‘Have you balanced yet, Lothar? We can’t be staying here all evening.’
‘Almost, Herr L-Langmann,’ said Lothar, his cheeks flushing red. He was aware of the other tellers’ stares and his fingers were beginning to tremble. ‘There. B-balanced.’
There were some ironic cheers from the other tellers who rushed toward the door. Lothar took his coat off the hook and was almost knocked over by Brigitte on her way out.
Lothar straightened his glasses and necktie and was about to pick up his backpack when he noticed Heinz approach him. Lothar didn’t meet Heinz’s gaze.
‘What are you doing? That’s two days in a row we’ve been late because of you. It’s Friday night you know. Just as well this is my last day at this lousy job. If it wasn’t I would make your life more miserable than it already is.’ Heinz didn’t care that Herr Langmann could hear.
‘I-I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make us late,’ said Lothar, pushing his glasses back on his nose with his finger.
Outside light rain was falling and Christmas lights on all the buildings made it look like a fairy land. Heinz was standing on the pavement, lighting up a cigarette. ’You really are useless, Lothar,’ Heinz said. ‘That’s half an hour of drinking time I’ve lost. And why are you standing there staring like a moron.’
Heinz shook his head and took another drag of his cigarette. He mumbled ‘weirdo’ and headed up the street towards the entertainment strip.
It was the same way to the station and Lothar followed a little way behind. He noticed Heinz stop outside one of the pubs and put his arms around a girl who was waiting there. Lothar kept walking and tried to pass by without them noticing although he wanted to see what the girl looked like. She had dark hair that fell over the left side of her face.
The girl called out, ‘Hey, what are you staring at man?’
Heinz laughed. ‘Why this is my now ex-workmate, Lothar. He’s a bit of a freak and a loser but…’ The girl said something in his ear and for a while they had a whispered conversation that Lothar couldn’t catch.
Heinz said to him, ‘For some reason my girlfriend here feels sorry for you. She asked me to invite you to this group I’m in. It’s just a bit of friendship and some fun on the weekend. Call it a friendship club if you like. For someone as awkward as you it might do you good. Besides, I get twenty euros for every new member I get to join up. What do you say?’
Lothar was surprised. Other than Sunny he didn’t really have any friends. He said, ‘Ok, I guess.’
‘Come along on next Saturday night. We meet at the Nordseekeller at eight. Now be on your way.’
’See you,’ Lothar said. He said the words ‘Friendship club,’ out loud. He repeated it all the way to the station. At the station entrance a small choir was singing carols. He stood there and listened to them sing Still Nacht. He hummed along in his head. It was a tune he never got tired of. He even sung the words ‘Friendship club’ to the melody. Friendship club! The corners of his mouth were twitching. He realised he must be smiling.
* * * *
Lothar was looking forward to the smell of roast pork when he came home. His mother cooked it most Fridays. But as he hung his backpack on the hook in the entrance hall all he could smell was the damp of umbrellas and wet shoes.
‘Mother, I’m home. Aren’t we having roast tonight?’
‘Hello Lothar,’ said his mother from inside the kitchen. He heard the jangling of car keys and his mother came out, dressed in a sweater and slacks. She edged her feet into her boots and lifted her overcoat off the hook.
‘No roast. Order a bloody pizza or something. I can’t always do everything ok. Maybe if your father could get off his fat arse and help for a change then things would be different. I’ve had enough of you lot. I’m going to the club.’
‘And when are we getting the advent calendar?’
‘Jesus Lothar, you’re earning money now. Why don’t you bloody well buy one. And don’t stare like that for God’s sake. Everyone will think you’re dumb.’
She slammed the door on her way out. Lothar listened to his mother starting the car and reversing out the driveway in a hurry.
He went to the study and opened the door. ‘Hi Dad,’ he said.
‘Jesus Christ, don’t you ever knock,’ his father said, clicking the mouse to hide the porn video playing on the screen.
‘What are we going to have for dinner?’ Lothar said.
‘Don’t panic. I’ve ordered some Indian takeaway, it will be here soon.’
‘Oh, that’s good.’
His father swivelled around in his chair. ‘Lothar, it’s Friday night, why are you home so early? Don’t you have some friends that you can hang out with? It’s not healthy to hang around at home all the time playing with your superhero dolls.’
‘Action figures they’re called. And I don’t mind staying at home. Dad when are you going to buy the advent calendar?’
