Chapter 2 - Christian
My dreams were interrupted by the sound of light knocking on my door, and I rolled over in my bed so I could face whoever decided to walk in. Not that I really cared anyway.
“Vi venter kun på dig, Christian,” (We’re only waiting for you, Christian) our maid spoke in Danish, somehow managing to sound even more frustrated than she had the last time she’d come to hurry me along, just ten minutes ago. But of course, she bore a good amount of the blame every time I refused to show up for the things my father so happily arranged in this house, so it made sense for her to be mad.
”Det ved jeg,” (I know) I groaned loudly from my way-too-comfortable bed. They were always waiting for me. It was like an unwritten rule that I would be late, mostly because I couldn’t understand why I even had to be there in the first place for these kinds of events. I didn’t want to be a part of them—I wasn’t even the least bit interested in the conversations my father would have with his guests, nor was I allowed to participate. Not that I had anything to say anyway. My mum would argue with my dad about whether or not I should be required to attend, saying I was still her “little boy” and that I shouldn’t be involved in these matters yet. Usually I hated when she’d call me that, but when it came to this, I was on her side for once.
“Din far bliver sur.” (Your father is going to be mad) She stumbled into my darkened room and moved determinedly towards my closed blinds, which were blocking out all incoming sunlight. It was just how I liked it: dark and silent.
“Fint!” (Fine!) I spat at her as I swung my legs over the side of my bed, getting ready to get up. From a distance, I glared in her direction, regretting it even as I did so because I knew that she wasn’t the one who gave the orders; she was only delivering them. But I couldn’t help but feel irritated with her because the words came from her mouth.
“Lad være med at kigge på hende på den måde, Christian,” (Don’t look at her like that, Christian) my mum suddenly interrupted us as she showed up in my doorway. I stood up from my bed, moving my gaze to my mum and feeling the regret disappear and be replaced by annoyance. Still, they weren’t her orders either.
“Whatever,” I groaned loudly as I walked past her to get out. But I didn’t even get five meters down the corridor before my mum stopped me, pulling on my arm gently.
“Did you really think you could go down there looking like this?” she snapped, but not too harshly. Only now did I look at her closely for the first time that day. She looked so concerned, yet so confident, standing there in front of me. I’d always admired her for standing up to things the way she did.
“How do I look then? And why is it a problem?” I decided to change my tone towards her. I knew this wasn’t her decision—she hadn’t agreed to any of this and I knew that all too well. The fights between my parents at night gave it away. But sometimes it felt like she was agreeing. Like when her face was just as emotionless as theirs, when she didn’t even blink, when she kept quiet about everything. Fighting them in silence—that was what she called it. She’d accepted that this was just how the world was now, but I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t just sit back and keep quiet while they were killing millions of innocent people.
“You just need to sort your hair out,” she sighed. “And your shirt is wrinkled, Christian,” she continued, slowly dragging a finger over the folded fabric. “Too late to fix that now.”
We were interrupted by loud laughter coming from downstairs. Both our heads turned towards the noise and we froze in place, standing still in the dark hallway with nothing but the sound of our breathing.
Without saying another word, I turned around and started walking towards the bathroom. Nothing more needed to be said. My mum walked back down the stairs to continue doing as she always did: being a statue—quiet and unmoving—as the soldiers invaded not just our country, but our own home as well.
Looking into the bathroom mirror, I hated everything about the reflection I saw staring back at me. The way my slightly-too-long hair needed to be pushed up and brushed out to the side neatly. The way my tie was always tight around my neck, feeling almost as though it was suffocating me. I hated it—the perfection. It was always white shirts, red ties, and black jackets; I looked more like character from a stereotypical French movie than a sixteen-year-old Danish schoolboy.
I tried to smooth out the sleeves of my shirt. Lying down while wearing it had probably not been the best idea, seeing as I knew this would happen, and I’d lived enough years in this family to know that smooth, unwrinkled clothes were valued higher than most things in this world.
I stopped to take a deep breath on every single step down, like I always did in these kinds of situations. It was mostly to drag the time, but also because walking into a room full of people I vehemently disagreed with was the most frightening thing I could think of. Not even getting caught with red paint all over me whilst standing in an ally could be worse. No. This. This was the worst part. The alleys were dark and easy to escape from if you knew how. But this was completely different because it was my house. I could say something wrong, breathe wrong, act wrong. There were so many opportunities.
But I couldn’t let that affect me, so I walked in with my head held high. Keeping my face as straight as possible, I took my final steps into our dining room, which was filled with people in matching green uniforms. They were all speaking German to each other, and even though I understood almost every word, I’d always pretend I couldn’t even form a sentence. They were all arrogant enough to think that every single Danish person should be able to understand their language and I wouldn’t let them have that.
