Been a long time since I last posted a story on this site, but – spurred on by the deadline of a Dutch writing competition – today I felt inspired. So here it is, a story that doesn’t quit adhere to the 300-words rule as it originated in Dutch and was consequently translated into English. Enjoy ‘How Willy became witty’!
A long time ago, in the days the animals still spoke, Germans were funny. Hilariously, roll-on-the-floor funny. At least that’s what Willy’s granny maintained, between the soggy Christmas kisses – partly on the mouth, partly on the cheek – and the traditional ‘Bleigiessen’.
Though he did not deem the fact entirely impossible, Willy had never seen any evidence to substantiate the claim. In the eyes of some a hearty laugh alone should be punishable on this side of the Wall anyway, smothering any chance for any wittiness at all to thrive.
Of course behind the grey facades of the East-Berlin apartments laughter still occurred, even if it happened subdued and hidden and if not Germans witticisms were laughed at but – on New Year’s Eve at least, on the grainy screen that transmitted the NDR network – dubbed, black-and-white pleasantries, exchanged between a doddery English Lady and her butler.
The latter’s final wink would not be glimpsed by Willy this year since out of nowhere Udo popped up, proudly presenting an amorphous, wet lump of lead in his hand.
“What do you see, Vati?” the boy asked. “Something good?”
It was just a rubbish piece of lead, resembling in nothing the roguish amalgamated piglet Udo had moments ago had held in a spoon above a red-hot flame. It was not the kind of blunt truth Willy wanted to tell his son, so he pretended to inspect the lead lump long enough for the phone to inevitably ring, which would earn him at least a couple of minutes to come up with an acceptable answer.
“Hello, Edeltraud,” Willy answered when he picked up the phone.
His sister would call every New Year’s Eve at five to twelve on the dot. Always wishing the same wishes. Good health. A nice job. No Stasi officers knocking on the door.
Günter, Willy suddenly realised. Viewed from a particular angle the lump of lead resembled Günter Schabowski, his former chief editor at the Neues Deutschland paper and now a bigwig at the SED party. In Willy’s mind the first, rudimentary contours of a gibe started to form, which by the end of the telephone conversation had evolved into a full-blown witticism.
Sporting credibly shaking hands Willy put down the phone and addressed his family in his best shock face.
“The Wall has fallen,” he stammered. “Schabowski has confirmed it. We’re free to ring in the New Year in the West.”
For a moment an eerie silence hang in the air. Momentarily all gasped for air. Briefly anything and everything seemed possible.
Then Hildegard started snickering and Udo guffawed and granny let out the most uproarious belly-laugh. For Willy keeping a straight face was no longer an option. In tune with the rest of his family he laughed so hard it hurt. The echoes of their combined hilarity made the walls tremble to such an extent the cross above the door spontaneously dropped onto the floor.
From the streets the first round of joyful cheers rolled in and the thin curtains could no longer hide the multi-coloured light flashes from across the Wall.
Willy uncorked the bottle of ‘sekt’ and poured a generous amount into everyone’s glasses, while Udo indulged in an oversized portion of Vita Cola.
“Zum neuen Jahr,” Willy toasted.
The glasses sounded.