’I don’t bloody know. Look, don’t annoy me. Dinner should be here soon.’
Lothar backed out of the room.
The takeaway arrived. Lothar took the bags from the delivery driver and placed them on the kitchen bench. He counted out four plates and sets of cutlery and set them on the table. He looked at the table then realised his mistake and took one of the settings off.
‘Dad, dinner is ready. Should we wait for Reeba?’ Lothar called out.
’No. I’m not waiting for her,’ came the reply.
The two of them ate in silence for some time.
‘Dad, why was Mum mad?’ Lothar said.
‘I don’t know, Son. She can’t take constructive criticism that woman. She always used to listen to me but now it seems like she’s got a big head to match that arse of hers.’ Lothar’s father tore off a chunk of naan and dumped it in the lamb curry.
There was a rattle of keys at the front door. There were a couple of thuds as shoes were hurled to the floor.
Reeba came into the kitchen. ‘Smells like Indian. What happened to the roast? Where’s Mum? Oh, let me guess, the club? Humiliated her again did you, Dad? What a fucking surprise.’
‘She’s out and don’t swear in this house, Reeba.’
‘Oh right, I can’t swear but that rant you went on last Wednesday was ok?’
Reeba sat down and heaped a few scoops of butter chicken on her plate. ‘Dad, why haven’t you bought the advent calendar yet?’ she said.
‘Oh, give it a rest would you,’
‘I’ve finished,’ said Lothar, taking his dirty plate to the kitchen sink. He poured himself a cup of grape juice and went out to the lounge room and turned on the television. He heard his father and Reeba arguing. He turned the sound up. Then he heard a plate smash and Reeba came into the lounge room with a face like stone.
‘That guy is a freak,’ she said, sitting down on the couch next Lothar. ‘Here, give me the remote,’ she said, almost ripping it out of Lothar’s hand.
‘Ouch. You scratched me with your fingernail,’ he said.
‘Cry baby.’ She changed the channel to the news and sat there with her knees tucked under her chin.
‘H-how was your day?’ Lothar said.
Reeba rolled her eyes. ‘It was shit. How about you? Did you have a thrilling day at the wank?’
‘The bank? Good I suppose. Do you think mum’s going to be ok?’
She glanced at him, her brow furrowed. ‘She’s just as mad as Dad. I don’t want to talk about her right now. Just leave me alone. Why don’t you go to your room and play with Superman and Wonder Woman.’
Reeba turned on her iPad and put her earphones in.
‘Can I watch Inspector Rex?’ Lothar asked.
‘No!’ she screamed.
The ‘no’ penetrated Lothar’s eardrum like a bullet and ricocheted around his skull. It made him clench his teeth and grip his cup hard. For a minute he thought about throwing it at the television. Instead he stood up and went to his room.
Lothar sat down at his desk and turned on the computer. He glanced around the shelves of Marvel comic books and the figurines of almost every superhero that had ever been created. He placed his cup on an Aquaman coaster and picked up the framed photograph leaning up against the stationery holder. It was taken nearly ten years ago when he was nine. Reeba must have been eleven. His father and mother were smiling. Reeba looked so pretty with her hair in pigtails and freckles on her cheeks. Her hand was resting on his shoulder. Lothar placed the photograph face down and sobbed silently for a good minute. He took off his glasses and wiped his eyes. Tomorrow was going to be a good day. He was going to see Sunny.
* * * *
Sunny was waiting for Lothar out the front of Der Koffeeplatz.
’S-sorry I’m late,’ mumbled Lothar. Deciding which bunch of flowers to buy had taken a while. He’d researched the different types for a few hours in the morning.
Sunny beamed her big smile. ‘That’s ok. Are those for me?’
‘Err…yes,’ Lothar said, passing them to her.
‘That is so beautiful. Thank you. Shall we?’ she said.
‘Sh-shall we what?’
‘Go inside and have some coffee?’
‘Yes. Good idea.’
They sat at a table that looked out across the plaza. Lothar was grateful to be inside where it was warm although it was very stuffy. The place was full of Christmas shoppers taking a time out. The chatter of the patrons made him feel more at ease than if it was quiet.
Sunny ordered some coffees. Lothar spilled a teaspoon of sugar all over the table. He seemed to have trouble getting the spoon to the cup.
‘Let me do that for you,’ said Sunny, smiling and taking the spoon from him. When her fingers brushed his he felt his heart skip.