But as I entered the room, I saw him. The sight made my stomach turn. My heart rate rose and the thought of walking straight out was overwhelming. He was just standing there, in the opposite corner of the room, as far away from me as was physically possible but still close enough for me to recognize him. I was sure he hadn’t seen me yet by the way he was standing. He was all calm and confident looking, with his shoulders relaxed and his head turned slightly to the side, following along with a conversation that he obviously had no interest in. And I was just watching him, unable to take my eyes off of him because it was all so unbelievable. He was in my house now. The German soldier I met that one night—now he was in my house, standing on my floorboards, holding my glass in his hand.
“Hallo Christian, wie geht es Ihnen?” (Hello Christian, how are you?) A German officer pushed me out of my trance with his question.
“Alles gut…” (Fine) I mumbled back, purposely using the worst German accent I could manage. I couldn’t even bring myself to look at him even though I was supposed to. My eyes could only concentrate on the black-haired soldier who was standing in the corner, holding his green hat under his left arm. His hair was cut short on the sides, just like the first time I saw him, but now that he had his hat off, I could see that it wasn’t that short all the way around. No. It was almost as long as mine.
“Kig på ham imens han taler til dig, Christian!” (Look at him while he’s speaking to you, Christian!) my dad snapped behind my back as he walked by.
“Entschuldigung, Herr,” (Sorry, sir) I apologized. I turned my attention to the man in front of me. He looked familiar, but of course they all kind of did. Or at least they did if you watched them all from a distance and not individually. I blinked slowly up at him, my mind still not able to contain all this at once.
“Excuse me sir, but I really have to go.” And with that I just walked away. And I knew I was going to hear for that later. I could always blame it on a stomach ache, but I wasn’t sure if my parents would buy that.
“Are you okay, Christian?”
I moved to register who was talking to me, only to find that it was one of the girls from the kitchen. I had escorted myself out of the dining room and instead was hiding in the hallway leading towards the kitchen.
“Yeah, fine. Absolutely fine.” I smiled. “Just needed a little break, you know? You don’t have any water or lemonade, do you?” I asked.
“The food will be ready in about two minutes. Everyone is sitting down now, so I think you should go in.” She spoke seriously, as if something bad would happen if I didn’t. “There’s water on the table, but I’ll ask Hanne to bring some lemonade for you, okay?”
I nodded, but my mouth was all dry and I was starting to feel light-headed. I wasn’t totally sure why, as he obviously hadn’t told anyone about that night. If he had, I definitely wouldn’t be standing here a free man. I might not even be standing at all.
“I’ll follow you.” She smiled calmly. Grabbing my hand, she led me out of the hidden hallway to show me back to the table. Everyone had already sat down, which of course made this ten times more awkward than it already was. I hated being the centre of attention, especially when the ‘attention’ consisted of at least ten important German officers, soldiers, and my parents.
I sat down in my chair at the end of the big mahogany table before looking up and groaning internally. He was right there—the soldier sitting next to me on the long side of the table—and I knew all too well that he’d realized already from the way he was staring at me.
I tried to seem like I didn’t register what was going on beside me, even though I could feel his eyes glued on me. I was scared someone was going to notice at some point if he kept doing it. He wasn’t supposed to know me—he had never seen me before. I was supposed to be a stranger, and you don’t look at strangers like that.
“Stop it,” I breathed out through clenched teeth. Mostly I wanted to kick him beneath the table to make sure he would understand what I was telling him, but that was too much of a risk in case I’d hit someone else. Still, I didn’t dare look in his direction, even though everyone else was busy with their own conversations. It wouldn’t even look suspicious if I did talk to him, as he was a guest in my house, but I didn’t want to take a chance.
“Lemonade, Mr. Andersen?” a servant asked me.
I blinked to my side, getting a quick glance at the man beside me in the process. He still was just staring.
“Please,” I mumbled back. With her in between us, I could allow myself to look directly at him. He wasn’t anything like the other soldiers I’d meet throughout the years they’d been occupying this town. He wasn’t looking at me in disgust, he didn’t make me feel useless and unwanted. No. His gaze was warm and calming, caring almost. His eyes were deep and blue, like they were able to stare into your soul and read your mind, just with a quick look. Mine just seemed brown and boring compared to his. The moment was long and almost intimate without trying to make it so. But nothing changed the fact that he was still a German, even if he wasn’t like the others.
