Charlotte looked at the shattered buildings around her. The shops crouching beside the broken, pitted pavements were closing up. The owners pulled their stands inside, closed and latched the improvised shutters made from shards of furniture, and locked the doors, barricading themselves in for the night.
The nearest underground station was a ten-minute walk away in the wrong direction. At the station, there would be guards of sorts, but they were mostly old men. They often looked the other way when Soviet soldiers swaggered up and chose a victim with the stern command of “Frau komm!”
No, she couldn’t face the underground. She would walk. At least on the surface, she stood a chance of running away, and there were places to hide — as long as she kept a good look-out. She started moving briskly in the direction of her apartment, trying to decide whether she was safer on the wide thoroughfares or the back streets. There was more traffic on the main roads, which meant that there might be Germans or even Americans to whom she could appeal for help. Then again, the Russians were more likely to be patrolling there. Yet the back streets were like a rabbit warren. It was easy to become confused by the abrupt jinks and turns or run into a dead-end. She couldn’t afford to get lost with night closing in. She would have to risk the main roads.
She turned up the collar of her coat to hide as much of her face and hair as possible. The coat had belonged to her younger brother Connie, who had been killed defending the Atlantic Wall in June 1944. His greatcoat had been sent home with the rest of his possessions. It was too big for her. It hung almost to her ankles and the sleeves covered all but her fingertips, but it was officer-grade wool and she’d sewn a second lining inside.
The best thing about it, however, was that there were so many men wandering the streets of Berlin in old Wehrmacht coats with the rank insignia torn off that it was almost a cloak of anonymity. Better still, with the collar turned up, it wasn’t obvious that Charlotte was a woman — unless someone noticed her little feet. She was tall. Her hair was cut short, and she had strong, angular features that had never been called pretty; by her face alone, she could be mistaken for a thin young man. But her shoes, although flat and practical, exposed an ankle that betrayed her sex. She’d tried wearing her brother’s boots, but her feet were simply too small, and the boots made her clumsy. In these shoes, she could at least run if she had to.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish