Through My Eyes. Again
Copyright© 2020 by Iskander
Mid-April 1964 – September 1964
My mother closed the door behind us. “Go and unpack your bags, Will. Bring your dirty washing down and we’ll get it done tomorrow.”
“OK. Can I ring Col to let him know I’m home safely?”
I talked with Col for a few minutes and arranged to go round in the morning. She told me that my postcard from West Berlin had arrived safely and she’d been seeing Lili most days of the holiday.
Once in my room, I unpacked my case. The blue and yellow FDJ poster was slightly wrinkled and I hoped it would flatten satisfactorily as I thought its bold yellow and blue colours would make rather a fetching addition to my room. I gathered my dirty washing and carried it back downstairs. When I mentioned the wrinkled poster to my mother, she suggested I try ironing the poster with a cool iron, so I retrieved it from my bedroom and spent half an hour carefully smoothing the wrinkles, removing almost all trace of them. I’d have to investigate getting it properly framed – perhaps Lili would know somewhere.
My father had stayed in London for the weekend, but my sister was at home. Over supper, I could see she was interested in my trip as I answered more of my mother’s questions, but I think she was a bit jealous as she had yet to leave England. Once we had cleared up, I excused myself as I was feeling tired.
Lying in bed, I tried to work out what – if any – were the implications of Mr. Watling using me as a courier. I puzzled over this for a while, coming up with all sorts of strange theories but I had no data. I then began to wonder what it would mean for Mutti Frida now that the evidence she had gathered was with British Intelligence. Would they leave her alone or would they come up with some further plan to involve her? Either way, what would this mean for Col? Still gnawing at all this, I eventually tossed myself to sleep.
After breakfast, I eagerly walked round to see Col. As soon as the front door closed behind me, she flung herself into my arms. We hugged and I felt a few tears on my neck. After a minute, she pulled back, looking into my eyes. “Oh, Willi. You’re back safely.” She wiped her cheek and sniffed, laughing at herself. “Come in and tell me all about it.”
She pulled me into the kitchen where Mutti Frida was making coffee.
“Milk and cake, Willi?” she asked.
The aroma of coffee tantalised me. “Actually, could I try some coffee, please?”
Mutti Frida gave me a surprised look. “Coffee?”
So, I explained how I had inadvertently picked up a cup of coffee in Leipzig and its aroma was enticing but it had tasted awful. The aroma of Mutti Frida’s coffee was even better.
“OK, Willi.” She poured me a small cup from the coffee machine on the stove: strong, dark and slightly bitter – pretty good, although not quite up to Melbourne espresso standard.
Col saw my appreciative smile and picked up my cup, taking a sip. “Ugh. That’s so bitter,” and she shuddered in disgust.
I smiled at Mutti Frida. “You’ll have to show me how to make this for myself, Mutti Frida. I like it.” Mutti Frida smiled and put slices of Mr Searle’s fruit cake on the table.
“So, Willi, tell us all about your trip.” She settled on her chair, sipping her coffee.
I looked at them both, knowing what I had to say first would be very difficult for them. I breathed in. “In Leipzig, I met Oberstleutnant Schmidt.” Both of them paled slightly and I could see the sudden tension in their hands. “There was a reception at the Leipzig Opera and I didn’t realise he was there until I was being introduced to him.”
I looked into their eyes. There was fear there but something else – suspicion? Of me?
“We only talked for about a minute about my essay and the University – nothing else.” The eyes were still drilling into me. “And then he moved on.”
There was silence for a few more seconds and then Mutti Frida took a deep breath, shaking her head. “It’s all right, Willi. You just surprised me,” she caught Col’s eye. “Us.”
Col reached for my hand and smiled. “It’s all right, Willi, I know you would not betray us.”
I looked between them – this was going to surprise them too. “I also met Mr. Watling.”
Mutti Frida gave me a puzzled look. “In Germany?”
I shook my head. “No – on the train, yesterday.”
“Why would he want to meet you.”
I explained that I had seen him at the station when I left, although I didn’t know who he was. Then he’d sat down opposite me on the train down from London.
“I think my whole trip was ‘arranged’ by Mr. Watling and British security.”
Col looked at me quizzically. “What makes you think that.”
