.My ponderings ended abruptly when I heard screams, “Help! Police!” coming from
thea nightclub in a basement. People streamed out of it with panic and fear in their eyes. Miroslav asked a young woman what was going on, and she answered, “Bloody American soldiers. They’re wreaking havoc.” She scurried away, her high-heeled shoes cluttering down the street. “Let’s go there,” Miroslav said. “We’ll have some fun.” When we arrived there, the nightclub guests were still leaving in a hurry, while the groups of curious onlookers started to form a ring around the entrance. I heard the racket inside; it was as if the furniture was being smashed to pieces. A cacophony of German and American voices shouted curses and insults. There was no sign of the police or the army.
“What are the Americans
aredoing in Karlsruhe?” I asked Miroslav.
“They have a large base outside the city,” he answered. “Every weekend they come to the city centre to have a good time, but some drink too much and start fighting for no reason, or they go into a restaurant and put their feet on the table as if they were in the Wild West.”
“And the Germans, what
aredo they think ingof having the American soldiers on their soil?”
“I don’t think they like them, but they have no choice. The old generation must be furious. Hitler used to tell them they were a superior race, but now they have become an American colony,” he sneered.
Finally, a green-and-white
colouredpolice car pulled up with a screech. Two tall policemen got out of it and gave the crowd perfunctory looks before disappearing into the dark basement. The destruction of furniture immediately stopped, but was replaced by hideous shrieks. Soon, a short black man trudged up the stairs flanked by the two policemen. He gave the crowd a stern look. “Nazis!” he shouted. “Are you going to send me to a gas chamber?” People whispered to each other, but nobody dared to say aloud what they thought, and everyone felt. The policemen escorted him towards the car, but suddenly the man fell to the ground and refused to gostand up. They sizedgrabbed him byin the armpits and slowly started to lift him up, but as they did so, his two black comrades, larger and stronger than him, gripped his legs and held them firmly in their arms. The policemen jerked him up and his comrades followed their movements, by lifting his legs, which resulted in him being horizontally suspended above the ground. He shrieked piercingly as the two sides pulled in opposite directions. Neither side wanted to give up, while the poor man’s shrieks became ever louder. It was closing time offor pubs and nightclubs, and the guests poured towards the only available entertainment at thethat moment. The ring widened and contained more than a hundred people, who started cheering as if they were watching a sports competition. ThisThe tug-of-war went on for some time, and who knows how it would have ended if it had not been for the arrival of two police vans and more than half a dozen ofpolicemen who bore down on the three intoxicated soldiers like a dark, crushing wave. They shoved them into the back of the van, before they understood what was going on. The vans drove off at high speed, leaving behind the crowd applauding and shouting, “Germany, Germany!”
Miroslav and I went in the opposite direction, towards the camp. It was cold, and night mist fell over the city. The tramlines were silent and gleamed like silver under the streetlights. Litter lay everywhere: empty McDonald’s bags, pizza cartons, crushed beer cans
of beerand broken wine bottles. I almost trod on a dog’s litter. waste.A lonely rough voice sungsang a German folk song. At a kebab stand, a queue of hungry people was waiting to be served by a stocky Turk with a bushy moustache, who with a long knife cutcarved slices of meat onfrom a skewer and put them inside thea bread roll. The cold air and the empty streets must have had an invigorating effect on my brain because thoughts started to whirl in my mind. I did not wish to engage Miroslav in any discussions, but the questions had arisen in my head, and they would not go away, no matter how hard I tried to ignore them. Were these free people happier than I had been in my homeland? True, I could have spent a few years behind bars just for saying a joke about Tito, or even more if I had written a political pamphlet against the regime, but if I minded my own business, I could have lived in peace for the rest of my life. I could never have saved enough money to buy a Mercedes or a BMW, but our Zastava was not so bad, although it would rust after only two or three years. The large billboards and neon signs all over the city urged me to buy more gadgets and spend more. But did I really need those things? Would I be happier with ten jackets or ten pairs of expensive shoes instead of the two modest pairs I had? What was the social and cultural meaning of being drunk every weekend; behave foolishly, and then on Monday, turn again into a submissive creature conditioned to consume and spend? I did not need such freedom.
The street was wet, and it called to mind the grass in my orchard covered in dew. Sometimes, I would wake up before dawn and go outside barefoot. The wet grass was smooth like silk; its blades massaged my feet. I breathed in deeply the scents of trees and grass and watched the yellow line of dawn emerging behind the hills. The silence was almost absolute, and even birds were quiet, as if they did not wish to disturb this tranquility. I felt such bliss, as if I were the only human being on earth. I was not conceived by humans, but by this serenity-- timeless and boundless.
TO BE CONTINUED
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