“One last time, Kurtz! How do you integrate X squared?” thundered Prof. Reichbert.
“Three times X cubed,” called Hans back, his hands on the little desk in front of him, the spine erect, and his eyes straight forward.
“Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! One-third x cubed!” Prof. Reichbert punctuated each word with a tap of the wooden rod onto the student desk nearest him.
“Present your left palm!” ordered Prof. Reichbert. The class of 50 students was silent and serious.
Hans stood up and held his left palm out. A slight tremor overcame him as he anticipated the pain. He felt the shame of having failed in front of everyone shoot into his reddening cheeks. Everyone was dressed in formal clothing. The young men were wearing white, pressed shirts and pants. The young women were wearing knee-long skirts and white blouses. Everyone had arranged their notepads and fountain pen with formality on their little desks. Order was strictly enforced. Discipline was praised.
Prof. Reichbert leaned forward to reach across the student in front of Hans. The round, wooden mahogany rod reached straight to the ceiling. Every student turned a little pale. With a sharp whispering of the air hissing out of its way, the rod flew down towards its intended target: Hans’ hand. However, in reflex, his body pulled away the hand to escape the pain while his mind molded his face into an expression of horror for the anticipation of doubled penalty. Prof. Reichbert had put so much force into the sting and leaned forward so far that he lost footing. He tumbled forward onto the desk of the student ahead of Hans and slipped to the floor. His wooden right leg unhooked and rolled away from him.
The class broke out into roaring laughter. Their tormentor had been cut down. The pent-up frustration of his reign unleashed into the ugliest disgust and condescending laughter. The class relished watching his face tormented and helpless on the ground. The old man was no longer nimble. With only one functioning leg, he struggled to get out of a seated position. For too long had he only transferred his body from sitting to standing. He felt all the accomplishments of professorship and lifelong teaching stripped from him. He felt degraded to be a simple, stupid fool. Tears were at the edge of his eyes, but the more he anguished, the more the students remembered their own anguish at his hands and laughed harder. Menace begets menace.
Hans turned around to take in his laughing comrades. Most of all, he looked for the last row to see Jessica. She laughed the most. Her eyes showed pride at his action. She blew him a kiss – her fingers touching her lips and then throwing him the kiss in a big arc. The young students had romance at a distance. They would talk amongst their own gender about whom they fancied, but they rarely approached the other gender. Everyone knew and agreed who was promised to whom, but formality kept them at a distance. Seeing her sign of affection, he knew that he would go to her house on Friday to ask her father to allow her to take his daughter on a date to the weekly village dance. The aunt would of course be present, but while dancing, they would be able to have their first whispered conversation. He longed to tell her about his love for her. He had written a dozen poems, all dedicated to her.
Not a single student helped Prof. Reichbert as he crawled on hands and knees in front of the class to the wooden leg peg that had rolled away from him. He wore a fine suit and had the chain of a gold pocket watch dangle from his belly. Huffing and puffing, he grabbed his wood peg and rolled back on his butt. The clasp to reattach the wood leg was creaky and difficult to close, mainly because his emotion made him fumble. He pulled himself up by a student’s desk, awkwardly trying to get a hold on the desk. Standing again, he walked out without uttering a single word.
The revenge came in the afternoon when Prof. Reichbert burst into the biology lecture. Two officers followed him close on the heel. Prof. Hillbrecht was drawing the anatomy of a honey bee on the chalkboard and talked about the stinger.
“These cretins are unfit to study!” explained Prof. Reichbert.
“You can’t!” stammered Pof. Hillbrecht. “You sentence each one to die and another human on the other side!”
“Watch it!” ordered the lead officer and unsnapped the leather holster on his sidearm. Prof. Hillbrecht stepped to the corner of the room.
“Every man over eighteen, step forward!” ordered the lead officer.