I looked at Mutti Frida. “He told me he had me watched in the DDR and it turns out that, unbeknownst to me, I was bringing back a package of papers that I think was your evidence against your husband. It was hidden in a false bottom of my duffel bag.”
“It’s here? You have it?” I could hear the relief in Mutti Frida’s voice.
I gave her an apologetic look. “I’m afraid not. I didn’t know I had it until Mr Watling told me where to look and then he took it.”
Mutti Frida’s look was intense. “Are you sure it was my evidence?”
“Well, Mr. Watling wouldn’t tell me what the package was, but when I suggested that’s what it was, he looked quite uncomfortable and got rather huffy.”
“So, you think British Intelligence set all this up so you could act as a courier?” I could hear some disbelief in Col’s voice. “They somehow arranged for a prize winner to withdraw and for you to be offered the prize instead?”
“I don’t know that’s what happened, but it certainly fits the facts.”
Mutti Frida’s face was quite hard. “They were playing a very dangerous game if that’s the case. What if you’d slipped up and revealed that you knew us?” She paused, her mouth working. “I’ll have some hard words with Mr Watling the next time I see him.”
“No, you can’t.” I jumped in. “He told me not to tell anyone, but I had to share this with you.”
Mutti Frida shook her head. “I’ll have to see what he tells me the next time we talk.” She let out a sigh of frustration and then turned to me. “So, Willi, tell us all about your trip.”
Col smiled. “How was your first flight in an aeroplane?”
“Fantastic – apart from Ginnie getting sick.”
Col inclined her head slightly and her eyes showed a dangerous glint. “Who’s this Ginnie?”
I kept a straight face. “She’s a very attractive red-headed girl I sat with for most of the trip.”
I saw Col tense and then I smiled. “It’s all right, Col. She’s much older than me, in her final year of high school and lives in Devon.”
I could see Mutti Frida’s eyes full of humour and she chuckled at Col’s reaction.
“I think you’d like her, Col. She’s very intelligent and wants to be a doctor.” I took a sip of my coffee. “She learned German from the wife of a German POW that stayed in England after the war, working on her parents’ dairy farm.”
I saw Col relax. She leaned across and punched me gently on the arm, realising she had been had.
“Ouch.” I rubbed my arm, pretending she’d hit me much harder – and then smiled. “Ginnie was quite nervous on the plane and even though I tried to help her, the nerves got to her when she tried to eat lunch.”
“Oh, the poor girl.” Col empathised.
“She was fine once we landed – and we went for a walk in the Tiergarten for some fresh air once we got to our hotel.”
“Was she all right on the flight home?”
“Oh yes. In fact, I think the trip has helped her self-confidence a heap. She had to make several speeches as she was the only girl on the trip.”
“How many of you were there?” Mutti Frida asked.
“There were two chaperones – a man and a woman – and five of us prize winners. I was the youngest – all the others were about eighteen, in their final year of school. We were hosted everywhere by the FDJ – and I got to meet a young Polish delegation in Leipzig, too.”
Mutti Frida stood up. “Well, I must get lunch together – Lili’s going to join us. So why don’t you two go and sit in the lounge room and talk so you’re not under my feet.”
Col and I snuggled together on the couch, revelling in the closeness after two weeks apart. There were very few words, but lots of kisses.
After a while, Col whispered, “So, when are we having that conversation with Mutti about our promise?”
I was very conscious of the beautiful young woman I was snuggled up with. “Perhaps we need to talk about this when we’re alone. Then when we are sure about what we want to do, we can talk to her.”
“I’m already sure.” Col found a way to snuggle closer and leaned in to give me a kiss, her tongue sliding over my lips.
“Well, perhaps first we need to talk about the things we can do that won’t break our promise to her.”
Col’s eyes rested thoughtfully on mine and I could see she was about speak when Lili knocked on the door. Col gave me an anguished look, promising more discussion soon, and got up to let her in.
The three of us chatted about my trip until lunchtime. Unsurprisingly, Lili was very interested in what the young Pole had told me about the views of young people Poland and that of course led to her hearing about my meeting with Col’s father.
Eventually, Mutti Frida called us in for lunch and I realised that this was a Monday, and Mutti Frida should have been at work.
