A shrill alarm sounded as the timer on the desk went off; the time was 4:30 pm.
“That’s the end of my shift,” Dr Grünberg muttered quickly, packing away the open folders on the desk. As he stood up and closed his briefcase, he looked through the window. The sky had turned an ominous grey, and the clouds seemed to darken and rumble with the omens of a building thunderstorm.
Dr Grünberg hurriedly neatened his tie as he walked out of the office and locked the door. Rushing past the hospital reception, he briefly waved to his colleagues before exiting the building and into the car park. The wind had become cold and gusty when he reached his car, and by the time that he had started it up, the rumbling of the engine was deafened by the sound of the wind rushing past.
The drive home was a worrying one, as the clouds had become swirling masses of looming black vapour, with the wind blowing plastic bags and cardboard into the air. The road had become wet as rain began to fall, gaining pace and speed, from the blackened clouds above. Dr Grünberg was just about to find out if his daughter had made it home safely as he pulled into the tree-lined driveway of 12 Vergebung Street.</>
“Helloo?” Dr Grünberg ventured, his voice echoing within the house as he stepped inside. “Is anyone home?” Stepping out of his boots, he walked through the house, up the wooden staircase, past the bedrooms and then into the library where he normally left his belongings; there, however, was his young daughter Anna, standing indignantly and almost invisibly among the similarly tall shelves of books.</>
“Why, hello Anna!” Dr Grünberg exclaimed, setting down his briefcase and sighing. “Wouldn’t expect you to be here! How was school?” He removed his raindrop-speckled glasses and wiped them as he watched Anna through their lenses.
“School was fine, Papa,” Anna replied grudgingly, moving among the shelves of books until she appeared at the end of the aisle. “Couldn’t be better.” The rain strengthened outside to a heavy downpour, the water slapping the roof and windows and making a deafening roar.
Dr Grünberg was taken aback by this statement, as he looked up quickly from his papers and gazed at Anna gingerly. “Anna, are you okay?” he asked slowly, closing the folders with a click and putting them aside with a worried expression.
“Why didn’t you tell me the truth?” Anna demanded over the roar of the rain, slowly walking up to Dr Grünberg’s desk. “Why did you lie to me?”
Dr Grünberg was speechless. “What do you mean, Anna?” he managed to say after he adjusted his glasses once more. “I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
“You told me that Mama left for Georgia when I was two, and you said that she never came back. You told me that many years ago.”
The weather continued to worsen, the sky darkening to a night-like state and the thunderclaps joining the sound of the rain and the wind. Dr Grünberg managed to croak, “Yes, Anna. I did tell you that. Why do you ask?”
“Because I found this.” Anna held out a crumpled, yellowed piece of paper to her father, who remained silent as he reached for it, smoothing out the crinkles and folds. It was only when a brilliant-white streak of lightning flashed across the black sky did he see the paper clearly.
The headline blared out in large, black letters, ‘The Missing Grünberg Enigma; Cecilie Grünberg Never Boarded Her Flight’. Dr Grünberg’s eyes were drawn downwards, scanning through the article intently:
When we all thought that Cecilie Grünberg had made a terrible mistake when she left her famed husband Matthias and her daughter, we had to double-take when it was found that she had never boarded flight AH-526 that Sunday. Detectives from the Berlin Police were sent to the Schönefeld Airport to investigate the reason why Ms Grünberg did not turn up at Tbilisi International Airport in Georgia that evening. When they realised that she had never boarded the flight, they conducted an extensive search around both airports. It’s doubtful that she had left her two-year old daughter purposefully; actually, though, Cecilie was never young Anna’s mother in the first place –
The words simply ended there.
“What really happened?” Anna yelled, tugging on her father’s coat desperately. “Tell me the truth!”
“I, I can’t,” Dr Grünberg stuttered. “T-t-the truth will hurt you, hurt you m-m-more than th-the lie!”
“I don’t care! Hurt me with the truth!”
“P-please stop, Anna. Enough n-now. I cannot.”
“What really happened to Mama? Tell me!” Anna screamed, sobbing uncontrollably.
“I can’t,” Dr Grünberg stated firmly after hesitation, regaining his composure. “I can’t tell you. I’m sorry, Anna.”