Mrs C started mumbling something, but her (ex-)husband cut in half whispering, half hissing with repressed anger:
“I don’t know why we should even take the trouble to explain anything. Each of us here is on their own and must seek their own way out, and nobody can judge anyone, especially none of us here is entitled to judge the others.”
“Why not?” Marian grinned sardonically. “You think that if all of us here were each up to their neck in shit that makes us partners in the shit?”
“What shit exactly are you talking about? I’m not sure I know what you mean”, replied Mr C sternly.
“Sure, go on putting up an honourable face, just doesn’t surprise me.”
“Look here you smart ass,” Mr C suddenly became willing to fight it through, “if you’re talking about the shit that this kind of life was, yes, it was shit all right, but it wasn’t our choice, that’s the system here and we’re not responsible for it, so don’t preach me or anyone else about it. You’ve had your own share of the shit after all, you’re no better than me or Chris for that matter. And if you’re talking about the shit to come, the way each of us has chosen to get outa here, again you’re no better, or you think that paying five thousand to choke yourself to death in a ship container bound for New York is a more dignified way out? You looking at us and making faces? Got any better ideas? Just thought so – then keep your mouth shut and gulp down the wine your lady-friend has paid for in the pub of her beloved!”
Lucy’s eyes glistened for a second but she shoved the biting retort aside and produced a pacifying tone instead:
“Guys, please, forget the fighting tonight, will you. What’s the point anyway. Whether we were each up to our neck in our own shit or in a joint shit, what difference does it make? None of us here’s been a saint but then this is life, and Deutschland has pushed us well in that direction too, these German motherfuckers!”
“How right you are Lucy dear”, Mrs C was faintly heard. Her cheeks burning, her eyes still in her lap, while her voice on the verge of tears. “I wish we’d never come to Germany, God curse that day and this place!”
“Oh…. Come, come now”, Steph put in gently, smiling sentimentally. “Time will heal everything – and will show things in their true light, and then maybe we’ll realise it wasn’t that bad after all!”
“Mrs C’s perfectly right!”, Diana suddenly intervened, who had been quiet all night till then. “How time will show things is of no consequence. That can’t change the way we feel now, and the way our lives are now. And right now things are pretty fucked up, it’s plain to see. Period.”
Steph looked astonished to the corner where Diana, Lucy’s room-mate, was lying, out of their circle round the table, on her couch-bed, leaning on one elbow.
“And I think Marian’s right about the celebration idea. This is no celebration, it reminds me more of the lavish meals after commemoration services for the dead in our family. The same kind of endless dishes and wine bottles for a dead cause that was calling for weeping rather than feasting. It always stuck in my throat…”
“Yes, Di, no one’s happy here, but no one is claiming they are!” Lucy replied.
“Well actually I am quite happy!” Steph insisted. “You may call me whatever you like, a party pooper or what not, but I can’t help it! I’m not going to sit here pretending that I’m down out of solidarity with you all. Of course I understand what you are going through and I’m not cheerful nor am I celebrating, but I’m perfectly fine with leaving Calypso.”
“Everyone is”, Marian glanced at her from under his thick dark eyebrows. “Goddamn Calypso, good riddance and go to hell, with Odisseas and his fucking stale bread rolls! The question’s elsewhere!” and here he paused mysteriously. Everyone watched him gaping, hardly breathing. “The question is”, he resumed in a low tone, “if we look back, in our innermost recesses, to where we came from, what we’ve lived here and where we are moving on to, the question is – are we really moving on?”
Marian’s upper lip twitched as if he was briefly snarling, in momentary contempt. His eyes drilled holes, in turn, in each of the others’ eyes, except for Diana’s, as she was gazing out the window in a voluntary opt-out of the exchanges.
Lucy sighed to bridge the silence in some way.
“Our lives are moving on, that’s for sure!” she concluded and raised her glass to cheer up the audience. “And Marian, that of all of us you should be finding fault with it!, when you think you wanted to get to America all along, that was your destination in the first place, somehow you just got trapped here in Germany for a while, what with making money or waiting for a green light, but now you’re finally on your way to your destination, what’s wrong about it? Aren’t you finally moving on?”
He shot a glance at her like knives and replied gloomily,
“Remember I said in our innermost recesses! If you look at the face of it of course we’re all heading for some sort of a solution. Some sort! But I said look in our innermost recesses. Remember how we all got here, most of us on our fours, kissing the German soil like it was deliverance, and then remember how we’ve had to stutter our selves out in neanderthalian German, watching them, the Germans, as they were taking us for the Neanderthalians in our speech and locking us away in Calypso where we could both deal with each other among ourselves and keep safely away from their world; remember how we spent months and years of our lives in this pitiful bird-cage counting the days, weeks and months to the next communication from the German Immigration, until we lost track of the days, weeks and months, completely fuzzed up in the rituals of our little lives, commuting between our petty black jobs and the three-square-metres of our temporary shelters, roof over our heads and running water, yeah – How we learned to say yes, hello, goodbye and thank you but never quite learned to say hold on a second I’m not going to put up with that and we never learned to say you should be polishing my shoes you dirty asshole! Instead we learned how to trick the Germans and their laws and still get a seat in their comfy show of life, either by getting married to the right passport holder or by trading the Germans for Americans or for the French Paid Killers League, or just traded the German welfare for a lukewarm comfort that nowhere’s like home after all hurrah hurrah hurrah Romania here I come!”