“I arranged to take the day off, Willi.” She smiled. “I wanted to welcome you home and hear about your trip.”
Lili grabbed my hand. “Oh, Willi, I nearly forgot. My mother wants to invite you to dinner at our house on Wednesday evening – you too, Col and Frau Schmidt. She wants to hear all about your trip, Willi.”
Col caught my frown and elbowed me gently. “You’re not surprised, surely? Not after all the effort she put in to get you to go?”
I huffed, remembering the worry Mrs Wisniewski had caused with the photographer and articles in the paper. “I suppose not, but I’ll have to ask my mother if that’s OK.”
“It’s early closing on Wednesdays,” Mutti Frida reminded us. “So, we can walk down together from here. Do you want to spend Wednesday night here, Willi?”
“I’ll speak to my mother and let you know tomorrow, Mutti Frida. Is that OK, Lili?”
We spent the afternoon chatting some more and then playing cards before Lili had to leave to get home for tea.
At home that evening, I asked my mother about having dinner at Lili’s on Wednesday night and staying over with Col afterwards.
“You’ve been away for two weeks, Will. It would be nice for you to spend some time at home.”
“I’m home now – and you’ll have surgery tomorrow anyway.”
My mother gave her head a dismissive shake. “All right, Will.”
The following morning, I walked round to Col’s house. Mutti would not be there and we could have that talk. Col had been waiting for me as the door opened before I could knock. She led me into the lounge room and we sat on the couch.
She leaned in and we kissed for a while before she leaned back, a slight blush on her face.
“Are you going to tell me about these other things we can do ... things that won’t get me pregnant?”
The blush had deepened but her eyes were shining with desire. In spite of the boys clothes she was wearing, she was gorgeous.
“I’m not sure that talking is the right way to go about this.”
I slid my hand up her arm and caressed her neck. She leaned into my hand, rubbing her cheek against it, a cat enjoying the sensuous touch, her lips smiling invitingly. After a while of mutual exploration, she pulled back, languorous with arousal.
“Oh, goodness.” She looked at me from beneath those long eyelashes and stretched, sinuously. “I think we’d better stop for now. I want more, but let’s explore slowly.”
I kissed her nose. “You’re in charge, liebling.”
We spent most of the day close together on the couch, reading and later in another gentle exploration that left us both breathing heavily. The following morning was filled with the same wondrous explorations – and we had yet to remove any clothing. Now the dark threat posed by my trip to the DDR was passed, both of us felt that there was plenty of time for us.
After we sat in companionable silence for a while, Col shifted in my arms. “Do you think it will take twenty-five years this time?”
I looked at her in confusion. “What will take twenty-five years?”
“For the Wall to come down. For the Soviet empire to collapse.”
“I don’t know.”
Col swivelled on my lap so she could look at me. “Why not? Isn’t it different this time? Can’t you tell?”
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I don’t know, Col. I’m sorry – I have no detailed knowledge of what it was like in the DDR in my previous life. I didn’t visit it, meet and talk with young people last time, so I have no way to make a comparison.”
Col shook her head in frustration. “I don’t want to spend the next twenty-five years in hiding, pretending to be a boy.”
“Things are certainly different between now and the last time – you know that, we’ve talked about them. But I don’t know what effect they’ll have.” I let out an exasperated sigh. “Perhaps the collapse will happen sooner, perhaps later. I just don’t know.”
Col closed her eyes and slumped back, leaning against me. “We have to find a way to end the hiding, then.”
“I have no idea how to do that, Col ... perhaps Mutti Frida can talk to Herr Watling about it?”
We sat for a while, our mood darkened by the situation Col was in.
“Come on, Col.” I pulled her to her feet. “Let’s go for a walk, we need some fresh air.”
Mutti Frida arrived home soon after we got back from a wander along the cliff tops and we sat down for lunch together.
Col looked across at her mother. “Mutti, we need to ask Herr Watling how much longer we need to hide.”
Mutti Frida looked across at her daughter. “Why’s that so important, Col?”
“I want to stop being a boy. I want to become a girl again.”
Mutti Frida nodded in understanding. “I know, Col, but we need to be safe. That comes first, sure...”
