She would never forget the day the wall was torn down. The wall had been the focal point of her life for so long that she couldn't imagine it not being there. Yet all of a sudden it was gone. Citizens of both sides of Berlin could freely come and go as they pleased, and Nikita and her former co-workers were sent back to their homeland.
The train swept through miles and miles of northeastern Europe, past many acres of farmland formerly owned by the government and now to be taken over by private owners. At last the train came to a stop in Nikita's home town. She realized that she had forgotten how cold it was and wished that she had worn a warmer jacket as she shivered inside the station. She was so happy to see her parents and siblings again, and her elderly grandmother who had been born before the Revolution of 1917 and so had lived to see her country's leadership come full circle. Nikita hadn't realized how much she had missed them all. Everyone was very glad to see Nikita as well, and they couldn't believe how much older and, in some ways, sadder she looked than she had the last time they had seen her.
On the journey to her family's dwelling she thought about him and wondered whether she would ever see him again. He had been a frequent visitor to the democratized half of Berlin, and she remembered seeing him standing beside his convertible silently watching. From the make and model of his car and the style of his clothing she guessed that he must be a tourist. Nikita wondered what it was that drew him to the city of Berlin repeatedly.
Back home life had been turned upside down. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was no more. The KGB was no more. In their place was a new government in embryonic form, as shaky and unsteady on it's feet as a newborn lamb.
The economy was in terrible shape. Items that one had formerly had to stand in long lines to purchase were often not available at all now. There were no jobs. Many young women in Nikita's position turned to prostitution to prevent their families from starving, but Nikita knew that there had to be a better way than that. Prophylactics were hard to find and quite expensive, and when available at all were usually of poor quality. To bring an innocent child into the world that was now hers would have been absolutely unthinkable, and even worse would have been the threat of HIV infection, which would mean either a slow and agonizing death or lifelong dependence on expensive drugs with unpleasant side effects.
To help pass the long hours and keep her mind off her often-empty stomach, Nikita began writing. She had been told as a young girl that it would one day be her job to stand guard at the Berlin Wall, to prevent the loss of East Germany's labor force to the democratic world. Everyone was told at a young age what their future occupations would be. It was a way of making sure that there were just the right number of employees in each line of work, or so she had been told. So from early in life Nikita knew that her future position would be beside the Berlin Wall.
She never thought to ask herself whether or not she really wanted to be a guard. She simply knew that that would be her job, and that was that. It was the way life was and no one questioned it, nor even thought of questioning it.
Now as memories came flooding back to her, she filled page after page with stories of her life as a guard beside the wall. When she had written everything that she thought was worthy of being remembered she mailed her manuscript to a publishing house in the newly reunified Germany and didn't think about it anymore. So when the letter came in the mail one day she was totally shocked.
It was from the chancellor of Germany. Her manuscript had caught his attention, and he had invited her back to the city of Berlin to see all the changes that had taken place there since the wall had been torn down.
During the long train ride back to Germany Nikita thought of him often. She wondered whether he still visited Berlin now that the wall was gone. She knew that the city would be radically different from the one she had left only months before, and the sight of a familiar face in an otherwise topsy turvy world would be reassuring.
A few hours later Nikita was standing in the same spot that had been her permanent post for her entire adult life. Gone were the wall and the mass of East Germans hoping for a chance for escape. In their place were crowds of busy people going about their daily business oblivious to Nikita's presence.
She scanned the crowd. Yes. There he was. Standing by his convertible wearing his ever-present sunglasses. He waved and she waved back and began walking in his direction.
A few steps later and for the first time in her life she was standing in what had formerly been called West Berlin. It had been that easy. A feeling she couldn't describe came over Nikita. She didn't know what to call it because she had never felt it before in her life. The closest she could come to approximating it was the way an eagle must feel soaring over the ocean and looking down at the white caps of the waves so far below. It was absolutely exhilarating.
Tears came to her eyes as she thought of all the East Germans she and others had denied freedom to over all the years. How terrible she felt for them now. Yet she herself had been enslaved as it had been her duty to enslave others.
As she came closer he grinned widely. "I almost didn't recognize you without the uniform," he said pleasantly. Her assumption about him had been correct. He spoke English, not German. Nikita herself knew English in addition to her native Russian and of course German. To know the language of the enemy had been to stay one step ahead of them. Now that the former enemy had become the role model knowing their language still held certain advantages, if for different reasons.
Nikita smiled shyly. "I am called Nikita," she told him.
"You may call me Reggie," he said. "It was what I was called when I was a child."
"What country are you from, Reggie?"
"My home is England. It is where I was born and raised. But I have traveled to many different places."
"That must be so exciting!" To Nikita simply crossing from the east side of Berlin to the west had seemed such a monumental occasion.
"This city has always been one of my favorite places to visit."
"It is lovely," Nikita agreed.
"I thought this day would never come," Reggie said softly. "That you and I could stand here like this and have a conversation with one another so freely."
Nikita didn't know what to say.
"I wrote a song for you a few years ago," he told her. "Would you like to hear it?"
"Oh yes, of course!"
He sang his song for her, and when he was finished she was smiling.
"What a lovely song!" she said. "I am so very flattered. And yes, I do count the stars at night. I even know the name of the closest one. Alpha Centauri. I used to wonder how far away the farthest one was."
"I used to wonder the same thing," he told her.
They talked for a few minutes more, and then Reggie said that he had to go to an appointment.
"I can't begin to tell you how lovely it was to finally have the chance to meet you and speak with you, Nikita. May I give you a good-bye hug?"
"Oh yes, that would be so nice."
They embraced. His arms around her felt strong and supportive and he smelled nice, like expensive cologne. Nikita wanted the moment to linger.
"I never realized how good that would feel. Thank you," he said. Nikita suddenly felt very shy.
Reggie said that he was difficult to get in touch with because he traveled so much, but he wrote down her address at home and promised to stay in touch.
It was difficult to say good-bye to him. Nikita's previous friendships had always been with people very similar to herself, people she had gone to school with or worked with. Reggie's life seemed so radically different from her own. That there could be more than just one way of life was almost more than Nikita could fathom.
Yet Reggie had spoken of traveling to different places and meeting different kinds of people. Nikita wondered whether she herself would some day have the opportunities and experiences he had had. Perhaps simply crossing to the western side of Berlin was only the first step. That there could be so many choices to make in life made Nikita's head spin.
Reggie had said that there were jobs where her experience would come in handy, that institutions like banks and prisons needed security guards. Or that returning to school to learn a different trade could be an option as well. Reggie told her that he had connections and would be more than happy to help her in any way he could.
Perhaps in Germany or even in Reggie's England there could be a job for her. Perhaps she could work awhile and save up her money and send for her family later.
She felt as if she were walking on air for the rest of the day. She was so happy to have had the chance to travel to Berlin and finally meet Reggie. Now for the first time she felt that there was hope for herself and her family.