The Stranger’s Piercing Song

Carl and Gerlinde (XXVII)

”What a heavenly, mild late summer’s day“, this was already the fifth time Carl said it to Gerlinde, regardless of the fact that he was already perspiring like a farm horse and had a distinct feeling that this stupid fold in his sock would, again, give him a painful blister near the ball of his right toe.

Yet he kept hiking spiritedly, never lamenting. After all, he knew how much his Gerlinde appreciated these brisk winter hikes on a Saturday afternoon.

There was nothing she would not do in order to remain in shape!

Carl certainly did not want to look inferior, did he? Consequently, the stabs he gave the poor asphalt path – which, however, kept winding through the jungle-like mixed forest without any sense of pain – with his “Nordic Walking“ sticks were just as merciless. Uprooted spruces, pines that had been turned around by the storm and birches that had suffered serious cuts piled up on top of each other in the small forest between the robust beech trees. Freshly planted alders, protected against damage caused by game animals with hideous plastic tubes, hid bashfully behind a man-high wall of fern…

No, this forest definitely did not encourage you to collect mushrooms, thought Carl as he kept perspiring while poking these strange sticks around. In fact, he already regretted having parted with his last paper napkin after handing it to a friendly gentleman in a jogging suit whose nose had dripped and who had asked for it in his despair.

To be sure, the liberating moan of the poorly shaved man had given him a short moment of the wonderful feeling: you did a good deed! But then his own nose became jealous. All of a sudden, as if on command, it started sniffing and would certainly have forced an unappetizing slime trail upon him, had not Gerlinde at the last second prevented the drying-up of this geyser-like fountain with her tissue emergency package. …

The elderly couple, however, would probably not have been threatened by Carl’s sniffy slime trail, because they came from the opposite direction with quite some speed! Both of them were small, their hair remarkably white. The gentleman had an extremely red face, while she looked tiny and petite – but still had a rather wiry step.

Considerably farther back, a dark-haired man in a grey, caftan-like outfit suddenly appeared on his bike. He was apparently in a very good mood and singing to himself something in a loud and shrill voice in an unintelligible language …

When he passed the elderly couple, they turned towards the singing fellow and the elderly gentleman, too, said something. But the singing “Turk” – that is what he looked to be with all his mob of black hair – simply continued pedalling on his noisy bike. He never took notice of anything happening in his environment. Carl and Gerlinde, too, were subjected to his passing them with a thunderous voice!

”This is outrageous – all these strangers“!, the red-faced gentleman was quite upset when he called this to Carl and Gerlinde as they reached the same level with him  “they look to scare you, but when you give them a friendly time of day, they never even bother to thank you!“

”He never even looked at us – just kept blaring into the forest and terrifying the birds“, the man called towards his wife, who nodded her agreement.

”Mind you, if you take it literally, they are actually guests in this country“, he said in the direction of Carl, who now stood still and nodded his assent.

“You would think people can at least return the good day when someone older gives it to them, wouldn’t you“?

”Well, I am sure he would have said hallo if he had not been so immersed in his song – he did not look like a “non-greeting grump“ to me”, Carl consolingly said to the excited man whose face muscles were now quite active.

”No, no – he certainly heard it when my husband said hello“, the small athletic lady with the agreeably wrinkled face suddenly said, “because my husband spoke really in a loud voice. But this is what it is like today: there is no more respect left for us elderly persons, in particular not from strangers…“

”Today, everything rots and degenerates!“, the red-faced man enthusiastically cut his wife short. And since he had so unexpectedly found sympathetic listeners in Carl and Gerlinde, it seemed that quite a few things he had kept inside suddenly surfaced.

In a croaking voice, he declared that all you had to do was look around you in the forest and you could see yourself how everything looked beyond decent description! Everything was topsy-turvy! Tattered tree upon tattered tree! And in between, all these abominable roots from the upturned trees! It was all absolutely disgusting! Terrible! Awful, he said to his permanently nodding wife; in former times, such a thing did not exist. The German forests used to be spick and span and empty. After the war, the people had gratefully carried home every piece of driftwood they could find and used it for firewood. But today, nobody cared about anything…

“Sad times, indeed“, his wife sorrowfully commented.

“Well, but – maybe today not everything is quite as bad as you may think at the moment …“ Carl cautiously ventured to say one last time.

Absolutely! It is not bad, it is a lot, lot worse, said the gentleman! It is simply abominable how matters stand today: immigrants and criminals all over the place, lies and fraud and murder and homicide wherever you looked. The rotting forest fit perfectly with the entire picture. “Yes, it really all fits very well“, said the concerned man several times and his wife also said it all fits very well…

“But, of course, you are not like that“, the old man spontaneously said to Carl and Gerlinde, “you say hello in a friendly manner and also listen when someone talks to you; this is, of course, totally different…“

“Well, but then, you are of a very different type from these immigrants …“, the disappointed red-face finally said appreciatively, before disappearing with curses and a shaking head, taking his wife along.

But even before Carl and Gerlinde had regained their former rhythm properly and commenced to continue with their harmonious stick-prodding along the forest path, the snotty-nosed wearer of the jogging suit for whom Carl had sacrificed his last paper-tissue came along again. Since, however, Carl had re-discovered half a packet of tissues in one of his millions of jacket pockets during their talk with the elderly couple, he once again turned to the suffering gentleman. But the sportive “snot-nose” immediately cut him short, asking him if he wanted his tissue back. Of course, Carl laughed and said no, instead rescuing the man once more.

And then they went home with quick steps: Carl badly needed a restroom and also felt a terrible burning inside – he was certainly going to drop dead unless he got a beer within the next ten minutes, so he said to his confused Gerlinde.

Consequently, they now really got into it and covered the last leg, even inside the town, amongst intense Nordic-stick activity on the pedestrians‘ path. With quick steps, Carl and Gerlinde also passed the front lawn of ’Solar–Konrad’. Herr Konrad, who was busily sweeping birch foliage, greeted them from afar and Gerlinde even added an ’aren’t we busy at all times, Herr Konrad’ to her compliments, while Carl made a point of looking the other way with an air of constipation…

“Now what was that supposed to mean …?“, Gerlinde asked after a few more steps.

“I am no longer on speaking terms with Konrad“!

“And why is that so?“

“Because this idiot always lets his d…ed dog run freely in the garden, where it terrifies me no end with its aggressive barking every time I walk past …“

“But it is not very nice of you to ignore him on account of this…“

“I do not mind – this is something he cannot do to me “!

“Did you ever talk to him about it“?

“No – he will certainly have to know himself what is good manners and what is not …“

“Well – it seems we have discovered the true ’non-greeting grump’ here, haven’t we“, Gerlinde signed as she opened the front door, suddenly feeling quite chilly…


(Translated by EG)

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