An old man shuffles down a street with heavy steps until he comes to a bench, on which he lets himself fall, exhausted. The road ends here.
From his bench he can see the wide sea. He looks at the play of colors in the sky and the waves and remembers. Just a few years ago he would have captured this grandiose spectacle in a picture. But now his memory captures him.
Because he was in this place before – in the last days of the war. This city had been the place of refuge after a long and dangerous escape from the advancing Russian army from West Prussia. The mother, the siblings, the grandparents and other families had left in a caravan, the most necessary belongings had been packed on a handcart. They went west on foot and sometimes by train. Often there was nothing to eat, sometimes the children had to steal from the farmers. Not all of the elderly survived the hardships. He thinks about the time when he and his brother were snatching a sack of sugar and the train that the rest of the family was already on almost ran out from under them.
Here was the end of the flight. He was 12 years old and shared responsibility for his siblings. The family stayed with dear relatives until the father returned from the war and picked them up. He also went to school here for a while. School was difficult these days. Surely he would have had what it takes to get a good higher quality degree, but after the 8th grade it was over. He did an apprenticeship and took the first steps into professional life in a rebuilding Germany.
The old man lies on his bed in a small room in a nursing home that is now his home, and remembers that hour on the bench down the street. He would love to go there again. But that’s not possible now. He would also like to live independently and go wherever he wants. But his fragile health no longer allows that. And so all he can do is travel in his imagination, and that, too, is becoming increasingly difficult for him.
He rarely gets visitors. At first, during the early days of his current stay, it was still quite easy. His children came regularly and sometimes took him home for a few hours so that he could be with his family for a bit. His daughter would then cook and after dinner they would look at pictures or sometimes a movie together.
All of this is no longer possible. It’s because of the bad plague, he was told. Nobody is allowed to leave the house without having to go into quarantine afterwards. Only recently has he been allowed to receive visitors again – but only for a limited time with early advance notice. When his children come, they are so wrapped up that he hardly recognizes them. He can’t read her facial expressions. He can hardly understand her either. “My father is hard of hearing,” his daughter protested when she was presented with the obligatory face mask. “We can’t take that into account!” had she been answered.
Is this plague really that bad? The old man feels lonely. How gladly he would have at least spent his birthday with his family! Loneliness is bitter bread, he thinks and wishes that this plague would soon be over.
He is tired and wants to sleep.
What lies behind the sea?