I searched my pocket before pulling out a silver pen and then grabbing the nearest white napkin out in front of me. My father was on my other side, deep in some kind of German conversation with one of the officers, so if I was going to do this, this was my chance.
I took a deep, shaky breath to calm myself before quickly scratching down a few words on the fragile paper, telling him to stop staring at me like that. Carefully, so as not to attract any attention, I slid it across the table in his direction. He read it over, nodded once, and crumpled the paper tightly in his hand before putting it in his pocket, hopefully to never to see the light of the day again.
“This is Silas Lang,” my father said suddenly from beside me. My heart skipped a few beats during the sudden introduction. Silas Lang. The name circled in my head as I only knew him by Silas. “And this is my son, Christian,” he kept going.
I swallowed hard before stretching out my hand to give him a proper, polite greeting. He did the same and our hands met in a slow, gentle handshake. He didn’t squeeze my fingers like most of the others had done before, asserting their authority over me. No. This was completely different—friendly and soft. I was taken aback by the relaxed feeling filling me. It was like he wasn’t a soldier, but more like someone you’d known for a long time. His skin was soft and warm, like you could feel his soul burning through it.
“N-Nice to meet you,” I choked out, tripping over my own words at the pure surprise of suddenly speaking to him. Realizing what I’d just done, I immediately let go of his hand.
“He just arrived here from Germany last week,” my dad informed me. Nervousness rose within me. I hated him being here enough already, as the first time we’d met had been a little unorthodox. If he opened his mouth and told anyone what had happened, I’d be leaving the country not even a second later. And if he just got here, he for sure wouldn’t be leaving again soon—not when he was sitting in this kind of company. It was clear that he wasn’t just another low-ranking soldier who walked around the city looking stupid. He must be important in some way. And now he was going to stay.
I moved my attention back to Silas just to catch him give a brief nod, followed by a small, not-too-obvious, but kind smile.
It was going to be a long night.
Just by standing there, they’d make me anxious. Mostly that was all they did: watch us, stand in every corner, and occupy every corridor. The way their eyes would always follow me around made me feel like I was constantly being condemned guilty for some crime I didn’t even know I was committing. And today was no exception. Green-uniformed German soldiers were everywhere and I resented every single one. It was as if they’d just come to watch us breathe—make sure the Danish school children weren’t taking up too much oxygen.
Even outside of school, I couldn’t get rid of them. They patrolled the streets, hung out in the bars… even came into my home when my father invited them. Some days I could handle it—I’d just ignore them and try not to let the bitter thoughts consume me. But other days, like today, it was all too much. The pressure was too great. I needed to get out.
I was walking around the corner, deep in my own thoughts, when I bumped into him. My head hit his chest first, and then my whole torso collided with him, causing me to drop everything I was holding. I froze in place before realizing what just had happened, my head still spinning slightly from hitting his chest. Still looking down, I could see black polished boots standing on the floor in front of me. I had walked straight into a German soldier.
Without saying a word, I hurriedly started picking up my schoolbooks. If he were anyone else, I would have yelled at him for standing in the way, but I knew that no matter what I said I’d still be considered the culprit here. I was just a simple student; to them, my words would be irrelevant.
I bent down quickly to collect my books, hoping to hurry away and avoid any trouble I would get in for not paying attention to where I was walking.
“Oh! I’m sorry,” he said suddenly, bending down next to me. I still didn’t dare to look at him, even though I was surprised. A German had just apologized for my mistake. In English.
Before I could get the chance, he reached for my blue notebook, which I’d dropped with my other books. But the second he touched it, he let go again like it was on fire. He looked up at me quickly, catching my gaze before I could look away again.
“You again,” he mumbled under his breath while looking at me in surprise.
“A man often meets his destiny on the road he take to avoid it,” I muttered back sarcastically, not even sure if he’d heard my words. The sight of him made me feel sick, almost dizzy. He was everywhere—this man who was capable of turning me in at any given moment.
Technically I wasn’t supposed to be on this side of the school, I just knew it was the fastest way out of this place so I could get home. Even before the Germans came to my school, I’d cut through this way, getting into trouble every time I got caught. But those times were rare enough not to deter me.
With a gasp, I noticed that the blue notebook on the floor was open and shut it as quickly as I could. It had landed on a page filled with some of my drawings and doodles, and I instantly regretted that I’d ever put them there. But that was the danger of letting my mind wander in a boring class.
“Why didn’t you tell me you were from the Andersen family?” he whispered—somewhat harshly— once we were both on our feet again and facing each other. But he looked more concerned than angry.
I glanced behind me, making sure there were no teachers or other students around before answering. “No, better question…” I began. “Why didn’t you tell me you were one of the school soldiers?”
