In those days, the State made actors of us all.
Not stars, you understand, but extras, walk-ons, the kind of people who played their part and tried not to be noticed. Taking whatever roles we were assigned because to refuse was to risk vanishing into the nameless wings. Memorising our lines, learning the script by heart, because the slightest fumble, the smallest pause could be the end of us. Never, ever daring to improvise.
Every day we would step out onto the great stage of the city and find the play of History in progress. We would join in, not knowing whether the people we crossed in the street were fellow actors or part of the audience. Or fellow actors playing the audience.
We never asked what the play was about, what it meant, or whether it was a good play. We knew only that it was a tragedy, and that it had a certain desperate realism. It was all that we were allowed to know.
Somewhere out there were the critics - watching us, judging us. We had no way to know what they were thinking, no way to defend ourselves against the secret interrogation of their eyes. By the time we heard from them, it would be too late: the judgement would have been passed, the act completed. There would be no appeal.
That is why we never relaxed, never dared to step out of character. Even in the green rooms of our own homes we continued to wear the pose, the expression, because who knew what was behind the mirror or when someone might come bursting in through the door?
There were many of us in this play - an entire country performing in the theatre of oppression - and yet it always felt as though we were alone on stage, as though we were reciting a well-rehearsed monologue, and every eye was on us. If we made a mistake the curtain would come down and it would all be over. But if we were clever, and very, very lucky, we might just get away with it - escaping with only the wild applause of our own heartbeat to mark the unforgettable performance of our lives.
[Inspired by Das Leben der Anderen]