“No, Mutti.” Col leapt on to her mother’s commitment to safety. “I want you to ask him. I’m fed up wearing boys clothes and I’m fed up with pretending to be a boy, which is getting more and more difficult.” She gave her mother a sharp look. “I want to be a girl with other girls.”
Mutti Frida looked over at her daughter and sighed. “All right Col, I’ll ask him – and I’ll point out the increasing difficulties we are going to have if we keep you as a boy.”
Col looked somewhat mollified and we carried on with lunch. Later, I changed into the smarter clothes I had brought with me while Mutti Frida and Col readied themselves. Then the three of us walked down into town as a gentle dusk settled over the sea at the foot of the Downs. Lili welcomed us and ushered us into Mrs Wisniewski’s elegant drawing-room.
“So, Willi,” Mrs Wisniewski asked after we had settled into our chairs. “How was the DDR?”
She had caused us such heartache, that I thought I might play with her a bit.
“I enjoyed it.” I saw Mrs Wisniewski stiffen. “The people we were with were just like us and very friendly.”
Mrs Wisniewski frowned. “Friendly?”
“Yes. Young people from the FDJ escorted us around Berlin, Dresden and Leipzig, showing us the sights and talking to us about their country. They are very much like us.”
I could see Mrs Wisniewski blinking. This was not what she was expecting – or wanting – to hear. Then she gathered herself.
“But Willi, I told you to read between the lines and behind their words. Didn’t you do that?”
I could hear the irritation in her voice. Time to let her know what I had heard and surmised.
“Oh, yes. I did indeed do that.” I told them about Fräulein Hartmann’s late arrival and Major Koch’s irritation and then about the incident in the Augustusplatz when I had attempted to visit Bach’s church. I could see Mrs Wisniewski nodding as this agreed with her expectations.
“They kept you under quite a close watch, then?” Mutti Frida asked.
“Yes, I suppose so. I only really felt it when I tried to visit Thomaskirche in Leipzig – and there I had the impression that Fräulein Hartmann was mostly concerned about how it would look for her if I went off unsupervised.” I looked across at Mrs Wisniewski. “We went everywhere as a group – except when we were at the FDJ camp, helping to bring that out of winter hibernation where we worked in pairs, one of us with one FDJ member.”
“How long did you spend at the camp?” Lili asked.
“We were there for two nights. During the day we were working hard, opening the camp for the summer, but in the evening, we sat around a fire outside in the forest, just talking and singing songs.” I smiled at the memory.
Mrs Wisniewski was still on her hobby horse. “And they told you how wonderful their society was, I suppose.”
I thought for a moment. “That’s not the impression I came away with.”
Mrs Wisniewski blinked and shifted in her chair, but I did not give her a chance to interject.
“Outside of Berlin, all the FDJ people I talked with were looking at their society in a slightly critical way. They knew something about the west beyond the Soviet propaganda and did not want a society like ours, but they felt that their society needed to change, to become more open, more modern.”
Mutti Frida and Col were both leaning in, fascinated by what I was telling them.
“You really think that the young people are going to be able to change things?” Col asked.
“Perhaps.” I shook my head. “I don’t know. Berlin’s control seems pretty strong, as I saw with the FDJ there. Outside Berlin, they certainly want to change – and it is wider than just the DDR. In Leipzig I met some Polish young people, well one young man, and he felt the same way.”
I suddenly realised that what I was saying could be dangerous for these young people – the Stasi would surely be able to track them down.
“Please, you must not talk about this. If word got back to the DDR, I’m sure the Stasi would be able to track down the people we met and cause them problems. It would be the same in Poland, I expect.”
Mrs Wisnieski nodded. “The Polish government has the Urząd Bezpieczeństwa, the Security Service. They are like the Stasi and KGB.”
I gave her a lengthy look. She gazed back and then nodded slightly,
“Very interesting, Willi. Thank you.” She stood up, smiling. “Now, let us eat.”
We had a very pleasant meal chatting about school and our plans for the summer. It seemed the Wisniewski family was going to spend two weeks in the south of France at the end of July. Col and I had no plans, it seemed, except a shared glance held promise of those not-plans including each other.
Once we were back in Col’s house, drinking hot chocolate at the kitchen table, Mutti Frida gave me a questioning look. “You saw a difference between the youth in Berlin and out in Dresden and Leipzig?”