A stampede broke out. Desks were thrown to the ground. Fountain pens and notebooks were thrown into the random distance. A cheer broke out! For weeks, they had listened to the news and anticipated recruitment. They had marveled at the photos on the front page of victory after victory. They were ready to throw away the boredom of schools to become heroes. The war was supposed to be over in a matter of weeks. They wanted to get in, to get their chance of collecting medals, before Etimesgut Escort it was all over and eternal peace would settle on humanity.
The officers smiled, satisfied at the exuberance, and allowed the chaos to happen. They summoned one young man after the next to the door. The women were glowing with pride and joy. When the young men whom a woman had claimed as her dream catch made it to the front, she’d break out cheering. The other women smiled at her to let her know that she had chosen a catch, for he would go to the front of the war.
The officers asked each student the same questions: “Are you over 18? Are you healthy? Are you a homo? Do you love your country? What’s your name? Report to the gymnasium with this piece of paper!”
When Hans walked down the hallway, exuberance was everywhere. Students were dancing. Eyes so excited that they became like bug eyes, feverishly told of what would happen next. Professors stood helpless and abandoned without expression in the torrent. Some classroom doors were firmly locked. The professor inside still lectured and shut their students away from recruitment. An exuberant student burned his shirt to signal that he was never coming back to study. A young woman cried in hysteria. It was hard to tell if she was terrorized by the idea of war or so elated to cry. Shrill cries rung out from her through her short, hard breaths.
Uniformed soldiers stopped every student at the entrance of the gymnasium. They checked the conscription paper and then directed Hans to a series of desks. The first desk handed Hans a rucksack. The second desk gave him boots. Thus, he collected his uniform, a blanket to sleep at night, shoe shine, an extra bitter chocolate bar as emergency food, and finally his own rifle but no ammunition. In a corner, the young men stripped out of their civilian clothes and into the uniform. Many burned their civilian clothes. Hans thought it smart to roll them up tight and put them at the bottom of his rucksack.
Everything went so fast and he looked so wide-eyed at everything that it barely registered. Yet when the barber looked him in the eyes, Hans caught something that with different from all the jubilation. The barber’s eyes were somber. They spoke of something that he couldn’t tell but had grave importance. The scissors trimmed Hans’ hair off fast, but the barber gave Hans the tiniest and most minute head shakes that nobody but Hans could tell. It was like a warning: “Don’t go where they are taking you.” Dismissing the professors had been easy because they knew nothing about the real world. Yet this barber in his soldier uniform, he had seen things. All the joy and coziness had gone from his face like that of a man who had traveled the world and seen things.
Having finished the outfitting process, Hans was to look for a chalk mark box on the crowd with the number 387 because he was assigned to company 387. When he found the box, he met his classmates again. They hugged each other. They played with mock rifles shooting into the air. They drank from air chalices to the victories and blood they would pour. The atmosphere was like the best party of their lives was about to happen.
Two professors stood nearby surveying the scene. One said to the other, “I can’t believe that after weeks of successfully convincing the officers to give students exempt status, Prof. Reichbert turned on the principal. He told the officers that the whole college was a liberalist scheme to shelter draft dodgers. The officers almost executed the principal on the spot. How can a human being be so vile. We’ll be glad if a single one of those poor souls makes it back.”
The next phase was an organized spectacle. They could have loaded up the new conscripts onto trucks in the college yard, but they made them walk across the town center. All the war supporters of the town came out to wave flags and cheer. Hans felt surrounded from all sides. The cheering was so loud that he could feel it in his chest. There was a vehement pressing that pushed him forward through the crowd. He felt himself in the center of appreciation. His meaningless and lonely life suddenly seemed to be celebrated with the noble cause that was thrust on him. He saw the old men’s faces behind the barrier yelling and shaking their fists with such fervor. There was a strong belief in hitting the enemy on the head among those old men. A tooth for a tooth, and it was time to collect lots of teeth.
A hundred yards away from the waiting trucks, the officers let the barricades collapse. The young women stormed forward to hug and kiss the young men for a send-off. He saw Jessica punching her way forward with fists. She was fierce. She felt the peer pressure to succeed in giving her claimed men a send-off better than the other women. In that quest, she threw punches and elbows to get other women and guys out of her way. A wild brawl broke out with everyone swimming into a particular Etlik Escort direction in the crowd. The soldiers spurned them on to get on the truck fast, which only increased the desperation for the last goodbye.
