This is the twelfth part of a fiction serial, in 1365 words.
It was all over. We now had a country that was no longer just Germany. Mama was ecstatic, and attended numerous celebrations. I found it all a bit much, and cited having to study as my reason for not accompanying her. No matter how many times she told me I would regret missing the parades and speeches, I remained unconvinced. Life was not that much easier than it had been last year, and shortages of everything was still the norm. We had issues with the new apartment too. Electrical problems, frequent power cuts, and those doors that I had suspected were hung wrong never did close properly. Mama said I shouldn’t complain. “Remember what it was like after forty-two, Manfred”.
She had a point. The last three years of the war had been horrible. At least there was no bombing, nobody was being killed, and the city was slowly returning to something like its old self. So what if some countries hated us?
We had our own allies now, and the strong backing of the Soviet Union. Mama was sure life would get much better, and I had to agree with her.
After my woodland liaison with Hannelore I calmed down a great deal, and stuck to my studies. I would be taking preliminary examinations next year, and hoped to do well enough to go to a good high school when I was sixteen. Inge was doing fine in Moscow, according to her letters, and she hoped to be able to visit us next year, when her gymnastics team was coming to do a big display. Mama was now home most evenings, and we settled down into an after-dinner routine where she would discuss things with me as an equal.
“When you are older, you should join the Party, Manfred. It will help you a lot in whatever career you decide to embark on. Of course, I have my contacts, but they only have so much influence”.
I supposed that the trauma of the war, losing her husband, and having to be used by a Russian soldier had all made her determined that such things should never happen again. She was putting her faith in this new order of things, and her trust in the Party to make life fair for all.
I wasn’t so sure. But I made the right noises, to keep her happy.
The year after I got back from summer camp passed by without too much change in our lives. Inge hadn’t been able to come home with the team, as she had some sort of contagious fever. Mama worried a lot of course, but one of her contacts spoke to one of his contacts, and assured her that Inge was just unwell, and receiving good treatment. He also made a vague promise about getting Mama a trip to Moscow some time soon.
Nothing came of that.
What nobody could fail to notice was that thousands of people had gone. Migration to the west was depleting the population rapidly. And the Socialist Party was losing face too, with some of the most important members expelled. Mama of course took the side of the hard-liners, and thought it had been good to inject some new blood into the membership. She was also very critical of those leaving, and one evening made a comment that I later had cause to remember very well. “They should be ashamed, Manfred. How are we to build a successful new country if so many want to go and live in the west? They should build a wall, or a high fence perhaps. Some sort of barrier. It will keep people safe here, and stop spies and suchlike”.
For someone who had spent her youth as a waitress, Mama had come on a long way indeed.
When my examination results were announced, I was very pleased. I had come in the top ten percent for English and Russian, and in History and German too. Only the science subjects let me down, but I had no intention of pursuing a career in that field. I put in my application to study languages at High School, and waited to hear if I was successful.
One afternoon when I got back from the library, there was a note pinned on the door. Mama had been taken ill at work, and was in hospital. I didn’t even delay to put my books inside, and left for the long walk to the clinic mentioned on the note. They made me wait on a chair outside the ward for almost two hours. When I was finally allowed in to see her, I was very shocked. Her face was as white as chalk, and her arm was connected by a tube to a big glass bottle containing what looked like blood. I kissed her cheek, and held her hand. “What is it, Mama? What has happened?”
She told me to sit on the small chair by the bed. “It is just a woman’s problems, Manfred. Don’t ask me too much now, as it is embarrassing to talk to you about it. Don’t fret now, I will be well very soon”. Ten minutes later, a stern-looking nurse arrived and told me I would have to leave. “They are all ladies here young man, and they don’t need you sitting here looking at them”. I wanted to say I hadn’t looked at anyone, but Mama patted my knee. “Go home now, son. There is a potato salad under a cover, and still some ham left on that joint. Come back tomorrow”. I kissed her cheek again, and left. I was already well-used to looking after myself.
She was in there for six days. When she came home, in a car provided by the Party, it took her a very long time to walk up all the stairs, even with me helping her. When I got her settled in bed, she was still reluctant to answer my questions, making what sounded like a short speech instead. “Now Manfred, you must be brave. I am still quite ill, and they cannot tell me if I will get better anytime soon. I am going to need your help more, and Marianne from downstairs has agreed to help out when she can. Leave me to rest now. By the way, I won’t be going back into work for a while, so don’t worry if I am not up early. And you must write a letter to Inge, tell her not to worry”.
With Mama almost an invalid, and in bed most of the time, life did change quite a lot. I had to ask Marianne for lots of favours, including buying our shopping, and doing some laundry. She was a good-hearted woman, but had her own life to worry about too. Mama gave her some money occasionally, and also arranged for her teenage son to get a job as a clerk in her department.
We muddled through, but she didn’t get better.
My mother died three weeks after my eighteenth birthday. She never heard about my final examination results, or that I had been accepted into university. She was only forty-two. Inge couldn’t get back for the funeral, which was arranged by Mama’s colleagues in the Party. I sent my sister a letter, pretending Mama had died in her sleep. I didn’t let on what the doctor had finally told me, which was that her cause of death was a tumour in her womb, and had been inoperable. I knew that she had been in terrible pain.
Less than ten days after her funeral, an official-looking lady came to the apartment. She informed me in a matter-of-fact way that I would have to move out, to make way for a family. “Your sister is resident in Moscow, I understand? A clever young man like you could easily find work, and a nice room with a good family. Or perhaps a bachelors’ hostel? And you are going to university soon are you not? Good. Then you can arrange accommodation there”.
That evening, I made up my mind.
I would abandon plans to continue my education, and join the Police instead.