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Josef’s Un/Repentance
PostPosted: Fri May 31, 2013 5:54 am Reply with quote
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Josef’s Un/Repentance
By
Amir Baharun


Goodbye to the Life I used to live –
And the World I used to know –
And kiss the Hills, for me, just once –
Then – I am ready to go!
Emily Dickinson

The following is a work of fiction; any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental!

After putting down payment on a retirement condominium in the Malaysian city of Kota Kinabalu, Josef booked a ticket with Lufthansa to enjoy his beer drinking habit for a few days; then to give up drinking alcohol for once and for all and begin his five times a day prayers for deliverance for all his sins and bad acts, and fasting during the month of Ramadan. It was Oktoberfest season and his one final mundane ritual before repenting.

At Munich Airport, the immigration officer was very courteous to Josef. If it were in the nineteen-seventies he would have preferred the Frankfurt airport and would have avoided the Munich Airport as the immigration officers in Munich Airport were aggressive and less friendly to non-Europeans. What a difference the few decades made! Josef thought. Outside the airport, Josef took a cab instead of renting a car as he usually did. The cab driver was a chatterer and asked Josef if he was an asylum seeker.

“Do I really look like an asylum seeker,” Josef said, mimicking the cab driver’s heavily accented German, before he answered negatively.

“My name is Milos,” the cab driver said, as if he were a captain of a commercial airplane, and went on, “originally I am from the former Czechoslovakia. I have lived here for nearly thirty years; I left my home country during the communist era. Before becoming a cab driver, I worked for the Radio Free Europe. After the collapse of communism in the Eastern block countries; I lost my job and became a cab driver.”

Josef listened to the cab driver’s story without interest. Then the cab driver asked Josef about his German life: “I lived in Germany for some forty odd years. I worked hard and financed my education and got my PhD in German Literature, Literary Theory and the Philosophy of Literature. Almost all of my university buddies are teaching here in Germany, but I teach in China; Goethe’s language.”

“How did you end up in China?”

“It was because of a lack of opportunity here and in search of a new beginning there. I was in China during Tiananmen Square crisis. I grabbed the opportunity and started to file news reports for the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. The advantage I had was, I spoke standard Mandarin fluently and read the history of modern China during my days in university. That helped me in getting an employment visa in China.”

“Do you know that once I interviewed Vaclav Havel? The first democratically elected president of my old country, still I don’t believe it,” Milos said, in an abrupt change of topic and shaking his head, as if he discovered something unbelievable stuff inside his cab.

What a trash, Josef thought doubting the authenticity of the man’s story and stopped to respond. The cab driver continued talking about European currency crises, unemployment, immigration and suggested many impractical proposals for the way out of it. He accused Greeks and Southern Europeans for imposing what he called the hardship on the hard working German middle class. If he were an influential economist, he would have destroyed the whole European economic system. For Josef, as the cab driver was talking incessantly, the road between the airport and his destination became shorter and before he knew it the cab stopped at the front door of Frau Brucker, his landlady’s house around ten in the morning. Josef got off the cab and stretched, while the cab driver got his luggage and knapsack from the trunk. He paid his fare, and pulled his wheeled luggage towards the house and at the door he pushed the smiling kitten doorbell. Frau Brucker, the petite old woman, was in her bathrobe and barefooted when she opened the door.

“Willkommen, Herr Doktor,” she said, greeting him with a smile, “I was waiting for you since I received your phone call.”

Frau Brucker had childlike smile.

“How are you doing Frau Brucker?” Josef said, after hugging the old woman and kissing her right hand as if he were in Harar.

“I’m fine, but after a few years I’ll be in seniors housing. I’m tired of taking care of this house.”

“You’re still strong,” Josef said, “and still active.”

“I noticed something new from you, Herr Doktor. Do you want to know what it is?”

“Yes, please. It might be about my girlfriend, if I am correct, she is coming in a few days,” he said, with a hesitant smile, as if Frau Brucker were expecting them together.

“Not exactly, Herr Doktor,” Frau Brucker said, and she gave him a sharp glance.

“My beard?” he asked. He had grown a beard – unkempt beard.

“No, you smell fresh,” she said, looking at him as if for the first time.

“Oh,” Josef said, laughing and he told her that he had been six months sober and made a plan to stop drinking alcohol after Oktoberfest, and start going to the mosque regularly. When she heard the word mosque, she looked at him strangely as if he used an obscene language. As a boy growing up in Harar, Josef had first tasted beer and home brewed alcohol; since then he fell in love with all types of alcoholic beverages and never stopped of drinking. He even associated alcohol with all types of pleasures.

