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Wind of Change
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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1

The top of the wall was crowded with people.


Old men clutching canes, their caps pulled deeply over their ears against the autumn wind. Children on their mothers’ arms, rosy-cheeked, mittens on their little hands, looking with big eyes at the commotion around them. Groups of youths with bright-coloured shawls sitting at the edge, their legs dangling.


They all wore similar expressions of stunned, incandescent joy.


Complete strangers shook hands, laughed at one another, flung their arms around each other.


Some had brought all sorts of beverages with them, beer, mulled wine, champagne, often with beakers or paper cups to distribute them. A few had even brought sandwiches or other things to eat.


They were shouting, talking, singing. Laughing. Crying. Often both at the same time. The most frequent words uttered were, “I can’t believe it!”, “It’s sheer madness!”, or simply, “Incredible!”


Some of them were kneeling at different spots on the wall, hammers and chisels in their hand. Tapping, tapping at the stone and concrete of the wall, removing small chunks of it.


As a memento. As a symbol.


Among the crowd was one man who did not speak, but nevertheless garnered more than one admiring glance from those around him. He was not merely good-looking, he was beautiful: tall and slender, carrying himself with the unthinking grace of a dancer or an athlete. He had finely chiselled but sensitive features with high cheekbones and elegantly-arched eyebrows. The wind seemed to be caught in his flood of raven-dark hair, playing within its silky strands. It spilled out from under a smart, dark blue hat worn at a rakish angle deep over his forehead.


But the most arresting feature was his eyes: They were of a light grey that seemed almost silver when he met the gazes of his neighbours, and one specific thought flashed through the minds of many of them – that they shone bright as stars.


His age was difficult to guess: His face was smooth and without blemish, but in his eyes lurked a maturity and wisdom that seemed to have been attained by long experience and a great store of memories, many of them dark ones. Hidden depths seemed to lie behind the gentle smile and those bright eyes, telling of a vast welter of unimaginable tragedies and unassuageable sorrow.


But such thoughts were quickly dismissed as flights of fancy, or lost in the excitement of the moment.


He was one of a large group, mostly strong men, who were kneeling at intervals at the edge of the wall, reaching down to help person after person to climb it in their turn.


Although people stood almost nose-to-nose by now on the top, nobody minded. There was no jostling, no complaining about the lack of space. And the people below at the foot of the wall waited patiently until they, too, could reach a helping hand, looking up with shining eyes.


An old woman, tears streaming down her face, which was half concealed by an old-fashioned headscarf with its ends fluttering gaily in a sudden breeze, was hoisted carefully up by two men in elegant evening dress. They obviously did not mind about the dirt her shoes left on their jackets, laughing good-naturedly when she lost her balance and teetered for a few moments, thus inadvertently bruising an ear of one of her helpers. Finally, she touched the welcoming hand from above – the hand of the silent stranger.


Quickly, the hold tightened, and she was drawn upwards and over the overhanging lip of the wall, swift and sure at the same time. Her eyes widened in wonder as he smiled tenderly at her while helping her to her feet. Then she was received with hugs by some people who seemed to know her, placing a cup with some steaming tea into her hand. With a last amazed glance over her shoulder at the stranger she let herself be ushered away from the edge, to a more secure place in the middle.


Above the continuous buzz of the chatter, snatches of song were heard from different directions, seeming to drift on the wind, to curl around people, to wander from group to group, and then to be blown on.


Next in line below was a couple, obviously young parents, carrying one little child each. The man handed over the baby he was holding to his wife with a loving smile and began his ascent. He was agile, and managed without more help than a grip from above for the hoist over the overhanging rim. He thanked the stranger with a smile and a nod, already turning down again to his wife, who lifted the first child upwards. Receiving it, he seemed irresolute for a moment. He looked about the crowd surrounding him: the people with their arms linked around each other, their hands holding food or cups, or gesticulating wildly in their ecstasy and eagerness to share their stories.


Then his eyes fell again on his helper, standing among them, seeming a part of them all and yet not; still outside, lonely, not belonging.


Feeling this pensive gaze upon him, the stranger turned slowly and met the other’s eyes.


They widened, seeing the brightness and the hint of unfathomable, hidden depths beyond and beneath their brilliant intensity.


But this did not deter the young father, a disarming smile developing instead on his face. He looked once more on his infant in his clasp, wriggling and waving its chubby, mittened fists.


Then he stretched out his arms.


“Would you please...“ he began.


For a few moments, the scene seemed frozen in time. Then the brilliance of those eyes appeared to intensify. Slowly, very slowly, the stranger held out his arms. It could be seen that one of his hands, so beautiful and elegant in form and motion, was disfigured on the palm by a ragged scar as if from an old burn.


“Thank you!” The young father deposited his child into the waiting arms, which clasped it gently and steadily.


