Through My Eyes. Again
Copyright© 2020 by Iskander
Monday 15th October 1962 – Early December 1962
My eyes flicked open and I sighed: my childhood bedroom. My old brain was wondering how I had survived the continuous tension of my life here. At least my father would have left early to catch a train to work in London and so I did not have to face him on weekday mornings. My young brain got me ready for school and after breakfast, I walked up the road to catch a number 7 bus. Passing a pair of new houses, I realised that the wall Col had been sitting on was the garden wall of my Colin’s house. I stopped and looked across the road. A young man came out of the front door, accompanied by a woman with a toddler on her hip. The man gave the woman a kiss, patted the toddler on the head, got in the car and drove off – that was not my Col’s family.
A great sense of loss descended on me: my Col, my only childhood friend, didn’t exist in this world. I saw the woman across the road looking at me curiously. I quickly turned and walked on. I would have to make do with the Col that did exist here.
At school, the bullies were there as expected, but I reacted differently. I ignored their taunts as we waited for school to start and just got out my book and read. One of them, a good-looking, tousled, blond boy started shoving me. I shoved back, giving him a warning look, but the bell went. He sent me a glare that clearly indicated unfinished business.
Schoolwork was ridiculously easy, given the level of education I carried in my old brain and I found myself tearing through what was put in front of me. By the end of the first lesson, Mr Maple, my Maths teacher, was giving me curious looks. He had chided me on showing all the proper working as I skipped over steps, but gave each of my solutions a tick as he walked round checking our solutions. I also got curious looks next period from Mr Partington in French as I raced through an oral translation with few missteps. In music, I startled Mr Armitage when he heard me murmuring “Tchaikovsky’s sixth” when he played us the scherzo movement on the record player. At the end of the class, I could see he was thinking about asking me about it, but I managed to slip out, leaving his questioning look unanswered.
I realised I was going to have to be a bit more careful about showing my knowledge and intellectual skills – assuming I was marooned in this world, which seemed increasingly likely.
On the number 7 (hooray) bus trip home, I worried at my situation. This world was almost the same as mine but there were Col and the family living in what had been his house. This was different from my world. If I was stuck here, I really needed to find out how different this world was, but there was no Internet, Google or Wikipedia in 1962. My parents did have a newspaper delivered every day. I would have to get a look at that, which would be a problem as I had never done so as a child.
But I was still hoping this was some incredibly complicated dream. Then an awful thought occurred to me: doesn’t your life pass in front of you when you die? Was I reliving my entire life, compressed into the final seconds of my life? For a minute or so my mind worried at this possibility – until the differences in this world brought that train of thought to a halt. I surely would not be reliving such a subtly different world whilst I died.
Finally, I realised that as I did seem stuck here, I would need to act as if this were a permanent arrangement or there could be big problems. I would need all the experience of my ‘old’ brain to make this work. Pondering all of this nearly caused me to miss my stop and I had to rush to the exit as the doors closed.
The driver gave me a surly look. “Pay attention, young ‘un.” He grunted as he recycled the doors. As I walked down the road, I gave what had been Col’s house in my old life a thorough look over, but nothing struck me as different, just that there was the wrong family inside. I carried on past my house and turned into Sea View Road, knocking on Col’s door.
“Willi, welcome. Come in.” Frau Schmidt smiled warmly.
Col helped me hang up my coat and we went into the kitchen.
“Do you have schoolwork to finish, Willi?”
“Yes, Frau Schmidt.”
“Sit down at the table and you can do it there. I will help Col, but he will do the same work and you will learn the German and Col, the English.”
I worked on my Maths problems. Frau Schmidt gave Col pencil and paper and insisted he did the same work. I found to my delight I was able to help Col, once I understood the slightly different way he wrote some numbers. Also, I was learning the German that went with the work as Frau Schmidt explained to Col what he had to do.
Once we had jointly finished, Frau Schmidt provided a slice of cake and a glass of milk for both of us – and the double-sided language lesson continued.
That set the course of my days as autumn slid into winter. I continued to avoid my father as much as possible and mostly kept out of trouble, but I knew a major confrontation and beating was inevitable and this reality slunk along beside me, a very dark shadow. I also realised my mother was eyeing me somewhat speculatively. She was a very intelligent woman and she knew there was something different about me but couldn’t put her finger on just what it was. I hoped that she would pass it off as part of puberty and growing up.
In the meantime, I was smuggling the newspaper up to my room every day. I’d discovered this was pretty easy to do as the old newspapers just went on to a stack beside the kitchen door and I could slip the top one into my school bag as I passed, returning it later. The writing style was very different from the style of 2020 and the reporting far more circumspect. Each day I would spend half an hour or so going through the paper, searching my memory for things that jarred. Part of my problem was that I had not really been into world events and politics until later in my teens and so what was being reported was largely new to my old brain. I didn’t even remember the Mariner 2 flyby of Venus, which surprised me when it happened in December. My addiction to space must have developed later than I thought.