Josef was born Yousuf Mamadi, in small farming village near the ancient historical city of Harar, called Dire Tayara, with Harari Muslim religious parents. His elementary education was in semi-rural town of Kombolcha and his junior and senior high schools in Harar. He was the second-to-last in a large family of nine surviving children and the family’s l’enfant terrible. He was a solidly built street fighter and his face had a sign of torture with knife marked scar to witness. He changed his first name from Yousuf to Josef when he became a naturalized German citizen; and he became a vocal supporter of Franz Josef Strauss, the then conservative Minster-President of the southern German State of Bavaria.

As he sat with Frau Brucker, Josef received three calls from his cell phone – one from his old Harari friend in Munich, who had a German wife that died due to ovarian cancer; the second one from his Danish female friend in Denmark; and the third one was from his girlfriend. While Josef was on the phone, Frau Brucker went into the kitchen leaving him in the living room to prepare breakfast for her guest. She considered Josef more than a guest, as she called him “my best friend.” Frau Bruker was in her late seventies, short and plump, retired registered nurse. Josef’s age was always a mystery, but he was in his mid-sixties.

Josef interrupted his conversation with his girlfriend after his cell phone’s battery died, and then he went to his room. In his high-ceilinged and spacious room there were an armchair with the extended leg rest, a king size bed, German wardrobe fitment with mirrors and a computer desk with bookshelf. He opened the shutters and curtains and started to unpack his luggage. He put his laptop and some of the books on the computer desk and he hang up his clothes. He took his hat off and put it on the desk, not much hair left on his head. Then he sat up in bed and looked around his room, as though the room were unfamiliar to him – the smell was the same. He spent in the same room four months a year for nine years. The house was silent except the ticking of the clock from the living room and the noise of Frau Brucker’s tropical birds in their cages; one of the males was named Josef, after him.

He unzipped his knapsack and pulled Friedrich Nietzsche’s ‘The Anti-Christ’ book, flipped to the middle of the book and read a few pages. He closed the book, when he heard Frau Brucker’s call to join her for breakfast. He left his door wide open and went to the dining room. In the living room the old Telefunken TV set was turned on, with muted sound; it was playing Derrick, German TV series video. Frau Brucker came with a tray and sat down next to him. The tray was full with crusty rolls, soft boiled eggs, cheese, jam, sausages, orange juice and coffee. Josef refused to eat the sausage and he reminded his host that he decided to stop eating non-Halal meat. He told her again about his plan to stop drinking alcohol once he settled in his new home in Malaysia. He was proud, as the old age rendered him pious.

“I have peach frangipane tart too, are you allowed to eat that? Is it Halal?” Frau Brucker said, looking at him inquiringly.

“Yes I am allowed and it is Halal,” he said with a smile. “But your breakfast is more than enough, and I better watch my healthy diet.”

“I was a daughter of a protestant minister, grew up in church, but never believed in God. I always questioned many things about my belief, but never got an answer. Now, I’m unattached.”

“We have similarities, Frau Brucker. I grew up in a religious family too. I memorized five chapters of the Quran at my young age. I spent most of my childhood at our neighbourhood mosque reciting Quran and saying my prayers. After reading Marxist and Freudian books in college, I changed my attitudes towards religion and stopped practicing. It is very interesting; a year ago I met a Chinese convert, who gave me many Islamic books. I read those books and the Quran in German language many times. The man’s advice and the books changed my life. They both made me a believer again. I became a born again Muslim. I stopped drinking alcohol, eating pork and doing all Islamically unapproved practices.”

“I hope you will be happy with your new found life. For me it is very difficult to go back, Herr Doktor. Anyway, I’m genuinely happy to hear that you planned to stop drinking. You know, you were drinking a little bit excessively. Do you agree with me?”

Josef nodded his agreement.

“Tell me how your trip from China was?” Frau Brucker asked, changing her topic. She loved to hear Josef’s stories, as he was a good narrator.

“The trip was uneventful this time, but in my way I visited also India. India has changed a bit.”

“When I visited India with my late husband years ago, we saw only miserable people but hospitable. Anyway, have you ever visited your old country? I guess you still have close relatives?”

“Yes and no,” Josef said, as he picked up his cup and sipped his hot unsugared dark coffee carefully. “Yes, I have close relatives, but I have lost touch with them long ago.”

