In post-WW2 Berlin, Henny grieves for her fallen lover, Anna, killed by an Allied bomb. As she joins other women rebuilding their shattered city from its ash-grey ruins, Henny recalls happier times and finds her eye caught by a young woman in a green dress.
Ruth is too young to remember the heyday of pre-war Berlin, when the bars were full of handsome women and pretty boys, but perhaps her youthful spirit and optimism can bring Henny to hope for the future.
When work is over for the day, I straighten my back and stretch weary arms. Today was a good day. The sun shone, nobody was hurt when the building we worked on shifted and settled, although the women standing closest looked like ghosts from all the dust, and Lili (who I can’t help but think of as a battle-weary Lili Marleen, Lale Andersen’s sultry, knowing voice ringing in my head) gave me two cigarettes she got from a soldier. A cigarette is a precious thing, these days -- they say you can buy a car with a few packs of American cigarettes, although they don’t say where you’d get the petrol.
These are not American cigarettes, but precious, nonetheless. They’re safe in my pocket as I start the walk back to my room in the British Sector, where Frau Müller will be cooking whatever she can scrape together from our rations and a widow’s smile. Maybe more than a smile, but she doesn’t seem unhappy so I don’t ask. Perhaps I’ll give her one of my cigarettes. Or perhaps I’ll smoke them both myself, and remember how Anna tasted after she’d been smoking. I find myself heartened by the thought; isn’t that odd?
As I walk through the Brandenburger Tor, leaving the Red Army behind me for the day, a flash of gold catches my eye, burnished copper in the setting sun. I turn.
“Hello! I don’t think we’ve met?” Ruth says, and smiles at me. Her teeth are white and perfect, except for one little crooked one that hides its face behind another, like a shy teenage girl at her first dance.