I thought for a moment. “Well, the FDJ in Berlin were, I think, part of the central organisation – I don’t know, but they came across like leaders. I don’t think that gave them much leeway to say anything except the party line.” I gave her a wry smile. “There were adults around all the time in Berlin.”
Mutti Frida nodded. “But outside Berlin it was different?”
“It was not something you could point to – it was just that there was not this strict adherence to whatever the party line might be. They were prepared to question and think for themselves about the answers.” I stopped for a moment, trying to put my feelings into words. “I think that the Berlin FDJ would be like that too, if they felt safe.”
“And the young Poles you met were questioning things too?”
I shrugged. “I only talked with one – a trainee electrical technician from Gdansk – but he certainly felt that the society in Poland needed to change in the same way.” As I thought about this, everything I had seen and heard fell quietly into place, the jigsaw pieces assembling themselves in my head.
“None of them wanted revolution, to throw over the current socialist order, but they all want to make it softer, more open ... more ... able to grow.” The jigsaw pieces were adopting a clearer pattern. “The society they want is definitely socialist – they did not like what they knew of the West with its privileged class exploiting everyone else.”
Col laughed. “That’s not the way England is.”
I raised my eyebrows at her. “No, you’re right, that is an exaggeration – but it is an exaggeration of a truth. There is a privileged class here in England and the ordinary English worker is exploited to a lesser or greater extent, that’s why people join trade unions, why there is a Labour Party.”
Col nodded, grudgingly.
“But there’s a privileged class in the DDR, too.” Mutti Frida inserted softly. “I know, as should you, Col, for we were part of it.”
Col blinked and gave her a questioning look.
“I think that is part of what the young people see is wrong with the society in the DDR, one of the things they want to change.” I added.
Mutti Frida nodded, then looked up at the clock. “Plenty to think about, but we need to get your bed organised as it’s getting late.”
That weekend marked the end of the Easter Holidays and on Monday we resumed our now usual school day activities. Monday was a Polish day and we walked back from Lili’s house telling Mutti Frida about our respective first day back in that language. For nearly two weeks, Col had spent most days with Lili and her Polish had certainly accelerated past mine. I had some catching up to do.
Tuesday started out as usual, chatting with Col and Lili as we headed to Canterbury, but when I boarded the bus that afternoon, there was no Col, just a worried Lili.
“Where’s Col?” I asked, my eyes skipping round the bus as if she might be hiding somewhere.
“I don’t know.” Lili shook her head in confusion. “She was called out of class before lunch and I haven’t seen her since. I asked at the office, but they wouldn’t tell me anything.”
“Was she ill or something?”
“No Willi. I told you. She was called to the office.”
I had a sudden thought. “What about her bag?”
“Someone collected it to take to the office.” Lili frowned. “It was like she was in trouble, but that can’t be right. We’re together all the time and she’s not done anything wrong.”
I sat, looking around the bus, wondering what had happened. Was Mutti Frida sick?
“Oh, God.” A terrible thought occurred to me. “Has her father found them?”
Lili gave me an anguished look. “Oh, Willi. Surely not?” Her eyes flared. “What are we going to do?”
I could hear the distress in Lili’s voice, so I grabbed her hand; mine was sweaty with fear, but the contact helped steady us both. I thought frantically for a moment.
“There’s a number 7 bus that should come in about 10 minutes. We’ll get off at the next stop and get on the number 7. That way we’ll be at Col’s house as soon as possible. Let’s hope she and Mutti Frida are there.”
At the next stop we got off and got on to the number 7 about five minutes later. We sat in silence lost in our own swirling thoughts until we approached the stop at the end of my road.
“This is it, Lili.” And we went to wait at the front of the bus.
Once off, we walked quickly past my house, round the corner into Sea View Avenue and along to Col’s house.
We knocked on the door – nothing. I led Lili round the back to the kitchen door, looking in vain for an open window. Like the front, the back door was locked. There was no movement and no response to our knocking.
Lili held her hand against the glass, peering inside. “I wonder where they are?”
I closed my eyes, trying to blot out all the wild, awful thoughts: trying to think of what to do. “Let’s go down to the shop where Mutti Frida works.”
“OK – but let’s leave a note here in case we miss them, so they know what we are doing.”