This is the fifth part of a fiction serial, in 1290 words.
Christmas had been very quiet. Mummy explained that there would be no toys, as there was nothing to buy in the shops. She managed to get us both some knitted hats and mittens, which I suspected someone had knitted from old wool. Dinner on Christmas Eve was some roasted horse-meat and potatoes. It seemed like a banquet to us, even though there was nothing sweet later. We had started to get a coal allowance too, so we were warm at least.
Some of the soldiers had started to return. Mostly, they were the ones who had surrendered to the British and Americans. In many cases, they discovered that their wives and children had been killed, or that their former homes were no longer standing. There was little work for them to come home to, and most began to hang around on street corners. But not for long, as they were soon conscripted into labour gangs, or in some cases, allowed to join the police. On our street, many wives were upset when their men didn’t come home. Those who had been very keen Party members or had served in SS units had been detained longer, for questioning, or had already been jailed awaiting trial.
Mummy found out all this from working in her new job with the housing office. She had to help allocate accommodation to resettled families, once the availability of habitable homes had been checked by the workers in the green overalls. She would often come home very upset, because of all the arguments she had to have with people. Those who had once had some sort of power under the Nazis were now at the bottom of the pile. They could no longer continue as teachers, or government employees. Their homes were divided into rooms, and others allowed to go and live in them. There was a new scheme for training teachers who had never had experience before the war. Inge said Mummy should ask to become a teacher. “You could be my class teacher one day, Mummy, and be kind to me”.
I never knew whether or not she had thought about what Inge said, but she stayed with her job at the Housing Authority, and not long after was promoted to section manager. One day, I saw a new badge on her coat, and asked her what it meant. “I have joined the Socialist Unity Party, Manfred. They are going to be running things here now, and it will be good to get involved. It will also help with my job, and hopefully mean good things for us later as a family”.
Germany had already seen enough of what happened when political parties were running things, I thought. But I just nodded.
With the return of the soldiers, crime began to start up once more. During the war, the Black Market men had been arrested and executed, and once the Russians were patrolling, there was hardly ever any mention of crime. But now people were complaining of burglaries, theft of food, even women being grabbed on the street, and their shopping stolen. The Black Market gangs started up worse than before, with them controlling the supply of some medicines, and selling luxuries smuggled in from the American Sector. Mummy said that if I saw any of them, I was to tell her where they were, and she would inform the authorities. “When you are older, you should join the Police, Manfred. A good boy like you would make a fine policeman”.
I started to think about that a lot.
It had never occurred to me that anyone would not like Mummy because of her job, or because she hated the Black Market men. But they did. At school, older boys tried to bully me, saying that Mummy was a Communist, and working for the Russians. I got in so many fights that spring, Fraulein Weiss kept me behind one afternoon to tell me to be better behaved. “I expect more of you, Manfred. Your mother is such a good example. You should be more like her, stick to your studies, and ignore the ignorant boys”. I wanted her to like me. “I am going to join the Police, miss. As soon as I am old enough”. She nodded. “That’s an excellent idea. I will hold you to that, and remind you”.
Not long after my eleventh birthday, an idea started to grow in my head. I could keep an eye on those Black Market men. I knew where they operated, in the back alleys and ruins that I walked past on my way home from school with Inge. If I went there at the weekend, I could see what they were selling, and who was buying. Perhaps write down the names of those I knew from the neighbourhood. Mummy could pass on the information, and she would surely be pleased with me. And Fraulein Weiss would be happy too, that I was starting my job as a police detective already.
That Sunday morning, I got up early, and headed for a place where I had seen the gangsters hanging around. Many still wore their Army greatcoats, the only decent overcoats they had. But the bosses were in smart suits, and wearing wide-brimmed hats, looking like Americans. They had old suitcases open in front of them, and a long row of people stood examining the contents, often trying to exchange things for what they wanted. Money was almost useless now, and the old wartime money had no value at all. People used the Nazi notes to start fires in their houses. I sauntered past the rows of suitcases, trying to appear interested. One of them was full of chocolate bars, and in another there were bottles of spirit, maybe whisky.
“What you after, young man?” I turned to see who was talking to me. He looked almost foreign, with swarthy skin, and oily black hair. But his German was perfect, though there was a slight accent that I couldn’t place. I shrugged. “Got no money, or nothing to exchange”. He put his arm around me and I moved back, as I didn’t like that he smelled of perfume. He waved the hat he was holding, indicating the goods on display. “Why don’t you choose what you want, then I will tell you how you can work for me to pay for it? How about that? A good deal, yes?” I shrugged again, but he saw me eyeing the chocolate.
Grabbing a cardboard box, he put six bars into it, then threw in a packet I didn’t recognise. He gave me a wink. “Good quality Yankee chocolate, the best. Hershey. And a pair of the finest nylon stockings for your sister. You got a sister?” I grinned. “She’s not even seven years old yet”. He stroked the packet as if it was made of velvet. “Well, a sweetheart maybe? Or a mother? Have you still got a mother boy?” I had never seen Mummy wearing such stockings, but nodded. He reached behind and threw another pair on top. “Okay then, because I like you. Two pairs”.
Folding the flaps closed so nobody could see what was in the box, he touched the side of his nose. “Not a word about where they came from now. Come back this afternoon, same place. I will tell you what you have to do, what the work is. Others will show you. Alright?” I nodded solemnly. “And don’t think about cheating me either. I can easy find out where you live. You wouldn’t want me coming to your house to visit your mum and little sister now, would you?”
As I set off for home clutching the box, I was feeling exited, and had a tingling in my belly.
Now, I was a gangster.