Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Missed Connection - Part III

Story So Far:
Missed Connection - Part I
Missed Connection - Part II

Have you ever been to a new place that seemed oddly familiar? An uncanny feeling that you had been there before but still couldn’t remember when.  My brain was still very wooly. The drug had clearly not worn off. But in the very dimly and flickeringly lit room, as I slowly cast my eyes around to acquit myself with my surroundings, as I saw every new thing, it seemed I have always known it would be there. It is difficult to explain, it is almost like a cloth being pulled over from a collection of your childhood toys. Until the cloth is removed you don’t know what is underneath, but as progressively the cloth is pulled back what is slowly revealed you know intimately.  

The statue of Buddha on the right side of the big hall, just by the side of the big wooden crucifix hanging on the wall, wasn’t it always so? The small wooden table where a few candles flickered disturbed by the draft as I entered, a blazing fireside on the other side with the seating area, the stairway on the far side from where I stood.  Why did this place look so familiar? Why?

As my eyes slowly got accustomed to the dark, my heart froze.

There were a number of people in the room.  Standing silently, without word, without movement.

The door behind me closed and I felt Alexendra go past me and melt into the crowd.  I couldn’t see any faces only dark outlines.

On some invisible command, they seemed to start moving toward me all at once. I estimated that there were perhaps twelve to fifteen people. Slowly, noiseless moving toward me.

A few hands reached out toward me as I broke into a cold sweat. It was perhaps the most terrifying moment of my adult life.

“Otto.”  A disembodied voice seemed to come out from the group. “You are here. Finally”. 

As the hands touched me I realized one of them was Alexendra’s.  She moved to my left side and put her hand around my waist. Another man took hold of my right elbow.  Slowly they propelled towards the stairs.

“We knew you would come”. Suddenly they whole crowd noiselessly fell behind me as Alexndra and the man on my right slowly took me up the stairs.

I stammered, “Wha..What is the meaning of this?”

“You will see.”

On top of the stairs there was a small landing that led to a corridor that ran perpendicular to it. One both sides there appeared to be rooms, but only one of the doors was open and some light came out. I was taken toward that. 

The party including Alexendra stopped near the door and pushed me inside.

This room was better lit but still with candles. Thankfully there were many of them. Inside the room was a big bed. Again that strange feeling that I was in a place that was very familiar. Was I going mad? Was this some crazy dream?

I moved forward slowly toward the bed. In it lay a lady, almost in her forties. Clearly ill.

And then  I saw her face.  Beautiful, pale and tear streaked. I screamed in a voice that was not mine. “Mein Gott! Helen!” 

I can never explain how or why. I just knew that I was looking at Helen Schnee.  Wife of SS-Obersturmbannf├╝hrer  Otto Schnee.


I was looking at the face of my wife!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Missed Connection Part II: Journey through the night

Continued from Part 1: Missed Connection

I have no recollection of how long the journey lasted; I kept switching between states of total unconsciousness and partial consciousness. There are two things that I recollect of the trip, the first was that outside the car a heavy storm raged as the car drove at a dangerous speed and the second, almost all through the trip Alexendra held my hand! It was not a tight grip to stop me from getting away; I was in not state for that anyway, on the contrary it was a gentle, warm, almost a reassuring grip. None of it made sense to my groggy mind. I kept wondering if I didn’t turn up at the check-in next noon, would the airline send someone to look for me? How would they know where I was? Would there anything left of me to find? And my family, what of my family? Would they ever come to know about me? Even in my stupor I got really mad at this girl sitting by my side for having tricked me to this. Control had still not returned and with all the will I could muster I pulled my hand away from her.

After what could be an eternity, the car finally stopped. By then I had started to gain some control. As the car door open I saw two men, with covered faces reached out to me. I instinctively pulled back. They however reached me inside the car and helped me out into the bitter cold into knee deep fresh snow. Alexendra came out behind me. Outside the two towering guys held me on both sides, I twisted my body feebly to indicate that I didn’t appreciate being held. If I were to die, by God, I was going to do it with dignity. Not like a trapped animal. “I am deeply sorry, Jim. But there was no other way…” I heard Alexendra whisper softly to my ears.

