Metamorphosis and other.., p.8
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       Metamorphosis and Other Stories, p.8

          

  ‘And now,’ said the Senator, ‘I want to hear from you loud and clear, whether I am your uncle or not.’

  ‘You are my uncle,’ said Karl and kissed his hand, and was kissed on the forehead in return. ‘I’m very glad I’ve met you, but you’re mistaken if you think my parents only say bad things about you. But there were a few other mistakes in what you said, I mean, not everything happened the way you described it. But it’s difficult for you to tell from such a distance and anyway I don’t think it matters if the gentlemen here have been given an account that’s inaccurate in a few points of detail, about something that doesn’t really concern them.’

  ‘Well spoken,’ said the Senator, and took Karl over to the visibly emotional captain, and said, ‘Haven’t I got a splendid fellow for a nephew?’

  The captain said, with a bow of the kind that only comes with military training, ‘I am delighted to have met your nephew, Senator. I am particularly honoured that my ship afforded the setting for such a reunion. But the crossing in the steerage must have been very uncomfortable, you never know who you’ve got down there. Once, for instance, the first-born son of the highest Hungarian magnate, I forget his name and the purpose of his voyage, travelled in our steerage. I only got to hear about it much later. Now, we do everything in our power to make the voyage as pleasant as possible for steerage passengers, far more than our American counterparts, for example, do, but we still haven’t been able to make a voyage in those conditions a pleasure.’

  ‘It did me no harm,’ said Karl.

  ‘It did him no harm!’ repeated the Senator, with a loud laugh.

  ‘Only I’m afraid I may have lost my suitcase -’ and with that he suddenly remembered all that had taken place, and all that still remained to be done, and looked around at all those present, standing in silent respect and astonishment. None of them had moved and all were looking at him. Only in the port officials, inasmuch as their stern and self-satisfied faces told one anything, could one see regret that they had come at such an unsuitable time; the wristwatch they had laid out in front of them was probably more important to them than anything that had happened, and that might yet happen, in the room.

  The first man, after the captain, to express his pleasure was, extraordinarily, the stoker. ‘Hearty congratulations,’ he said and shook Karl by the hand, also wanting to show something like admiration. But when he approached the Senator with the same words, the latter took a step back, as though the stoker had taken things too far, and he stopped right away.

  But the others saw what had to be done, and they crowded round Karl and the Senator. Even Schubal offered Karl his congratulations in the confusion, which he accepted with thanks. When things had settled down again, the last to appear were the port officials who said two words in English, and made a ridiculous impression.

  To make the most of such a pleasant occasion, the Senator went on to describe, for the benefit of himself and everyone else present, various other, lesser moments, which weren’t only tolerated but listened to with interest. He pointed out, for instance, that he had copied down in his notebook some of Karl’s distinguishing features as they were described in the cook’s letter, in case they should prove useful to him. During the stoker’s intolerable tirade he had taken out the notebook for no other purpose than to amuse himself, and for fun tried to match the cook’s less than forensically accurate descriptions with Karl’s actual appearance. ‘And so a man finds his nephew,’ he concluded, as though expecting a further round of congratulations.

  ‘What’s going to happen to the stoker now?’ asked Karl, ignoring his uncle’s latest story. It seemed to him that in his new position he was entitled to say whatever was on his mind.

  ‘The stoker will get whatever he deserves,’ said the Senator, ‘and whatever the captain determines. But I’m sure the company will agree we’ve had enough and more than enough of the stoker.’

  ‘But that’s not the point, it’s a question of justice,’ said Karl. He was standing between the captain and his uncle, and perhaps influenced by that position, he thought the decision lay in his hands.

  But the stoker seemed to have given up hope. He kept his hands half tucked into his belt, which his excited movements had brought into full view along with a striped shirt. That didn’t trouble him in the least, he had made his complaint, let them see what rags he wore on his back, and then let them carry him off. He thought the servant and Schubal, the two lowliest persons present, should do him that final service. Then Schubal would have peace and quiet, no one to drive him to the brink of despair, as the chief cashier had said. The captain would be able to engage a crew of Rumanians, everyone would speak Rumanian, and maybe everything would go better. There would be no more stoker to speechify in the office, only his last tirade might live on fondly in their memories because, as the Senator had stated, it had led indirectly to the recognition of his nephew. That very nephew had tried to help him several times before that, and so he didn’t owe him anything for his help in having made him recognized; it never occurred to the stoker to ask anything more of him now. Anyway, Senator’s nephew he might be, but he wasn’t a captain, and it was the captain who would be having the final say in the affair – So the stoker wasn’t really trying to catch Karl’s eye, only, in a room filled with his enemies, there was nowhere else for him to look.

