The prompt: An elderly man sits alone at a bar. On the big screen over the bar, Argentina vs. Germany play in the final game of the World Cup. Germany scores. With a silent smile, the man throws his fists into the air. Tears spring to his eyes.
[A note: My husband and, somewhat obviously, children are of German descent. First Shift has been studying World War II, and I’ve found myself reassuring them that, just because they are German, doesn’t make them or anyone of German descent automatically evil just because some people who happened to be of German descent did some unspeakably evil things. Where we come from is important, but not nearly as important as where we choose to go. I think this response to the prompt grew from these conversations. I dedicate this piece to my husband and children.]
It was just homesickness, really. What was he, a grown man, doing at a bar alone at his age, crying over football? He’d been a child in the streets of Berlin, playing on a neighborhood team the first time he’d cried over football. Stephan, his best friend, had joined with him. They’d been babies, practically, only six, seven years old,their families still poor after the war, still frightened, but still hopeful .
Still hopeful that there could be something good about being German.
And then the Wall had been built. Stephan was on the other side of it, their team torn apart and thrown in two different directions. Time passed, and the two directions became many. Harder times came on his side of the cement. Lines to buy toilet paper. Hushed voices. Frightened looks on his mother when his father went away once, twice, then a third time never returned.
The Wall fell. He found his father in a cemetery in Siberia. He tried to find Stephan but could not even remember the boy’s family name, so much time had passed.
Life changed. He changed. Work opened up. Opportunities came that had been denied him in his youth, but he didn’t take age as an excuse to turn them down now. A job in America opened up. He was qualified. Did he want it? Yes. Of course.
He moved to America an old man and only grew older there. When retirement, came he chose a tiny town in Pennsylvania, named after an equally tiny town in Bavaria. He’d never been free to visit the Bavarian town when he’d been closer. He saw in his American life a chance to reclaim another chance lost in his youth.
Then, one Sunday night in July, he found himself at a bar, alone, watching a soccer game, drinking a watery American beer. He didn’t care, he noticed. Money was tight on a retiree’s income. Had money become more important to him than beer? he wondered. He chuckled at the thought. What kind of German was he now? Would Stephan or his other teammates ever recognize him now?
A goal? A goal! Before he knew it, he was throwing his hands into the air. He did not shout like any of the others at the bar, though. Shocked, he felt a tear run down his cheek, then another. He wiped them away with a soggy bar napkin.
Somewhere, in some other bar, with some other beer, perhaps Stephan had seen the win. It had taken a bunch of young men to put them both on the same team again. He left a $20 for the tip and left the bar, smiling, still hopeful that there could be something good about being German.