The Story History Will Forget
My name is Agatha and this is my story. Whether you accept it as truth, is entirely up to you.
You see - sometimes, just sometimes, if you're really lucky - lives become stories. They linger even after the original life fades out, and with every retelling they live lives of their own. They grow,they change, then become entities of their own. Bravery becomes heroic. Loss becomes tragic. Love becomes epic. And all of this is seen through the subjective colour filters of the movie in our minds.
As I said, this is my story, but it is not how history will remember me.
My birth was an accident, as wasn't so uncommon in those days. My mother got married in a dress three sizes too large to hide the growing bump that was her belly. I always felt like my life was something of a dress rehearsal: badly planned, but creatively improvised. But perhaps that comparison is simply a product of childhood memories. I was born in a tiny apartment above the atelier of madame Belhumeur, a world-renowned seamstress who had originally come to Lutz to make costumes for a grand production of "The Castrato, his Wife, her Lover and his Mother", which had been critically acclaimed as a comical masterpiece. She had found that she preferred to be close to the mountains, and swapped her own metropolis for more picturesque settings. From my childhood I remember the constant, mechanical hum of Madame Belhumeur's Singer sewing machine, and a rainbow of fabrics that seemed unending, stretching from one side of the room to the other, and then back again. Sometimes an actor or actress, surely renowned in circles that could afford the theatre, would come in to try on a costume and say something like "Marvellous, darling, marvellous!" and then spend half an hour looking in the mirror. I was mesmerised by the whole thing when I was a little girl, and my parents were convinced that I would surely follow in her footsteps.
It turned out my heart belonged somewhere else, though. At the age of 6, on the day before Christmas Eve, my parents took me to the Christmas Market. While I was dazzled by the lights, the stalls with many colourful gifts and the sugary sweet smells of pancakes and mulled wine - there was only one thing that truly drew my attention. Behind the stall, I could see a shop. Behind the shop's window, there was a sea of pastel pastries, decorated for the season with white chocolate snowflakes. I managed to escape the grip of my father's hand and approached the shop almost reverently. I pressed my palms and my nose against the window, and I remember that all I wanted in that moment was to be inside.
My father, amused by my display of unfiltered love at first sight, picked me up and took me into the bakery. There was a long line, but I was not bored for a single second. I looked around like I had just entered into a fair tale, and I never wanted to leave. We did, of course, eventually - with an adorable pink box decorated by a blue ribbon.
My parents and I ate the pastries while sitting on the bench under the ancient tree on Town Square as snow began to fall and Christmas carols still sounded in the distance. That was the very moment I decided to be a baker.
Nine years later I was accepted for an apprenticeship at Mendl's, and it was the happiest day of my life. The year that followed was a good year - we were happy, we had a bit more money, and I brought home free pastries every Saturday. I have a picture of one of those Saturdays, black-and-white and yellowed with time now, and it still fills my hearth with warmth and a tinge of nostalgia.
Happiness did not last long, though, as it never does. The next winter my mother died of pneumonia. My father followed her two years later. The doctor said his ailment was an unknown disease, but I always suspected it was a broken heart that killed him.
At 18, I was completely alone in the world. They do not truly use the word "orphan" anymore when you're not a child, but that is still how I felt. I could not longer afford the apartment at Madame Belhumeur's and Mr. Mendl himself was so kind as to offer me a room. The place was small, my wages were meager, but I settled into this life with contentment. Some may have said I was being taken advantage of, but when my fingers entwined with dough I was happy, and there was no other place I'd rather be in the world.
I first met Zero Mustafa when he was running an errand for Gustave H. from the Grand Budapest Hotel. He looked slightly silly, with his drawn-on moustache and a cap saying "bell boy" that stood crookedly on his head. But there was something terribly endearing about him, about the way he stood upright and took his task so seriously, like getting pastries was an assignment akin to shaking hands with royalty.
He came back, many times, and eventually it wasn't just for the pastries.
I loved him with all my heart, the way that you love when you are young and feel it for the first time. It was the love that poets have spilled ink over, the love that was glorified in song, that lingered for centuries even after both parties were long dead and gone. This was the love that burned in my chest, and I saw in his eyes when he looked at me.
I was reluctant, at first, when he told me about the stolen painting. I wanted nothing to do with it. But the truth is, I would have done far more, broken many a law, to help the one person in my life who made me feel like I had a home. I took a liking to his employer, Gustave H., as well. Not in that way, of course, but he was a charming man that I still remember fondly.
If I am entirely honest, I enjoyed the adventure. It made my heart beat faster and my body tingle, much like first love all over again. The day when Gustave H. married us, not long after, became the new "happiest day of my life".
Life was good again, for a while. I moved into the Grand Budapest, and I felt like I was living the life of a Queen. There were more colours there than perhaps even at Mendl's, and even if we were not one of the guests, we shared in a part of that luxury.
I told Zero that I was expecting on a misty spring morning, and he was so overjoyed that he picked me up and twirled me around several times - then put me down and apologised profusely, worried he might have made me nauseous.
Our son was born just a few days before Christmas, during the coldest winter that I had seen in m lifetime. The Prussian grippe was claiming victims all over the continent, and had finally arrived in Lutz as well. My son was one of its first victims; he died on a frosty night in January at the Lutz General Hospital. I, too, had taken ill, and the revolting cough was already making its way through my lungs. I did not care anymore - the death of my son had already knocked the life out of me. My spirit lost the will to live, my heart lost the capacity for love. Where once there was only joy when I looked at Zero's face, now there was only pain, as I could only see our child's features in his every facial expression. He, too, was grieving. Let it never be said that he wasn't. But my grief was a little deeper, a little more all-consuming, and I knew I would never overcome it.
I went to the hospital thinking I was going to die. I was ready for it. I welcomed it. But death never came. In the chaos of the influx of the sick and the dying, I saw a chance to disappear. A doctor must have later told Zero that I had died, finding nothing but an empty bed. I did not wish to make him suffer, but I could not stay. I thought perhaps thinking I was dead would give him the chance to move on.
I left with nothing - I did not mind. I had come from nothing and did not fear returning to it. I took the train South,to where the seasons were milder, people's hair was darker and the language sounded like singing. There, I was eagerly accepted as an apprentice at a bakery that was all-too-eager to learn all of Mendl's secrets.
I heard things, I read papers. News of Gustave's violent death had reached me and I cried so hard my tears left marks on the green icing I was making. I kept track of Zero's life and exploits. He became wealthy and famous, and I genuinely thought he deserved every stroke of luck that came his way. Nobody knew who I was, and had they known, they probably would have asked me if I did not regret leaving such a wealthy man, who could have given me everything I wanted. They would never understand that I had everything I wanted before he was ever wealthy - but I lost it.
Years passed, and I took over the baker shop from the previous owner. Now the word "Agatha's" was written on the shop window with thick, ornamental red letters. Often I wondered if the name wouldn't give it away, if he would not find me after all - but he never did, perhaps because he did not know he was looking. I never remarried, or had any other children, but I did what I loved. I was fairly well-off in the end, and I spent my days near the sea, listening to the cries of seagulls and the sound of children playing.
I took an apprentice called Marciano, a boy with black hair and golden fingers, who would one day be a worthy successor. It would have been a good ending, to grow old and to die there. It was what many people dreamed of: to have their own business, to retire by the sea.My story could have stopped here, and it almost did.
But one day, the unexpected happened. Marciano came to work with a book that changed everything. "Hey, didn't you come from Zubrowka?" he asked enthusiastically as he handed me the volume. It was titled "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and it made every memory come right back to me. I devoured the pages, and my heart broke when I found out Zero still cried for me, still kept my memory alive through the hotel.
I packed my bags, left the bakery to Marciano and took the train to Lutz.
When I arrived at the Grand Budapest, I barely recognized it. It was stripped of its old glory, and not even one fifth of the rooms had guests. I booked a suite, and became friendly with Claude, who truly did seem to fight his own boredom by over-sharing information with guests. I asked him if the owner ever still visited, and he told me I was in luck - that he had planned to arrive next Tuesday.
I spent a few anxious days in my room. Would he even want to see me, I wondered? Would he ever forgive me? But I had to try, before it was too late. This is the part of the story that history books will forget or fail to mention, but it's the most important part nonetheless.
We saw each other again that Tuesday evening, in the mostly-empty lobby of The Grand Budapest Hotel,upon his arrival. He recognized me instantly, dropping both his bags to the ground, pressing his hand on his heart as he started to cry.
I expected swearing, or anger, or guilt-tripping - but there was none of that. He took me in his arms, and it was like nothing had ever changed, like we were still two young people standing in the lobby of the Grand Budapest, waiting for our lives to begin.
We made love that night in the one-person bed of his old room, and all was well with the world.
We did not speak of my reasons for leaving; I think he understood.
We left the Grand Budapest Hotel a week later, but we would return there many times after - reminiscing, but mostly making new memories.