All's Fair in Love and War
It was the first thought that came to her as she woke up. He was gone. And, soon, this bedroom, the house in whose eastern corner it sat, and the tiny garden outside with its gnarled old red hibiscus and the half-grown mango tree they had planted together, all those would be gone as well. It was the strangest feeling ever. She was not the kind to stay in bed lazing around, but this morning she just couldn't get herself to get out of bed. She was mentally drained and emotionally beat. Her thoughts drifted to the day she first met Walter.
It was the year 1929. The world was still recovering from ‘The World War’ that shook humanity to its very existence. A confident twenty two year old girl from England, Helen Paige, landed at the Tokyo international airport accompanied by her PR manager and marketing head. Helen had just written a book accounting the life of a fictional character who fought in and survived 'The Great War'. The details of the war however were compiled after over three years’ hard work, interviews, travels and meetings with war veterans, commanders and also ministers of the government. Word quickly spread that there would be a book outlining details of the war, secrets from within closed walls and plans for the post war world. The book was an instant best seller. Helen was now a famous figure and she was currently touring to market her brainchild to more readers.
As the trio exited the airport they were greeted by a cool mid-April spring breeze and deafening cheers from fans being held back by struggling policemen. She waved at them and blew a kiss which only turned up the volume. They then got into a waiting limousine and cruised to the hotel ‘The Imperial’ for a book signing event and an honorary lunch.
The book signing was a great success. Fans turned out in thousands and many had to be sent away but they were still happy having caught a glimpse of the latest literary phenomenon. Helen and her team were then escorted to the hotels magnificently decorated dining room. Helen was immediately in awe of the beauty the room exuded. She stopped dead in her track and swung her neck around taking in the elegance of the walls, the intricacy of the architectural designs and the precision with which the objects were placed to create a visually soothing sight. The Japanese sure knew how to woo.
It was here that she met Walter Karl Muller. The three British guests were seated at a table strategically placed at the center of the dining area and there was an additional chair which would soon be occupied by the hotel owner who was going to join them for lunch. Two security guards stood nearby to ward of snooping fans. As they discussed plans and waited for Mr. Tee-Jong to join them, Helen's eyes met with those of a stranger sitting three tables opposite her. It wasn't a moment of angelic proportions and there were no violins played in her head, but the stare did last a few seconds too long.
Throughout lunch the two stole glances of each other, but neither ventured a smile or a friendly wave. Helen didn't want to make the first move and Walter was just shy. After lunch the two managers retired to their rooms for rest and Helen strolled into the bar for a much needed scotch. Over a rather expensive glass of Glenfiddich she mused over how she had gone from drinking beer straight from the bottle to sipping 25 year aged single malt scotch whiskey. She felt a light tap on her shoulder and she turned to face a very handsome man. He had neatly combed jet black hair and a clean shaven face. He stood tall at six feet one inch and had a large frame. If she wasn’t five feet eleven inches herself, she would've been dwarfed by this man.
"Hello ma'am, I am Walter Karl Muller. I am from Berlin here on business. I have read your book and I greatly admire your writing. I would like to point out a small mistake though, one that my father, who in fact fought the World War, happened to bring to my attention. It's a very minor mistake really, but an error nonetheless. The number of ships sunk by German submarines before President Wilson declared war on Germany was in fact eight and not seven."
When Helen's manuscript was accepted for publishing by the PipingTea publishers, they had given her a speech on do's and don'ts. One very important one was to keep your pride at check and not react to criticism when angry. Helen unfortunately was a very arrogant woman and her ego suffered a massive blow at this man’s accusation.
"I beg to differ Mr. Muller. That information came from the then American naval commander in chief who was tracking those very merchant ships." Helen scorned. “Ah but that's the problem. The chief was nested in his comfortable bunker reading from a very outdated radar machine. My dad was on one of those naval submarines. He saw the attack first hand." Walter responded.
This infuriated Helen further but she knew she was beat. She turned to face her drink. "I'm sorry if I have offended you Miss Paige. Actually I was very nervous coming up to you and blurted the first thing that came to mind. Maybe we could start again?" Walter asked innocently. She turned to face him. He did seem rather honest about what he had said. She decided to give him another chance.
