9th November – 10.45pm – Berlin Friedrichstraße train station
The ticket inspector still gave him a stern look, no doubt because it was all he had ever known in his life as a ticket inspector: to always be suspicious of people who crossed the wall; crossed between East and West.
Except today was different.
Petyr wouldn’t be asked to open his bags. He wouldn’t have to worry about his cologne being too indulgent, it wouldn’t matter if he had a banana and he didn’t have to think about the various ways his book could be deemed ‘inflammatory’ to the communist, East Germans.
Very soon there would be no East and West Germany, there would just be… Germany.
“Generalmajor Baelish? Aus Bundeswehr?” The inspector asked, raising an eyebrow at his documents.
“Ja.” Could the idiot not read properly?
“Sorry. There aren’t many people travelling in this direction, especially not army personnel.” He explained, passing the documents back, “Most people are running out of East Germany, not to it.” The mouth of the ticket inspector stretched to a smile but his eyes, deep set under thick eyebrows, were questioning him.
Of course he was right. Thousands of people were desperate to leave the wasteland that Ulbricht and Honecker had left behind, and here Baelish was, running to it. He deserved to be looked at like a mad man.
But he was mad. In a way.
Bonn, West Germany
Ballet. He never quite understood it as a story telling device. It was too… simple. Brazen, one may say. Every hope, dream, intention and feeling revealed so unashamedly with the drape of a body and the stroke of a face. Petyr preferred words and books, where the characters could think one way but act another. It generally made for more excitement, he thought.
But it wasn’t that he didn’t appreciate ballet. The beauty of it, the skill, the endurance one needed to get their body to contort into those shapes night after night was truly something. Tonight, watching The West German Ballet’s instalment of La Bayadère was certainly one of the less torturous events General Baratheon had insisted Baelish attend, as one of his ‘inner circle.’ The only downside was that he had to spend the night with all these dreary army men – their counterparts from the other NATO countries – which basically left him sandwiched between some snooty British Colonel and an American Lieutenant General who had already run loose with the abundance of wine.
The worst part was talking to them. Petyr had sat down with his glass of wine just before the curtain went up, when the English one started to talk.
“So Baelish, I have met General Baratheon’s family – his lovely wife and children. I was rather hoping I would meet yours.” He spoke like he had marbles in mouth. He probably had marbles in his head if he used the word ‘lovely’ to describe Cersei Baratheon and her eldest child (the younger two still seemed fairly innocent).
“Then you will have to tell me where I can find a family, Colonel,” he replied with a smirk and sip of wine.
“You mean to say a fine man like yourself hasn’t got a wife?” Perhaps it was flattering to see the outrage on the man’s face.
“I can’t say I have tried very hard, of late. You and I both know - more than the average civilian - what kind of world we live in… the risks.”
“So you would deny yourself happiness because of the threat of a nuclear attack?”
“I’m not denying myself of happiness. I am happy.” At least he thinks he’s happy, though it’s increasingly harder to tell. “But I think it would make me very unhappy to have someone to care for, to fear for their safety, and I certainly would not bring a child into this world. We still have much work to do.”
The Englishman’s mouth dropped open as if to say something, to argue like the Brits always do, but there was a clash from the orchestra as the curtain was drawn up and the first dancers leapt across the stage.
They were entertaining, he thought, in that rather detached manner of a man who did not quite understand it all. At one point, Petyr looked at the American next to him, how mesmerised he was by the frolicking on stage. It could just have been the wine-induced fog he was in, but he was so dreamy-eyed Petyr had to wonder what he wasn’t seeing.
He followed his eyeline back to the stage, instantly seeing what it was that had him so spellbound.
A new dancer. Long limbed and weightless as she fluttered across the stage en pointe. Her body arched into a bow as she spun, her arms flowing like water.
Gamzatti – her character was called – the beautiful daughter of the Rajah who grows harder and more vicious in her attempt to remove her romantic rival, in the end, killing her with a snake bite.
This dancer was beautiful to be sure: her ivory skin peaking below the Indian-style dress, dark hair and stunning blue eyes which looked almost silver under the spotlight. Every move she made drew him in further. The tight lift of her legs, arms reaching for an embrace, her body arching as if hands were running up her waist. Her neck bending as if a ghost were kissing the length of it.
