Our paths crossed, again, as I was walking along the canal on a silent Sunday morning of mid November. The temperature had dropped overnight but was not yet at freezing point. The little man greeted me with a toothy smile, to which I politely responded. I knew of him for one of the multitude of minor demons that populate this city, largely innocuous, albeit one couldn’t tell for certain. We had met before, and I was a little intrigued to see him here, of all places, a hardly popular meeting place, squeezed between the industrial area east of the canal, and the deserted streets bordering the edge of the kiez.
“Are you enjoying the city at its quietest?” he enquired cheerfully.
“Indeed, most adults are having brunch, or considering it, and the younger are probably still fast asleep after a night on the town!” I replied, half absent minded about the question.
“You are right, this is a good time to enjoy the city, and forgotten places such as this… Or indeed our many beautiful cemeteries…”
I was surprised. I had taken an interest in the many small cemeteries to be found in all neighbourhoods, in the beautiful trees often planted there, and in some of the most intriguing old graves. But how would he have known of my interest? I decided silence was best.
“Have you been to the one on Turner road? The grounds there are beautifully kept…”
The street was on my way to the school, and I walked there twice a week during term. How did he know, or was it just a coincidence? In the summer I had stopped there a couple of times to look at the small stones of the soldiers’ grave in one corner of the cemetery, left of the entrance. Most civilian cemeteries in the city have a military corner, with graves from the two world wars, or their aftermath.
It was time to counter-attack.
“Of course you know all these places of old, don’t you?” I said rather abruptly. “After all, you and your colleagues have not much else to do than visit, time and again?” He did not appear shocked by my statement. His smile was just a little more of a rictus, but he corrected himself quickly.
“We… I am busier than you seem to think, Herr Dupuis. We contribute much to the city’s knowledge of itself. Sometime the authorities don’t even notice, for example, the interest that someone like you, a valuable visitor, shows for these things, old streets, old churches, isolated parks… In fact, Herr Dupuis, by now you know more about it than many of its (younger) inhabitants!”
We were walking in the direction of the bridge and I was mulling over my companion’s story. Contributing to the city’s knowledge of itself? What did he mean by that? But, again, he was changing the subject.
“I see you wrote again about an interview with the one you call the “good doctor”… An intriguing name, from someone of your persuasion, I mean political persuasion!” I was lost. What could he possibly know about my political views? And how could he know about my writing?
The “good doctor”? Was this creature getting too personal? I was tempted to give him a shove toward the water. But he continued.
“I enjoyed reading that interview. You understand a lot about our city Herr Dupuis. I think you are… transmuting, may I say, into one of us. But one of the old guard, if you know what I mean…” I did not and was getting somewhat annoyed by the turn of the conversation.
He must have sensed this.
“Ha… It’s getting late for me, and I must not take advantage of your kindness, Herr Dupuis. Einen schönen Sonntag noch! Au revoir maintenant!” He’d already disappeared.
I resumed my walk. There were a few joggers around, and the odd dog walker. I had written about the interview on my blog, so that creature must have read it. I was being read, observed, I was the object of “their” attention. What did they report to their boss?
Picture: das Nordufer, weddingweiser.wordpress.com