As the night progressed Walter loosened up and although he was awkward and clumsy at first, as he got comfortable around her his confidence rose. Helen found herself constantly laughing at his witty responses and hooked to his stories from his travels around the world. She reciprocated by enchanting him with her tale of rags to riches and the experience she had on that life changing journey. When they left the bar at 1 am the only question on their mind was ‘Your room or mine?’ Helen being the celebrity had the presidential suite and that’s where they ended up.
They spent the next day together, exploring Tokyo. They didn’t once leave the others hand. They had breakfast at the Bondi Café, took a walk in Ueno Park, Admired Greco-Buddhist art at the Tokyo National Museum, enjoyed the traditional Kabuki drama at the Kabuki-Za theatre and settled in for wine at Shinjuku’s Jip Wine Bar
On December 18th 1930, Walter and Helen promised to stand by each other till death do them apart, in the beautiful St. Thomas church at Leipzig. The snow outside was the perfect backdrop for the small ceremony attended by only family.
On January 15th 1931, after having explored the islands of Maldives, they bought a house in the beautifully artistic city New Orleans. PipingTea had an office on Iberville Street so Helen could easily continue her literary work. Walter was always looking to expand his business into the US and this was the perfect opportunity. They received their first house warming gift from Mr. Tee-Jong, the owner of the ‘The Imperial’. It was a Mango sapling. They planted it in their garden later that evening.
They fell in love with the city instantly. They loved the jazz bars, they spent hours admiring the old cultural architecture, and they sat opposite each other soaking in knowledge at the public libraries. The city hosted numerous celebrations and carnivals which Walter and Helen actively joined in. Walter learned to play the Guitar while Helen enjoyed painting.
On 1st September 1939, Germany invaded Poland triggering the Second World War. France and the United Kingdom declared war on Germany and Germany continued its plans to conquer all of Europe. Walter and Helen followed the war closely through newspapers and radio news. Both their homelands were involved, ironically against each other.
One morning Walter broke the worst news to Helen.
“I am going to Germany to enlist in the armed forces.”
“You’re mad Walter! You have always said Hitler’s approach to communism is wrong, who would want to fight for him?” Helen asked fighting back tears. Walter kissed her. “It’s not that monster I’m fighting for dear, it’s my country I want to defend. The reasons might be wrong but my country is at war and she needs me. I have to go” Walter responded caressing her hair. They argued all night and fell asleep with damp cheeks.
When she woke up next day he was gone.
She was brought back to reality by the chiming of the ice cream truck outside. She looked to her right at the empty spot on the bed. Just last night it was occupied by Walter. He had left without telling her to avoid confrontation. In that snap second she made a decision, no doubt influenced by the empty bed. She was going back to England, to fight for her country. Her only purpose for living was now gone and she would rather die for her country than live for no one.
The next morning she was in England and after a month’s training she was enlisted as a medic for the Royal Army Medical Corps.
Walter cried for the first time the morning he left his beloved Helen. He didn’t wake up that morning for he had never really slept. When Helen had finally fallen asleep exhausted of their argument, he slipped out of bed, packed a small bag with the essentials and tiptoed out of his house. He stopped only to admire the gorgeous, half grown mango tree. They had nurtured it like their child. Then he thought of Helen and cried.
The next day Walter enlisted in the army. He went through a rigorous training program and was a fine addition to the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force.
In early July, 1940, Hitler declared aerial attack on Britain. The attacks, code named ‘The Blitz’, were carried out at odd hours of the night catching the Royal Air Force by surprise. Walter flew the Dornier Do 17 bomber aircraft, notorious for its weight. Walter was part of The Blitz, and every night he flew alongside his countrymen dropping bombs on a sleepy Britain.
During war, it was decided to attack only factories and army bases, to render countries unable to manufacture more weapons and to annihilate the fighting forces. It was soon learned that war has no rules and to win you have to play dirty. After the first few nights the Luftwaffe went all out and bombed everything in their path. Soon civilian buildings and homes were being bombed. The entire city was engulfed in flames. Walter always stared down at the mayhem his bomber caused. He was sorry, but death was an unavoidable collateral of war. It was during this contemplation that his plane was hit. He didn’t see the Supermarine Spitfire rise above the night sky and lock in its machine gun on him. It fired and in seconds he had lost his left wing. The plane spiraled uncontrollably. As it fell to the ground the canopy above the cockpit crashed open and the night sky sucked Walter out. He flew through the air and crashed into a tree whose branches cracked and dropped Walter to the floor. He was gravely injured but still alive. He tried to roll and felt a sharp pain. He couldn’t judge where it was from and quickly realized it from everywhere, almost every bone in his bone was broken. That is when it dawned on him. He was going to die. He was never going to see Helen again. He wasn’t going to have the chance to raise a family. He was never going to pluck mangoes from his garden. A face materialized in front of him. A hallucination of death no doubt. He thought it was an angel coming to take him. She looked like Helen. She looked exactly like Helen. He smiled. He closed his eyes for the last time.