Josef arrived in Munich in nineteen sixty nine, when he was only twenty-two; it was the year Willy Brandt was elected as Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany then also known as West Germany. At that time, he worked as a construction day labourer and later a print shop employee.

The landline phone rung and Frau Brucker answered, “Yes, he has just arrived, do you want to talk to him?” she passed the phone to Josef, whispering, it is “Franziska.”

“Yes, she knows I’m here, while I was talking to her the battery of my ‘smart’ phone died,” he said, to Frau Brucker, using his fingers to make a quotation mark.

Franziska was a woman in her forties, tall, and beautiful. Josef was some twenty years older than her, but Franziska admired his intellect, and his knowledge of German language. They met in a national book fair years ago, since then they kept their close relationship. She was teaching Political Science at Heinrich Heine University of Dusseldorf. They had many things in common – passionate enthusiasm for German poetry and literature, and reading history books. She loved drinking and dancing, but he loved drinking.

After he finished his breakfast, Josef helped Frau Brucker clearing the breakfast table and gave as usual a little gift to her, this time Ipad; he received in exchange a box full of mails that she kept for him.

In the afternoon, Josef had hard time to concentrate on his reading or writing as his landlady knocked his door frequently and distracted him, telling him about two of her tenants – one French female exchange student and the other a high school teacher. The next day, he slept late, if it hadn’t been for his landlady, he might have slept the whole day. The morning was all but gone. Early in the afternoon, he left Frau Brucker’s house for Englischer Garten, English Garden to nude sunbathing – to enjoy his irreligious act for one last time. Like his college years he dressed hoodie jacket with Bundesliga emblem, Bayern Munich jersey, Borussia Mönchengladbach undershirt with skin-tight nineteen seventies The Bee Gees style white pants. It was a sunny warm September day, unusually warm and even the weather experts were talking and debating about the unusual weather and global warming. In his knapsack he put his laptop, smart phone, eBook reader tablet and the book he got from a passenger at the airport - Gunter Grass’s Die Blechtrommel, The Tin Drum. In his way to the park, he stopped at the neighborhood newspaper kiosk and he picked up a local newspaper and Der Spiegel magazine to read and do the crossword at the park. When he left the newspaper kiosk, he saw a woman and a child leaving the ice-cream parlor. The child was licking her ice-cream cone, which had already begun to melt. The woman, the age group of Josef, holding her double scoop, looked at him with a curiosity. He gave her a lascivious look.

“Are you Yousuf?” the woman with the double scoop asked.

“Yes, I am. Who are you?” he said, grinning awkwardly, “and how do you know my old name?”

“Do you remember me?” she said, smiling at him prettily, in the way she did years ago for him.

“Helma, I recognized you with your smile,” he said. “You know what, last night, I had a dream about you,” and he lifted his hat off in greeting.

He had met her forty years later. In his early years he had dated many girls, as he was charming young man. They lived together, and Helma had become pregnant at just about the time they were breaking up. After hugs and kisses, she told him she was retired and babysitting her granddaughter. The little girl was his grandchild too. He kissed the little girl, but Josef had never recognized the little girl’s father as his son, although he named him Lifafa.

“Where are you going,” Helma asked, “dressed up like this?”

He told her about his destination and said, “You can join me, if you like.”

She smiled and shrugged, “you are still a crazy man, Yusuf.”

She told him that she was living in the city of Karlsruhe for more than thirty years and she came to Munich to visit her son. Then he left after exchanging addresses and promised to meet her within two days. He suddenly remembered that he had planned to visit his former school, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, but he missed because of his late sleep. In his hoodie jacket’s kangaroo pocket he found his landlady’s Volkswagen beetle key. Holding the key he smiled, because when he refused her offer she put the key with a friendly note in his pocket. He decided to take a U-Bahn, Subway listening Manu Dibango’s Soul Makossa and Boney M from his Ipad, remembering the nineteen-seventies.

At the park, he had stripped down making himself stark naked; he looked inelegant, clown and ridiculous. He had nothing to show. From his chest down covered with graying hair; everything had been kept hidden under his unshaved hair – including his shrinking body part. What a grotesque! Had he been in Harar, the neighborhood children would have stones pelted at him considering him to be insane. He spread his towel on the grass and sat down close to a group of four young girls, and then he pulled his laptop from his knapsack. He gazed in wonder at a naked crowd. When he looked at the girls beside him, they were talking about hair types and haircut styles.

“Are you apprentice hairdressers?” Josef asked, putting on his brightest smile.

“Yes,” a brunette girl said.

“All four of you?” he asked, two of the girls had coloured their hair – one pink and the other blue.

