A Short Story Called “Kreuzberg" About a Man, a Dog and a Situation
Gaunt frame mirrored in station glass, reflection rising and falling as his feet click gestures to the bitumen. The sinking sun sends down arrows of light that pierce the steel carapace of Kottbusser Tor - the slug-like building lit briefly incandescent. The light follows his tread into a glorious dusk that redlines the possibilities and as he walks he takes soft little mouths of air, traipsing through memories. His heart resonates like a gong and before he knows it he is grinning at the here and the now. Kreuzberg.
He meets the eye of a guard in the lungs of the station, projecting an intractable stare. The man is wearing a gross little uniform, tonfa dangling from his waist like a cock. The violence of the weapon and the glare startles him. Involuntarily, he checks the livid scar that creeps up his hand. The split-tongued crow of angry welting extends from foreknuckle to wrist. It is as much a part as heel or thumb. It speaks to him in awkward languages. It hisses.
"All dogs on leads in the station"
The guard is dictating to an old ragclad woman with a greyblack dog playing loose before her, skeletal wretches both. The foot traffic diverts slowly about this little diorama, gratuitous surveying of the torture in the scene. She cradles something in her hands and as he passes close by he sees a bottle swaddled there. Rotburnglassguts that scalps you deep inside and leaves a bit of your belly in the gutter. Some labelless spirit birthed in a slum still with little care for the drinker or the world. It melts him up.
"All dogs on leads in the station"
He begins to feel revulsion. The expletives bubble in his mouth like warts The guard repeats, sterner this time, an undercurrent of anger beating at the seams. He makes to proceed away from the unfolding scene but he can hear the guard berating the dog. The authority in the voice follows him, tugging at his shoulder. He takes a few more paces and stops. Not this again. Lingers a moment, a moment more, goes back right into his face.
"Leave them alone"
He says to the guard, bigger than he looked.
"Dogs must have leads in the station"
"Leave it alone"
"What are you, an angel? I make the rules in this station, not you."
There is a moment there in which he can choose to walk away. Contradictory impulses gather at the rails and scream. There is not long to make a decision. He rounds on the guard and now people stop to point, wideeyed, jawdropping. He doesn’t want to let it in, but it is there nevertheless. The next line delivered in cold whisper:"
What are you going to do about it?"
The woman is on her feet now, staggering, watching the altercation from close range with a delighted toothy amtruckle grin. His scar itches where the metal went in, a great big scythe of rimragged steel. The guard fumbling for his radio which is breathing static now. The shirt tight against his body and sweat beneath the cheap fabric, insect mandibles gabbling gumfree into the black box, the sound like blackboard chalk pushed a little too hard by fat fingers. With his other hand he fingers the handle of the baton.
"Just leave the dog alone!"
He begins to feel revulsion. The expletives bubble in his mouth like warts. Wants to be away, anywhere else. Away from this crone and her starving dog. Away from this sad man and his patch of authority. But something binds him. There is a principle at stake. In those moments the principle is more important than anything. More important than his life, if you weigh it like that. If you don’t uphold your principles, whatever it costs you, then you are nothing. Worthless. And he senses some desperate evil about this blubbery watchman, a crooked sinewy core of malice.
The shit is mustard yellow in colour and the dog wags its tail in delight"We’ll remove this dog, she isn’t even looking after it, look how thin it is. We’ll destroy it."
And with this the guard aims to kick the animal. It isn’t really intended as a strike, and the dog easily dances away from it. It understands the intention though, drops its ears and slinks. A dog only needs to be hit once to understand that breakdown of human control. Suddenly, the situation is physical. A confrontation. A fight. Then the anger descends on him like a veil, like a hot wind, like tiny structures torched and burning, embers invisible against the red desert sky. A switch in his cortex. Then chaos.
He pulls the hood back and his head is shaved blunt. The marks are razor raw and the veins in his neck stand proud of his flesh with the tension. The guard takes a step away and encircles his nightstick with one porky hand. The woman gives a leary shriek at this and begins to shuffle her rags towards the station doors. The dog, as if sensing the madness in the mood, defecates between the two men suddenly and in a protracted way. The shit is mustard yellow in colour and the dog wags its tail in delight. He stands between the guard and this pathetic ensemble.
"Let them go"
The guard is boiling over. Gritted teeth:
"Fouling station premises incurs a 500 Euro fine"
"Let them go"
The guard is about to retort but now he can see into the other man’s eyes and it’s like staring at something in a cage. There is nothing between them but air. He takes a measured step back.
"I could have you in jail"
"Let them go now, go back to your job"
"This is my job"
"I pity you"
He turns away and hundles up the bag, slings it over his shoulder. Stands waiting for the guard to walk away. The porky fellow looks back with some indeterminate emotion. He cants a bony finger up and jabs it skyward towards their respective dreams.
"See you, fucker"
Outside of the station the woman and her dog are clamped tight against a wall. The woman has a green feather in her greasy hair that he didn’t see before. She is animal kin. The bottle is nurtured for one last pull. Drips into her throat. She doesn’t seem to see him so he walks by without glancing at her.
Breath returning to normal.
The dog wags its tail at him, grins in that jawy way that dogs may do. It wickers and gambles. His scar is cold in the air and he clenches and unclenches his hand. Suddenly he is walking with no direction, the bag dragging slingbrake at his side. There was a time when he thought all feeling had been beaten and burned from him but as he quickens his pace across those streets his heart roars and pounds in his ears. Home, Kreuzberg.
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