Sunny smiled and asked what school he went to. He tried to say something but was just stuttering. Sunny smiled patiently – she didn’t look at her watch or phone like most people did. He finally got it out and was happy that he managed to add, ‘And what school did you go to?’
He soon found himself talking almost normally. He was fascinated when Sunny told him about her family. He couldn’t believe it when she had they got along so well. She told him of the big parties where all the uncles and aunties and cousins would come over almost every other week. Lothar only ever saw some of his relatives at New Year or at funerals. He hadn’t seen Uncle Thomas or Auntie Steph for over a year.
When she finished telling him about her family he said, ‘I wish I could come to one of your family get togethers one day.’
Sunny smiled and said, ‘Absolutely you will. Now, I want to know about your family. What is it that makes Lothar who he is?’
Lothar dropped his eyes and stared at his half empty coffee cup. ‘Um…well, there’s my m-mum, she likes cooking, sometimes, and likes to go out…to places. Then there’s my father who w-works at the automobile plant and likes…beer…and the internet. And I have a sister too, her name is R-Reeba.’
‘What’s Reeba like?’ Sunny asked.
’S-sometimes she’s nice…I think.’
‘I’d like to meet them too one day.’
Lothar thought he was going to fall off the chair. ‘I don’t know if you would really like that. You know, none of them has bothered to get an advent calendar this year.’
‘Is that a big deal at your house?’
Lothar looked into Sunny’s inquiring eyes and shrugged. ‘I suppose. My family also say that I should get out more and socialise with people.’
‘Is that something you want to do?’ said Sunny.
‘I suppose so. Actually I have joined this friendship club that my ex-workmate Heinz is in so that should be good.’’
Sunny smiled. ‘Sounds good. I had better go back to the shop. Dad will be getting worried. Thank you so much for the flowers.’
She put her hand on his and said, ‘You are a very special person, Lothar.’
Lothar could barely breathe. He knew he was smiling. Sunny’s eyes were sparkling. He tried to think of a smart reply but only came out with, ‘You are very sparkling.’ It sounded stupid.
‘Can I see you again?’ she said.
‘I was going to ask the same thing,’ he said.
After she left Lothar ordered another coffee and went over the whole conversation in his head. Taking a notepad from his bag he wrote down as much as he could remember. He winced when he looked at some of his replies. He wracked his brain trying to think of smarter things to say and wrote them down on the notepad. By the time one of the staff politely told them the cafe was about to close he had filled the entire notepad.
* * * *
‘I’m going out now, s-see you,’ Lothar called out while picking up his coat from the rack.
His mother stepped into the hall, wiping her hands on her apron. ‘Have a good time. But be careful.’
‘Why should I be careful? It’s just a group of f-friends. A friendship club, Heinz calls it.’
‘I just hope you’re not getting mixed up with those ultras. They’re complete nutters.’
‘Ha ha!’ his father roared from the lounge room. ‘Let him get mixed up with them. It might do him good. They might toughen him up. Stella, get me another beer will you.’
His mother stared at him for a moment in the darkened hallway. Her eyes flickered towards the lounge room then back to him. Lothar could sense that she was frozen in that moment and couldn’t decide who to turn her attention to. She walked up to him and straightened his collar.
‘Mum, when are we going to buy the advent calendar, it’s already the 5th of December?’
‘Just as soon as…’
‘Get me that beer, love. A man’s not a camel,’ his father yelled.
His mum turned back to him and said, ‘Lothar, just be careful. People aren’t always what they seem. And don’t stare at people like you normally do.’
* * * *
It was late and a fine sleet was falling when Lothar arrived back at the corner near his home. His street was full of nearly identical wooden houses. All but one of them was draped in strings of decorative Christmas lights from windows, over the doors and on the roofs. The one house not fitting this pattern was his own. There was just the one dilapidated flashing Santa in the front lawn and a single set of white flashing bulbs strung out across the window. In his current state at least it made it easy to find the right house.
He staggered to the front door and tried the handle. Of course it was locked. He patted down all his pockets for the keys but remembered he had left it on his desk by the framed photograph. ‘Shit,’ he said then threw up on the front lawn. He wiped the spittle and flecks of vomit from his chin and went around the side of the house. As he did so he snagged his trousers on his mother’s rosebush. ‘Ouch,’ he said as a thorn penetrated his skin. In his attempt to disentangle himself from the rosebush he picked up a dozen puncture wounds in his hand and snapped off one of the branches. His mother would be fuming when she found out. Maybe he could blame it on one of the neighbours’ dogs.
