Sat, 15 Apr 2017
“Oy,” said the café owner, “You can’t sit here.”
“Who me?” said Oleg. He’d been coming to the café every week for the last five years and had always sat in the same seat.
“Yes you. I can tell from your clothes and the way you wear your beard that you’re from the People’s Community.”
“That’s true. I’ve never denied it.”
“Well, this café is a Popular café, not a People’s café. Don’t you know there’s a civil war?”
“But my girlfriend, Helga, is from the Popular community.”
“Then she can stay.”
“But where shall I go?”
“To the other side of the café. It is run by my cousin, Angel, he will serve you.”
So, Oleg went to the other side of the café, in sight of Helga and close enough to wave at each other and toast their drinks when they arrived.
Eventually they discovered a table that was located exactly across the border between the People’s Territory and the Popular Territory. There was a couple at the table already, but desperate to be together Oleg and Helga asked if they could join them.
“Please do,” said the man, alongside who Oleg sat. “I am Fredowski and this is Julia.”
“You are separated by the war too?” asked Oleg.
“Yes,” said Fredowski, “It is a terrible thing. I don’t know where Julia will sleep tonight, our house is on the People’s side.”
“Oh, I hadn’t thought of that,” I said. “I’ve got the same problem, our house is on the Popular side. Does that mean I won’t be able to go home?”
“You can stay with me,” said Fredowski. “We are in the same boat.”
“And you can stay with me,” said Helga to Julia.
It was a sensible arrangement and the two couples found themselves paired up.
When the café closed, it was time to say goodnight. Because of the border, unseen though it was, Oleg and Helga weren’t able to kiss or touch and had to wave each other goodnight.
“This stupid war,” said Helga.
“It’s a very civil war,” said Oleg, “We can bear the hardship of being parted for one night. I’m sure everything will be sorted soon.”
“But if not I’ll see you here tomorrow night,” said Helga, “Same table.”
“I’ll need you to bring me clean pants and shirts.”
“You work in the People’s side?” asked Fredowski on the way home.
“No, but I don’t have to go to the office, I have a laptop. In this super-connected world I can work from anywhere. There are no boundaries in the modern world.”
The war didn’t end the next day. Indeed, come winter it was still going strong and Oleg had moved his entire wardrobe into Fredowski’s one item at a time. Similar baggage of Julia’s had moved in the opposite direction.
It was nights that were hardest, sleeping alone with the snoring Fredowski beside him. But at least they could meet every night in their corner of the café. Fredowski and Oleg would update the girls on their day and the state of the war, repeating what they had seen in the papers and on the news – that the People’s side was winning and the war would soon be over.
The girls had also read that the war was nearly over, though they had heard that the Popular side was winning, and the couples argued about the state of affairs nearly every night.
In fact, both couples were wrong, the war persisted, neither side showed any sign of winning.
One evening, Helga and Julia arrived at the café with a man neither Fredowski nor Oleg recognised.
“Who is this?” asked Fredowski, rather more aggressively than Oleg thought necessary.
“This is Michel,” said Julia, “We are giving him a farewell drink.”
“Michel heard today that he is dead,” Helga added.
“You mean he is dying, he has an illness?” said Oleg.
“No, I mean he is officially dead. He has been added to the count of war casualties.”
“What will you do,” Oleg asked Michel.
“I will go home. I am from the north. I will be able to find a job there even if I am dead.”
“How very sad,” said Oleg.
“It is a better death than the alternative,” said Michel. “We are very lucky, this is a very civil war.”
As the war progressed, Oleg and Julia had to switch jobs, officially at least, as the two sides clamped down on the enemy working for their companies. In reality, they both continued doing the same job on their laptops from their side of the border. Only the paperwork had changed.
In April, Fredowski smuggled some of his sperm across the border. In July, Julia announced that she was pregnant.
“Maybe you should send some sperm across the border,” Helga said one night. Sitting across the table from each other, they were so close that they could touch if they wanted to, kiss even, but it wasn’t worth the risk. Such breaches were harshly punished by both sides.
“We should wait,” Oleg said. “The war will be over soon, and if it isn’t you will have to help Julia with her baby. You won’t be able to manage in the house with two young babies.”
Then suddenly the war was over. Helga ran across what had until then been the border and kissed Oleg with a year’s worth of frustrated passion. Fredowski did the same with the pregnant Julia.
“Thank you for all your help,” Oleg said to Fredowski, holding out his hand in friendship.
“Are you mad?” said Fredowski, “We can’t touch.”
“You’re a northerner. I am from the south. Don’t expect me to come near you.”
“What is this?” said Oleg, for until that moment Fredowski had been so close.
“The new war,” Julia explained. “It is between north and south.”
“A new war? Already? But the last war has barely ended.”
Fredowski shrugged. “There is always war.”
“Oy,” said the café owner. “No northerners in my café.”
“But where shall we go?” asked Helga.
“You can go to my brother’s side of the café. It is on the norther side of the border. Though, I should warn you, the food is not so good there. My brother is lousy cook.”
“This stupid war,” sighed Oleg.
“War is necessary,” said Fredowski from the other side of the border. “You should be thankful we’re so civilised.”