Looming in the hazy distance was the tower, watching both halves of this ambivalent city. When complete, it might serve as a symbol, he supposed, but of what exactly? And for whose benefit? Them or us? The pelting rain eased a little, so he turned up his collar against the sleeting cold, and stepped out of the underpass.
On his way to the brauhaus she’d chosen for the meeting, he reflected on on their long acquaintance, ever since training together at Gridnevka. Their friendship could be warm and friendly, he thought, but often stilted, unless somebody else steered the conversation. In Prenzlauer Berg, he walked into a cold, charmless little dump of grimy tiles, and stale bier, and saw her. Sitting in the corner alone, eying him through the smoke of her cigarette.
He took off his wet coat and sat at her table, as she called the waiter and lazily ordered them two Bürgerbräu in Russian, despite knowing German. Avoiding eye contact, she explained that her mission to get kompromat on the diplomat had not gone as planned. She took a final, long drag on her cigarette, and stubbed it out irritably in the ashtray. The waiter returned with their drinks, and she downed most of hers immediately.
While watching the waiter leave, he opened his bag and handed her the documents he’d pilfered. Suggesting that she could take them with her, when she returned to the Motherland in few days. She examined them, nodded and relaxed a little. “Yes, that might mitigate my failure.” Sipping her drink, she contemplated him out of the corner of her eye.
“Is it true that you love me?” she asked. This direct question took him by surprise. Frozen in her searchlight, as she pressed her interrogation. She’d heard rumours to that effect from agents at the centre. “Well?” Perhaps his bier had been laced with truth serum, because he surprised himself by answering, “YES.”
He asked if she felt anything for him. This appeared to startle her, even though it was obvious to ask in return. She hastily stated “NO, not at all.” Hurriedly stuffing the papers into her satchel, she rose to leave, as if sidestepping emotional stickiness puddling on the floor.
Paying their tab, his clammy awkwardness turned to irritation. He’d always known that his feelings weren’t reciprocated. Keeping them to himself made possible a somewhat equal friendship, but she’d just tipped the balance (of power? Of pride?) all the way to her side. And why?
Outside, rain had abated, and he walked her to the bahnhof in silence. Had she’d exposed his infatuation merely as balm for her ego, bruised by her failed mission? Though clearly uninterested where his answer might lead. Turning to scurry up the stairs to Dimitroffstrasse Bahnhof, she distractedly said that she’d be in touch. “Don’t bother” he said. At this, she stopped, turned, and looked intently at him with those searchlight eyes.
He spoke to her more openly than ever before, admitting that it had always been hard to control his unreciprocated feelings. He smiled, not feeling angry or resentful. Saying that he didn’t want to be her awkward lovesick comrade anymore. He pointed out that they wouldn’t see each-other much in future anyway, stationed so far apart. “Why not just end it?” She seemed amused at this development, and nodded.
They shook hands, and he watched her ascend the stairs. Pausing briefly to look back, give him a crooked smile and goodbye salute – mocking? sincere? who could say? – before disappearing around the corner and into his past, forever. He smiled to himself, shaking his head. Seeing her again, after all that time, and so far from their motherland had electrified him – as always – she was so beautiful.
On the long walk back to his lodgings, he felt strangely liberated. Though his feelings for her might endure as long as he would, there was finally some honesty between them. He wondered what she ever got out of their friendship. He could barely stand it, even with the benefit of an obsession. God only knows what kept her putting up with him.
Put more simply, they didn’t bring out the best in each-other. This encounter was as awkward as any they’d ever had. He chuckled to himself – awkwardly was the most appropriate way for it to end. His infatuation for his comrade had skulked deep undercover for years, but The Mole had been outed, and decided to retire.
He rambled through bullet-riddled streets still greasy with winter rain, while tentatively poking at the just-forming hole inside himself..