At the side of the house he called out, ‘Reeba, let us in. I haven’t got a key.’
Lothar pulled out a coin from his wallet and tapped on Reeba’s window. A muttering came from inside.
‘What the …? Who is it?’
‘It’s me, Lothar. I don’t have a key.’
‘Fucking idiot. Hang on.’
Lothar went around to the front door and grabbed hold of the doorknob. When Reeba opened it he fell inside then vomited on the floor.
‘Yuck. Look at you. You’ve got spew all over your shirt and you smell like a fucking brewery. Now keep quiet. Mum only just got home from the club and had a row with Dad. It won’t be good to wake them up.’
He was vaguely aware of Reeba helping him change out of his clothes before he passed out on the bed.
When Lothar woke up next day his head was throbbing. There was something heavy at the end of his bed. He opened one eye. Reeba was sitting there.
‘What the fuck did you get up to last night?’
“We had a few drinks after the football, that’s all.”
‘A few drinks? Look, I’ve washed your clothes already and cleaned up the spew in the hall. Don’t aggravate Mum and Dad. It’s like walking on eggshells in this house this morning. Well, it’s not actually morning any more. Better off staying in your room.’
Reeba looked at him and screwed up her face. ‘You are such an idiot sometimes.’ She stood up and reached for the door but stopped and went over to Lothar’s desk.
‘Why do you have the photo turned face down?’ She picked up the framed photograph and said, ‘We almost looked normal then. Lothar, do you think?…’ she stopped mid-sentence as her mother screeched from another room.
‘Reeba, can you go up the shops and buy an advent calendar since no-one else could give a damn about it. It will be bad luck if we don’t put one up soon.’
Reeba slammed down the photo and slammed Lothar’s door and shouted back at her mother.
* * * *
The following Friday Lothar went out with Heinz and his friends. Heinz was in a good mood. He’d got a job working at a media company creating web content and was telling everyone how good it was. Or more accurately, how good he was at the job. Heinz even bought them a few rounds of drinks. ‘Drink up, Lex, this one’s on me,’ Heinz said.
‘Lex’ was the nickname Heinz had given him. After Lex Lothar, he said. Lothar didn’t mind the nickname. The group had been arguing about superheroes and Lothar astounded them when he gave them the origin story of all of them down to the finest detail.
‘Hey Lex, being the new boy, I want to see if you’re made of the right stuff. I challenge you to a beer drinking competition,’ said Draxler, one of Heinz’s mates. The other lads chorused their approval at the challenge.
Lothar fiddled with his spectacles and shrugged his shoulders. ‘Ok,’ he said.
Two steins of lager were placed on the table between them. The people in the pub moved back and formed a circle around them. They started clapping and cheering. Lothar glanced from the beer to Draxler who was standing with a smirk on his pale face. ‘What are you staring at?’ Draxler said.
‘Um…nothing.’ Lothar pushed his spectacles back onto the bridge of his nose and stood in front of his beer stein.
‘Alright, on the count of three,’ said Heinz. ‘One, two, THREE!’
Lothar picked up the stein and tilted his head back and in one swift motion raised it to his mouth, drained it, and slammed it back down on the table.’
‘Yeah! Lex Lothar wins,’ roared Heinz. Everyone in the pub was cheering.
Draxler finished a good five seconds after Lothar. The smirk on his face had turned into a snarl. He reached over the table and Lothar turned his head, expecting a blow, but then felt a strong hand shaking his.
‘This boy,’ shouted Draxler, ‘has got what it takes. Who else dares to challenge Lex Lothar?’ He raised Lothar’s arm in the air like a referee does to a champion boxer.
A few of the group took up the challenge. But none of them could beat Lothar. Nearly all the patrons clapped him on the back or took selfies with him in it.
Then the band started up. It was the loudest and most frenetic music Lothar had ever heard. The singer was screaming and swearing and didn’t sound in tune at all. But the beat was like a hammer in his chest and he stepped out onto the dance floor and swung his body in time with it.
‘Yay, Lex. Go for it man,’ Heinz shouted.
‘Look at Lex, he’s an animal,’ Draxler yelled, clapping him on the shoulder.