“Mostly because I’m not, but also because it’s none of your business,” he answered coldly.
“Well, what family I’m from is none of your business either,” I answered, keeping my face as straight as his. “And if you’re not a school soldier, then why are you here?”
“It’s… complicated,” he muttered in response. The heaviness in his voice gave me the impression that wasn’t fully sure of why he was in this country, much less why he was standing in this corridor.
“They all say that,” I breathed out. I leaned my back against the wall behind me. Everything was supposed to be a secret; the entire war was treated like a secret. We could see the German soldiers walking around, but only guess as to why they were here.
“It’s not a lie.” He smiled slightly, and then let out a deep sigh. He leaned back against the wall as well, but not too close to me.
I continued glancing over my shoulder every few seconds to see if anyone was spying on us. Every cell in my body was on edge; he was acting far too calm for this not to be a trap. What other reason could there be for him to be meeting me here? Why else would he be casually leaning up against a dirty wall in a dimly lit corridor, talking to a Danish boy? Maybe this was his way of reporting me without saying anything himself.
“There’s no one, don’t worry. I’ve checked,” he informed me calmly.
“Why are you standing here anyway?” I asked curiously, slowly moving my gaze up from my feet to his face.
“I got tired of being in there,” he said simply. “And they kept talking about you. The Danes, I mean…” The soldier’s tone changed slightly, making him sounding almost ashamed. Was he ashamed of his own people?
“And is there anything new in that?” I replied. I couldn’t quite figure how I should take his explanation. I knew how the Germans talked about us; it was almost as bad as the way we talked about them.
“What then?” I moved away from the wall so I could get a proper look at him, not really knowing what to expect.
“Me,” was his answer.
“Yeah…” I could tell from his facial expression that he was definitely not meant to be talking about anything. “It’s just not fair. Not just you, but… us too. This whole war in general, you know? I mean it’s—”
“Complicated,” I interrupted quietly. I could practically hear my mother’s voice in my mind, chastising me. We weren’t meant to talk about the war; we weren’t meant to hear about the war; we weren’t meant to know about the war. The entire topic was off limits. And now I was standing here, face to face with a virtual stranger, in a public school, freely discussing it.
“Complicated,” he whispered in agreement, his eyes locked with mine. Nothing about his demeanor was consistent with that of any other soldier I’d met before, and living in my father’s house, I’d met quite a lot. His personality was calm and understanding, and his tone towards me was soft and friendly, like I was speaking to my best friend.
“What are you doing here?” he asked me, breaking the silence.
“I’m on my way home,” I lied with as much confidence as I could muster. “The bell rang,” I added quickly. He wasn’t a teacher, so he couldn’t really get me in trouble at school unless he told the headmaster on me, and he didn’t seem the type to do that. He was already carrying one of my secrets—for which I was grateful. It would probably be best for me to stay as far away from him as possible so as not to give him any more reason to turn me in. But at the same time, part of me was glad to see him—at least glad that it was him I’d decided to run into and not someone else.
“It’s eleven?” A smirk spread across his lips as he crossed his arms against his chest, knowing well that I was lying.
“Some classes got cancelled…?” I tried, but it was hopeless. Lying to him was just like lying to my mum—she could always see straight through me. “Okay, fine, so I just don’t wanna be here anymore,” I admitted with a sigh.
“What will you do when you get home then? Won’t your parents catch you? You’ll get in trouble…” He gave me a questioning look.
“I’ll just sneak in. Easy. How do you think I got out the other night?”
I wasn’t allowed out at night of course—no one my age was anymore. It was far too dangerous, our parents would warn us. But I couldn’t stand being cooped up all the time, so I’d found my own way out. Living in a big house with many rooms and corridors meant that it was impossible for my parents to monitor all of it, meaning I could easily sneak out a window. Getting in was a little worse though.
“But you’ll have to hide for hours,” he said. “Even school must be more interesting than that.”
“Maybe I’ll sit in my closet and hide. Or write. Maybe write something.”
“You like writing?”
“I love writing. It’s all I’m good at.” I exhaled. Just talking about it made me smile. It was good to remember that there existed other talents in the world than killing people and trying to orchestrate a war. That people could also use their minds to make beautiful things.
“Don’t forget drawing,” Silas added, sounding rather sarcastic.
“And drawing, yes,” I giggled, clutching the notebook with my drawings tighter in my hands. I spent a lot of time inside, creating my own worlds through my stories and my artwork. I loved every second of it.
“Do you like writing?” I asked. I was trying to find some kind of common interest we could share, besides both not wanting to be inside with all the others.