When Hitler declared its aerial attack on Britain Helen knew it would be a disaster. On the first night of the attack the Medical Corps worked around the clock. There were constant calls from factories that were being bombed and from the army base. They were soon out of ambulances and Helen and her team resorted to using civilian vehicles to drive to the scene, extract the wounded and get them to a safe zone. In the next few days the Luftwaffe began bombing civilian populated areas and Helen realized that war had no rules. They were working even harder now that the number of injured had tripled and she did so knowing that at any moment a bomb could land on her head.
It was a cold July night and Helen stood on the driveway of her medical center waiting for the ambulance to pick her. They were headed into the city for the fifth time to extract the wounded. She was staring at the sky were a beautiful display of fireworks were in progress. Except they were not fireworks but the Royal Air Force and the Luftwaffe engaged in aerial combat. She was going to be driving exactly under them in a few minutes. The ambulance came to a halt with a screech and she got in with her team. They drove scarily fast into the city, dodging the wreck the war had left on the city. When they arrived she stared at the horror but it did not surprise her because she was already used to it. She got to work searching for bodies, deciding who were alive and had the best chance to live, who needed immediate attention and who were already dead. The one’s who were critical would be taken back to the station and the others would be treated on the spot until another ambulance arrived. The sound above was deafening and continued to blare. It was actually a soothing sound because the sound of machine guns meant the planes were battling each other and there would be no bombs dropped on them until the combat was over. As she helped carry an injured woman to the ambulance, there was a loud blast in the sky. She looked up to see a plane explode and a shower of debris come floating down. They helped the lady onto a gurney and sat under the shelter of the van to protect themselves from the debris. She heard a loud crack behind her and turned to notice a body fall into trees and then onto the ground. She saw him try to roll. He was alive. She ran towards him and knelt down beside him. The Nazi Swastika was proudly printed on the left breast. She pulled out his helmet. She couldn’t believe her eyes.
The bloody face was Walters.
She saw him look up at her. He seemed to recognize her. He smiled and closed his eyes. He had lost consciousness but he was still breathing. She started dragging his body towards the ambulance.
“Help me someone!” she yelled at her crew. They stood and stared. Right then she knew although to her this was Walter to the rest he was a Nazi trying to kill their children. They would not help her. She didn’t care, she continued dragging Walter towards the ambulance.
Just then a battalion of soldiers marched in. they were there to help the wounded. The commander in charge saw Helen and ran towards her. “Drop that man down at once miss. Your services are needed by the people of Britain, not these Nazi dogs”, he yelled.
“This man is my husband! He was not born a Nazi he was made a Nazi and I will save him, if it’s the last thing I do!” She yelled back. She was determined to save her Walter.
The commander raised his gun at her. “If you do not release that man at once, I swear by the queen I will not hesitate to shoot you” The commander said. “You do what you must officer” she responded, still dragging Walter towards the ambulance.
The commander was a kind man. But this was war. He looked around. He saw his battalion looking at him. He saw the medics waiting his next move. He knew they were scarred by war. They had lost families, they had lost their wives and children, and they had lost their homes and everything they owned. They hated the Germans. They did not see a woman’s husband in Walter but a Nazi soldier. To them, Helen was committing treason. The commander knew he had no choice. He fired. The bullet ripped through Helen's cheek killing her instantly. She fell to the floor and Walter fell over her.
They embraced for the last time.
11th October, 1950
“This house is just perfect John”, an excited Martha said looking at the elegant interiors. “I love it too Marty”, said a gleeful John. “Shall I book it then?” asked the realtor. A little girl came running in. “Laura sweetie what do you think?” asked Martha kneeling down to level with her six year old daughter.
“I love it mom. Especially the big Mango tree in the garden.”