When the band went for a break all the friends stood around the tables drinking and talking at the tops of their voices. Lothar’s ears were ringing and his body felt battered from the music. Sweat made his shirt stick to his body. His brain felt like it was spinning in a washing machine. He listened to people’s conversations without really understanding anything. He joined in their chanting and singing, mumbling what he thought the words were. About the only thing that stuck with him was: come to the Big Show on the 23rd.
As he waited for the uber outside, Lothar knew it was freezing but couldn’t feel it. He was trying to sing one of the songs his new friends had sung but completely forgot the words. Instead he sung the line ‘Big Show on the 23d’ over and over. His stomach was feeling woozy and he bent over to vomit but nothing came out. ‘I must be getting used to it,’ he thought.
He heard footsteps and looked up to see a dark-haired girl standing there. He remembered she was Heinz’s girlfriend.
‘Hello, Lothar, My name’s Maxxi,’ she said, proffering her hand.
‘Maxxi? You remember my name?’ Lothar asked.
‘I think everyone in the bar knows your name by now.’
Lothar fumbled with his glasses. ‘I suppose,’ he said.
Maxxi said, ‘You’re a funny one, you are. So gawky and always fidgeting with your glasses, and you stare at people without saying a word. And yet I heard you answer all those questions about Spider-Man and Batman. You don’t seem at all like the others. By the way, how did you learn to drink like that?’
Lothar racked his brain. ‘Um…from my father I suppose. He’s very good at drinking.’
Maxxi snorted. ‘Well, I find you pretty interesting. Maybe we could get to know each other a bit better.’ She flicked a lock of dark hair that had fallen across her face.
‘I-I don’t think so, I’ve got a…’
‘A boyfriend? Don’t let the lads know that.’
‘No. It’s just…’
The über had arrived and tooted its horn.
‘I’d better go,’ said Lothar.
‘Such a shame.’ She gripped his collar and pulled her face towards her and gave him a warm kiss. Lothar felt her tongue, warm and eager against his. ‘See you at the Big Show on the 23rd?’
‘Yes,’ Lothar said.
He spent the whole ride home licking the inside of his mouth.
* * * *
‘Hey, Lothar, check this one out.’ Sunny picked up one of the snow globes with a village of traditional wooden houses and shook it.
‘Yes, that’s a good one.’ Even loaded up with shopping bags as they were, Lothar enjoyed the feel of Sunny’s gloved hand gripping his arm. It made him feel as though they were a couple. ‘How about this one?’ he said, shaking a globe with palm trees on a sandy beach.
‘Ha, that’s hilarious. Isn’t this a magic night, Lothar?’
‘Yes, the choir singing, the children running about, all the lights. Doesn’t it make you want to…’
‘Want to what?’ said Lothar.
‘Oh nothing. I’m just so happy you invited me to come to the Christmas markets.’
Lothar liked Sunny’s brilliant smile. And her lashes were something he hadn’t noticed before.
‘Lothar, you’re staring again. Everything alright?’ Sunny said.
‘Um…Yes. It’s just that you have nice lashes.’
Sunny snickered. ‘Thank you. Now can we go and…’
‘Let’s go over there,’ Lothar said pointing to a particularly bright stall.
They weaved their way through family groups all clad in their warm jackets and scarves and got to the stall. Lothar bought the most expensive advent calendar he could find. It had small wooden doors at the bottom with a Bavarian village scene at the top complete with a snow-peaked mountain.
‘It’s lovely, Lothar, but isn’t it a bit late getting it now with less than a week until Christmas?’ Sunny said.
‘Maybe. But nobody at home could be bothered getting one.’
Sunny shrugged. ‘Can we go over…’
‘Sunny, I want to…’
‘Want to what?’ Sunny said, beaming.
‘I want to kiss you.’
Sunny clapped her hands. ‘My goodness, Lothar, I want to as well. I thought you would never ask. My father will be here to pick me up any time soon. Can we go over there?’ Sunny said, pointing to a side street that came off the plaza.
‘Ok,’ Lothar said.
Sunny took Lothar’s hand and walked with him to the side street. It was quite dark and there were only a few people walking along it.
Lothar put his arms around her and looked into her eyes. The lashes were fluttering again. He leant forward and kissed her lips. He put his shopping bags down. Sunny placed her shopping bags down and kissed him back. He explored her mouth with his tongue and Sunny responded just as fervently.
A car horn honked. A man called out from the open window, ‘Sunny, is that you?’
‘Shit, it’s my father,’ Sunny said, pulling away from him.
‘Dad, this is my friend, Lothar.’
