Guest post by Maria (Masha) Murnikov
She says, “I still have to think about him a lot.” And smiles. We meet on a park bench, she with her newspaper, me with my coffee. Actually, it should only be a short walk on a Sunday morning. Instead I met this older woman. Quite by chance. An encounter that I won’t forget so soon. She looks at the empty playground. “I often come here. Actually every morning. Then she puts her newspaper aside. Her fingers are tender despite the many wrinkles, her eyes shine as she begins to speak. Despite her age, she has not lost her zest for life.
She tells me how she got to know her great love in elementary school. Even then her parents said they were going to get married. When he was 17, he went to Hamburg to study with the promise of coming back to Berlin to marry her. At the beginning they wrote each other letters regularly. But after two years the letters came back again and again and then he disappeared.
“I didn’t know if he didn’t want to read the letters or if the address had changed. I didn’t stop writing.” Unfortunately in vain, because he didn’t answer. Five years had passed in which she had waited and finally she gave up hope. “I was sure that he had met a new woman in Hamburg and that there was no future with us. She began a new life, met a new husband and had two children. “Of course I could not forget him. Nevertheless I was happy. We bought an apartment not far from Helmholtzplatz in Prenzlauer Berg.
“I have two very wonderful children who are very busy. But my husband has died in the meantime.” I pause. We sit there for a while and wait for the first movement in the park. It is still cloudy, quite cloudy so early in the morning. The first joggers run by, the first dog owners walk tired over the sidewalk. She hesitates and looks at me. Her gaze is concentrated and deepened: “Two years ago I saw him again, actually here in Berlin”. “Who?” I ask irritatedly. “Well, the lost man.” She laughs. “It was a morning like this. I sat in the park and saw him. Do you know this feeling? When your breath stays away and you go through some kind of fainting?” She takes the newspaper and folds it neatly into her brown leather bag. Then she takes off her glasses and puts it in her silver glasses case. She takes her time. And she puts me even more under torture.
“He still looked exactly the same. I recognized him from afar. He hasn’t changed at all”. Then she closes the closure of her bag and looks dreamily to the side. Her white hair was tied together in a high plait, her long black coat looked so graceful and elegant. I called out to him: “You are 53 years old, two children and a deceased husband too late.” Then she laughs again. I ask her in horror: “But why has he kept you waiting for so long?” She takes a longer break.
“To be honest, I didn’t ask anymore.”
I became more and more disbanded: “But you have waited so long for him. Didn’t he explain himself?” “He was there with his wife and grandchildren. The explanations are too late anyway. He actually returned to Berlin. Married, happy. Just as I had thought. But there was something in the air. He also felt it. We looked at each other and I thought: Damn! I am just as in love as when I was seventeen. We met a few more times for wine and dinner. Always with his wife. I think we became something like friends.” She shook her head and sighed, “After all these years, he gave me the same feeling as he did back then”.
The park was gradually filling up. Now you could feel the liveliness of the busy city. “He died recently. His wife called me. At his grave I told him the other day what an idiot he was. I didn’t really know if I should laugh, but decided for a light smile. Funny how fate sometimes plays out.
“It probably wasn’t meant to be. What remains for me are only warm, beautiful memories of him”.
She replies. I stay on the park bench for a moment. Observe the mothers with their children. I thought exactly the same. The moment I wanted to tell her, I realized how she had disappeared in the meantime. What remains is only the memory of our park encounter.