While the father was awaiting his second child, the other studied the little bundle in his arms. The infant wore a blue scarf and was packed warmly in a sky-blue anorak with little white ships printed all over it and sprinkled with tiny, glittering stars.


With his other child in his arms, the father turned to him again, holding out his arms, and asked, “Would you mind taking him, as well? My wife is a little anxious about heights and would feel more comfortable if I were to help her myself.”


He received a willing nod in return, and the men took care to arrange both children securely in their temporary cradle.


The second child wore a similar anorak, but its scarf was white. The stranger looked down on them both. The bright grey eyes widened slightly when he noticed he was holding twin boys, but still he did not say anything.


They seemed both utterly comfortable, with this strange new face so near them. One of them chuckled and gargled a little, his brother soon following suit. Both turned their heads this way and that, as if following one of the stranger’s wayward strands of dark hair the wind was tumbling around merrily. The motion made a few dark locks peek out from under their own hoods, and as their eyes had opened widely, it could be seen that they both had grey eyes, similar to those of the man, but lacking their lustre and extraordinary brightness.


The stranger gave a start. Apparently, his grip on the boys tightened reflexively, as they both screwed up their faces in momentary discomfort.


With an apologetic expression, he evidently loosened his hold again instantly, because the little ones relaxed once more and smiled up at him.


His smile in turn had grown wistful, and his eyes had darkened, with what thoughts or memories none could say.


He seemed both grateful and sorry when the parents came up to him to relieve him of his burden, with many words of thanks. They tried to draw him into a discussion about the astonishing, incredible events of the day, their words stumbling over each other in their excitement and still-disbelieving exultation, but even then he kept his silence, merely shaking their hands in answer and gifting them with his warm smile.


They seemed to understand his reluctance to talk and did not press him further, getting ready to turn away.


He did reach out his hand then once again, as if he could not help himself, and with his long, graceful fingers caressed each boy’s cheek with infinite tenderness.


As if in a farewell. Or a benediction.


With friendly, if bemused, nods at this and a cheerful wave the couple made its way from the edge, followed for long seconds by the unreadable eyes of the stranger.


Then he seemed to come back to himself and he resumed his former position, kneeling down again and reaching for the next hand requesting help for the climb.


Old or young, men or women, everyone wanted to be up there on this wall, on this night. Be part of the experience. To share in the rejoicing and so multiply it as if for eternity.


In the group around the stranger, a small party of men still in their working overalls began a song. It was a simple, well-known melody, sung perhaps not with much precision, but heartfelt, and one by one others took up the tune.


After a long, long moment of palpable hesitation, as if he was trying to block out the singing, the stranger stood and straightened. He stepped away from the edge, his place quickly taken by another eager helper.


The stranger took a deep breath.


He hesitated again. A flash of some profound, inscrutable emotion crossed his face. He suppressed it, with obvious force, breathing a few times quickly and deeply, then resumed his unreadable, composed expression from before.


He clenched his fists tightly, knuckles white, then, with deliberation, opened them again, before turning his back to the people around him; to look out from and beyond the wall, into the night, but with unseeing eyes, his gaze directed wholly inwards.


Once more he took a deep breath, letting it trickle out slowly, as if preparing for a difficult ordeal. He turned again, letting his eyes, now aware once more of the present, slowly roam over the celebrating, jubilant crowd, dwelling on some of those he had assisted.


Then he, too, joined in the singing.


His voice swiftly gained volume and power. It was an utterly glorious voice: It was carrying; warm and flawless, crystal-clear. Deeply affecting, entrancing, spell-binding, it reached ears and hearts alike.


On and beside the wall, people were touched by its force.


But it did not halt their own voices, which seemed pale and weak in comparison. No: Its pure tones supported their voices, uplifted them, brought them together, to be carried along in its own ascent.


The awe-inspiring, breathtaking voice was gaining ever more strength and intensity.


It was borne on the wind like seeds, like gleaming snowflakes, like scintillant, flaring sparks of fire, like nourishing drops of rain. It made the melody, made the other voices transcend their simplicity, to be transformed into an overwhelming expression of joint celebration.


A united celebration.


A celebration that reached far beyond the people below and on the wall, far beyond the people of this city, divided for so long.


Because it was a very particular wall that was the destination of so many on this night. And a very special date:


It was the Berlin Wall.


And the song was heard, drifting far and wide on the wind, on the night of the 9th November 1989.

~~~

Author’s Notes:


The title is taken from the song of the same name by the Scorpions. “Wind of Change”, although written slightly before the dramatic autumn events in Germany, became a hymn of the time. It is not necessarily the song that is sung by the characters in the story. The reader is free to imagine one that seems appropriate.


My thanks go to Dwimordene for her comments in my HASA forum, and to Denise for her willingness to act as a sounding board and discuss details of the successive revisions. Both have helped me enormously to shape this story.


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