THE WALL ©Richard Newell
From the back seat, Angus could see the traffic held up ahead. The street lights were pale in the unseasonal mist that swirled thinly round them that late August evening. A hot and humid day had become damp and chill. The colonel, who was driving, muttered under his breath, cursing the delay, while his civilian passenger picked at his thumbnail absently.
‘Did they say how many?’
‘According to my radio report, three so far. But the first one over said the whole family of six was on its way.’
They inched forward. As they drew nearer to the road block where a policeman was turning traffic away, the colonel briefly switched on a blue light which was perched discreetly on the dashboard. The policeman saluted as he waved them through, and they made good progress for the next two hundred metres.
‘We’d better stop here,’ said the colonel. The road had ended in an open space with some ruined buildings nearby. A new four-metre high concrete block wall, topped with barbed wire, stretched across the whole cleared area. Some thirty metres to the right of their position was a handful of armed soldiers and a military ambulance, parked well back. A dog barked.
Angus leaned forward between the front seats. ‘What do we do now?’ he asked.
‘We wait and watch, then your brother and I go back to our offices and send in our reports. You, my boy, do nothing, because officially you’re not here.’ Angus and his diplomat brother had been dining out with the colonel when the call came through, and the older men did not feel they could leave a fifteen-year-old behind.
For five minutes, nothing happened. Suddenly a shout from the other side was followed by a searchlight being turned on, showing up the silhouetted figure of a man on top of the wall, who paused an instant and then jumped down, landing with a cry of pain. A couple of soldiers ran towards him. Immediately, another figure appeared on top, swung his legs over, then hesitated.
‘Jump,’ the soldiers cried. ‘Quickly. We’ll catch you.’
A shout of “Halt” from behind encouraged him to lean forward. A rattle of automatic fire split the silence, and then he was falling, in slow motion, down, down, down, into a crumpled heap at the foot of the wall. Almost at once there was another short burst of gunfire from the other side, followed by screaming, silenced abruptly by a single shot. The searchlight went out.
‘Bloody hell,’ exclaimed Angus.
‘Bastards, that makes up the six,’ said the colonel. ‘Two more casualties from Walter Ulbricht’s socialist utopia.’
‘I feel sick,’ said Angus’ brother.
‘Don’t you dare,’ barked the colonel. Then, more gently, ‘You okay, Angus?’
‘Yes, sir, I think so,’ he replied in a subdued voice.
A woman ran out from behind the ambulance, cradled the body in her arms, and rocked and howled her grief into the night.