Leipzig – prologue
The version of Marek’s death that Robert has played back to himself most frequently down the years is the one where Marek gets shot in the back. It goes like this:
Marek is walking across the raked sand of the death strip. His stride is loose. His head is held high. He looks confident, like a man who knows where he’s going and what he’s going to do when he gets there. He’s wearing what he was wearing the night Robert first met him at the club in the Südvorstadt: Levi’s and a crisp white cotton shirt. It’s night time. The strip is floodlit. The sky is clear. A half-moon casts an eerie light over the dim-lit buildings of Berlin, Capital of the GDR to the east and the lime trees of the Tiergarten to the west.
Suddenly, a guard’s shout cuts through the air: “Halt!”
Marek stops, but casually, almost as if he hasn’t heard the shout. The beam from an overhead searchlight sweeps across the strip and finds him. He stands in a pool of ultra-bright light.
“Hände hoch!” the guard screams.
Slowly, Marek puts his arms in the air and leans his head back. His shoulder-length black hair shifts in the night breeze. He looks like Jesus Christ. For a moment, everything is still on the strip. There is only the distant murmur of traffic from both the eastern and western parts of the city. Then Marek lets his arms drop and turns his head to look behind him.
Gunfire cracks. A bullet rips towards him. The impact punches the air from his lungs. His legs buckle. He falls face down on to the sand with a thud. His head is turned to one side, and he is looking straight at Robert. His sightless eyes wear a look of surprise. A trickle of blood forms at his parted lips. Across the white cotton of his shirt a deep red stain seeps. It is strangely beautiful, like a lush, exotic flower.
Robert knows, of course, that these imaginings are preposterous. Who would attempt to sneak across the world’s most heavily fortified border in a white shirt? Why does he see Marek in Berlin when he knows he was planning to cross in the Harz Mountains? And how could Marek be looking at him when he wasn’t there?
But that’s his vision of it. Marek in a crisp white cotton shirt. Marek walking across no man’s land with the easy grace of an athlete. Marek – beautiful, clever, bitchy Marek – mowed down by a single bullet fired into his back.
It’s not hard to understand why this scenario provides Robert with the most exquisite torment. He never knew exactly how Marek died. But one thing he did know: whatever the precise mechanics of Marek’s killing, he was shot in the back. Robert knew who pulled the trigger too: it was him.
He did it to save her. Or that’s what he told himself. He used up all his energy protecting her, and there was none left to protect Marek. But she ended up hating him. Or at least rejecting him. So ist ja eben das Leben. That’s life.