  ‘Don’t misunderstand the situation,’ said the Senator to Karl, ‘it may be a question of justice, but at the same time it’s a matter of discipline. In either case, and especially the latter, it’s for the captain to decide.’

  ‘That’s right,’ muttered the stoker. Anyone who heard him and understood smiled tightly.

  ‘Moreover, we have kept the captain from his business for long enough, which must be particularly onerous at the moment of arrival in New York. It’s high time we left the ship, lest our completely unnecessary intervention may turn this trifling squabble between a couple of engineers into a major incident. I fully understand your behaviour, dear nephew, but that’s precisely what gives me the right to lead you swiftly from this place.’

  ‘I’ll have them get a boat ready for you right away,’ said the captain, astonishing Karl by not offering the slightest objection to the uncle’s self-deprecating words. The chief cashier hurried over to the desk and telephoned the captain’s order to the boatswain.

  ‘Time is pressing,’ Karl said to himself, ‘but without offending them all there is nothing I can do. I can’t leave my uncle who’s only just found me. The captain is being polite, but really nothing more. When it’s a matter of discipline, his kindness will come to an end, I’m sure uncle was right about that. I don’t want to talk to Schubal, I’m even sorry I shook hands with him. And everyone else here is just chaff.’

  So thinking, he walked slowly over to the stoker, pulled his right hand out of his belt, and held it playfully in his own. ‘Why don’t you say anything?’ he asked. ‘Why do you let them get away with it?’

  The stoker furrowed his brow, as though looking for words for what he wanted to say. He looked down at his hand and Karl’s.

  ‘You’ve suffered an injustice, more than anyone else on the ship, I’m convinced of that.’ And Karl slipped his fingers back and forth between those of the stoker, whose eyes were shining and looking around as though feeling inexpressible bliss and at the same time daring anyone to take it away from him.

  ‘You must stand up for yourself, say yes and no, otherwise people will never learn the truth. I want you to promise me to do that, because I’m very much afraid that soon I won’t be able to help you any more.’ Karl was crying as he kissed the stoker’s cracked and almost lifeless hand, holding it and pressing it to his cheek, like some dear thing from which he had to be parted. His uncle the Senator appeared at his side, and, ever so gently, pulled him away. ‘The stoker seems to have put you under his spell,’ he said, and looked knowingly across to the captain over Karl’s head. ‘You felt abandoned, then you found the stoker, and you’re showing your gratitude to him, it’s all very laudable. But please for my sake don’t overdo it, and learn to come to terms with your position.’

  Outside the door, there was a commotion, shouting, and it even seemed as though someone was being viciously pushed against it. A rather wild-looking sailor came in, wearing a girl’s apron. ‘There’s people outside,’ he said, pumping his elbows as though still in the crowd. Finally he came to his senses, and was about to salute the captain, when he noticed his girl’s apron, tore it off, threw it on the ground, and said: ‘That’s disgusting, they’ve tied a girl’s apron on me.’ Then he clicked his heels together and saluted. Someone stifled a laugh, but the captain said sternly: ‘Enough of these high jinks. Who is it who’s outside?’ ‘They are my witnesses,’ said Schubal stepping forward, ‘I’d like to apologize for their behaviour. At the end of a long sea voyage, they sometimes get a little unruly.’ ‘Call them in right away,’ ordered the captain, and turning quickly to the Senator, he said kindly but briskly: ‘Would you be so kind now, my dear Senator, as to take your nephew and follow the sailor who will escort you to your boat? I can’t say what happiness and honour your personal acquaintance has brought me. I only wish I may have another opportunity soon of resuming our discussion of the American Navy, and then perhaps to be interrupted as pleasantly as we were today.’ ‘One nephew’s enough for me for the moment,’ said the uncle laughing. ‘And now please accept my thanks for your kindness, and farewell. It’s by no means out of the question that we’ – he pressed Karl affectionately to himself – ‘might spend a little longer in your company on the occasion of our next visit to Europe.’ ‘I should be delighted,’ said the captain. The two gentlemen shook hands, Karl took the captain’s hand quickly and silently because he was then distracted by about fifteen people who had come into the office, a little chastened but very noisily still, under Schubal’s leadership. The sailor asked the Senator to let him go first, and cleared a way for him and Karl, who passed quite easily through the crowd of bowing people. It seemed these cheerful souls thought the quarrel between Schubal and the stoker was a joke that even the captain was being permitted to share. Among them Karl spotted Line the kitchen maid, who winked merrily at him as she tied on the apron which the sailor had thrown down, because it was hers.