“No, three of us,” she said, as if she were their spokesperson. “And you? Are you working here in the park?”

“What do you mean working in the park?” Josef asked.

“I mean, are you a cleaner?”

“No, I came here just for fun.”

“What are you doing for a living?” said a fair-haired girl.

“My profession is literary stuff, I don’t think you’ll understand it,” Josef said, irritably.

For a change of mood from the negative feelings, he gave The Tin Drum to one of the girls. The girls changed their topic from haircut styles to about their signs – Capricorn, Scorpio Libra…. His afternoon was not successful and the embarrassment had given way to boredom.

A day before Oktoberfest, Josef went to HauptBahnhof, the main railway station to pick Franziska up. He arrived early and decided to stroll in Bahnhofplatz; but the sidewalk was very busy with strollers. Then he went to a café where he played records on the jukebox (for a quarter of Deutsche Mark) with his friends in the early seventies. He sat at the café and ordered a coffee. The waitress, an attractive young woman with blonde hair, brought him the cup of coffee and they exchanged pleasantries. Forty five minutes later he left the café after receiving a phone call from Franziska.

“Why do you smell like coffee beans?” Franziska asked when Josef gave her a welcome kiss at the railway station. She had the smell of peppermint.

“I had a cup of coffee,” he said.

“I missed you so much,” she said, as they held each other tight for a few minutes.

Then they went to a Turkish restaurant, where Josef met his old friend, Yilmaz, the owner of the restaurant. They had a meal and a good time. At home they had a coffee with Frau Brucker, and then they settled down to telling their stories. They slept at dawn after they struck out on their future plan.

Finally the ceremonious time arrived. Josef and Franziska dressed in a traditional Bavarian dressing walked with their clasped hands swinging together, teasing each other and laughing arrived at the park. They missed the brewers’ parade and the whole show. They went to a large well lit overcrowded tent called Himmel der Bayern. Josef mingled with the thick breath and smell of beer. He ran into a woman he knew years ago, but he declined her invitation to join her group. At odds with himself Josef sat down at the far end of the tent, with his back to the wall. It was near the emergency exit. He was joined by the people he knew. He observed the crowd, and watched the waiters and waitresses as they hurried frantically to and fro holding several litre mugs of beer with their hands. It was noisy and disorderly, but good-natured crowd. Fear and excitement dominated Josef’s mood. He feared as he remembered death and his advancing age; and excitement as he observed his surroundings; people eating, drinking, smoking, singing and enjoying themselves. The scene was surreal. What if I died now, he thought, maybe I am going straight to the Hell Fire. “So what,” he said to himself, “this is the pleasure I promised to myself, to my soul, and to my body; this will be my last Oktoberfest anyway. I will have a beer bath tonight. I always had the fondest memories of Oktoberfest.” His group stood up and said, Prost! Josef joined them lifting up his liter mug. He started singing with the crowd:

“Ein Prosit, ein Prosit
Der Gemutlichkeit
Ein Prosit, ein Prosit
Der Gemutlichkeit.”


At the beginning he had not meant to drink; he sipped his beer timidly, as if he were scared of drinking. Then drinking mug after mug gave him Dutch courage, and he started waving and shouting greetings to everyone. He yelled and talked excitedly. He gave up his polite and intellectual tones. He even talked about irrelevant and unrelated to the subject being dealt with his girlfriend and his friends. His face covered with beads of sweat, as if he ate hot spicy Harari meal.

“I’m Bavarian,” he shouted, “and proud to be.”

“What are you talking about? Are you already tipsy?” Franziska asked, with a teasing smile and she punched him in the arm.

“I will go to the bathroom,” he said, belching loudly, “sorry, I feel weird and my head is splitting.”

Close to the bathroom he suddenly started vomiting, out of sheer drunkenness lost his balance and fell flat on his face; his lips moved and he muttered under his breath. The people came to help him up. It happened very quickly; a white stretcher was brought and Josef’s body was retreated towards the ambulance.

A woman short of breath, in a voice like thunder screamed at Franziska: “is the black guy your friend?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean the man who was sitting with you and dressed like Bavarians.”

“Yes?”

“He needs an urgent help, the ambulance is there too. He might be in a dire condition. He is surrounded by a crowed of curious onlookers.”

Josef planned to repent and die the sweetest death, as his old father used to say, but his death proceeded according its own logic. His friends said: Josef was humble and they added he was affectionate, proud, shrewd, and merry. No one said gossip delighted him, as most of Harari males.
***

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