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In the darkness of your thoughts I would like to be a light.
I have no idea who wrote that. I just remember the piece of paper that was pinned up on the kitchen wall one day.
In the darkness of your thoughts . . .
I want someone to come out of the forest with a flashlight and aim the beam at my face. Being seen can be so important. It doesn't matter by whom. I'm disappearing into myself more and more.
It's the day after. My hand rests on the cold metal of the fender. I listen as if my fingertips could hear the vibrations. I need more time, I'm not yet able to open the trunk. Perhaps another hundred kilometers, maybe a thousand.
. . . I would like to be a light.
I get in and start the engine. If someone should ever follow my journey, he'll get lost in its incoherence. I'm moving through Germany like a lab rat in a maze. I lurch and every step is uncertain. I step sideways, turn in circles. But whatever I do, I don't stand still. Standing still is out of the question. Sixteen hours are bundled together into sixteen minutes when you travel aimlessly. The boundaries of your own perception start to fray, and everything seems meaningless. Even sleep loses its significance. I wish there were a light in the darkness of my thoughts. But there is no light. So I'm left with nothing but my thoughts.
Before we talk about you, I'd like to introduce you to the people you will soon be meeting. It's a cool, late August day. The sun is extremely bright in the sky and resembles the flickering gleam of light switches in corridors. The people turn their faces to the sun and wonder why so little warmth comes back.
We are in a small park in the middle of Berlin. This is where everything starts. A man sits on a park bench by the water. His name is Kris Marrer; he is twenty-nine and looks like an ascetic who decided a long time ago not to be part of society. Kris knows only too well that he is a part of society. He has finished school and his studies. He likes going to the seaside, he enjoys good food and can talk about music for hours. Even if he doesn't want to be, Kris Marrer is definitively a part of it, and this Wednesday morning he feels that clearly.
He sits on the park bench, as if he were about to jump up at any moment. His chin is thrust forward, his elbows on his knees. It isn't a good day today, he knew it wouldn't be a good day when he woke up, but we'll get to that later. What's important at this moment is that he regrets seeking out this particular park bench at the Urbanhafen. He thought a few minutes' peace to gather his thoughts was exactly what he needed. He thought wrong.
A woman sits on the grass a few yards away. She's dressed as if she can't believe the summer is over. Sleeveless dress, sandals. The grass around her looks exhausted, the ground is damp. A man stands in front of the woman talking to her. His right hand is like an axe cutting silently through the air. Sharp, angular, quick. Every time the man points at the woman she flinches. The couple isn't particularly noisy, but Kris can clearly, distinctly hear each of their words.
He knows now that the man has been unfaithful. The woman doesn't believe him. When the man lists all the women he has slept with, the woman begins to believe him and calls him a bastard. He is a bastard, there's no getting around it. He laughs in her face.
"What did you imagine? Did you think I'd be faithful to you?"
The man spits at the woman's feet, turns his back on her and leaves. The woman starts crying. She cries silently; the people react as people always do and look the other way. The children go on playing, and a dog barks excitedly at a pigeon, while an indifferent sun sees nothing it hasn't seen a million times before.
On days like this it should rain, Kris thinks. No one should split up with anyone while the sun's shining.
When the woman looks up, she notices him on the park bench. She smiles embarrassedly, not wanting to display her sadness. Her smile reminds Kris of a curtain that he's been allowed to glimpse behind for a second. Nice, inviting. He's touched by her openness, then the moment is just as quickly over, the woman rubs the tears from her face and looks across the water as if nothing has happened.
Kris sits down next to her.
Later he will tell his brother that he didn't know what he was doing. But that's later. From here on it's all very simple. It's as if the words had always been in his head. Kris doesn't have to search for them, he just has to say them out loud.
He explains to the woman what's just happened. He takes the bastard who cheated on her under his wing, and invents a difficult past for him. He talks about problems and childhood anxieties. He says:
"If he could, he would do lots of things differently. He knows he's screwing up. Let him go. How long have you known each other? Two months? Three?"
The woman nods. Kris goes on.
"Let him go. If he comes back, you'll know it's right. If he doesn't come back, you can be glad it's over."
As Kris is talking, he's taking pleasure in his words. He can observe their effect. They're like a calming hand. The woman listens attentively and says she wouldn't have been sure what to think about the whole relationship.
"Did he talk about me a lot?"
Kris hesitates imperceptibly, then pays her compliments and says what you say to an insecure, twenty-three-year-old woman who will find her next lover without any great difficulty the very same week.
Kris is good, he's really good.
"Even though he'll never admit it," he says at last, "you shouldn't forget that he's sorry. Deep inside he's apologizing to you right now."
The woman nods contentedly.
Everything starts with a lie and ends with an apology-even this morning here in the park. The woman doesn't know who Kris Marrer is. She doesn't even want to know how he knows the bastard who has just left her. And although she has no other connection with Kris, she asks him if he'd like to go for a drink. The woman's pain is like a bridge that anyone can walk on, if they can summon up some compassion.
Sometimes, Kris thinks, we're so interchangeable it's embarrassing.
