“Oh, Konradilein, I’m sure you like looking at the children while we adults still have things to do here,” said Vanessa Lieblich to her youngest brother, as insinuatingly as it was possible and necessary for her. He sat deep in the soft sofa and looked lost in thought at the empty seat next to him.
“She was there last Christmas…” he said softly.
“Yes, yes, it’s fine. We all have our problems,” his sister said lightly, “but then it will do you better that the children distract you. Come, tell them one of your great stories.” With that she turned away and sent the children, meaning the seven nephews and nieces, the children of his sisters who were related to him. One after the other they entered the salon, where Konrad sank even deeper into the sofa, as if he could make himself invisible. They clustered around him, the little one’s alert and excited, the big ones bored and grumpy. Nobody was allowed to take the seat on the sofa next to him, because that belonged to his wife Klara, even if she couldn’t celebrate Christmas with them. Not this one and not any other one either. Konrad quickly turned away from this thought, because he felt tears welling up in his eyes and began to talk mechanically, while he heard the laughing voices of his sisters and brothers-in-law from the adjoining living room. In the end it didn’t matter to him because he would never be able to laugh again.
Every year since his eldest sister Vanessa Lieblich started her own family, she has celebrated Christmas. It was always the same ceremonial. Konrad was deported with the children, the small, weak, shy Konrad who had never managed to assert himself against his sisters, who were at least five in number. “Konradlein will do it,” they said, and what was fatal was that he actually did it. As the youngest of the six children, he was always kind of involved. Probably also because he had been quiet and reserved from the start, even as a baby. The calm and still are mostly overlooked. That was probably one of the reasons why he fled to another world, that of books, early on. He taught himself to read by age four and while his sisters constantly demanded their parents’ attention, it seemed as if he was as present as the floor lamp in the corner. “What a pleasant child,” he had occasionally heard the adults whisper to one another when he was again sitting in a corner deep in a book. Even at school he remained reserved and inconspicuous. That’s why he only had two friends who were also considered outsiders. That was probably also the reason why they had found each other. At least they left the other kids alone. Therefore, he chose the profession of librarian, which had two advantages for him. He could keep himself occupied with books and escaped human contact almost entirely. He gave up the hope of having a woman by his side early on. What woman should even look at him, small and unassuming as he was? One day, now more than 40 years ago, he stumbled into an equally petite woman, as always engrossed in a book. She smiled lightly at him and said that she would now work with him in the library where he was on duty. From that first moment he had felt a very special connection between them, even if he didn’t want to believe that Klara would feel the same way. “I still can’t believe that this wonderful woman chose me of all people,” he repeated from their marriage, which took place a few weeks after they first met, until many years later. They actually seemed to harmonize in all respects. Their marriage was accordingly calm and happy. This wonderful, quiet happiness that only two people know who know each other in agreement, hand in hand, for themselves and with each other. For forty years they could enjoy this common happiness. Konrad settled into it and thought that nothing would change until he died, until cancer came and quickly tore Klara from his side. Ten months had passed since then, but it seemed like only yesterday. He would never find his way back to life, because she had been his life and without her everything seemed empty and pointless.