Skip to main content

A Glass Eel on the Palm of My Hand

Beata works as a qualified primary school teacher, a councillor for drug and alcohol addiction and a farm caretaker for organic olive grow.

I was shy twenty five years old

with a fresh university degree under my arm

with a fresh university degree under my arm

when the Berlin wall fell down

and I met my father on the other side

on his deathbed.


It was strange to think for all those years

one brick wall was all that divided us

My mother told me he hold me once

after my birth promising he would come back

But he never did.


To protect us from the shame

My mother married again and changed her name.

My stepfather was an important man who told me

dissidents had no place in our communist state.

I learnt to believe my father was bad.


Over the years I watched from behind the curtains

the people from our street looking fearfully up

being aware not to say or behave the way

it would challenge the Communist Party ideals

and my stepfather.


He worked at the Ministry for State Security

“No one would talk to me or even look at me,”

I said to my mother smoking all day in our apartment

reading her books and listening to classical music

shielding from the real world like in never existed

outside the walls.


“Be grateful he adopted you, we are safe with him,”

she looked up towards the window: “Not like them.”

“But I have to go out to school everyday,” I shouted

in despair. She looked up from her book: “If someone

displeases you just report them, your stepfather’s Stasi

will take care of them.”

 "Schild und Schwert der Partei”, I mimicked my stepfather’s voice

picking my school bag and venturing out hearing my mother’s voice:

picking my school bag and venturing out hearing my mother’s voice:

“Be grateful for his name, the only way you can study and have good clothes, good food and the future.”

“And to be forever alone in the world,” I whispered to myself.

People stopped talking when I passed them.

Silence followed me all the way to my class.


I spent every break in the school’s library as the books

did not mind my presence especially the ones about

the far away tropical seas much warmer and livelier

than our own grey windy and cold Baltic sea I visited once.

I wanted to disappear into that underwater world

where no one could ever find me.


It was then I discovered the story of a mysterious

eel and his journey to magical Sargasso Sea

and one serious teenager’s boy in dark rimmed glasses

who carried a glass container with see-through little

snake-like creatures in it.

“Everyone find them disgusting but I think they are amazing,”

he nodded when I put my hand inside to touch it.

Then he carefully put it on the palm of my hand.


“You know Your stepfather holds us all like this.” He said

quietly. “It feels slippery,” I replied and put it back into the glass.

We watched it swim around almost transparent.

“I want to study eels when I grow up,” the boy said and I nodded.

“There are not too many of them left around the world, I want

to save them.”

I picked up the book from the shelf he was reading before: “You learn

all there is to know about them.”

The bell rang and we parted ways.


That night I was dreaming about the boy with the mysterious eel

and the blue tropical Sargasso Sea where we end up

swimming among marlins, porbeagle sharks, dolphins

and humpback whales until the alarm clock rang

and I woke up to the cold east Berlin grey dawn

with my stepfather in his uniform towering above my bed

“You should never talk to that boy.”

He kicked a glass jar with his boot on his way out: 

“He left this for you.”

“He left this for you.”

I rushed to pick up the glass eel  from the floor.

He belly-flopped in the remaining water.

It was too late. I marched to confront my mother who was

still sleeping with her blindfold on to shield her from the world

“You teenagers have no respect, what do you want now.”

She removed them quickly to search for a cigarette.


When she noticed the glass jar in my hands she sighed:

“They were taken away, his father will be tortured for sure.”

I wanted to scream but it was not what the communist youth

should do so I just stared at the grey swirls of smoke

coming from my mum’s mouth while she smoke and talked:

“Can you imagine, your stepfather said, more than one in three

East Germans is suspicious and he has a file on them,

he needs to protect us.”


And then one day all that terror ended

just like it started without a whisper or bang

my stepfather entered a new government

of joined Germany and my mother swapped

cheap cigarettes for a real Marlboro.

They refused to join in the street celebration of freedom

so I just walked out to walk through a new hole in the wall

to the other side.


The colours and business of streets overwhelmed me

people were laughing and shouting all what comes to their mind

in the West Berlin while I went to search in the phone book

for my father’s name. Five phone numbers called and the last

one was answered by an young man who confirmed

my father’s whereabouts.

When I found the nice apartment in manicured street full of

flowers and families openly chatting to each other

I nearly turned back, I felt suddenly unsafe in that open free air.


“Hurry up, your father mentioned you few times, he wants

to see you,” A tall blonde man who looked similar to me

appeared in one of the gardens and opened the gate for me.

The room was dark where my father lied a shell of a man

who outstretched his skinny hand and whispered: “I am sorry.”

“He wants to talk to your mother, Stasi would kill him if he would

stay, he had no choice.”

The young man pointed at the phone in the corridor and I called my

mother. When I explained where I was she just hung up.

I turned to the young man and shook my head.


