A Different End
He first looked down onto the place. Saw himself in the endlessly multiplied portraits: wavy hair and sensuous lips, a forehead like a cornfield. His polychrome face was surrounded by flags and signs showing the same selection of words: Long live our wise leader! The beloved son of our people! The architect of our golden future!
The gathered crowd began shouting his four-syllable name and the initials of the party. Every ten minutes an acclamation roared in the loudspeakers of the place as if on a signal. Just like in Nabucco, the only opera that he really loved and that apparently moved him more than the Marseillaise, the International and the Tricolore: The conductor raised his baton and the famous choir song of the slaves flowed over the state and flooded the arena, the whole city of Verona. He could never resist these thundering sounds, whistled some tones of the melody. No, the people is by no means a hydra with a thousand heads, as had been maintained by somebody, but a splendid obedient choir of sheep, he smiled and enjoyed his praise. The demonstration ran as usual as it had been practised for years. He was still feeling invulnerable. And as he agreed with the Sun King in that the state and his person were one, in spite of the revolutionary ghost, he also believed in the invulnerability of the socialist republic.
Now he looked into the empty eyes of his wife, standing on the same balcony of the Central Committee, and he felt the claws of doubt for the first time. His high spirits slackened. If it was right to let her be decorated with such an abundance of titles, and if she still remembered the little fairy tale fish that fulfills all three night wishes… He looked at her again and this time he saw her head thrown back, proud like a bird of prey, the glacier in her neck, the hairdo of a doll. No, she did not remember any more. She had thrown away her bad certificate of primary school and the sewing machine of her youth, into the waste disposal somewhere in her memories, "What else could I have done with such lousy memories, I as a member of the academy and habilitated chemist of global glory," she played her trumps, and so he had to abandon the idea of a museum for her former bits and pieces. In contrast, he had told everybody and everywhere about the shoes he had resoled and all about his repeated imprisonments in the thirties. It is all in the books, as he is, was, and will be an advocate of historical completeness. A grand sentence, his professor of rhetoric would praise him, even though he had difficulty in pronouncing the word “advocate.”
The boos! They have become louder, an uneasy voice called from his prominent entourage.
Speak to the people! Go and talk to them, his wife said in a demanding voice, without looking at him. "That’s why we interrupted our visit to our Arabian friend and hurried home!"
He was hurt in his soul, could not believe the complete switch in the crowd’s mood within a few seconds. Why boos? A second ago they were cheering him. Can’t have been just imagining things…
Now he also heard the screams and the thousand fold murmurs and he saw the columns breaking up and forming again. They are no sheep, they are a sea monster, he realized a little late, too late, the increasing displeasure from below.
"Dear citizens," he heard himself say in a hoarse voice as always and with a tremolo: "The revolt of Temesvar has been crushed. That consecrated lout and some enemies of our country have tried by their rabble-rousing speeches to destabilize not only this city but also our socialist republic and to make you uneasy… "We are no louts," a voice struck back.
At the next moment the incredible happened: Signs of tribute were destroyed under the rage of many feet, hands were tearing the red flags to pieces, and stones were hurled up to the balcony. After that - the storming. As if somebody had opened the floodgates. The soldiers were only watching and waiting. Minor actors in a film, or having changed sides? "I did not commit any outrage," the broken atheist tried to appease the raging crowd, but even this psalm word–his last tactical move–did not reach any eardrum.
The mixture of crime thriller, cavemen war, and revolution à la francaise nauseated him.
His sugar level rose, he stumbled on the escape stairs, he gasped for breath like a fish and hissed: "That is the curse of the destroyed churches and villages!" He pressed shut the loft door in his panic, wandered around having lead in his legs and finally crawled into a half empty archives cupboard. Within the next minutes he trudged out again soaked with sweat and dropped on a pile of mouldy party cards lying there uncovered. Anyway, his claustrophobia was stronger than his fear of his angry subjects. " No, I won’t give up, not in this way." He suppressed the trembling questions of his body. Only in this moment he noticed the absence of his wife and of the other members of his Politburo who had been standing on the balcony together with him. With fresh power he managed to stand up again and he clutched the frame of a skylight and looked outside. He only saw the shadow of a huge bird.
A helicopter flew over the pylon and landed unnoticed on the concrete roof of the party building; the shrill uproar of the crowd absorbed the noise of the propeller. The pilot saw him from his window, waved to him. He found hope again. His trembling heart was still burning with the ambition to lead this country to the paradise era of communism. "In three days’ time there will be Christmas, "he remembered, "They will not do any evil to us. They can’t go to church and celebrate Jesus’ birth and at the same time dispose of me and my family. That does not go together. I will find evidence against this scratch mob. I insist on my being heard before the Great National Assembly!" At first he whispered this venerable sentence like a prompter, so softly that the mice couples that were filling their bellies in their paper settlements pricked their ears, then he repeated this sentence, very loudly and with determination.
His coat, lined with lynx fur, warmed him again. He was not dizzy any more. When the sun was hiding in the icy fog, the pilot came and fetched him without any effort and took him to the helicopter. There his wife was sitting, her eyes closed and with a bleeding lower lip. "May the devil take the hindmost," she told him a little of an oracle and was silent again. He startled and formed a round 'O' or 'Oh' for an answer, but it got stuck in his throat and he stepped back some steps as if he wanted to say: I will not fly with you, I will return to my loft and prepare my defence. "We have got to leave," the pilot interrupted this surprising pantomime, "otherwise the machine guns will riddle us with bullets before we reach the border." "Help her to escape, save her!" he said and disappeared. He, who never wept, now burst into tears that wetted his leathery retina and made him see the unimaginative room in which he now stayed, with soft silhouettes, to fill it with images from his mind. He wept because he was free now.
