*drag & drop the wee yellow person onto the square to listen and explore*
I’m past the grass. I’m – yes. I’m there. I’m in the trees. Nobody has noticed me running off to the forbidden zone. My social invisibility is suddenly a super-power.
I keep running and I’m the only person alive in the world. In this sea of nature. It’s still there in glimpses, Spreepark, a glorious, decaying technicolour of shapes looming out of the greenery.
My chest burns. I’m a mermaid breathing air for the first time. I’m glorious. I’m worthy. All I am is caught up in this moment of pure adrenaline. I am the girl who said yes.
I don’t even stop to look, though, until a million years have passed and my feet hit tarmac again, right next to the broken-down Teacups ride.
Or, should I say, right next to the group of people standing around the Teacups, none of whom bat an eyelid at a fifteen-year-old sweating her way through a white T-shirt and a pair of denim shorts and cheap black plimsols that are – yes. That are definitely starting to give me blisters.
What the actual Eff are these people doing here? Oh God. I went the wrong way. I knew it was taking too long.
My resolves falters. My German isn’t good enough to understand what this guy is saying to produce such hearty laughter, but I know a tour group when I see one. My hair sticks to my neck and I feel bothered, sweaty and itchy. What happened to this place being such a big secret? Is it still special if everyone else knows about it?
How am I supposed to do the dare – and not get caught, Katya was very clear about that – with a tour group lolloping around?
The old-fashioned ride is still fascinating to look at though. Retro-chic. I stand like a statue, awkward and still, but the tour group climbs in and out of the blue and yellow striped teacups. Two girls take it in turns to spin each other round, the muscles in their upper arms straining against the rust. The red and white plastic strip sealing off the entrance flutters in the slight breeze, soundly ignored.
Maybe I can just do it now, while they’re distracted. I close my fist round the marker pen in my pocket and take a deep breath.
The tap on my shoulder has me jumping back. Hallo? Hallo? Kann ich Ihnen helfen?
The Tour Guide’s long, blonde moustache twitches and jumps as he talks. There’s a smear of sun cream on his bald head. It’s irrational, but I want to reach out and dab at it. I don’t really catch a word he’s saying so I smile and nod and unclench my fist.
Engleesh? He repeats the question again, his accent veering heavily to American. Engleesh? You lost now? Your group is there. He points up the path to the right and stares at my legs until I start walking.
There are three or four groups on this path. All chatting in different languages, punctuated by the sound of camera shutters. Apart from the group of Germans at the Teacups, none of them are bothering to listen to their guide. There are clearly plots afoot to push the boundaries of responsible tourism; they poke at the undergrowth with their walking sticks, smashing fallen lightbulbs. They pause and scratch at insect bites and drop used tissues on the path. They fiddle with their vapes. They are everywhere and there’s no way for me to get away from them.
I have a big swig from my water bottle and wish I’d brought snacks. All hope of nipping back to the apartment for some food and a shower before the party has drained away. I’m going to be sweaty and dusty and covered in scratches from the seasonal long grass for the rest of my life.
Still unreachable, the itch between my shoulder blades is becoming unbearable. I long for enough privacy to rip my top off and roll on the ground.
I need to focus. There has to be a way round this. The Ferris Wheel is the tallest thing here, right? So I just have to follow this group along the path until I’m standing with the big wheel on my left.
Ok. I’m passing the skeleton of the Ferris Wheel now, keeping to the left path and not making eye contact with anyone from the streams of other groups heading back the other way. A guard ushers a slow couple along and looks straight at me.
He stops. He beckons. Above us, the sky is clouding over. Will there even be a party worth doing this for if it starts raining?
I can turn back, even now. I can just follow these people out the way we’re told to go. I can fiddle with my phone by the side of the road until I work out a bus route and I can get back and tell Mum and everyone else that the fake concert I invented as a cover story was cancelled.
That is what yesterday-morning-me would do. Not that she’d be here in the first place. I think about Katya’s whispered instructions, the way she spoke to me like I mattered. I remember the flat of her hand sweeping my back as we hugged goodbye. How I just stood there, doing nothing. Arms limp.
I smile at the creepy guard. In a confident voice I tell him that I’m just going to fetch my friend and I keep moving against the flow.
For the first time in my life, I feel in charge. The guard looks at me, blankly, and shrugs. I have no idea if he understood me, but it’s clear he feels nothing but indifference whether I obey him or not. Perhaps Katya was as full of it as I was last night, with all her chat about forbidden zones and danger and the guy she knew who ended up in Plötzensee prison.
I keep going. I’m buzzing now. Unstoppable. Where the path thins, I check around that nobody is looking. I step under the plastic tape lining the side of the path and I disappear.