He was telling me about the events leading up to his imprisonment. I had my tape recorder set up but for some reason the microphone wasnt activated. I apologise.
Im trying to remember, but perhaps the particulars are not important. Maybe youll understand that this is quite a common story with that type of high-ranking official. They were all men of a certain agethey would have had to be, to have reached those kinds of positionsso they all had military-age sons, but none of them had actually gone anywhere near the front line. All of their sons had been squirrelled out of the country. It was a well known fact.
In this case there were two sons. You can imagine that however bad things might have got at home he would be able to console himself by thinking about what his sons might be doing. Filling in the years since hed waved them off, I dont know, on some minibus down by the river in the early hours of the morning. Thats just natural affection: the bond between fathers and their sons.
Sometimes he might imagine that theyd made it to America and sorted out domestic arrangements and green cards. Maybe theyd got themselves an education, found beautiful wives and were living like princes. Maybe they were doctors in New York or somewhere. Chicago maybe. Hed probably picture them strapping the baby seats in the backs of their cars and playing basketball with each other at the weekends, like they did when they were boys. At that time almost everyone knew someone in America, but unless youd been there yourself all youd know about it would be from music or what youd seen on TVyou know, the Beach Boys and I Dream of Jeannieor in films. Well, that and the money people sent home, when you could do that kind of thing, which was real enough to have kept many families going. At idle moments hed probably think about the presents hed buy for his grandchildren when this was all over. How hed hold them to his breast and pinch their rosy cheeks.
There was a knock at the door late one night. Do you hear that? he asked his wife, but she was already half-way down the stairs. He heard the vase in the hallway break; heard a voicefamiliar and yet unfamiliarsay Mother! Maybe he wondered, Why only one voice?
He would have been furious when he found out that they hadnt got out of the countrythat theyd been in prisoner of war camps all that time. He probably couldnt believe it, what with the strings hed pulled. Hed have wondered who it was that he couldnt trust; who he could have paid more. Hed have started taking it out on everybody around him; taking a harder line in negotiations. With that kind of power you can make people suffer if you want to. In his case this is all a matter of record. He was never shy; always in front of the cameras.
I dont know why only one of them returned. Maybe they were being moved around and theyd been separated. There were prisoner swaps, from time to time, that kind of thing. Either way it was just one son who appeared. You can imagine the shock. I dont think he was ever quite right after that. His health. Youd think in some way hed be pleased at least to have one son return to him: There are few burdens that cant be lightened by the presence of a loved-one. But perhaps its different when the beloveds very presence only reminds you of a corresponding absence, and one with equal claim on your heart. I think he would simply have retreated into the day dreams that had kept him going before. Those kind of dreams are hard to let go of, particularly if youve learned to cling to them. I heard that if they were grilling some meat or something hed turn to his son and ask, How do they do this in America? or What kind of car did you drive?
The other son never did come home, though they all waited for another knock at the door, and jumped whenever the phone rang. Some people said that hed been shown a video in prison of what his father was doing, and hed killed himself from the shame of it. Others had different stories.
I think before the end, when the net was closing in, he might have been lucid enough to realise that he wouldnt be remembered well. Maybe its lucky that we never see our own obituaries. He had a hospital appointment and his cardiologist recommended rest. It was his blood pressure. At times of stress it would go up very steeply. But of course he never liked to take advice.
I wanted to go to the funeral. Id thought that maybe I could get a story out of it, but in the event I decided not to. A few months after that I tried to phone to get another interview or at least a quote. I wanted to tell him that my tape recorder was broken when Id interviewed him before and would he like to set the record straight, tell his side of things. I wanted to say that people would be interested in his experiences; that he wouldnt automatically be thought of in the same way as his father; that if anything he was seen as a victim. The person who answered the phone told me that the family didnt live there anymore. He was sorry. He had no forwarding address, but hed heard that the son had moved to America.