“You’re such a grudging asshole Marian!”, Lucy gave out as a bitter conclusion, her voice threatening to break in tears. “Or maybe you’re just too young to know how to handle hopelessness – and helplessness!”
“O and you’ve learned so well to!” he replied. “Hopelessness teaches us gradually to find excuses for everything, even for being hopeless in the first place!”
“Listen, I don’t have a clue where all this should be taking us”, Diana suddenly interrupted. “You admit you’re part of the same vicious circle of people who’re not moving on to anything, so why are you so bitter against everyone? What’s your point? What should we be doing instead? Where’s the purpose of your grudge?”
“Yes, that’s right!” Chris put in emphatically, glad that someone else had articulated his own confusion.
“I think we’re simply all very unhappy”, Mrs C intervened in a soothing voice. “That’s why we’re so sensitive and…”
“…and hysterical!” Steph broke in.
Marian ate his words and looked down with a sigh.
“You left, and I smiled, but how much I loved you – this you will never – know”, the music suddenly burst back into their awareness.
There was a gentle knock on the door and everyone looked at each other questioningly, with a nervous start. Lucy stood up nimbly and in two strides she was at the door and opened it wide. Marc, the Algerian allegedly drug dealer stood with a slightly naughty smile on his bony, swarthy face.
“Hi guys”, he said almost shyly, waving to the seated circle, I just wanted to say a few words to Marian as a farewell, but I’d hate to intrude – Marian, would you…?”
“But do come in, Marc! There’s always wine to spare!” Lucy said in a loud, theatrical manner.
Marc just shook his head and gazed intently into Marian’s eyes, who seemed to get a clue and stood up without a word.
“OK, we just say goodbye and I’ll be back in a few minutes”, Marian said while watching his steps amid the tangle of legs and feet around the table, making his way out. “Take a break and breathe relieved, will you”, he added with an ironical smile.
Behind him silence came down like a snow blanket. For a few moments they were indeed relieved, as Marian had instructed them to be, but all the more resenting it. Chris broke the silence:
“What’s wrong with him, did you give him the wrong cigarettes, Lucy?” He tried one of his cheerful laughs but changed his mind instantly when he heard himself, awkwardly mismatched to the gloomy faces around.
Lucy’s eyes brimmed with tears but as a brave girl she looked up in voluntary gaiety:
“We hardly slept these nights, Chris, if you know what I mean – if it isn’t too hard for you to imagine. What am I going to do without him!” Her voice and, with it, her gaiety broke down under the threat of choking with tears, but she recovered quickly. “What’s comforting me – and should be comforting all of us, each on their own paths as of tomorrow – is that we’re finally doing what we wanted to do. We’re all getting nearer to what we were sitting here and waiting for. No matter what Marian says. He’s cross with me, but I guess you can understand that, can’t you, he’s cross with everything, with life, with Germany, with himself, what not. He’ll be fine. Like all of us!” She raised her glass again, determined to get back into the party mood.
The other glasses were raised to hers, waveringly, with an indistinct murmur of approval.
“I think I’ll go and draw one”, Mr C said and stood up.
“But you can stay and smoke here”, Lucy replied off-handedly.
“O no no, that girl there will hate me, no”, Mr C tried to sound gallant, turning to where Diana was lying. “Don’t worry, just a few minutes out in the fresh air will do just fine!”
“I’ll join you”, Chris said abruptly. “That is, if you don’t mind”, he added in what could be taken as consideration or challenge. Mr C was silent for a second, considering the challenge of being open and decided for the politeness.
“Of course I don’t, let’s draw one together, just like in the army!”
Chris laughed as an old pal would.
“O no, that won’t be necessary, I’ve got my own stuff, self-made, self-rolled that is, Steph’s got to master the skill!”
Steph blushed both embarrassed and flattered. Her husband could be so generous with compliments, though it was just this compliment that she was not sure how she should take. She handed him a deftly rolled cigarette and the two men left the room. Chris’s shrill voice was still heard a few seconds from the corridor, then muffled behind the terrace door.
“Pallifying”, Diana whispered.
“What?” Lucy asked amused.
“I said, pallifying.” The women watched her, waiting for the punch line. “Making it sound like pals”, Diana explained. “The ha-ha effect, you know”, she added.
The women all smiled and nodded to acknowledge understanding, while turning back their heads and putting their eyes down again.
“Yes, Chris will do that won’t he”, Steph replied to supply some responding turn. “Pallifying – I’ll remember that!”
Some more silence.
“Good to be just us, ladies”, Mrs C volunteered.
“Isn’t it”, Lucy agreed absent-mindedly.