I watched the pieces of luggage go around the carousel in the baggage claim at Brandenburg Airport, mesmerised. The different colours and shapes, teaming around on the conveyor belt, reminded me of a YO! Sushi restaurant. I had never been to one myself, but I had seen the advert on the telly. Frankie had always said that London’s sushi couldn’t hold a candle to the sushi she’d had while living in Okinawa.
‘Are you listening to me, Peter?’ she asked. She’d asked a lot of questions from the moment we’d landed. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I was, so I replied by saying just that. Her eyebrow twitched. She ground her teeth.
‘I said, that I think we should see other people. No— scrap that, we need to see other people.’
Her Bavarian accent usually made her sound lovely, but there, she sounded quite horrible, like cold tea. I held her warm, flushed cheek affectionately, but she flinched. A middle-aged couple in matching outfits of bowling shirts, cargo shorts and sandals stood behind her, spectating.
‘What do you mean by that?’ I asked, genuinely, distracted by a yellow suitcase in particular, which looked exactly like a Sherbert lemon. I hadn’t had a Sherbert lemon in a while, and couldn’t remember if I liked them.
Nervously, Frankie played with the badge on her leather trenchcoat. It displayed the word ABORT in neon pink. She explained to me that she was leaving me, and that the real reason that she’d agreed to the trip to Berlin, was not to celebrate our fifth anniversary but to head north to Rostock. She had been offered a residency there and wanted a fresh start. When she’d finished speaking, I broke down in tears and showed her the ring. It was housed in a lavender-coloured velour box that I had stored in the depths of my camping rucksack, beneath an empty sandwich box. The ring had cost me eight thousand pounds. Frankie kissed me on the cheek and advised me to sell it. I watched her walk away, out of sight, into the alien world beyond the automatic doors. The wife of the spectating couple offered me a tissue from a pack, which I gladly took.
‘Ahh, forget about her. Cheer up, Jack’, the husband said, reassuringly. His accent was American, with a twang just like the bull riders and cowboys in the movies. His moustache was long, white— too long and too white, truth be told. I thanked him but made sure to explain that my name was in fact Peter, a point which seemed to puzzle him.
I found the U-Bahn platform and entered a carriage, scarcely occupied and pristinely clean. Clutching my rucksack like a teddy, I sailed through the orderly suburbs with their terracotta Hansel and Gretel homes and neat gardens. The new green of spring in each garden gleamed lushly, in the friendly sun and I tried my best not to think about Frankie. I had wanted to go to Paris for our anniversary. It’s the most romantic place on Earth and Frankie was the loveliest person I had met. She’d said it was tacky, and never spoke of it again. Everyone knew that Paris was romantic.
In the far corner adjacent to me, sat a woman. She was perched, with both legs up in a sort of nook, all elongated like a piece of overcooked spaghetti. She was reading a book and her eyes swayed side to side beneath a fringe so accurately trimmed that it looked as though she’d used a ruler to cut it. Her nose was too long for her face but I thought she looked marvellous. She wore a grey roll-neck top and smart grey trousers that were marginally darker. I gestured at her and asked her if she spoke English, in English.
‘Hum. Ja… a liddle bit?’ She seemed dazed as if I’d woken her. ‘Ein bißchen… I mean yes— liddle.’
The stranger seemed friendly. She had kind eyes, and good teeth so I asked her if she would like to marry me. She laughed, closing her book.
‘Merry, you? What do you mean by this?’ I explained my situation and the stranger’s face turned forlorn and she shook her head in sympathy. I told her that I was really friendly and reliable and tidy too. She simply smiled.
‘Well, I will not merry you, but I will buy you a coffee. Shall we go?’