I perhaps had a thousand words that I could say to her right at that time, the choicest of Indian swear words of all the six languages that I know and then some in English but no word would come out my mouth. I simply glared at her in silent rage.

She just shook her head in apparent sadness, (the killer’s guilt, I thought) and reached out brush the snow that had by then fallen on my hair. She then said something to the two giants standing beside me, who started steering me to my right. For the first time I noticed that the car had stopped in front of a big mansion. It was enormous, dark and ominous looking. It has a massive doorway toward which we seemed to be headed.

In front of the door I hesitated, all my instincts telling me to get the hell out of there. Alexendra reached from behind and took my hand again. “Jim, I promise no harm shall come on to you.” I was getting tired of all this hand-holding and her lies. I shook her hand of and with difficulty I mumbled, “Go to hell.”

There was no way of backing out with those two goons behind me I thought. With the name of Almightly in my mind, I pushed open the door and crossed the threshold into the house.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Missed Connection - The Chronicle of A Strange Adventure ..

I noticed her the moment I entered the near empty hotel lounge bar. A white girl with shoulder length auburn hair, slight built and a very pleasant face. Even at the height of a bitter winter she was tastefully dressed. Knee high boots, dark blue jeans, a white turtle neck sweater under a leather jacket. In the seat next to her lay an overcoat, muffler, gloves and a cap, the standard ensemble of a wintery Europe. She was reading a book and looked up as I passed her by and made my way to a seat at the further side of the room and settled down. As I stole a look back to her, I saw her look back at me. My heart skipped a beat. Literally. Her face looked very familiar, someone I seemed to have known for years but couldn’t place. Where did I know her from? I did travel to Germany a few times in past; did I know her from work? Nothing clicked. She looked about 25-26 years old, a little younger than me. Even from the distance I saw her regard me with her hazel eyes with a mildly curious look. I did the most natural thing when an attractive lady stares at you; I nodded and gave her a smile. She smiled back in return. That smile was the start of an amazing journey that I find it hard to believe really happened even today.

I debated with myself for years on whether to write about this strange adventure. Would this open uncomfortable questions, disbelief, even a snide remark or two? In fact, till today, I am not sure I recollect exactly what had happened that night, and much less why. However when last winter I received a short email from a sender in Germany – She is no more. Thought you might wish to know – I made up my mind that I shall write down what I remembered of the Otto Schnee affair. The others involved in the story have read the manuscript and have given their agreement.

As a frequent traveler there is nothing that puts my rhythm out of gear like a missed connection. But when the flight from Chicago to Frankfurt, lifted off a couple of hours late that winter about eight years ago, I knew there was no way I was going to be able to make it to the connecting flight to Bangalore. The flight landed in FRA under near gale condition. By the time I got into the Terminal 1 building it was obvious that the gale was getting worse. As I entered the terminal through the aerobridge there was an airline staffer waiting outside with a sign with my name on it, he guided me to a counter. The flight to Bangalore had long left and there was no chance of getting into an alternative flight. However they were ready to put me up in a hotel not far from the airport. They also gave me some vouchers to buy food and drinks at the hotel, a calling card and a boarding pass for the next day.

Snowed in @ Frankfurt Airport

Tired, crestfallen I made my way out of the immigration chaperoned by the same guy who had met me at the aerobridge onto a waiting car. It was already around six when the car slowly pulled out, with only me as the passenger, for the hotel. The hotel turned out to be a small inn sort of place, quaint and pricy. Not the usual business hotel that I had expected. In any case the airline was paying. But why was I the only Bangalore bound passenger there, there must have been other who missed their connection? Perhaps the airline had put them in other hotels and gave the matter no further thought. After checking in to my room and making a few calls I decided to go down to see if I could get something to eat. I was tired and famished. And as I entered the lounge bar I saw her.

The lounge was dimly lit and remarkably empty; I was there, the girl seated at a coffee table with its own reading light, a couple of Turkish-Arabic looking guys far away near a fireside, an elderly white man nursing a drink and an expressionless bartender. Trophies from game hunting hung around the room giving it a strange air. I have never subscribed to the notion of killing animals as a sport.

