Part 52: The Affair With Odysseus

When I proudly started the new school year on my bike at the beginning of September, the fruit tenant had already set up his stand at the point of the field path where he could keep an eye on as many trees as possible.

I didn’t like these people. The name of their branching clan dominated half the village. Related and in-laws, they all lived on odd jobs and poaching. For three or four weeks for a few pennies they rented the fruit of the road and sold the apples and pears at a high price. In the forest they cut birch twigs and sticks for free and sold brooms made of them. But their most important business was poaching.

They caught songbirds with glue rods and sold them to lovers, hunted wild rabbits with snares and shot deer without regard to the closed season. I was convinced that the clan had well hidden their shotguns and hunting rifles. Now they did not dare to hunt with the rifle, because the Russians did not understand any joke about illegal possession of weapons.

When now and then Soviet officers came to the village by jeep to hunt, they offered themselves as hunting assistants. They knew better than the district forester where the game was. A leg of venison or a hearty roast boar always fell off after the hunt. Like many others, they could have taken land from the land reform and become small farmers, but then they would have had to work from morning till night.

What shocked me the most was that these people were pushing for positions in the local council and acting like class-conscious workers. I only hoped that there were people in the mayor’s office who knew how to prevent these aspirations. In the village a story was told which characterized this clan very significantly: In the district court, a poacher with several previous convictions was told that he was already on trial for the 21st time for poaching, and what he had to say about it. To this the accused is said to have replied, ‘Yes, Mr. Circuit Judge, it adds up.’

Mindful of these facts, I had resolved to steal as many apples as possible during the fruit harvest. With the bicycle, I was fast, and the tenant could not catch me in the act. Of course, he was watching me and knew exactly what I was doing. When I came home from school in the afternoon, he would look at me with a bashful eye and would have been all too happy to search my school bag for stolen apples.

He could not have known that I had long since given the fruit away to my schoolmates. He did not dare to search me by force. I was not particularly tall, but everyone in town knew that I was one of the three boys who could lift the anvil, which rested in front of the forge on a huge oak block shod with iron hoops, a few centimeters with the crooks of their arms.

I was up to date at school. Plus, the time saved by the bicycle. Everyday life had become much easier. Since spring, Rosemarie liked to be accompanied home by me after school. When the weather was nice, we strolled hand in hand through the town to her front door. After we had remained in silence for a few minutes, I got on my bicycle and rode blissfully home.

In German, we covered the Odyssey by Homer. Each student had to read aloud one of the countless verses. I had my difficulties with the accentuation of the unfamiliar Greek names. When it was my turn, I read with much feeling and emphasis the first lines of a verse that read: ‘When the rose-fingered dawn awoke’ – but at some point, the name of the king of Ithaca came up, who, coming from Troy, wandered with his ship in the Aegean and was called Odysseus. But I read instead of Odysseus – Oddiseus.

The class raved with laughter. Ms. Opitz stood in front of me and spoke with pursed lips: ‘Odysseus!’ I replied, ‘Oddiseus!’ This went back and forth a few times. The class cheered because I didn’t understand. But Ms. Opitz didn’t let up. Finally, I managed to get my tongue right.

Normally I should have been nicknamed ‘Oddi’ or something like that now, but instead everyone called me ‘Seff.’ Why I got this nickname, I don’t know until today. In the depths of my heart, I was glad that the verse I recited did not include Odysseus’ wife, because Penelope would certainly have become Pennelope. 𝓣𝓸 𝓑𝓮 𝓒𝓸𝓷𝓽𝓲𝓷𝓾𝓮𝓭

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