But I also worried about what I would do if I did find something different. My main fear was that this world would descend into nuclear madness and there seemed to be precious little I could do about that as a teenager. Life went on, even if my inner life was quite strange by any normal standards.
An explanation of what had happened – was happening – eluded me. I had read a huge amount of science fiction over the years in my other life, including quite a number of time travel and multi-verse stories, so I had plenty of hypotheses to pick from, but absolutely no meaningful data. I knew this was a different world, but it occurred to me that Col and Frau Schmidt in this world could be significant in geopolitical terms as they had defected to the west. None of this had happened in my world where Col was English.
Most afternoons I went straight to Col’s house after school. Col and I would sit and I would do my homework with him. Frau Schmidt would listen to music and act as translator and guide as our knowledge of each other’s language deepened. I tried very hard not to ‘learn’ too quickly, but as we approached Christmas, Frau Schmidt commented to my mother on my ‘remarkable language ability’ when they happened to meet in the High Street. Col’s English was also improving rapidly, although he spoke it with a noticeable German accent.
We were sitting at the table, homework finished one day, just chatting.
“Willi, how about we meet in town after school tomorrow, there’s something I want to show you.”
Col smiled, excited at my agreement. “Where shall we meet?”
“How about in the library. That way whoever gets there first can stay warm and dry while they wait.”
So, the next day I caught a number 6 bus and went on a few stops into the town and then walked to the library. I found Col and greeted him in German. The young librarian at the desk looked up and sniffed, sharply, giving us a very unfriendly look.
“I wonder what her problem is?” I asked Col, in German.
Col sighed. “Willi, you must understand that many people suffered in the war and blame the Germans for that. Some of them cannot move past that. Mutti and I have talked about it and I can see it happening when some people realise I am German.”
“That’s not fair.”
“No, but I am German, Willi.” I could see this experience upset him.
I changed the subject. “Come on, what is it you want to show me?”
Col gave me a joyous smile. “Oh, wait until you see this. It’s the most...” He stopped, realising he was about to give away his surprise. Instead, he grabbed my hand and pulled me out on to the street. At Col’s urging, we almost ran a few hundred yards, out of the main shopping area until we came to a car showroom. Col stopped and pointed at the car in the main display area. There, brightly lit, crouched the sleekest sports car I had ever seen: a Jaguar E-type coupé resplendent in British racing green and glistening chrome.
“Wow.” I breathed, softly.
“Isn’t it gorgeous,” sighed Col. “Do you think we could go in and have a closer look?”
I doubted the salesmen would want a pair of schoolboys putting their fingers all over their gleaming centrepiece. But they could only say no. I grabbed Col’s hand and we walked inside and over to the car. Everyone must have been busy as we weren’t noticed. We walked around this vision of automobile pulchritude, looking at our faces reflected and distorted in the chrome and deeply polished paintwork. We peered through the driver’s window at the leather upholstery and polished walnut dashboard.
“You like this car, do you?” A deep, rumbling voice practically had us leaping over the car in fright. We both swivelled round to find a huge bear of a man standing there watching us with a crooked smile on his face. I noticed a scar that ran diagonally from his right eye to pull at the corner of his mouth.
I swallowed a couple of times. “We haven’t touched it, sir. We were just looking.”
“That’s all right boys.” He looked us over and we must have passed inspection for he leant past us and opened the driver’s door. “Would you like to sit in her?”
I pushed Col forward. “Go on, Col, it’s your car.”
Col looked at the car, then at the salesman.
“Go on, get in, but don’t touch anything.” I don’t think I had ever heard as deep a voice. You almost felt it rumbling inside you. Col looked at me, a questioning look on his face.
“Mach weiter, Dummie.” I smiled, the German sliding from me without thinking. Col frowned at me but climbed carefully into the car. I caught a sour look from the salesman.
Col reached out and put his hands on the steering wheel and then grabbed them back into his lap, recalling the salesman’s admonition.
“It’s alright, son, you can hold the wheel.” Col put his hands back on the wheel, almost reverently, looking about the interior.
“Do you want to sit in her?” the deep rumbling voice asked and a caught a hint of a foreign accent.
I shook my head. “I’m not very interested in cars. I love planes.” A strange look, almost yearning, passed across his face, then he turned back to Col, pointing out some feature or other.
“Brian. Brian. Phone call for you.” A voice called out across the showroom. Our salesman raised an arm to wave his understanding.
“All right, out you get and hop it out of here before the boss sees and I get into trouble.”
Col climbed out, a huge grin on his face and we scuttled back outside. I could see he was practically walking on air. Col turned for another look at his dream machine and then we set off for home. I gave him space to savour the experience and just walked in silence beside him. We walked for several minutes through the town.
“I got to sit in an E-Type.” Col almost sighed, in awe of his experience.
I looked at Col. He was grinning from ear to ear. I smiled back, knowing I did not need to say anything. By the time we had walked back to Col’s house, he was coming down from his high – but, of course, the whole experience had to be recounted to Frau Schmidt.