‘Friend? Looks more than a friend if you ask me.’
Lothar tried to say something but his tongue seemed to have frozen in his mouth.
‘Dad, I tell you, he is really nice boy and makes me happy.’
‘Nice! We’ll see about that. Get in young lady, we need to pick up your sister from choir practice.’
Sunny grabbed her bags and hurried off to the car and as she opened the door she turned and blew Lothar a kiss.
The car tyres screeched as Sunny’s father did a u-turn and headed towards the suburbs.
When Lothar got home he went through his shopping bags a dozen times. He tipped the contents out and turned the bags inside out. He couldn’t find the advent calendar anywhere.
* * * *
If the bar wasn’t noisy enough with the shouting and chanting of the drinkers, the band exploded everyone’s eardrums. The singer growled and snarled his way through the set and the dance floor was packed. Most of the dancers were wearing tee-shirts and light sweaters despite the cold outside. ‘You don’t want to overheat for the Big Show,’ Heinz had told them.
Lothar was standing to one side by himself. He’d downed a few steins and a glass of whisky but was not moved by the music. Maxxi sidled up to him. ‘Why the frown, Lex? Not feeling thrilled by the Big Show. A big strong boy like yourself should be just fine.’
‘I don’t know. Something feels not right. I don’t like what they are saying.’
Maxxi pushed back a lock of hair and said, ‘Well, well, are you a moralist now? Interesting man is our Lex Lothar. I’m not sure you really are my type after all. I think you’re going a bit soft on me now.’ She brushed her hand across his crotch and headed off towards the bar.
When the band stopped Heinz jumped up on one of the tables. He gave an incoherent speech which ended with the words, ‘The Big Show starts now!’
‘Ja!’ shouted everyone in the bar
Lothar left with the others and stepped into the freezing night. Heinz was right, despite clouds of mist coming from the chanting mob the drinking and dancing had warmed him up. Up ahead the sound of smashed glass made him look up.
Beside him someone smashed a shop window with an iron bar. Up ahead a family of Turks was being abused by some of the mob and more shops were getting their windows broken. To his left he saw a couple of the lads bashing a dark-skinned man. ‘No, no, no,’ Lothar kept whispering to himself.
One of the shops caught fire. ‘I told you not to throw any Molotovs,’ shouted Heinz. ‘You’ll have the Fire Brigade and the Police down here in no time. Time to move on. Head to the bunch of foreigners’ shops near the river bank. Let’s torch that Indian convenience store.’
Lothar’s blood chilled in his veins. The drink seemed to wear off in an instant. He felt himself shivering. ‘No, no, no,’ he mumbled and bolted off after the mob but turned left at the main roundabout and headed down an alleyway between two buildings. Lothar knew these streets better than most. If he kept running he could get to the shop before them.
He came out on the street with the strip of shops near the river bank. Hear could hear the mob a few blocks away. He came down to the front of the convenience store and through the window could see Sunny serving a customer. He ran inside and caught his breath for a moment. Sunny’s eyes opened wide. ‘Lothar, what are you doing?’
‘You must get out now. There’s a gang coming. They are smashing things. Hurting people. You must get out.’
Sunny’s father came out from the back of the store. ‘What the hell is going on?’ he said.
‘Herr Kumar, there is a gang coming. They are smashing windows. They are hurting people. Please leave now so you don’t get in trouble,’ Lothar said.
‘What foolishness is this…’
‘Dad, I know Lothar is telling the truth. He’s incapable of lying.’ Sunny interjected.
Sunny’s father looked from Lothar to his daughter. Loud, angry voices could now be heard from outside. ‘Alright, Alright. We’ll lock up,’ he said.
Lothar left by the front of the store and as he did about half a dozen of the lads came down the street. One of them threw something through the window of the Turkish bakery next door. Lothar saw Draxler holding a Molotov Cocktail in one hand while his mate pulled out a cigarette lighter.
‘No. Stop,’ said Lothar.
‘What? Lex, is that you?’ said Heinz, peering at him with a thunderous look on his face.
Lothar was taking shallow breaths as he stood there facing off with Heinz. He couldn’t believe that the ugly, hate-riddled face staring at him was someone he had looked up to at one stage.
Heinz was screaming, ‘Come on Lex, get out of the way. Are you one of us or not?’
Lothar stared back at Heinz’s contorted face.
‘I am not one of you,’ Lothar said.
