“Bitte frau,” Pytor said to the waitress in his best Berlin accent, “I am entrusted to deliver the letter. I had thought of the mail but even in Germany the post is not necessarily reliable. Thank you for your kindness.”
The woman bowed her head slightly. “You speak German well, but you are not German.”
“As I said, I am Polish, but German is required at the University where I teach.”
He thought she was going to sit down and continue this unwanted conversation. Thank God, someone from the front of the bakery called her name.
“Gretta, there are more customers. Please.”
She scowled. “Sorry I must go.”
He watched her walk away. He had lost his appetite but knew he couldn’t leave. He put his hands under the table and rubbed them to revive circulation. How was he going to survive three more minutes much less three days? He picked up his fork. His hand shook as he tried to pierce his cake. He gazed around the room. Did anyone see? He put the fork down. He wouldn’t dare try the coffee. He took several deep breaths. When he heard footsteps, he stopped. It was Gretta armed with a coffee pot coming towards him.
“Your cup has gone cold. I will get you a new one.”
He wanted to refuse, but that could invite more conversation. “Danke,” he said and picked up the fork. “The strudel is wonderful.”
“We are famous for it. We make the best in Berlin. Maybe all of Germany.”
He smiled. “Well then I’m most fortunate to start at the highest level.”
She reached over and took a cup and saucer from another table. She placed them on his and poured. “Our café’ is also well known.”
He hesitated and then reached for it. The liquid spilled onto the dish. “Ach, my hand. It acts up sometimes. The doctors don’t know why.”
“Or maybe it is nerves?”
He stared at her then let out a laugh. “Nerves. That’s a good one. I’ll inform my doctor when I get home.”
She put the coffee pot down and stood over him. “Is that letter something secret? It was in French.”
God in heaven, all he wanted was something to eat. “Bitte.” He patted his coat pocket. “It’s just a letter. That’s all.”
“May I see it again?”
He focused on the coffee cup in front of him. Who the hell was this girl? He was about to respond.
“Gretta, leave him be. He is a customer, a guest.” The voice was the same as the one who had called her to the front.
He saw an older man in an apron walk towards them. The girl and the man conversed in rapid German. At the end she stomped her foot and moved toward the front.
“You must excuse my daughter,” the man said, “she is a member of Hitler youth, and wants to do her part for the Third Reich.”
He grabbed his hat and valise. “She is enthusiastic.”
The father grunted. “Yes,” then lowered his voice, “everyone must be careful even with one’s own children.”
They looked at each other for a moment. Pytor reached into his pocket and left a retenmark on the table.
“It is too much for only a piece of strudel and café’,” the man said.
“Aufwiedersehen.” Pytor walked to the front. He passed Gretta’s stare and went out the door.