I found myself a seat, kept my things and walked over the counter to get myself a draft. While passing back I flashed a smile again at the girl and she smiled back wide. Slightly inviting without being crass. So I kind of tarried a bit around her table and made an opening remark about the beastly weather. She closed her book and in a very slightly German accented English said, “Terrible, isn’t it. Have you missed your connection?” She had a nice voice. I looked at her again, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I had known her from somewhere but for the life of me couldn’t place.

“Yes, I missed my flight”, said I

“Me too. ”

“But I see you have Mr. Kant to keep you company”, I noticed Kant’s famous face on the cover of the book she was reading.

“Oh! You know about Immanuel Kant”, for the first time looking genuinely interested in making conversation. Well, that was my cue. I immediately took the seat across and assumed a very philosophical expression. “He is one of my favorites, I find his Critique of Pure Reason, perhaps one of the epochal philosophical works.” I lied effortlessly.

My father was a fan of Kant and had his books at home which is how I recognized Kant’s picture and my father would sometime discuss Kantian philosophies with his friends at home from where I had some rudimentary understanding.

“Oh Yes! But there is so much more to Kant,” her eyes shone as spoke, “His invention of critical philosophy, notion of moral autonomy as central to humanity, his theories on God are equally amazing”.

I nodded sagely as she spoke nonstop for twenty minutes on intricacies of Kant’s philosophies as I struggled to keep up. Once in a while I would take a sip of the bitter brew in my hand, grimace and get back to the conversation. In between, I also learnt was that her name was Alexandra Schnee, like me she was also a Computer Engineer and had a deep interest in philosophy, both western and eastern.

Never before have I been so impressed, so quickly with any girl. And it was not simply because she was the first and thus far the only girl who could expound on philosophy and leave me speechless, nor was it because she spoke with so much passion and scholarship, and certainly not because of her striking good looks. It seemed to be a much deeper connection, it was almost as if I was speaking to someone who was a reflection of every good thought I ever had. Heaven help me, but the feeling I got while speaking to her was like the feeling I get when I and my younger brother have philosophical discussions, where we both know that every word, every thought we speak automatically resonates with the other and long explanations are never necessary, just the essence of the thought is enough.

“By the way, I am even more impressed of your Swami Vivekanda.” Well, I thought, that was a more familiar territory. However before I could start my speech on Swamiji, she asked, “What are you drinking..” I pointed at the tap with a sad face. “Well, you obviously don’t like it. Wait I will fix you a drink.”

I quickly took the chance to go to the wash room to dab my face with water. All the Kant stuff had gotten me quite drowsy. When I came back to my seat, she already had two tall glass of fizzy red drink waiting.

“What is this?”

“Grandma’s secret cocktail,” she said with a slight smile, “You will like it”

It was heavenly, tasted a little like the famous Singapore Sling, and I took rather big gulps. A little strong too, I started to think as suddenly my head started to swim. “Alexandra..” I started as I felt myself slumping forward, grazing the side of the table and falling to the floor. My eyes were open, but limbs immobile and brain sluggish. In a daze I saw that the Turkish looking guys were coming toward where I lay … to help I thought, as did the elderly gentleman whose presence I had forgotten completely.

However instead of sprinkling my face with water, the two guys held me on two sides and pulled up to my feet. I sensed Alexandra quickly wrapping my jacket around me as the elderly man shouted something in German. The bartender quickly opened a door somewhere behind the counter and the two man half carried half dragged me out of the door down a flight of stairs. I wanted to scream in protest but no word would come out. I could sense the elderly man and Alexendra right behind us. Were these the kidney thieves that I always read about and never believed? Would I find myself in a bathtub somewhere with both kidneys gone… these were the thoughts that were swirling in my head when finally we reached outdoors and the cold hit my face full blast. I must have passed out for a few moments because when I came to, I was still being dragged across the snow to a waiting black van. I remember thinking at that time that – Driving in such a blizzard was a sure suicide…

I was deposited inside the van, shivering uncontrollably. Alexendra got up besides me and the elderly man took the wheels.

As the car started moving, I slumped back into my seat passed out completely ….