‘You weak bastard. What’s the matter with you? We talked about this, remember? One in, all in, eh?’
‘No, you are wrong. Smashing things and beating up people because they look different is wrong. And I am not leaving here until you and all your friends have gone.’
A siren wailed in the distance.
‘Heinz, we’d better go now. The police will be here soon,’ said Draxler.
‘Go, why don’t you. I’ve got some business to finish here.’
Draxler took a few steps backwards then turned and fled, closely followed by the rest of the group. It was just Lothar and Heinz left outside the front of the convenience store.
Lothar felt the punch before he saw it, Heinz’s fist smashing his glasses and making him stagger. A sharp pain seared above his eye socket and the street and all the buildings seemed to swirl about him. He felt a knee crack into his ribs and he instinctively grabbed on. Heinz was lighter than he thought and he was able to hold on with all his strength and wrestle him to the ground. Heinz slipped from his grasp then rolled Lothar over and grasped at his neck. Lothar tried to fight him off but Heinz managed to get both hands on his throat.
‘And this is for Maxxi. I’ve seen you talking to her. Freaks like you should not mix in things that they don’t understand.’
Lothar was struggling to breathe and he kept slapping at Heinz’s hands and kicking out with his legs but it was no use, his grip was too strong. His vision became blurry, all he could see was Heinz’s red face above him and the swirling lights, flashing yellow, white, yellow, white, red and blue.
He could breathe again. He gulped deep lungfuls of air. Around him he heard Heinz raging and the sounds of a scuffle. People shouting. The Police. Someone pulled him to his feet. Lothar hunched over trying to fill his lungs. A pair of handcuffs was slapped on him. ‘You are under arrest,’ a policeman said.
* * * *
Lothar could discern a sound from outside the cell. His neck and back were sore but he listened intently to the footsteps coming towards the cell. He hadn’t been able to sleep, not with the other two cellmates snoring and cursing during the night. A policeman’s face appeared in the window of the cell door.
‘Lothar Feigel, you’re free to go.’
Lothar got to his feet. He groaned in pain. His neck was still raw from Heinz’s clawing fingers and his head throbbed. He could barely see out of his left eye. Lothar followed the policemen down the corridor. When he got into the police station waiting room Reeba was sitting down scrolling through her phone.
‘Gee whiz, Lothar. What a sight you are. That’s a real shiner. You alright?’
‘I’m ok. Can we go?’
They passed by the medical centre on the way home. The doctor tut-tutted and applied a salve to his bruised eye but said the injury wasn’t as bad as it looked.
In the car Reeba said, ‘I told you that crowd you were getting in with was no good. Didn’t something in the back of your mind tell you something was wrong?’
‘Yes. It felt good for a while but then it felt bad. It was a big mistake. I don’t think Heinz was very nice after all.’
‘Are you kidding me? Apparently Heinz had stabbed someone earlier in the day. He’s been charged with murder. Definitely not nice.’
Lothar shook his head. For a while he sat there staring out the window. ‘Thanks for getting me by the way,’ he said.
She glanced at him. ’You should thank Sunny not me.’
‘You know Sunny?’
‘I do now. She contacted me on Facebook – you must have told her my name at some stage. Anyway without her and her father at the Police Station they would not have let you go.’
‘Oh,’ said Lothar.
‘Lothar, I feel that you’re staring again.’
‘Sorry,’ Lothar said, looking at the houses lit up with their colourful decorations.
Reeba turned left into their street. The houses were all ablaze with Christmas lights. ‘Don’t you think it looks like magic?’ Lothar said.
‘Magic? That’s a good description.’
When they pulled into their house Lothar had a sense that something was different. The Santa in the front yard was shining much brighter than before. There were a few more strings of lights in the window now, some of them coloured. When Reeba opened the front door he was greeted by a familiar smell. ’Roast,’ he said. He realised he hadn’t eaten for over a day and his hunger pangs made him light headed.
‘Look, Reeba, someone has hung up my advent calendar!’
‘Better late than never,’ Reeba said. ‘Sometimes you never know what is around the corner.’
When Lothar stepped into the lounge room his jaw dropped. His mother was sitting on the couch, her arm through his father’s. Uncle Thomas and Auntie Stephanie and his cousin Karl were sitting in the arm chairs. Lothar clapped his hands. Then he saw her. Standing next to the Christmas tree with a smile more dazzling than all the lights of the city was Sunny.
‘Merry Christmas, Lothar.’