: As the Wall Came Tumbling Down: A Story :

an excerpt by Uwe Timm, trans. by Robert C. Conard

It's a fact. No kidding. If things had gone right, I could have been a millionaire.

He wears a faded black T-shirt with a reddish-black, scarcely readable logo: Red Cross. His blond hair is tied together in a ponytail at the back of his neck, but it's a little thin on top, he's about thirty. He sticks his little finger in his beer bottle and makes a pop, then he takes a drink. His beer glass stands unused on the table next to the vase with the plastic carnation.

Once in a lifetime you get a chance like that, and you know right away it's now or never, take it or leave it.

The long vowels and the rhythm of his speech suggest he's straight from the eastside of Hamburg. Barmbek?    

No, Hamburg Horn, but now I'm coming from Munich. I just delivered a car from Hamburg. I do it every week, sometimes two or three times. I go everywhere: Cologne, Stuttgart, Munich, even to the smallest towns. It's a good job, pays well with lots of free time.

Is that all you do?

I'm still officially a student, studying civil administration at a technical college. He laughs; it's just to get health insurance.

His finger makes another pop with the beer bottle. I also studied physical therapy for a while. But it wasn't my thing. Pushing all that fat wasn't for me.

Suddenly, for a second there is a brooding crease on his forehead as he looks out the window.

Outside a golden rape field lights up the sky only to immediately disappear when we enter a tunnel.