This is the final part of a fiction serial, in 1140 words.
For eight years, I sat in the basement office of Closed Files. I was reminded about the warning that I would end up pushing papers around in a basement, and that was what I was doing. I settled for knowing that Inge was alive and well in Hamburg, although we could never get in touch. I was fifty-two years old, and tired.
To my credit, I did help Maria during her last year before the cancer came back and took her. I helped where I could and even though my influence had diminished beyond recognition, I was still able to get access to good food and some luxuries for her. I felt older than my years, lonely, and depressed. The evenings in my apartment seemed too long, and I was going to bed earlier and earlier, trying to forget as much as I could.
As advised, I kept my head down and mouth shut, and never heard from Colonel Meyer again.
And then I heard that Nagel was dead.
It was one of those things that you couldn’t imagine. He had been hit by a truck as he left his own car and ran across to his house. Apparently, his wife had been standing in the doorway and had seen him knocked down. The driver involved was terrified, but it was judged to be an accident. Colonel Nagel, the man so feared in the Stasi, had been a victim of his own impatience to get home for his dinner.
As you might imagine, I saw that as very good news indeed.
I didn’t wait long before I tried to get out of Closed Files, and back to something that might be remotely stimulating. But my disappointment was immediate, when I was advised to apply for nothing, and to continue to sit quietly in the basement. Inge’s defection had not been forgotten, and my age was also against me. I went to a bar after work that night, and had far too much vodka to drink. At least six years to go until retirement, no prospect of transfer or promotion, and having to spend my days sitting with a bunch of prune-faced middle-aged women who had no conversation about anything.
I was beginning to wish I had left with Inge that night.
By the time of my fifty-fourth birthday, I was so bored, I thought I might go insane.
But things were changing.
Poland had changed. Hungary had changed. The Soviets had lost their hold over the Eastern Bloc allies, and events were spiralling out of control. By the autumn, there had been so many demonstrations in Berlin, that the government tried to calm things down by allowing people to visit the West once again. Naturally, I was no longer involved in policing or investigating any of this unrest. By the end of November, we had already received instructions to begin shredding the Closed Files. That was a huge task, and one that I suspected would take many years.
Walking home from work, I was amazed to see people on The Wall. Some were painting slogans on it, others chipping away pieces as souvenirs. The guards did nothing to intervene, and there was a strange party atmosphere on many streets. By the end of the year, it was obvious that the change was coming. I carried on going to work, and watched as my staff shredded files. As there were so many, trucks arrived to take them away for incineration too.
Familiar faces began to disappear. As the spread of peaceful protest widened, those who had seen the writing on the wall began to bail out. Like rats leaving a sinking ship, they did what they could to get out of the country during the time that restrictions were relaxed.
The mood in the city was different too. I wandered around warily, expecting to be recognised and denounced at any moment. The balance of power had shifted, and ordinary people were no longer afraid. Being a Stasi officer was soon going to put me at a distinct disadvantage, after all these years of privilege. The circle had undoubtedly turned. I knew instinctively that I would not be able to count on my colleagues. Many uniformed officers had already started to wear plain clothes, and the tension was visible in the faces of everyone at headquarters.
When I turned up for work that morning, there were crowds of civilians outside. Many were scattering our secret files around, and congratulating themselves on having gained access to the building the previous night. I stopped short of going in, and realised that it was all over. I no longer had a job to go to, or others to work alongside. I had spent my working life in an institution that to all intents and purposes no longer existed.
I walked back to my apartment, wondering what I was going to do with the rest of my life.
In the bedroom, I had a few hundred West German marks, acquired from my previous job. There was very little that I had any attraction to in my apartment, save for some clothes, and my journals. Maria was gone, and I had no connection to anyone left in the East. I hadn’t turned up for work, but nobody seemed to care anymore. Time to face facts. My pension was gone. All those years counted for nothing. I had thousands of potential enemies, and not a friend in the world.
The Wall was as good as gone, and the Brandenburg Gate open to anyone who wanted to drive or walk through it. The German Democratic Republic was no more.
I thought of Mama. Her hard struggle to make things work. Her legacy that had eventually saved both Inge and myself. Memories of Grigiry, and the surprising news that Colonel Meyer had been her secret lover. She had worked so hard to secure a future for us in the DDR, and I imagined that she would be turning in her grave to see how readily the population had embraced the opportunity to become part of the West again.
I feared for our people, imagining that they would be marginalised in the West, and find life far more difficult than they might imagine. But it was too late. History had caught up with us, and our system was no more. I accepted that, and faced the change with a sense of foreboding.
I have enough western money to get to Hamburg, and find Inge. I am hoping that she will still be happy with Anna, and have a good life.
I will soon find out.
So, I leave these journals on the table in my apartment. I hope that someone will read them one day.
And I hope that they will understand how things were.