He felt her hand gripping behind his head and a tremendous pull forward. She pulled him over another guy and pressed her lips on his lips. The sudden jolt caused them to connect teeth with a hard crash. She pressed her full warm lips on his. That was their first kiss. He let his body go limp to take in the tender feeling of those warm lips on his, the most feminine and tender that he had felt his whole life. Time stopped. They were in a bubble, lost in the sensation of feeling each other on those tender lips. A firm grip over Hans’ hips pulled Hans away and onto the truck. He was still focused on reaching his lips forward when his feet already landed on the truck bed.
Rushed and desperate, Jessica reached her right hand forward and held a small black-and-white photo forward for him to grab. In the last moment before they separated two fast into opposite directions in the throng of people, snatched the photo out of her hand. Then he was thrown on the ground on the truckbed amongst his comrades and the gate was locked. The truck honked. The engine roared, and the truck slowly drove forward to give people a chance to get out of the way of the big tires.
The women had spent the last weeks saving up money to get a photo for their chosen man. They had worked extra shifts at the factory, washed laundry, collected potatoes in the fields, or whatever they could do to raise the extravagantly high price for a single photo. In discussions lasting hours, they had discussed with the other women the best pose and the best make-up. They had traded clothing pieces to borrow. Did a black veil provide elegance or cover the prettiness of a face? Did showing the shoulder make her more attractive or scandalous? They had carried the photos in their bra everywhere they went to be ready for the moment, whenever it may strike.
Getting the photo taken involved going to the French photographer. He had traveled to their peasant area from France, an eternally cultured city. He had the only camera in town. He had seen movie stars from the black and white screens with his own eyes. He knew how they dressed and acted. When you went into his house, you entered a forbidden place. Rumors had it that many scandalous things happened in there and were captured on photographs. Debauchery and devilish seduction happened in there. So when a young woman went in there, she braised herself for things of her fantasy that were way worse and more outlandish than anything that could have happened in reality. He was supposed to be able to teach a woman how to seduce any man with her eyes. He was supposed to host a succubus demon that he’d make enter his photo subjects to give them an enigmatic beauty. He was supposed to be a master hypothesized who could make you do anything he wanted. And once he had infected you with his hypothesis, he would be able to put you back into a trance with a snap of his finger. So when a woman went in their, she surrendered to an unimaginable faith, but it was the only way to get a photo and to be popular among the other women.
Of course, nothing like that had happened. Hans was looking at a photo of young Jessica with a beautiful French braid of her hair that ran down her front. She wore a ruffled blouse that exposed both of her shoulders. She had pink rouge on her cheeks that made her look elegant like a metropolitan woman. Her blue eyes looked piercing because the light from behind the photographer pierced her iris. She had a timeless look into the distance with her chin raised proudly. He kept glancing at her lips to replay the sensation of that kiss on his lips over and over. The truck shook with potholes in the country rode and made the comrade bodies on all his sides shake against each other. They were one mangle of bodies, weaved together. Each one was dreaming about the young woman that had sent him off. Some had their eyes closed. Some looked at the photograph. Some kissed the photograph. Others held it to their chests. It was a group meditation about femininity.
The countryside moved past them. The wheat fields would be ready for harvest in four weeks when they would be gone. The potato vines were crawling thick to the point where the field was overcrowded. The familiar stands of trees and creeks moved past them. While their hearts were focused on their women, the undercurrent in their minds registered that they were leaving their known world behind.
By nightfall, they reached the railroad tracks. A train stretched for longer than Hans had ever seen. One box cart after the next was hitched to the big black steam locomotive. Trucks from all directions had converged on this place in the middle of nowhere. One could tell the new conscripts from the organizing soldiers. Eve Gelen Escort The organizing soldiers barked loud and clear orders. Their faces were angry. The new conscripts looked like lost puppies who suddenly came to terms with the recruitment party being over and the harshness of military life had started.