"A glass of wine would do me good," she says, smoothing her dress over her legs as if the dress were a reason to think about her offer. He sees her knees, he sees the red-painted toenails in the sandals. Then he shakes his head. He didn't do this to get closer to the woman. He acted purely out of instinct. Perhaps it was the banal primal urge of the protector. Man sees woman, man wants to protect woman, man protects woman. Later Kris will reach the insight that he has pursued his vocation-he had an urgent need to apologize. Later one part will find the other and form one big whole. Later.
Kris rests his hand on the woman's and says, "Sorry, but I've got a date."
There's her smile again, but it's not tormented now; she understands Kris, she trusts him.
"Another time," he promises and stands up.
She nods. It's over. The pain of separation has vanished, because she has seen a glimmer of light. A nice man has opened her eyes. And so we leave the woman sitting alone on the grass, and leave the park with the nice man. We are on the way to his job. It will be his last working day, and the nice man is not in a good mood.
"You've got to understand this," says Bernd Jost-Degen ten minutes later and sticks his hands into the front pockets of his designer jeans. He stands with his back to the window, so that Kris can only make his face out as a silhouette. A digital hand twitches between a Chagall and a Miró above a digital clock projected on the wall. The boss's office must always be in semi-darkness, or else you wouldn't be able to see the clock. Bernd is three years older than Kris and doesn't like people calling him "boss," or pretends not to.
"There's a lot of rationalization going on," Bernd continues. "Look at me, I'm up to my neck in shit, as well. The structures aren't the same any more, the world has moved on, you know? Back in the old days, people did good work for good pay. Now they have to do fantastic levels of work for bad pay. And they're supposed to be grateful, too."
He laughs the laugh of someone who isn't one of those people. Kris feels like an idiot and doesn't know why he wanted to speak to his boss again. At his feet are two paper bags that the cleaning woman handed to him after she had cleared his desk.
"It's a market economy, Kris, it's overpopulation. There are too many of us, and our souls belong to capitalism. Look at me. I'm dangling on strings. I'm a puppet. The guys at the top are saying, Bernd, we want twice as much profit. And what do I do? I give you cheaper mineral water and order the cheapest kind of coffee and make cuts wherever I can, so that the people up there don't get rid of me."
"What on earth are you talking about?" asks Kris. "You fired me, you've made me one of your cuts."
Bernd rests one hand on the other and leans forward.
"Come on, Kris, look, my hands are tied, kill me if you want, but my hands are tied. It's last in, first out. Of course you can go straight on to another job. And if you like, I'll write you a reference, I'm happy to do that. Of course. Try the Tagesspiegel, they're a bit slow off the mark. Or what about taz, they're . . . What's up? Why are you looking at me like that?"
Kris has laid his head on one side. His thoughts are focused. It's a bit like meditation. Each time Kris breathes in he gets bigger, and each time he breathes out his boss shrinks a bit more.
"You're not going to get violent on me, are you?" Bernd says nervously, and steps behind his desk. His hands disappear into his trouser pockets, his torso leans back as if he were standing on the edge of an abyss. Kris doesn't move, he just observes, and if he were to step closer to his boss right now, he'd be able to smell his fear.
"I'm really sorry, man. If you want-"
Kris walks out on him mid-sentence and crosses the editorial office with the paper bags under his arms. He's disappointed. Bernd Jost- Degen has never learned to formulate an apology properly. Never say you're sorry and hide your hands in your trouser pockets as you do so. We all want to see the weapons we're being injured with. And if you're going to lie as he just did, then at least take a step toward the other guy and let him feel you're telling the truth. Fake closeness, because closeness can mask lies. There's nothing more pitiful than someone who can't apologize for his mistakes.
No one looks up when Kris walks past. He wishes the whole gang of them would choke on their own ignorance there and then. He's worked closely with them for a year, and now not a single one of them looks up.
Kris sets the bags down on the floor of the elevator and looks at himself in the mirror on the wall. He waits for his reflection to look away. The reflection grins back.
Better than nothing, Kris thinks and presses the button for the ground floor.
The two bags contain all his research and interviews from the last few months, which no one's really interested in. Current for a day, then just some junk that's recycled over and over. Journalism today, Kris thinks, really wanting to set the whole pile on fire. When the doors open again, he steps out of the elevator and leaves the bags on the floor. At almost the same time they tip sideways with a sigh, then the elevator doors close, and it's over.
Kris steps onto the pavement and takes a deep breath.
We're in Berlin, we're on Gneisenaustrasse. The World Cup has been over for nine weeks, and it's as if it never happened. Kris doesn't want that to happen to him. He's in his late twenties and after twelve months in a steady job he's unemployed again. He has no interest in looking for another job, and neither does he want to switch, like hundreds of thousands of others, from one internship to the next, getting by on starvation wages and hoping someone takes him on sooner or later. No. And he doesn't want to work as a trainee, either, because he's had training and he's been through university. His attitudes are at odds with the job market-he's bad at begging and far too arrogant for small jobs. But Kris doesn't plan to despair. He won't end up with his head in the oven, no one will be aware of his problems. Kris is an optimist, and there are only two things he can't stand: lying and unfairness. Today he is aware of both, and his mood matches the fact. If Kris Marrer knew now that he has been moving toward a new goal since waking up, he would change his attitude. You'd be able to see him smile. But as he is unsuspecting, he curses the day and sets off for the subway. He wonders how to straighten a world in which everyone's used to standing crooked.
From the Hardcover edition.