We said in that room me and the boy while our father took

his last breath: “It was a brain tumour, he came back from

Brazil only a few months back and collapsed on the front door.”

“Where is your mother?” I asked him and he shrugged: “They

divorced a few years back, he spent lots of time abroad on his business.”

We buried our father and sat on the porch both lost and confused

what to do next.

“I was accepted to study computer science in America,” finally

Hans said.

“You can live here if you like,”

he nodded at me when I did not reply.

he nodded at me when I did not reply.

I looked through the open window back at the photographs of me.

All over the walls the well groomed tiny then taller thin sad girl.

“How he got these?”

Hans shrugged: “Through the Red Cross he was sending money

to your mother and they sent him those.”

“My mother never said,” I looked at him surprised remembering

our regular visit to the photograph studio

to keep a record of me growing up.

“Everything is a lie,” I said finally.


Hans shrugged showing off his muscles: “My father always wanted me

to be a real man, tough, macho and a good sportsman you know it was

torture to live with him when he was around early boxing matches, I never

was good enough and never lived up to his expectations.”

“He is gone,” I said simply.


I never seen my stepbrother for few years when I have got an email

from him where he stated he is a woman now.

When he suddenly appeared in my marine biology laboratory next

to the Baltic Sea where I was studying eels I looked confused at

the tall lady in high heels with long red curls and revealing clothes.

“Jane is my name now,” she said and I nodded pushing him out

through the door so my colleagues did not realise she is related to me.

“I am a respected scientist, Hans.”


I found a small cafeteria at the end of the street and pushed him in

while I ordered us both something to eat. The lady with Hans eyes

just said there staring at me pitifully while drumming her long painted

nails on the plastic table: “So you are one of those.”

“I still do not know who I am and it seems to me you do not know

either Hans, sorry for me you always will be Hans.” I sighed and sipped

a coffee nervously.

The lady smiled sadly: “You know I learnt so much about eels from your

emails and maybe you gave me that idea to stay true to myself and discover

who I truly want to be.”


“Me?” I asked surprised and Hans nodded: “I even visited your Sargasso Sea, my boyfriend took me there, he has lots of money.”

“How was it?” I asked excited and the lady applied the red lipstick on her

full lips carefully before replying back: “Very calm and blue covered in

places in the brown seagrass.”

I smiled broadly: “That is where my endangered eels spawned in that

Sargassum seaweed we believe.”

The lady nodded and sipped the coffee carefully: “You know your Sargasso Sea has no shores, it is an open sea in the middle of the North Atlantic.”

“It must be beautiful,” I nodded dreamily.


“You should visit it once,”

Hans winked at me and I shook my head resolutely:

Hans winked at me and I shook my head resolutely:

“Not me Hans, I can’t venture out, the open free world  scares me still."

I added after a pause: "This small town and our confined laboratory with my eels I try to save is how far I will ever go.”

Jane nodded and they both turned to hear an old couple whispering in Germans about Him/her being a freak. Then Jane sent them a kiss and turned to me: “You know even your eels defy nature, they refuse to be categorised as males or females, they are just eels.”

I smiled: “That is true even in the ancient world they were phantom by it, I always dream about my eighty years old silver eel we have in captivity suddenly stop eating and decide to make a journey to the Sargasso sea for a year swimming while his digestion organs inside change to reproductive organs and once in after spewing eggs just die. I just want to be that eel.”

“Do you plan to release that eel,” Jane asked and I sighed: “We tag the eel like we did so many others before to find out how that reproduction happened but it is a mystery.”

“Maybe it is good it is a mystery,” Jane said and suddenly chuckled: “I loved what you said about Freud how he spend years dissecting eels because he wanted to find one with penis only to realise they have no reproductive organs, people always need categories for everything and once you do not fit to their boxes you become a freak.”

I nodded: “I believe you are right Hans, science is all about asking questions and if we would know everything there would be no reason anymore to be inquisitive and to search for answers.


Suddenly Jane took my hands into his/hers well manicured and sighed: “Do

you remember the story of an eel fisherman you sent me who was searching for eighty years all over Atlantic to find the place eels go to spawn until he ended in the Sargasso Sea, he found it because he was not scared to venture out in the open, you have to do it once too.”


I nodded and took my hands back to put my laboratory gloves back:

“Hans we both grew up in very different world, you a free person not

even afraid to change your sex or be in the centre of attention but I am just like my glass eel, transparent and barely visible kept in a glass jar.”


Jane stood up and kneeled next to me patting my hair tight firmly in a bun:

“You know eels are very slippery, they seem to slip away when you least

expect it and disappear into their mystical sea.”















I opened the palm of my hand and remembered,,,

the first transparent glass eel I hold there and replied: "My dear sister Jane, maybe."

the first transparent glass eel I hold there and replied: "My dear sister Jane, maybe."

Related Articles