“Look for your train car number on the board!” was the order shouted at them over and over.
Hans followed the others down the truck bed. A soldier pulled him harshly and fast, signaling that there was no meandering allowed but only fast promptness. Hans stuck closely to Michael, his friend from school. They gave each other comfort as they identified where the sign boards were. Getting to the front of the signboard required pushing hard into the crowd. If one was a weakling, one never got close enough to be able to read. Michael and Hans locked arms and pushed forward, pushing other guys out of the way. When they were near enough to read, the crowd kept pushing them left and right, which made it hard to keep the eye focused on a particular line. The first column gave the company number. The second column gave the train car number. They were going to car 17. Michael confirmed the right reading. They could breathe a little easier outside of the crowd.
The train cars were ordered numerically. Finding train car 17 was easy. Their comrades from company 387 were there. They were smoking cigarettes. An officer had come by and had thrown the pack into the middle of them. The officers knew how to keep the new recruits’ minds occupied until it was too late and to get them hooked on cheap addiction. There were three companies in the train car. They had calculated that each one could get a finger width’s worth of a cigarette and had marked the cigarettes accordingly. Hans tried and coughed hard. The smoke was as unpleasant as a finger up the butt. Michael laughed and said, “You are a man now!”
The floor of the train car was covered with black soot, as if coal sacks had been transported by it before. The young ones stood at first, but after a couple of hours of standing, one by one, they had given in to sit in the black soot. Despite the night, they were all wired and too excited to sleep. They had received no orders or training. They didn’t know that they should have because it was their first time, but the officers simply needed more bodies, lots of more bodies, at the front. Haste dictated everything.
One of the guys, a fat one called Karl insisted that the train car door stay open. He had heard that the box cart was made airtight and men could suffocate in it. Thus, the door stayed open. A constant shot of wind burst in. The landscape shot past. The gravel under the tracks was a blur. The guys next to the door looked worried about getting pulled out by the air drag. The noise was constant, but they noticed when the moon rose and had enough light to see each other.
Karl pulled out a pack of cards to announce a poker game. No matter how crowded the car was with bodies, a circle was soon made for a card game. Five guys could face off with each other. Karl was loud and boisterous. He constantly joked and harassed people. You were sure that he bluffed extravagantly, but he was so unpredictable that you never knew. And he had a shine of success that made you believe that he had a great set of cards each time. When he had sufficiently established his dominance, he placed down the photo of his young woman. She was a petit brunette with mousy eyes. She looked very docile and homely, definitely a woman who would submit to a boar like Karl. The photo went around everyone. Everyone got to finger the photo and take in the look of the young woman. Then Karl offered her as the price for the next round.
Of course, Karl won the next round. The whole thing was to establish the precedent of putting a photo at stake. He announced that buying into the next round required betting a photo. The four play partners grumbled because guys from the back offered to take their seats by buying in with a photo. The photos were handed around like prizes. There was one girl. Her hair were black as raven. Her skin was perfectly white. The features of her face had a mathematic beauty like a Greek statue. Everyone was breathless. Guys didn’t want to let go off her, but guys eager to see her would yank the photo from their hands. The whole train car was rapt on the game now. Roars and jeers pushed the excitement up.
When all seats had been spoken for, a guy offered his photo. He had been hesitating but now that he felt himself left out, he gesticulated wildly to be led in. When he showed his photo, an ooh breathed through the train car. Everyone was quiet with sacred admiration. Faces crowded behind his shoulder to see. He placed the photo on the ground for everyone to see. Nobody dared touching the photo. She was topless. They had heard that the French photographer did boudoir shots. Many had never seen a woman’s bare chest before. They inspected her pink nipples. The appraised the roundness of her breasts. They admired the seductive smile on her face. They all agreed that she was possessed by a succubus the moment the photo was taken and that anyone looking at the photo would immortally fall in love with her. One of the guys was quickly kicked out of the game to make place for him.