After the Emergency
By Matt Perkins
I was working in the philosophy library, pretending to be a student again, though I was actually working on a presentation for a client about their corporate social responsibility policy, when the alarm sounded. I thought it was a fire alarm, or, because it was coming from both my smartphone and my laptop, some kind of virus.
The mature student on my desk had got the same alert. He said to a younger student across from him, whose hair was braided like a mediaeval princess, “have you got this too?”
It said something like: “Emergency Nationwide Test”.
It said below – hardly reassuring as alarms were also going off in the street outside: “This is not an emergency”.
The sirens all stopped at more or less the same time.
I texted my partner. It was only when I saw the three little dots to show she was typing that I felt anything like okay again, although my heart was still pounding so hard that, to still or settle it, I felt like I had to hold it.
“Once or twice they have gone off and killed people, or at least blown their arms off.”
Patti, our friend in Leipzig, was telling me about the unexploded ordinance they sometimes found in peoples’ cellars, lodged there like compacted food in a cavity.
“Well, more often than not, they don’t go off,” she said.
She had just received a text forwarded to her by her daughter to say that there had been a bomb discovered on the street where she was staying with a friend.
“I just don’t like the idea of her having to leave the exclusion zone by herself,” Patti told me while she typed a reply to her daughter.
By the time we finished our tea, it looked like they weren’t going to implement an exclusion zone after all.
Patti apologised for checking her phone so often. I told her she could text her daughter all she wanted.
“She’s fine,” said Patti, and turned her phone over.
On the walk I took around the block to calm myself down after the alarm went off, I listened to the end of a podcast about eco-activists in the 1990s.
Then I listened to a podcast about the group of radicals who had tried to overthrow the German government, which included soundbites from a demonstration in Thuringia.
The person speaking sounded like someone only pretending to be right-wing, like the host of a decadent cabaret in the roaring twenties:
The rainbow imperium want nothing to be sacred any longer. Rainbow flags are hoisted outside shops and kindergartens. Nothing is sacred, meine Damen und Herren, not even the souls of your children.
I was concentrating on the podcast, trying to follow the German, and I nearly ran into a gardener carrying an armful of foliage cut away from a huge topiary pyramid in the front-garden of a new-build house.
On his jumper were the words: Paris. Give a FU$#
I googled the attacks in Paris that had happened in 2015. 137 people had died in the attacks. At least 416 people had been injured. I wondered if the gardener, or someone he loved, had been caught up in what had happened?
Then I googled the t-shirt. The product description on amazon simply read: “The trendy design is a great alternative to the everyday norm”.
It also said:
“You will not only receive your unique piece on time, but because we use only sustainable materials in the manufacture of this item, you will also be safe in the knowledge that you will also be protecting the environment”.
When my partner and I first arrived in Germany, I got a bad stomach bug.
We had been renting a studio apartment in Leipzig and I felt sorry that she was having to share the room, and the bathroom, with such a disgusting mess.
We had been watching a British baking contest on our shared VPN, and I remember getting up thinking that I needed to vomit, nearly falling, and staggering to the bathroom.
I sat down on the toilet, head between my knees. I stared at the little wooden stool by the bathtub.
I can’t remember toppling forward. But I do remember being on the floor and feeling the sting of my cheeks where, while I’d been unconscious, my partner had slapped me several times in the face.
There was one moment, she said later, where my eyes had rolled up and she could see the whites of my eyes.
My head was sore from where it had caught the side of the wooden stool.
She asked me some questions including what year and month it was.
I got the year right, but I got the month wrong.
In the taxi and in the waiting room, my partner made me play all sorts of games, like I-spy, because she thought you shouldn't go to sleep if you had a concussion (although this isn't actually the case).
“I-spy with my little eye, something beginning with F.”
She also made me tell her the story of what had happened on the baking show.
I hadn’t really been aware of it having a story at the time, but there was a kind of arc, I supposed, in the fact that one of them had burnt their cake on the first challenge and, for the finale, pulled off an incredible set of mini pecan-tarts.
We joked about what would happen if I had woken up and could only narrate episodes from our favourite cooking shows.
I teared up because I thought maybe this would really be how it ended for one of us. Trying to get the other one to stay awake, before their eyes rolled-up and went white and they left the other one for good.
When I got back to the library, I went to pee and above the urinal was written:
“Don’t search for jokes on the wall. You’re holding one in your hand.”
The quote was ascribed to Plato.
I took a picture of the quote and sent it to my partner.
The three dots appeared and disappeared followed by a big thumb emoji.
It was only then I felt I could get back to work. Matt Perkins is a freelance writer and editor based in Munich. He is originally from the UK and speaks English and German. (matthewjperkins.com, Twitter: MattJohnPerkins)