Published in Exit 30 |
They moved through the mass of tourists, dodging the street performers and chalk drawings. Boisterous crowds flocking at the Brandenburg Gate and Reichstag Building prompted Jane and Isabella to move onto the next landmark: Tiergarten Park. The two students walked west, under a canopy of yellow leaves. As they moved deeper into the garden, they noticed fewer people around them.
Jane welcomed this isolation. “It’s much more peaceful here without the crowds.”
Over the sound of leaves crunching under their clicking boots, Jane continued to learn about Isabella. They had met only three weeks earlier in Florence in their study abroad program. Isabella intrigued Jane, for she was everything that Jane was not. Tall and tan, with thick, jet-black hair, Isabella spoke three languages fluently and studied dance at Columbia. Jane admired Isabella’s charisma; she envied her assertiveness.
Despite their differences, they shared an interest in Berlin and its complex history. With only one day left in the city, Jane wondered if they could possibly see all that they wanted to see.
“We should visit the Pergamonmuseum. Not to mention the Victory Column in the middle of Tiergarten. Oh! And on our way home, we—”
Isabella cut her off, “Let’s sit on this bench coming up. A man’s been following us for a while. We should let him pass, just in case.”
Startled, Jane whipped her head around and saw the stranger: white, bald, of average build, wearing a navy sweatshirt. Embarrassed not to have noticed him sooner, Jane followed Isabella to the rusty bench and sat down. As he hurried by, the man jammed his hands in his pockets and fixed his eyes on the ground. Viewing his profile, Jane saw a crooked smirk.
They waited on the bench, to create distance from the man. Jane turned cold from sitting still. She looked up at the sky as she adjusted her coat’s top button and estimated that they had one hour of sunlight left, plenty of time to make it to the Column. After ten minutes, their anxiety waned, and Jane and Isabella continued west on the path. A half mile later, they grew hungry.
“We should find a place for dinner soon,” Isabella said.
Jane agreed, “We could check out that tapas place near our apartment. But I would be happy any—”
They both noticed the man, this time ahead of them. He had slowed down considerably. His hands remained stuffed in his pockets, but he peered around his shoulder to meet their panicked gaze with a grin. Jane and Isabella watched him pick up his pace and disappear around the sidewalk’s bend. Hoping he had sped away so as to not scare them further, they followed behind, cautiously.
Making their way around the bend, they no longer saw the man on the sidewalk. But Jane quickly noticed movement in her periphery. She turned right and saw the man. Sweatshirt on. Pants around his ankles. Pleasuring himself.
He knew they were coming. He performed only for them. His smirk grew into a leering smile as he pawed at his fleshy erection.
Jane froze, silent.
“You’re fucking disgusting! Jesus, you pervert!” Isabella yelled. She turned to Jane and tugged her arm with urgency. “Let’s go, come on!”
Jane’s feet stumbled as they began running. Her body produced enough adrenaline to fight off the impulse to vomit. They finally stopped when they safely reached the crowded, central square of Tiergarten. Gasping for air, Jane felt the sting of anger and disappointment. She hated herself for her silence, for not yelling and cursing like Isabella. She felt weak, defeated.
Before they spoke a word to each other, they peered up at the Victory Column across the street. A wide, circular base supported the height of its tall column. The winged Victoria, with her sharp spear and champion’s wreath, taunted them from the column’s golden tip.
“I want to go home,” Jane finally muttered.
Isabella nodded, “Let’s take a cab back.”