"And what?" asked Mikhail, who is now screaming at the top of his lungs, listening in on the call patiently till now.
“and a message” responded Watson in all earnestness, believing Mikhail didn’t hear him the first time.
“What message?” asked Mikhail, again, reaching new levels of sound heard on a telephone.
“One small step for a Man, One giant leap for the Mankind” said Watson.
“Who’s Mankind?” enquired Mikhail, genuinely thinking it to be another name for either Nixon or America.
Watson did not understand the question and there is a silence of about 3 seconds, shaken by a hoarse voice clearing its throat, which has not been heard for about twenty five years, at least by Watson or Mikhail, who are now both stunned, but for different reasons, Watson, as if he has just heard an oyez for a case he is about to get a death sentence for, and Mikhail, just to know that the third person on the call is in reality present on the call, and then in anticipation of hearing the answer that will tell him who Mankind even is.
“Mankind, means all the men and women of the world” says the voice, followed by a click, indicating that the phone receiver has been hooked and the call is over, leaving not just Mikhail and Watson stunned, but also the people in the room, that includes Mao Zedong, Walter Ulbricht, and Nur Ahmad, who is standing in the corner, hearing the longest sentence they have heard from the voice, the voice of Adolf H., on the late Monday night of the now extended weekend getaway, some 100 miles east of Beijing, in Mao Zedong’s cottage.
“I will pack our bags” says Walter Ulbricht, anticipating his action from the heavy air of urgency that hangs in the main room of the cottage, not knowing the full contents of the call that just transpired.
“No, we will stay” says Adolf H., snatching control of the room back, raising his gaze towards Mao Zedong, who is sitting right opposite in a grand chair made out of the trunk of a Giant Sequoia with its native Indian carvings at the head culminating in a large kitsch of a circle, knowing he is not doing any justice to the chair, believing he will one day rise up to the pretence.
Mao Zedong nods.
Adolf H. rises from his chair, using the cane he was gifted by Stalin, still strong enough to support the substantial weight of his thoughts, reflecting the character of its previous owner in every knock it makes on the wooden floor under the Persian carpet in the lowly lit front room.
Mao Zedong and Walter Ulbricht also stand up from their chairs, out of fear, out of respect, but mostly out of curiosity about what are going to be their next instructions, considering the fact that whatever has transpired on the call was another victory for the Americans. Nur Ahmad straightened up, where he was leaning, to the extreme right of Adolf H.
“Ahmmm” Adolf H. clears his throat again, with the rumbling sound that disturbs the harmony of the wooden cabin and sending harsh reverberations through the ears of its recipients, reminding them that their nightmares are not over yet, as if suddenly jerked out of sleep by the roar of a large animal nearby.
A young man appeared from behind Adolf H., taller than him yet average height, wearing a black jacket, black pants, boots, and bow-tie on the not so cool summer night and asks ”Coffee sir?”
Adolf H. nods his head once.
“Sir, for you?” looking at Mao Zedong now.
“And you sir?” swiftly turning to Walter Ulbricht on Adolf H.’s left side.
“Same” he says, adjusting his glasses.
“You sir?” he asks Nur Ahmad.
“Tea, please” responds Nur Ahmad. Adolf H. turns his head towards Nur Ahmad and gives him the look, a dubious look filled with disdain and despair, a look that could have probably given Nur Ahmad a small stroke, if, a look could do that.
“Sure” says the young man and leaves.
Adolf H. carefully takes steps towards the open garden now, towards the door that opens into the garden, behind Mao Zedong and Noor Ahmad, who rush toward the door with subdued urgency to open it and slowly unfurl the dark grass with a thin white veil of moonlight on it.
