Saturday 6 June 2020

'Fallout' by Emma Venables

When the news broke, we tuned our televisions to the West. We sat cross-legged on the floor, fists clenched – mine on my lap and yours near your mouth. Upon discovering it wasn’t a trick or test, our fathers handed us mallets and chisels and waved us off into the night. We ran, reeling off the things we wanted to try. Bananas and Bowie. You knew I had long dreamt of escape, but you did not believe escape was possible.

We smashed a hole in the wall with friends we had only just met. A border guard watched us, rifle threatening only the floor. As I stepped through I reached for his hand, tried to pull him along, but he shook his head. I turned away, breathed in the West. Applause. Kisses on my face. Beer in my hand. Your arm around my neck. Willkommen.

I fell, pushed by someone with no time for pleasantries. We continued to celebrate in a Western hospital with a Western doctor knitting the two sides of my gashed shin together. You suggested returning home. I refused. Not until I had a banana. Not until I was sure this was not a dream.

I limped down streets I had never seen before, past queues of Eastern cars. You seemed quiet, reflective, looking at the advertisements, the crowds, but that moment was not a time for reflection. I grabbed the front of your jacket, shook you. Our children will ask us about this night, I said. You nodded and lit a cigarette.

A woman handed you a bottle of champagne. She offered me one too, but I shook my head. Banana? I asked. She laughed, reached into her satchel and produced a somewhat bruised banana. It’s been in my bag all day, she said. I held the coveted fruit in both hands, felt it squish beneath my fingertips. I was not hungry, but I tore open the skin and shoved chunks of it into my mouth. You poked my bulging cheeks. The banana was overripe, but it was the best one I have ever eaten.

With banana skin in hand, I lost you. I looked from left to right, East to West. I stood on tiptoes, peered between sparklers and smiling faces. I assumed we would find each other again, but when the celebrations had died down and you did not materialise I made my way back to your apartment block. The sun was just coming up on a cold November morning when your mother told me that you no longer wanted to see me; she could not explain why.

I have not seen you since 1989. And yet, here you are laid out before me in words and numbers and observations only you could have made. I close my file, nod at the woman sitting by the door, and leave the room.

Outside, I breathe in the air of a united Berlin and I think everything is just as I expected it to be.

'Fallout' was previously published in Strix in July 2018

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