Was he to blame? Were his people kept in the dark like bats? Did he really get infusions of children’s blood to keep him young forever? Did he really sacrifice so many human lives only to build the largest palace in the world?
When the pyramids were built, many more slaves died, but no pharaoh was killed because of that, he tried to ease the urgent feeling of guilt.
Automatically he thought of his 'opera.' But this time the memories of the overwhelming choir music were not good for him. He saw slaves coming up to him in hordes, how they stamped on him with their feet and tied him to a pillar of his mega palace. They were singing while doing this and their swelling melody piled up in his head, throbbed against his tired temples and burst into a wild fortissimo.
He could no longer bear Nabucco. "Stop it," he shouted in horror and ran out of the loft. With toddling steps he ran down the endless stairs. He stopped several times to catch his breath and wondered why he met nobody. Suddenly it was silent and dark in the stair case, a bluish beam came from a street light. When he had left the last step, he came to a door that he recognized at once: here his shelter begins, his labyrinthine shelter.
His breath calmed down. He had the wish to enter his personal shelter, that he had never seen before. Now he had the time, he smiled at this thought like he would smile at the burlesque of a circus clown. Because the others believed that he had wanted to flee in that helicopter.
He read every doorplate, opened each door. Finally he entered the room that was called “the world.” High above a canyon there stood all the heads of state and of government who had granted him the highest honours when he visited them. He pleaded with them: "Support me! You are my witnesses before history!" He did not yet notice that he had left those times. For breaking their strange silence, he grasped their hands, but they felt hard and lifeless. "They are only made of wax!" he shouted, deeply shattered.
Under the burden of this experience he entered the next room. “H o m e l a n d ,” he spelled the name as if he wanted to postpone the new disillusion for some minutes that he suspected.
His wet glance fell onto the veranda of his parents’ house. Unchanged, with the colourful geraniums and the nasturtium. Father seems to tell his incessant dirty jokes to a drinking mate, the two are laughing so roguishly. And this nostalgic love song at the chopping board, he grinned and turned, also to avoid smelling the cheaply distilled plum brandy. "Oh mum, I want to come to you! You will protect me, won’t you, just like you always did!" He called to the small fat peasant woman who was sitting on her chair, spinning wool for a shirt. He wished she would conceal him under her wide flax skirt like in those days when there was lightning and thunder.
When he stepped very close to her and caressed her head, she fell from the chair and her spindle rolled into the grass. "My God, the Jain was taken aback, is my mother only a plastic doll? And the house, the geraniums? What is truth? Whose son am I?" The darkest doubt came out of his mouth.
This will be the last room that I enter, he decided in front of the door with the plate “Arts.” The last room was an archipelago of desk islands, easels, music stands, shaky book piles and worn out string instruments. The first that he took in his hands was a book with poems. He opened it and read some titles. "Where are you poets? And painters? And song writers? You, courtiers, who made me the titan of all titans and son of the sun? You also deny me?" he shouted in a rage and he hit the heavy tip of his winter shoe on pots with paint, harps and books, on everything that might have betrayed him.
Then he tore out page after page from the book of poems and threw them high into the air. "Paper birds, nothing else," he wheezed.
He wanted to go to the door but stumbled over a painting that had been spared.
His foot prepared in the air for a new attack. But then it was curiosity that made him pick up the painting from the floor and have a look at it.
"That’s me!" he cheered. Only short breathed sentences followed, notes for every detail: "On the raft. Without any followers. Only me and the ocean. The Black. I am rowing out to sea, breaking the high waves, I am going to other shores."
He even began singing the refrain of a well-known shanty and maybe he would have sung louder, if a whirling giant’s hand had not seized him all of a sudden and snatched the painting from his hand.
"But this picture is mine! That’s me in that picture," the navigator protested desperately who had suddenly been left without any dreams. "That’s not you in that picture," a subdued voice contradicted him. "But I can take you there, if you want to. There the sun has not faded yet. Are you still thinking of the conspiracy?"
He could not see anybody, neither on the floor nor at the ceiling nor in the corners.
The voice was talking again: "I am no ghost. And I do not lure you anywhere. Call me wind. Christmas wind."
He believed the wind and yet a broody tone was perceptible in his reply. Yes, he wanted to go to the raft on the high seas.
"Will my people still look up to me and admire me?" he wanted to know before.
"And shall I take off my coat? And where will my soul go to sleep in the picture? And how will I get to know in time when Christmas comes? How can I reach my destination without any compass and sea chart?"
The wind heard the helplessness of the dethroned dictator, whispered into his ear: "Trust in the current and the stars like the Inca did…"
The next morning the firing squad found him in the barely furnished “arts chamber” where the only musical instrument, a children’s trumpet, was swimming between the lynx fur and his biographies in the icy water. He was lying on his back, the raft picture firmly pressed to his chest. The paratroopers turned off the tap and switched off the electric fan at the ceiling. They took out the twenty-five cartridges from their machine guns and laid them onto his forehead like on a grave.
"Merry Christmas," said the youngest of them.