“I’m such a Hauptstadtkind,” my old neighbour says to me.
“You’re not,” I say. “You grew up in the countryside.”
“Harlow isn’t the countryside.”
“It is. We took school trips out there when I was in Infant School. In fact, you know the song “The Wheels on the Bus”? At my school we totally changed the last part from “all day long” to “to Harlow Park”. Because we took so many school trips out there.”
“It still isn’t the countryside.”
“And you have a garden.”
“I’m still a Hauptstadtkind, though. Really. I never knew a wolverine was a real animal until last autumn.”
My boyfriend interrupts us. “A wolverine is a real animal?” He asks.
“Yeah,” I say. “I saw one at the zoo. They’re rubbish.”
“You saw one at the zoo? Why didn’t you tell me? I thought they were fantasy creatures. I’ve always thought that. I’ve thought that all my life.”
“I’m sure I mentioned it. It was called Manuel.”
“No. You definitely didn’t. I would’ve remembered if you’d told me you’d seen a wolverine called Manuel. Are you sure they’re not made-up animals? What do they actually look like?”
I rack my brains, trying to remember what the wolverine looked like.
“Like an otter,” I say.
“Like an otter?” My boyfriend asks.
“Yeah,” I say. “Like a rubbish otter.”
“They don’t look like rubbish otters,” my old neighbour corrects me. “They look a bit like… a bit like… like a small mongoose.”
I don’t say anything. Secretly I am wondering what a mongoose looks like, and whether the plural is mongeese.
“I always thought they were made up,” my boyfriend says. “Like mini-werewolves.”
“Yeah,” I say, “me, too. I think quite a lot of people think that.”
“I thought I saw a werewolf in Charlottenburg the other day,” says my old neighbour. “I was just walking down the road, and I see this dog, right, and I think: that’s a big-sized dog, out without its owner. And then suddenly I look and I think: fuck, yeah, that is a massive dog. And then I’m like: oh my God, it’s a fucking werewolf!”
“But they really don’t exist,” says my boyfriend.
“Nah,” says my old neighbour. “It was a wild boar, just sauntering down the road, with all the little wild boar piglets. I realized it wasn’t a werewolf when I saw all the baby piglets. Bold as brass. Whenever I see wild animals in real life I think they’re fantasy creatures or exotic animals. Like I saw a fox at the traffic lights the other day, in Neukölln, he was waiting for the green man, must’ve been German, right? And I thought he was a little kangaroo. I’m such a Hauptstadtkind.”
“You’re not that much of a Hauptstadtkind,” I say. “When I did my GCSE English Literature paper in 1996, I didn’t know that a swift was a type of bird. I thought it was a metaphor. I spent about five pages analysing what a brilliant metaphor the word swift was for bird. Because it was fast and swoopy and that.”
My neighbour looks at me in disgust. “That is pretty stupid,” he says disapprovingly.
“I still got an A, though.”
“You got an A?”
“Yeah, Mr Martin reckoned I must’ve argued really persuasively.”
“Yeah,” says my old neighbour. “Or maybe the examiners didn’t know either.”
“Can I ask something?” my boyfriend says. “Can a wolf and a fox have a baby together?”
“Probably,” I say. “But probably their babies can’t have babies.”
“Yeah,” says my neighbour. “That’ll be it.”