfather’s.’
‘And lose my employment? I’m under strict orders to help you discover Berlin as the most fascinating city on earth.’
‘You’ve done a splendid job. But I just can’t stop thinking about the reason I came here in the first place, and it wasn’t to see the sights.’
‘Ah, your family.’
I closed my eyes. Why couldn’t the world just go away?
Secrets She Kept by Cathy Golke is published by Muddy Pearl, priced £14.99.
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