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Footsteps ascend the creaky stairs, alerting the man that it is time to eat.

He lifts up his head from his book, and stares at the blank wall.

He waits for the footsteps to disappear back down the stairs, before sliding his legs over the edge of the bed and slowly standing, groaning as he does.

He picks up a large metal bucket; urine and faeces slosh around in the bottom. The strong odour fills the room.

He unlocks the door and places the bucket outside, before bringing the tray of food back in. He closes the door and locks it again, gripping the handle and pushing to make sure the door is locked.

He sits on the small, single bed in the corner of the cramped room and inspects the food, before slowly spooning it into his mouth and chewing carefully, mainly on one side of his mouth. He blows at the hot tea; the noise fills his head; he puts down the cup. He plays with the food, and when he is unable to eat no more, he stands and opens the door and puts the tray of half-eaten food back outside the door, before locking the door and trying it with the handle.

He lays back on the bed and opens his book; his large eyes, that are set deep in his head, slowly follow the words, which is his medicine that temporarily numbs the pain.

Footsteps slowly climb the stairs; the clattering of the bucket can be heard and then the footsteps disappear back down. Shortly after, they return, an empty metallic sound can be heard as the bucket is placed back down on the floor; groans, as the tray is picked up and then the footsteps slowly descend back down the stairs.

Voices float up from outside in the street below. He pulls himself up onto a pile of books, accompanied by inarticulate moans, and cranes his neck through the restricted space, but he is unable to see who the voices are coming from, instead, he can only see part of the roof of a car. He strains to hear through the small gap in the window, his face grimacing, but he is too far up, to make out any words.

Go away! Leave me alone! the man shouts.

The doors slam and the car drives off, and stillness prevails again in the street below. He carefully steps down off the books and sits on the edge of the bed and holds his head; he takes a deep breath and then rubs his baldpate.

He sits still, his head bowed and stares at the old, wooden floor; his trousers are frayed. His shirt has faded a long time ago, and bears the stains of odour and food. Apart from a head and hands, no other body shapes can be seen through the crumpled, baggy clothes.

After a while, he slowly rises, like some last-ditch prize fighter, and stands on the books and looks through the window. He turns his head in the limited space.

He can see the church and the school. The school, he never fails to look at every day, even when he doesn’t want to look at it, it always catches his attention – the old iron gate and stone wall that surround it; the small, dark classrooms.

He stands back down off the books and lays on the bed. He closes his eyes; rubs his head and tightens his hands into bony fists, ‘Go away!’ the man shouts, before pulling the shabby and lifeless pillow from under him and smothering his face.

After a short while, he struggles and groans to lift his body off the bed, before walking two or three steps to the end of the room before turning and walking back. He strains to bend down to open the door to a small cupboard, before pulling out an old, rusty tin and he lays back on the bed and eases off the lid.

Inside are lots of black and white photos, some stained and dog-eared. He meticulously examines every photo:

A young man dressed in a smart tweed suit with brightly polished shoes, stands proudly in a line of equally smartly dressed children with big grins etched across their faces.

A couple on their wedding day, handsome and radiating youth and ambition.

The man reverts back to the school photo and reaches for his magnifying glass on the small table next to his bed. He peers through the lens at the face of each boy, pausing at every one, and lifting his head and staring at the wall in front. He puts down the photo and takes out a paper clipping, reading it slowly, before placing it back inside the tin.

Footsteps ascend the stairs. He puts the tin to one side and waits, his stare fixated on a small damp patch on the wall. When silence prevails again, he slowly reaches for the floor with his legs, before standing and shuffling to the door and carefully opening it and lifting up the tray, then closing the door and locking it, checking that the door is secure.

He sits back on the bed and examines the food, and takes a sip of the tea, before putting the tray to one side and resumes looking through the contents of the tin. This time he picks up a clipping showing young men in army uniforms, they are embracing each other; comrades in arms, they look into the camera with innocent smiles.

He stares at the wall.

He covers his face and closes his eyes.

He fumbles through more photos, taking ones at will and scrutinising them with his haunting eyes that show no emotion or life.

Like a dying toy, in need of a new battery, he lifts his body off the bed and leaves the tray with the untouched food and now cold tea, outside the door, closing the door after him and checking it.

He stands on the pile of books, and peers out the window. It is now dark, and lights are on in the surrounding houses, and people must be eating, talking, reading the newspaper or watching the television.

The light from the houses reveal the dark outlines of the school and church. These solid-stone, revered establishments that have sown and fortified the village with so many good men over the years. The same establishments that preached and taught that the country would be great again and the Aryan race was superior, and all Jews were bad and responsible for Germany’s plight.

He steps back down and lays back on the bed, and takes out a clipping from the tin, which has a photo of a teacher standing smiling with the school in the background.

14th September 1940

Today, our school and headmaster, Hans Waldorf, celebrate the school’s contribution to Germany’s fight against the aggression and imperialism of the Allies, which will bring final victory to the Motherland.

The school has nurtured and taught the men from our village, who have so bravely fought for our great country. They have all given their lives to the cause. We are very proud of them.

The next morning, as always, the man’s loyal wife brings her husband his tray of food and leaves it outside the door to the room in the attic.

This time, however, the man does not open the door and collect the tray. Instead, he remains lifeless on the bed; the clipping laid across his chest.

At the very bottom of the rusty, old tin is another clipping, folded and creased which reads:

24th July 1958

Wilhelm Schmidt, school teacher, is into his eighteenth year of self-imposed confinement in his house in the small farming village of Osterheide, Lower Saxony.

During the Second World War, Wilhelm was unable to fight due to a mental illness he developed during his time teaching at the small Parish school. After all the boys from his class died in the War, he became a recluse and locked himself in a small room in the attic of his house. Only the care of his loyal wife has prevented him dying from malnutrition.

When the tray is not put out, Wilhelm’s wife will think it strange, and she will knock on the door and ask for the tray. This has only happened once in the twenty-two years her husband has been in the attic. That time, when she reached the bottom of the stairs, she heard the door open and the sound of the tray being put on the floor. She waited until her husband was back inside, and the sound of the bed creaking, before climbing the stairs again and collecting the tray.

This time, however, the door will not open and the tray will not be placed outside. She will get the local doctor and the police, who will knock down the door, and the doctor will confirm that Wilhelm is dead.

She will not mourn; she has mourned for the past twenty-two years. Instead, she will feel relieved that Wilhelm finally has peace.


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