Müller didn’t answer any of my questions. He gave me this assassin look with his eyes slowly raising from the notes in front of him until they met mine, and I decided that maybe it was safer to let him lead the conversation again, maybe I would be able to read something between the lines. But Müller, maintaining his eyes on mine, closed the folder he had last been perusing and told me to wait outside. A soldier opened the door behind me, and it felt natural to go towards the light in the next room, to walk away from the faces and the confusing nonsense of and from Müller. Once the door closed again and the connection between the two rooms broke, it was like I woke up, and there I was again, in that same waiting room, with the rotten fruit on the central table, the decorating chairs perfectly aligned, those darken portraits and frozen landscapes like skeletons hanging from the walls.
Before I had time to get apprehensive or bored, the main doors to the waiting room opened and two soldiers came in. One of them had been in the initial group that corralled me at the station. It was that one soldier who asked me to follow them.
“I’m waiting for General Müller in there,” I told them, pointing to the small door, and I added “we are talking about my parents,” not realizing that they most likely didn’t care at all about me or my parents.
The soldier insisted, branding his weapon in a way that I think was intended to be threatening. No point in arguing. So there I went again (quite annoying, really, this strand of events and decisions beyond my control; what was I? A sodden, unpainted, weathered pawn, already taken out of the game?), following these two soldiers up and down stairs, along corridors, passing by rooms that were functional and barren, like the rest of the place, certainly, as if every drop of life had been sucked out from the building and it was now a dry and disinfected husk inhabited by a colony of soldiers. If I had to assign it a color, it would have been a homogeneous, grayish brown.
We stepped out from the building and into the same courtyard, although through a different door this time. Soldiers kept going in all directions. The car in which I had been driven from the station was still parked in the middle of the courtyard, a decent looking car that seemed to have been painted military green in a hurry. I guessed that it had originally been beige, with a narrow black lane along the side. We walked directly towards the car and when we got closer I noticed that the leather seats were the same beige I had imagined for the bodywork. Disappointing to accept that my imagination had again been trumped by my memory.
“Are we leaving, then?” I said.
“Please get into the car,” the leading soldier said.
“Where are we going?”
The soldier opened the door of the passenger side for me, and insisted, “get into the car.”
I almost asked him again that where were we going just to show my displeasure, but it seemed clear that he had received orders not to divulge any information. Or he was an ass. Either way I sighed and got into the passenger seat. The leading soldier walked around the front of the car, studying me as if I were the first tarantula he had ever encountered. He got into the driver’s seat, whereas the second soldier sat on the back seat right behind me. I couldn’t see him on the rear mirror. I tried to imagine he was not pointing his weapon at my head.
“Put your seatbelt on,” the soldier next to me said after starting the engine. Half order, half request. A voice annoying enough that I felt like punching him. My frustration was beyond the greens and into the murky blues. Where the fuck were we going now? What about my parents? And when was I supposed to eat anything?
We drove out of the building and toward the East of Stuttgart. Most of the fog had dissipated by now but the streets and buildings seemed to be covered with a persistent patina of diffuseness, a shocking lack of vibrant colors and life. Even the trees seemed gray and off.
There wasn’t much traffic in the roads, a military vehicle from time to time, a rickety car filled with what seemed a family and their belongings, a decent-looking car driven by a man who could have been a lawyer or an accountant. From time to time we went through areas I didn’t recognize, but then I would see a familiar street name or some standing buildings in the distance and I would get my bearings again, just to lose them once again after a turn or after being distracted by a bombarded church with its guts spilled out.
We kept going East. It hit me then. I knew exactly where we were heading to. After the industrial area we were traversing there would be a forested park that would transition into the outskirts of the city, and thirty kilometers continuing East were my parents’ town and house.