He nodded. “I was actually sent here because I was good at writing and reading. The majority of the German soldiers come from poor families with different backgrounds, and they’re the ones mostly sent out to the frontlines because there’s not enough money to educate them properly. But I’ve always been really good at languages and translation, so they can use me differently.”
Considering the fact that he seemed to hate the war just as much as I did, he still sounded rather proud of his job. But of course, compared to everything else in this war, he was at least lucky to be here and not out in the fields.
“So you know Danish too?” I asked curiously, standing up on my toes in excitement. Not many Germans bothered to learn another language, not even English.
He shook his head slightly. “Only a very little amount. I understand some of what you’re saying, but I can’t use it.”
“What are you doing here then? In Denmark?” If I had the chance, I’d ask all the soldiers that question. What gave them the right to walk on our streets, take our food, and basically use our country as their own personal summer home?
“You have a lot of questions, little Dane.” The soldier uncrossed his arms and stood up straight again. I took a small step backwards because our small height difference was causing him to look down on me, and I didn’t like that.
“I do,” I answered simply, trying to keep my voice calm.
“And I have no reason to answer you.” He smoothed out his sleeves and straightened his jacket as if he were about to leave. I couldn’t quite figure if I’d made him angry or just uncomfortable by my questions. Probably both.
Putting his hat back in its rightful place, he nodded at me once before spinning around on his heels. I watched as he turned his back to me and started walking away, leaving me alone in the darkened corridor.
“Write me a letter,” I burst out before he got too far away. I regretted it instantly, as soon as the words left my lips. But I was desperate to know more about him. The questions were building up inside my head, and for the first time I allowed them to float out. He was so different. And I was so curious.
It made him stop his pacing and turn around to face me from down the hall. “What?” came his reply.
“I said…” I took two steps closer, pretending for just a moment that he wasn’t a powerful German soldier and I wasn’t a frightened Danish boy, “write me a letter. If you’re so good at writing, then write me a letter, Silas,” I commanded, letting my mouth say his name for the first time that day. “Prove it.”
And for that, I didn’t have an answer—at least not one that could convince him to do it if he didn’t want to.
“What? Are you too busy?” I teased. I knew I was pushing it, but I wasn’t really scared of him—at least not anymore. He was just a normal person to me now, which meant that I was starting to let myself act normally around him rather than treating him as a superior.
“What do you want me to write about?” Silas relaxed his shoulders again as he asked the question, sounding almost interested for once.
“I don’t know.” I hadn’t gotten that far yet. To be honest, I was just bored. I wanted someone to talk to, and I was curious about this soldier-who-refused-to-act-like-a-soldier. But I wasn’t ready to admit that yet. “Don’t you have some kind of family back in Germany?” I suggested.
“Yes, but I can’t—”
“Write about them.” I smiled widely at him, like a little kid requesting a bedtime story from his mother. “Tell me a story, Silas. Then I’ll tell you one.”
I knew I had to offer him something in return. Not that I didn’t want to anyway, but it was even more important now. I had to make sure he wanted to do this first, because no matter how much I tried to deny it or convince myself otherwise, he was still the one wielding all the power in this odd little relationship.
“And how should we do that, if I may ask?” he asked skeptically. “This is not a post office. And we’re in the middle of a war.” He lowered his chin as he stared at me, indicating just how ridiculous he thought I was being.
“If you’re a school soldier, then you’ll be around. And I’m a student, so I’ll be around—”
“Yeah, when you’re not skipping classes,” he cut me off.
“I’ll try working on that,” I told him, my voice determined.
But it only made him shake his head quickly, followed by a small grin.
“But we can—” I paused to glance around, my eyes searching the abandoned corridor for something that could help me out, not even sure what I even was looking for, “—put the notes somewhere in here. Like…” But I really didn’t have a proper plan for this. “Maybe here.”
There was a cupboard near where he was standing, and I moved over to open it. No one had used this part of the school for ages, so the chance that anyone else besides us would look in there was slim to none. “Top shelf,” I said, “under this Danish-to-German dictionary.”
He smirked. “Coincidence.”
“Kind of.” I picked up the book and waved it in front of him so he could see it. “It’s even green. Like you.” I pointed at his chest quickly before putting the book back on the dusty shelf.
He thought for a second. “But we can’t ever write our real names in case they get found. The notes I mean.” He was beginning to sound like this could actually happen. “Do you have some kind of nickname?”
“You can call me Bear.” I smiled and stretched out my hand towards him.
“Then you can call me Lion.” He smiled back as he grabbed my hand and shook it gently.