This was written around five or six years ago as part of a novel-in-progress, which got to the 100,000 word mark in document format, but is probably closer to 200,000 words considering the amount of drabble I’ve written for it in ten notebooks (yes, ten). In fact, I was looking through one of these older notebooks when I came across this excerpt, and I was so enchanted by it that I had to write it up. It’s likely that I’ll continue posting more story extracts for posterity’s sake – because, in a way, they can stand alone. They are little window-stories.
Now that it was morning, with the pale light of a calm sky soaking into the house through the windows, everything seemed more real than it had been yesterday, or indeed, the night before that. The storm had since moved on, and perhaps dissipated beyond the horizon; and yes, though the nightmarish events had now apparently ended, the remnants were still evident. The man eating biscuits at Mayada’s kitchen table was perhaps the most obvious. The absence of her parents was also blisteringly palpable, but what was so queer about this was how it presently felt so much to be like the lifting of a smothering blanket from her home. Certainly, Mayada was still too young to appreciate independence, but an innocuous soldier was occupying the desolate space before her, and, quite the opposite of terrifying her as all the other soldiers had done, he was radiating – like the very source of that real calmness – an intense yet restful warmth. Mayada was not pressed to be independent or lonely, because he was there.
The man, Herr Eisenberg, was presently a little unsure as to whether he was still wanted in the house. Despite his otherworldliness he was not incapable of reading discomfort in others, and the girl, consciously or not, was biting her lip and gazing at the kitchen window (it was too high to see through). He wanted no more of the biscuits, and so pushed them aside and drank the rest of the coffee.
Mayada sighed. Herr Eisenberg sat up and gulped, and watched as she turned to face him. Their eyes met: her ghostly transparent irises were pale and penetrating against his nervous umber gaze. She raised her finger slowly, and pointed at him.
“Ma-jor Eis-en-berg,” said Mayada.
“Who?” said he.
“You,” said Mayada.
Eisenberg looked down, confused, and pulled the sown label upon his shirt forward to meet his lowered stare. Of course, it was upside-down. He tried to twist it, but managed to read the title nevertheless. “Oh yes,” he said, and after a moment’s hesitation, continued, “I believe that’s my name.”
“You don’t know your own name?” said Mayada with the scathing pointedness only children were capable of.
“Well, I never had a name,” he replied, and then quickly added, “At least, not to begin with. It was General Ponzio who said I was called Eisenberg – because he found me in the mountains. It was cold, as well. I’m afraid I’m not too keen on the cold.” True to his word, he was still wearing that bright red scarf tightly around his neck, and his straight, narrow nose was the rosy kernel of his flushed face, as though he had just recently escaped from the throes of a snowstorm.
“Why were you up a mountain?” asked Mayada, deciding that, as it was her house, and as he had eaten her biscuits without even asking, she had every right to be haughty. She did, after all, sense a kind of weakness in him whether it was because of his physicality or character. But yet despite this vulnerability, Eisenberg did not seem aware of it himself.
He presently explained that he had no idea why he had been ‘up a mountain’, but everyone, he supposed, had to start somewhere. He then went on to explain (after Mayada continued to get “Eis-en-berg” into every sentence she spoke) that General Ponzio had always called him Lucian. And if this was to be his name, then what did she like to be called?
“Mayada,” she said, pronouncing each syllable fully. For good measure, she repeated herself. “May-yah-dah. It’s not a German name. I’m Turkish. I come from Turkey. I think me name comes from there, though Mutter said it was from some other place.”/p>
“I like your name,” said Lucian, who truthfully was unsure where or what Turkey was.
Mayada nodded approvingly. “See, all my friends at school are called Julia or Sarah or Jonas, but my name is different.”
“But I thought all names were different,” said Lucian, who appeared somewhat perplexed.
“Yes,” said Mayada, a little frustrated. “But my name’s different, see?”
Certainly, he was unsure what she was trying to say, but in these situations he had learnt that it was best to simply agree. “I agree,” he said. Mayada nodded, and let the subject drop.