“Say, buddy, you got a light?”
With a sigh, Ted ducked out from the shelter of the café, turning up the collar of his overcoat as he ran across the street, a futile attempt at staying dry. He did quick scan of the street. There was an army postal service office some twenty yards up, someone was bound to have a light in here; everybody smoked since the government started putting cigarettes in the military rations. He backed into the office, pushing the door open with his shoulder. A tiny bell rang alerting the workers to his presence.
“Hallo,” the woman at the front desk smiled in greeting but did not look up from her typewriter, “wie gehts dir?”
“Ich verstehe sie nicht,” he replied, professing his ignorance in the one phrase he had bothered to learn. Her smile broadened at his terrible pronunciation; he could not rid the American twang if he tried.
She dragged her eyes away from her papers to meet his, teasingly questioning him as to what he would have done had she not spoken English. If she had been lacking in beauty and charm, her presence in the office would not have caused such a stir in his heart, which began to beat with regret as suspicion rose through his body. The conversation that followed merged with the noise of the rain striking the office windows, functioning only as background noise to Ted’s racing thoughts.
He went over and over what the other lads had told him: tales of beautiful women who turned out to be spies. How they lived their everyday lives, women in war, working mainly in offices, always stationed with the hope that they may overhear something interesting or intercept messages. Messages. Mail. Post. His thoughts jumping, Ted looked around him, slowly remembering where he was: an army postal office.
A sudden blast followed by a flare of gunfire salvaged him from his thoughts. You never got used to the sounds of war but your body distorted them. Cries, shouts and the sounds of guns being cocked, pumped and shot all sounded as if you were submerged underwater.
Everything slows right down.
Ted found himself on the street, staring at the bodies of his friends, their blood catching an eerie green glow from the cafe’s luminous sign which was a blur behind the heavy sheet of rain. On the paving was the cigarette Ted had gone to find a light for. The sound of hurried footsteps broke into Ted’s conscious: the girl from the office. She was walking away, and quickly at that. His attention now fully focused on her, he saw she was carrying a bundle of letters tied together with brown string. He followed her.
All his anger, all his frustration at the complete futility of this war seemed to reside in her and as her footsteps quickened he took his handgun from his inside pocket and shot her dead.
He retrieved the bundle of letters from her cold hand. In the first, he read of her love for her fiancée and how she wished him home and safe. In another he found her words of commiseration to her eldest sister, for she had lost both her husband and her son. In the final letter she had written to her mother, telling her she was safe and happy working in the postal office and she would be home on the half past two train.
The clock struck two.