Adolf H. stops briefly and looks at Mao Zedong struggling to reach the door, reminding him of the amount of men, weapons, and dollars that have been spent and drained to usher China in the battle against the Americans and the amount of men, weapons, and dollars wasted in their struggle against Japan, who felt like a man bouncing and stumbling around his own house furniture, just making a show of opening the door to the garden somehow, without any practicable opportunities in the sight, a show by a blind man for people with more eyes than two. Nur Ahmad has been pushed behind the door now, with Mao Zedong standing at the side of the door, and Adolf H. seeing him behind Mao Zedong brings his eye brows close together, trying to remember why is he even there, and what could such a significantly powerless nation do against the rising waves of the influence of America across the seven seas, then momentarily recalls that Leonid, who had to be uninvited for this getaway at the last moment, had some plans to share along with Nur Ahmad, but Nur Ahmad did not get the cancellation notice in time. Though what plans could they be that could take thousands of miles between their countries into account and still be effective, Adolf H. thought, as it’s the distance that was unbreachable, that Nur Ahmad’s men, even with modern weaponry, would die of starvation crossing that reach, as the image of cold Moscow passes through his mind.
Adolf H. looks at the moonlit garden outside, hoping that change of view and air may strike some inspiration for a resolution of this situation, but hope is not the word he is very fond of, considering it a crutch for derelict and debilitated, held on, to elapse another day of their existence, as he moved on towards the door.
“Sir” says the young man with the jacket, pants, boots, and bow-tie with a cup of coffee on a saucer in his hands.
Adolf H. picks up the cup, takes a sip of the scalding coffee, exactly the way he likes it, and moves out to the garden.
The darker hills around composing the horizon in the otherwise dark night look like the shadows of the beasts, waiting at a distance in anticipation to hear their next orders from their master, but paradoxically making the moon look brighter than usual, thereby suppressing any possibility of a discernible conversation.
Now in the middle of the garden, which has low cut grass all along and some large trees marking its edges, Adolf H. contemptuously looks up at the only source of light, thinking where did all this go wrong, after having successfully set the destination for young Kennedy, how did these Dummkopfs managed to fail so spectacularly and let that rocket reach the moon. Another man who was made in charge earlier that year, who was watching the progress of this rocket from up close should have brought his worth in action, but this colossal disaster for all the work done in the past two decades, Adolf H. is still not able to comprehend how he ended up here, in this situation, after running below the grass for so long how could this ground not have burnt, how come he is standing in the darkness while the moon is lit in celebration, as if welcoming the Americans. He wished he could stare the moon down, but with its crescent it seemed like it is not even looking his way.
Adolf H. is visibly tired, not from running for more than two decades, but from looking at the moon, takes a big sip from his cup and feels the deep wrinkles on his forehead fogging his view, only perturbed by a shrill streak of seething pain traveling from the front to the back of his head, as he notices Mao Zedong and Nur Ahmad standing on his left side, in front of the cottage door.
Mao Zedong seemed like he owned the cottage but quite unsure of what he is got to do with it, while Nur Ahmad looked like a Lion, full of valour but brave enough to walk into a burning house given his reasons.
Adolf H. makes his way back to the cottage, with defeat on his forehead, finding no solution to the struggle of his life crashing in front of his eyes, waiting for ideas to come and rescue him at once.
Mao Zedong, taking it as a cue says ”They saw the bombs, so they can see the spies now, that game is over”.
Adolf H. sensing a compelling follow-up to the factual prose trudges his attention briefly on Mao Zedong's next words “We will have to find another way, something they are not expecting, something more invisible, perhaps friendship?”.
Adolf H. nods “Hmmm” in agreement, moves towards his chair to hear out the plan, which sounds like a long drawn one, maybe longer than the time Leonid and Walter Ulbricht have taken in their trembling chipping at the mountain, that America has become.
Adolf H. takes the last sip from his cup, and as the cup floats down from his mouth, still in his left hand, he spots something at the bottom, and gathers his utter annoyance on his forehead again, thinking that if the server had used ground coffee powder to make his cup of coffee, one of those instant coffees that is given to the troops at war, then this shall be the last cup of coffee he had ever made, realizes that the powder is stuck to the bottom of the cup and is not moving around as it should. He brings the cup close to the lamp near his chair and conceives that it is not stuck coffee powder, it’s something written in permanent ink, he squints his eyes behind his glasses to see what it says:
‘…FOR MANKIND, NOT YOU’
- John F. K.
And the cane snaps into pieces.