You’re flat on your back on the street. And you thought the nineties were over.
And they nearly are over, you wonder for a moment what year is it exactly, you know it, you do know it, all year long you’ve been getting up and going to sleep, getting up and going to sleep and running your business and there wasn’t much sleep… but you can’t put your finger on it, you feel your head on the asphalt, as if it had sprung a leak when it hit the ground, is it raining? You’re flat on your back between the cars and you can see the tyres and the wheels, the light refracts and bounces off from an alloy wheel right in front of you, streetlamps, headlamps, night, and you try to make out your face, 1999.
No, nothing’s over. The violent days were long, but long ago as well, almost not true any more, the years of calm, your head on the asphalt, the city’s quiet on a Sunday and the rain is red, the car is red, right next to you. You came alone, even though everyone said, ‘Don’t go on your own!’ but you had to go alone, the nineties are almost over, all we want is to do business, you went to sleep for a bit and got up and it was almost evening by then. You had time to drink a coffee and stand outside in the dark garden for a while, it’s getting dark early again now, you wanted to walk down to the lake but the phone rang. No, it didn’t ring, you’d put it on silent and you saw it flashing through the window of the veranda. The display flashed and flashed in the charger like a miniature lighthouse. No, you hear it ringing, you never put it on silent, that must have been somewhere else, you’ve got a whole house full of telephones and none of them are on silent, the phone in your jacket pocket buzzes. You turn onto your side and try to reach into your pocket. It’s hard, although your arms are fine. The phone buzzes and buzzes and you feel your heart beating, and then it stops and you take a deep breath and breathe out, take a deep breath, breathe out the fear, no one else is coming now, no, no one else is coming, he was alone, just like you, and you saw him walk away, he just turned around and left. Did he say anything? What did he say to you beforehand? You can’t put your finger on it. ‘This is from…’ No, no names, never names, you might as well start with that now, they’ll ask you, good thing they still can ask you, but they can ask you till their fucking tongues dry out, you breathe out the fear and look at your legs, which you can’t feel any more. Edo, you bastard, I’m gonna… No, stop it, the nineties are… But you know you have to do something, you know you have to do it, all over again, and you thought… You thought too much, much too much and too little, you went alone. Never go alone, always take a man with you, always keep a man close. Watch your back, but he didn’t come from behind, he came right at you, we want to do business, that’s all there is to it, all we want is to do business. Edo, you bastard… Did he give you the name, did he send regards? You can’t put your finger on it, you’ll find out, you’ll find out more than that, but how long can you stay lying here? If only the rain would stop, the nights are getting cool now but it’s not raining, is it?
Now you’ve got your phone out of your pocket, your hands are trembling, it’s pathetic, did you take something before you left to keep you calm or perk you up? No, you never take anything, hardly ever, not when you want to talk business. Just a little chat on a Sunday in the quiet city, and then you drop the phone when you switch it to vibrate, you bend over and pick it up, wipe it down, and there he is coming towards you, what a stupid place to meet, you can just see the old stadium’s dark towers a couple of hundred yards away, now the parked cars block your view, the battery leaps out, and now you feel the pain in your knee and further up your other leg, no, you didn’t take anything, adrenaline, your heart’s pumping the stuff around your system, you’re getting tired but you have to stay perked up, you mustn’t fall asleep, and you’re tired, so tired, don’t sleep, you know that, not until they come for you, if only the right people come for you, but no, he was alone and he’s gone, and you breathe out the fear and see the SIM card from your phone next to the battery on the asphalt. You see the tiny golden metal plates on the card. And something else flashes, something else golden, on the ground as well, a few yards away. A coin, you think, it looks like the pendant from a necklace, a talisman, the guardian angel of businessmen, Saint Michael, and you touch your chest, you’re so glad you can stroke your chest, you’re so glad that you’ve got tears in your eyes, your hands are trembling on you, and you’re weeping, it’s pathetic… If they saw you like this, and you reach for your chain, it used to be a little golden boxing glove, back when you were still fighting, kick-boxing, it’s a few years back now, you were a real ace back then, they called you AK-47, like the machine gun, Arnold Kraushaar, Arnie Short & Curlies, that was at school, but you knew how to show them what for even then and you chased them right across the whole schoolyard, no more Arnie Short & Curlies, AK 47, you were pretty good at boxing too, even back at school, you even did a few amateur fights, kick-boxing wasn’t around till after the Wall, after ’89, the legs, the feet, the kicks, you were better at that than just with your fists, you trained every day, you wiped out the best lads in the ring with your kicks, you look at your legs, your pale trousers are black.
