Birdsong

Seventh illustration from “Olga & Trotsky,” a short story by Katja Hofmann.

(7) Dusk had already set in, and the black shadows of the dead had begun to dance over the roofs and through the leafless treetops. Suddenly Olga heard an unfamiliar sound. It was as soft and gentle as the flutter of a new-born baby’s eyelid. Olga was forced to scrabble through her memory to identify it. She concentrated on the quietness once more, and once more heard the mysterious sound. Her heart beat faster. No, it couldn’t be anything else. It had been years, if not decades, since she had last heard this sound, but she was certain. There was no doubt at all; the delicate sound shining through the dingy gloom was birdsong.

Without hesitating for a moment, Olga followed it through the falling darkness. The singing led her down a narrow alley, which branched off the avenue and ran between two buildings. Olga had never noticed this alley before. She didn’t care whether some sword of Damocles hung from one of the walls on either side. The birdsong drowned out all alarm bells in her head – warnings against the shadows of the dead drummed into her since childhood. The dead crept closer and closer; the stench of their breath, and their cackling, disgusted her. Still she refused to be waylaid, and ran towards the birdsong, ignoring the waves of fear. She would rather die, and languish for ever in the land of darkness, than never hear this song again.

Finally Olga reached a little wooden gate set into the wall on her left. The one bird’s voice had swelled into an entire choir, and Olga’s heart was torn up with longing.

— Translation by Steph Morris.

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