She could have been dancing for hours, or it could have been mere seconds – he had no idea - except that he watched her dance like every movement was for him, and he was that man touching her skin, holding her against his body and feeling her.
The stage fell dark with smoke and lighting for the dramatic end, Gamzatti disappearing. Dying. Then the room was alight with applause.
He took a dry swallow and blinked out of the dream, realising everyone was on their feet in a standing ovation for the dancers. Maybe this is what it meant to truly understand ballet, he thought, and then suddenly found his eyes settling on her. The dancer. She bowed low to her applause, with a dimpled smile and fever-bright glare that seemed to catch him, if just for a second, before she unfolded and fell into ranks of other dancers. She didn’t blend in well at all.
He felt warm and heavy when he walked out of the main theatre, as was often the case after spending two and half hours in a room with hundreds of people and burning stage lights. Maybe he needed a cigarette? No, he needed real fresh air in his lungs. So he excused himself from the group and stood out in the cold air of Bonn, taking deep breaths to clear the stale air in his lungs.
He spotted the poster for the production:
Nikiya – Gisella Edel
Solor – Alexander Rauch
Gamzatti – Alayne Stein
It was a momentary distraction from the matter in hand: fabricating an excuse, something that would allow him to bow out of the rest of the evening of drinking with these bores, but it had to be something believable and reasonable. Everyone knew he had no family to get back to, and his parents were dead.
He would feign a developing flu, such a well-used and clichéd excuse that people tend to believe it because who would use such as obvious excuse anymore?
He walked back inside, shaking a cigarette from his box, placing it between his lips and feeling around in his pockets (because this was not his army uniform) for where he had kept his lighter. He spotted General Baratheon, huddled in a group of his intolerable extended family and a few others, and he walked over looking to explain his early exit with a feigned croak.
“Herr General – ”
“Ah! Petyr!” He cut off his excuses with a thump on the back and a toothy grin, obviously he had drunk many glasses of wine, he could smell it on his breath. “Look who we have found.” He gestured between his wife and children to a young woman, now redheaded, but he would recognise her face, the slope of her neck, anywhere.
“Generalmajor,” Cersei smiled at him, coldly, though she was completely taken by the girl. “Das ist Alayne Stein, she played the role of Gamzatti. Wasn’t she brilliant?”
The redhead’s eyes clapped on him. It reminded him of that deer he’d almost killed on the road one time, the perfect picture of innocence. He’d broken his collar bone trying to avoid it.
“Ja, klasse,” he replied, risking eye contact with the young dancer and smiling, uncomfortably, though no one else would notice.
She flashed a beautiful smile back, far more than he deserved for such a curt answer and he feared that picture would etch itself into his mind. That vivid colour of her hair was always hard to forget.
He then casually lit his cigarette with the lighter he had finally found, as Cersei continued.
“I can’t believe they make her cover up her wonderful red hair for the role, but I suppose Gamzatti is Indian and they do not have red hair,” she smiled. “She is a new dancer for the Company, you know? It is probably the only reason she wasn’t playing the main role – ”
“Oh no, Frau Baratheon, Gisella is a fine dancer…” Alayne chimed demurely. Petyr had a feeling the girl was still watching him.
“Such a sweet little bird,” Cersei smiled at her, “Anyway, I have asked Alayne and her dance partner to perform at the dinner we are hosting at our house in a few weeks.”
He had no clue what he was supposed to say to all this, only that he wanted to get out of here and guzzle a bottle of scotch. Alone. And he didn’t want to think of more events he was forced to attend.
“I’m sure it will be splendid,” he obliged, “But Herr General, I’m afraid I must be leaving. I have an early morning as you know and my throat is feeling a little rough – ”
“Oh, of course, of course,” the General replied.
“Thank you for inviting me.” He smiled at the family. “Congratulations, again, Alayne.”
He was bid farewell, took a final glance at the dancer, before he turned and made his way out of the theatre.
He dropped his cigarette to the pavement outside, pausing to look at the poster he had seen earlier. Alayne Stein, it said.
But the girl he had just met was not Alayne Stein.