How long have you been lying here now? It can only be minutes, you know that. Time goes out of joint when you’ve got adrenalin in your system.
A taxi drives past, you want to call attention to yourself, you wave, but you’re flat on your back right next to the cars and he can’t see you. Pull yourself together! You try to get up, try to pull yourself up on the car with both arms, try to grab the door handle, grab it, boy, where’s your strength, for fuck’s sake, but your arms are weak and soft, rubber, you think, only with a rubber, girls, how often do I have to tell you that, they can put as much money down as they like, what use is it to you if you get yourselves the clap and the fucking plague, have you never heard of AIDS, Jesus, how stupid can you get! It doesn’t matter if he’s a regular, you get it? Jesus, girl, I’m only thinking of you here! You know you have to wait, breathe deeply, keep breathing deeply, if only you could feel your legs, you have to wait until your strength comes back, you want to shout… Help! Someone call the cops, but what use are the cops to you, what you need is a doctor, right now. How stupid can you get, in the middle of the night, like in some cheap gangster movie, you’ve got careless, the years of calm have made you careless, why didn’t you listen to Alex, ‘I’ll come with you,’ he kept saying on the phone, only an hour ago, out in the garden. ‘No,’ you said and you looked out at the lake behind the trees, your best man, you smile, you remember Alex putting on one of his shows in the ring last week, ‘Cover up, Alexander!’ you wanted to call out, but you bit your tongue because you know how he likes putting on a show in the ring, seen too many Muhammad Ali videos, or what was that boxer called again, the one he admires so much, a black American, they call him ‘the King’, Jackson… Jones, Jones Junior or something like that, he dangles his arms, Alex says, makes a fool of his opponents, sticks out his chin only to pull it back at the last moment when the punch comes, but Alexander the Great is no king, more like a duke or something like that, because he takes a lot of punches, staggers around uncovered in front of his opponent, and you’re not sure if that’s part of Alexander’s show or if he’s just about to go K.O., but then in the third and final round he did knock him over, he really let loose towards the end as usual, ‘second wind’, he always says, ‘le deuxième souffle’, he’s always showing off, that nutter, just because he speaks a bit of French, and you’re still smiling and wishing he was here, and your face is all stiff, you must look terrible, but no one can see you, why aren’t there any fucking pedestrians at this time of night, no one out any more, what kind of a crappy city is this, maybe it’s the rain, they’d rather stay warm and dry, Sunday evening in front of the TV… Don’t go crazy on me now, it’s not raining, it’s not raining at all, it hasn’t rained all week, though the sky was dark today, clouds gathered by noon, for fuck’s sake, what’s happened to your nose, your sixth, seventh, eighth sense, without that you wouldn’t be where you are now… On the street, you think, in the dirt, and you laugh, and your teeth are chattering on you, you’ve got the shivers, and you know that’s not a good sign.
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR
Katy Derbyshire is a London-born translator who lives in Berlin. She translates contemporary German writers including Clemens Meyer, Inka Parei, Helene Hegemann, Simon Urban and Christa Wolf. Katy co-hosts Berlin’s monthly translation lab and runs a literary cabaret dedicated to women of the past, The Dead Ladies Show. She has led translation workshops in Berlin, Leipzig, New Delhi, New York and Norwich.