Black, Orange and Grey. You have to watch that flag rise every single morning while standing with one arm raised uncomfortably above your head. You don’t know why you raise it, you just do. And you don’t ask questions. You know better than that.
But you don’t have to watch the wind manipulate that piece of cloth anymore (at least for the time being) because you’re living in a pandemic. At first that sounded scary, but your leader told you not to worry, so you stopped worrying. Even in a passing comment, one that is meant to reassure, he controls you. He tells you that, a long time ago, some people would have suffered, but he reassures you that you, at least, will be fine. You don’t quite know what he means by ‘some people’, or maybe you do know. You know only what he tells you. Full stop.
You remember, a long time ago, asking your parents or your history teacher about the breed of people that doesn’t exist anymore. They told you that those people became extinct. But they don’t seem too knowledgeable.
You turn your attention back to the TV screen. The leader tells you to stay in your home. He thinks the people will be disappointed to hear that, because “our” Empire is apparently so beautiful and so great. You wouldn’t know. You’ve hardly seen it. And deep down, you don’t want to see it. You’re happiest in your own home, and relieved you are made to stay in it. No more standing in wind, rain or sunshine with your arm above your head watching a rising piece of fabric.
The camera focuses on him. The man you see everywhere. The one you can’t seem to erase from your thoughts. His eyes, big and brown, penetrate into your life. Your dreams, your ambitions, you. They penetrate into you. On his uniform, a wife has sewn a swastika. Boring job, yes, but probably the best out of all of his wives’ jobs. You imagine her, pricking her finger on the needle as she sews away, every stitch a plea for help. But no one ever helps. She is stuck with him. She sews and sews.
And his moustache. It looks like a little brown slug. You wonder how nobody even smirks when looking at him. You wonder whether anyone else on the Empire thinks he looks like a bit of a desperate knob, because he looks like a massive desperate knob to you. Only you have never uttered those words to anybody, or even out loud to yourself, because you know the consequences will be bloody. Plus, he did lead the Empire to victory in the Great and Glorious War, so you owe your gratitude to him. At least, you’re told you owe gratitude to him.
You hear another gunshot. You can’t remember the last time you flinched at the sound of one. You wonder who the victim was this time. Were they young? Clever? Pretty? Doesn’t matter anyway, you think. No one cares who you are or what you can be. They just shoot you if you’ve done anything that might upset the leader. You wonder what the victim did, if anything. Sometimes you just get killed for having a slightly bigger nose or slightly darker hair. It’s so much better being on lockdown, you think. No one to upset.
Above the mantelpiece, you see him again. That man with the tiny spur of facial hair above his top lip. He’s just showing off because he’s hit puberty, you think. You laugh to yourself. It’s the first time you’ve laughed in weeks. Your jaws feel loosened, relieved. It feels good.
You stare at him. See if he moves, although he never does. He’s permanently there. Even when you go to your friend’s house for sauerkraut or a strudel, he’s there. Above the mantelpiece.
You imagine a world without him. What if, you think, he was never born? What if he was born a girl? What if he got into art school? Or what if, you think, someone had destroyed the Empire, or its allies. If only they had developed nuclear weapons back in 1941, you think. The world would be so different today. This daydream soothes you. You have this dream often, day and night. You wonder what you did wrong to receive such bad luck, but you can’t think of anything. Maybe God just hates us all, you think.
There’s also a globe on the mantelpiece. You study it for a while. The majority of the land on the globe is red. Ugh, you think. Why red? Red is the colour of blood, war and control. You know because your leader is always wearing the colour red.
But some of the land on the globe isn’t red. It’s grey. Grey. Lifeless, yet somewhat intriguing. The grey land is blank. No names of countries, cities or continents. Just grey. It looks inviting, you think. You want to go, but you know you will never be able to. If you are lucky, you may be able to travel to the mainland. Luck will transport you to Berlin, or maybe Vienna. But you know deep down you’ll never be so lucky.
You want to go to the grey land. Maybe, you think, you’ll find fossils of the people who are extinct. Or footprints. Or pictures of them. You feel sorry for them, even though you are told that they were savages, thieves and murderers. You wish they weren’t extinct. You wish you could meet them, learn to speak their language and make some friends. You wonder what they did that made the people from the Empire so angry. Maybe they just had big noses, you think. You also wonder how they became extinct. To you, it doesn’t seem possible that one race of people can completely die off, while others survive. But those people are soon forgotten and you think about the pandemic again.
Your leader tells you that the virus is menacing. He tells you that it invades your body, killing any cells it wants to with no reason as to why.
The irony is laughable. You wonder how the camera men aren’t reduced to tears. Then you remember that they would never have gotten to the stage where they cry with laughter. They would have been shot long before that stage.
You still have homework during lockdown. Your teachers are annoying and set you tasks via Google Classroom. You go to get your exercise books from the bookcase. While you’re looking, you come across your year 3 project about Joseph Goebbels. The ‘o’ in ‘Goebbels’ has been replaced with a heart.
You find your book and sit down to read it. It’s about the man with the moustache. From your window, you see a red, yellow and black flag being raised. ‘Wow,’ you think, ‘God really does hate us.’