Grey sky. It has been so for the last few days, or weeks, months perhaps. It had been his decision to move here so there is no one else to blame. That irks him no end, no
one to blame, no one to shout at.
Up here on the sixth floor one can barely hear the traf-
fic below and there is never much of it anyway; it’s early morning and he lives on a quiet and leafy street, upmarket, expensive, unaffordable for most people.
The air is warm and all he wears is pyjama bottoms; he prefers to walk around the apartment barefoot though he misses a soft thick carpet. But more often than not homes come with beautiful wooden parquet here: beautiful but uncomfortable for his feet which have lost some of the supple elasticity they used to have. Age, always age; he wishes he could log out from thinking about ageing.
Coffee time. He walks back inside through the French doors and inserts a capsule in the machine, the mechanical noise reassuring, another morning with the same routine.
Frau Greta is on her way and he needs to get out. It’s his rule number one or, rather, hers: get out of the cleaning lady’s way, you’re just a hindrance and when she took on the job she dropped a few stern hints which allowed no debate. Very German, he smiles.
No breakfast at home; he’ll walk to the Bismarck Bistro for mid-morning brunch. The temperature is warm enough to sit outside with just a light jacket and watch the world go by.
Except that it never does. The bistro is quaint and the fare of good quality but it never seems to be that busy, though the lack of a crowd has lately developed into a pleasure rather than a shortcoming.
Either way the bistro is close, reasonably priced, and on the edge of that vast and wild forest in the centre of the city peculiarly described as a ‘garten’.
He’s ready now and he feels pleasantly casual: slacks, a polo and a light blue jacket. A scarf around his neck protects him from the light breeze.
And sunglasses. He has spent a good chunk of his previous life in a part of the world where everyone wore sunglasses, outdoor and indoor. You could never see anyone’s eyes. Beautiful eyes, old eyes, blue, green, black, it didn’t matter; they were all behind dark lenses. All the fucking time.
But he has kept the habit; perhaps one day he’ll lose it. Habits come and go.
He strolls along the oak-lined paths before turning towards the bistro. Empty roads. Is that Sunday? Perhaps not, but the roads are always empty here anyway. Which he loves. Or not. He’s not yet sure.
When he reaches the bistro, he lazily scans the area: a few tables outside, almost empty as usual, one middle-aged guy tapping away at his laptop in the far corner.
He takes a seat and then remembers the free newspapers inside so he gets up again and strolls in to pick up a copy of the Morgenpost.
Ella is at the till. The owner greets him in a low voice and with a smile. She must do that with all the regular customers, he thinks, but he likes it as it makes him feel special even if he is dead sure he isn’t.
After three years his German has improved dramatically. He has subjected himself to a gruelling and eye-wateringly expensive blitz of private tuitions. He can now finish read- ing long-winded and often completely irrelevant opinion pieces. Nothing much ever seems to happen here anyway. He prefers books to news but he forgot to bring one along.
‘Good morning sir, what can I get you today?’
Not Ella’s voice. It sounds soft and warm, young, almost female though clearly not.
As he turns, a young man of perhaps less than twenty stands there with a smile and detectable eagerness. The eagerness of the new employee, the excitement of a new job, the freshness of a new chapter.
The boy gently shifts the wheat blond fringe along his forehead; a pair of black framed spectacles sits on his angular nose, the thick prescription lenses magnifying his light blue eyes.
‘Good morning, let’s see: a cappuccino for a start, I haven’t decided on the food, may I have a minute?’
‘Sure, sir, I’ll get the drink ready for you, take your time.’
The manners are calm and polite. Unassuming, he ponders.
After a few minutes the young man returns with the cappuccino and briefly stands there, clearly waiting for the order but with no impatient insistence.