A bleak corner of Europe in the nineteen-fifties. When a mysterious manuscript lands in the hands of Astrid Lund, a secretary at a provincial university, she is dragged into a plot to topple the dictatorial president. The dusty world of academia has ill prepared her for espionage and fighting the regime, but now she has to learn how to tell secret police agent from underground rebel. If not, she will fall victim to their nefarious games. The Reluctant Revolutionary is a literary thriller completed at 80,000 words.
The Afterwards I
The sound of footsteps echoed down the corridor. It drew nearer, and then I heard the chinks of keys. A moment later the metal-clad door of my cell swung open.
‘Astrid Lund?’ The guard looked at the piece of paper in his hand.
‘You’re out today.’
He removed the small piece of cardboard with my prisoner’s number from underneath the hatch, and checked it against the paperwork. Then he sauntered down the corridor, not waiting to see if I would follow him. His indifference, above all else, was what convinced me that I really was about to be released.
How long had I been in Landlock? I wasn’t sure. Day and night were one, the monotony punctuated only by food trays and the light bulb in the ceiling coming on and off. I had read no papers, seen no calendars. The revolution seemed a long time ago, but was it a month, a year, a decade, even? Long enough for my so-called crimes to have ceased to matter, it would appear.
The guard took me to a room where I found a box containing the things I had arrived with. Clothes. My brown leather handbag and its contents – hairpins, a purse with a few coins, handkerchief and a long-expired tram ticket. Just the tatty belongings of a stranger. I changed from the calico prison dress to my own things. They smelled of attic, of someone else.
Eventually came bureaucracy. In a drab office a man in a heavy three-piece suit flicked through some papers in a file bearing my name, as though it were a magazine he had picked up at a newsstand. Nothing seemed to arrest his interest, though. I wasn’t surprised. That I was being released meant I wasn’t important anymore. I wondered if that held true of the Professor, too – and Ester. I hoped so. I didn’t dare to ask any questions, though. I couldn’t imagine that there would be any good news to convey; bad news, I knew, would be my fault.
He closed the file and put it down.
‘Well, be good, then,’ he said, I think in an attempt to be easy. He even shook my hand. I just nodded.
Outside the office was a long corridor. The linoleum was buffed to a high shine, and caught the slanting afternoon sun through a set of glass doors at the end. I squinted as I walked towards the doors. When I pushed one of them open the rain-like patter of typewriters faded behind me, and I breathed in dank, cool autumn air.
For a moment I stood at the top of the short flight of stairs. I turned and looked over my shoulder. There was the spandrel-panelled office building I had just left, and above it towered Landlock. For the briefest of moments the grey hulk seemed to offer if not exactly safety, then at least the comfort of familiarity. Where was I expected to go now?
Across the road a long, maroon automobile was parked at the kerb. I recognised it immediately, of course. I found that I was not even surprised to see it. I was relieved, of all things. But then why wouldn’t I be? I had nowhere to go, and here was a hint that the future and its worries might be postponed for a little while longer. I crossed the road, and at that moment the driver’s door swung open.