the BLUE STOOL
(AN EXCERPT from MY ARCH EMILY)
The next afternoon, Mana boarded the Berlin S-Bahn at the Ostbahnhof stop. She found a seat in the very back of the last car. She had a slightly uneven smile on her face as she watched the stations pass by the window.
“I will be waiting for you at the Tiergarten in the center of Berlin, at sunset. You can’t miss it — the park, that is. You will find me at the National Gallery in the Kulturforum looking at the Edward Munch exhibition. Just between you and me, I am your only hope, Mana, if you wish to live. I am the one, remember?”
His email was indelibly imprinted on her mind. It had to be him — CIA. She had another dream about him last night; he had stroked her hair this time. “I will never slap you again,” he said, before he wept, telling her it had been love at first sight for him.
As the S-Bahn whistled through Berlin, stopping and starting, unloading and loading passengers, Mana sat quietly, deep in thought about him. She wore a Yankee’s baseball cap, sunglasses, dirty designer jeans, and a torn jean jacket buttoned up to her neck. Her face a mask of longing beautifully articulated, treasuring the memory of her dream and the text of the email, waiting for her stop at the Tiergarten.
At last, she had pure feelings. That is what the voices had promised. She was very happy as she exited the S-Bahn.
But a blank space interceded.
After the void, it was sunset. The day had passed. For a moment she could not place herself in reality.
The sound of a bee buzzing and the sight of flowers and green bushes told her it was the Tiergarten. She brushed away an ant that was crawling up her cheek, not wanting to kill it. She was so hungry and tired. Apparently she had fallen asleep in a flower bed. She looked around the park, thankful no one had seen her napping. She stood up and dusted herself off with the Yankee’s cap.
She was late. She started walking towards the Kulturforum, the area of Tiergarten where the National Gallery and her operative would be waiting.
In the twilight, the city lights were turning on all around her. Marble steps led her to the expansive promenade mall. Another sign guided her toward the New National Gallery. As she passed distractedly by to enter the Art Gallery, a large distinctive Henry Moore sculpture filled the space in front of the gallery with a curvaceous solidity, impassively reflecting the pink and indigo hues of sunset.
Inside she looked for the Edward Munch exhibition. Her heart was pounding. The feeling reminded her of him — CIA, in the DMZ — in limbo, in love.
A young German woman at the Information Counter directed her down the stairs.
“Turn right at the bottom, and then to the left. You can’t miss it.”
Where was he? She did not see the operative yet. There was only a short and thick Asian man standing alone in front of the Munch exhibition, pretending to study a painting entitled Melancholy. He held a phone to his ear; he was talking, unaware of her presence.
She thought no, no, it’s not him. It was General Bong — the pig. Mind-Metro’s chief of security. Mana looked around frantically for the operative.
She whispered, “Where are you CIA?” Nothing made any sense anymore. She walked reluctantly toward General Bong and the painting. The painting started to pull her into its flux. All of its flowing brush strokes stirred something inside her.
Standing behind the General, she could not pull her attention away from the young woman in the painting, who seemed bent over with the burdens of life.
She’s like me, thought Mana, mesmerized by the burnt orange and russet-colored dress. The woman on the blue stool rested her head heavily in her hands, with her elbows planted firmly on her knees. Her long dark hair hung straight down, draping her forearms, touching her knees.
“The blue stool is her inner strength — her life force, her core,” whispered Mana. “Even though she is hurt and longing for what she can’t ever have — she will strike with her clenched fist — she will strike her enemy down.”
With that thought Mana raised her arm to hit the General, who was still talking into his phone.
But as she reared back, she was grabbed from behind.
Hearing the commotion behind him, General Bong turned around. There was a smile on his face, and then fear. He shouted, “Ms. Zhang, is that you? Mana, what is the meaning of this? Do you want to hit me? But I brought you a gift.”
She was subdued by two men. She screamed as if in a nightmare. Quickly a thick male hand covered her mouth.
“Fraulein, please, we are here to help you.” The voice spoke to her in German and English.
“Who are you?” demanded General Bong, facing the two men.
The men were wearing maintenance uniforms, and simply ignored him. They just pushed Bong out of the way, and escorted Mana from the National Gallery.
Bong followed after them, shouting, “She is mine. I came here to get her. Who are you people? She is mine. I want her. I own her. She is mine.”
The men kept on walking, dragging her away.
“I tell you she is mine,” shouted Bong. “This is no good. You cannot take her. If I can’t have her, I will call the police. They are expecting my call anyway. They want her very badly.”
He pushed a button on the cellphone and put it to his ear.
One of the Germans let go of Mana and punched him, knocking the phone from his fat hands. The General recovered and took up a taekwondo attack position. He fought skillfully, but he was too old and slow for the young German, who felled him with one kick.
By now a crowd had gathered and the gallery guards were approaching, but the two Germans were not at all disturbed by the ruckus and quickly walked Mana up the stairs, through the lobby, out the exit, and across the promenade to the curb, where a white rental Toyota van was waiting.
They pushed Mana into the vehicle and the Toyota drove away, veering wildly all over the streets, squealing its wheels, turning sharply to the left, then to the right, passing cars, avoiding the polizei.
They drove for a couple minutes, until they came to a sudden stop behind a black Mercedes, parked near the Alexander Platz.
The TV tower at the famous landmark glistened with white luminescence in the blue German night. Atop the tower, its red blinking lights silently warned aircraft above the city’s night traffic.
A German man said, “Mana, here we must give you to some other people. You change cars, yah? Okay?”
“Why? Who are you? Where are they taking me? Where is he? Where is he?”
“Oh, he is gone. No need to worry about him anymore. There, you must go to the Mercedes,” said the other German. “Don’t worry.”
“No, don’t worry,” added the other German. “Such a beautiful woman should never worry.”
“Yah, so beautiful,” said the other man.
“But who are you,” she said, crying. “Where is he?” She wanted to know where Toxic was, but how could the Germans understand?
The van door suddenly slid open, two other pale-looking men in black suits stood there.
“Is this the woman?” one of them asked, looking at her dirty wardrobe of jeans, brown leather jacket, and an over-sized Yankee cap. His accent was not German. She could not place it. “Are you sure this is the woman? Look at her? She stinks. She looks like a boy.”
“Of course this is the woman,” answered one of the Germans. “She just needs a bath. I bet she cleans up very nicely. Eine hübsche frau!” He reached over and removed Mana’s cap. Her long black hair was wrapped in a messy bee’s nest. He looked at her face, pinched her cheek; she turned away with a spitting sound. “Yah, this is the woman. We took her, just like our orders said. We had to beat up the old Korean, though.”
She asked them angrily, “Where is he? Who are you?”
“Oh, that is easy to answer. Miss Mana, we are your very worst nightmare.”