  With the sailor leading the way, they left the office and went out into a little passage, which after a few steps took them to a small door, after which a short flight of steps led them down to the boat which had been prepared for them. The sailors in the boat – into which their escort leapt with a single bound – rose to salute them. The Senator was just telling Karl to be careful as he climbed down, when Karl started sobbing violently on the top step. The Senator took Karl’s chin in his right hand, hugged him tight, and stroked him with his left hand. They went down together, one step at a time, and in a tight embrace got into the boat where the Senator found Karl a good seat directly facing him. At a signal from the Senator, the sailors pushed off from the ship, and straightaway were rowing hard. Barely a few metres from the ship, Karl discovered to his surprise that they were facing the side of the ship where the head office looked out. All three windows were occupied by Schubal’s witnesses, shouting goodbye and waving cheerfully, the uncle even waved back and one sailor managed to blow a kiss without interrupting the rhythm of his rowing. It really was as though there was no stoker. Karl examined his uncle a little more closely – their knees were almost touching – and he wondered whether this man would ever be able to replace the stoker for him. The uncle avoided his eye, and looked out at the waves, which were bobbing around the boat.

  * Reprinted from Franz Kafka, Amerika/The Man Who Disappeared, trans. Michael Hofmann (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1996).

  Metamorphosis

  I

  When Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from troubled dreams, he found himself changed into a monstrous cockroach in his bed. He lay on his tough, armoured back, and, raising his head a little, managed to see – sectioned off by little crescent-shaped ridges into segments – the expanse of his arched, brown belly, atop which the coverlet perched, forever on the point of slipping off entirely. His numerous legs, pathetically frail by contrast to the rest of him, waved feebly before his eyes.

  ‘What’s the matter with me?’ he thought. It was no dream. There, quietly between the four familiar walls, was his room, a normal human room, if always a little on the small side. Over the table, on which an array of cloth samples was spread out – Samsa was a travelling salesman – hung the picture he had only recently clipped from a magazine, and set in an attractive gilt frame. It was a picture of a lady in a fur hat and stole, sitting bolt upright, holding in the direction of the onlooker a heavy fur muff into which she had thrust the whole of her forearm.

  From there, Gregor’s gaze directed itself towards the window, and the drab weather outside – raindrops could be heard plinking against the tin window-ledges – made him quite melancholy. ‘What if I went back to sleep for a while, and forgot about all this nonsense?’ he thought, but that proved quite impossible, because he was accustomed to sleeping on his right side, and in his present state he was unable to find that position. However vigorously he flung himself to his right, he kept rocking on to his back. He must have tried it a hundred times, closing his eyes so as not to have to watch his wriggling legs, and only stopped when he felt a slight ache in his side which he didn’t recall having felt before.

  ‘Oh, my Lord!’ he thought. ‘If only I didn’t have to follow such an exhausting profession! On the road, day in, day out. The work is so much more strenuous than it would be in head office, and then there’s the additional ordeal of travelling, worries about train connections, the irregular, bad meals, new people all the time, no continuity, no affection. Devil take it!’ He felt a light itch at the top of his belly; slid a little closer to the bedpost, so as to be able to raise his head a little more effectively; found the itchy place, which was covered with a sprinkling of white dots the significance of which he was unable to interpret; assayed the place with one of his legs, but hurriedly withdrew it, because the touch caused him to shudder involuntarily.

  He slid back to his previous position. ‘All this getting up early,’ he thought, ‘is bound to take its effect. A man needs proper bed rest. There are some other travelling salesmen I could mention who live like harem women. Sometimes, for instance, when I return to the pension in the course of the morning, to make a note of that morning’s orders, some of those gents are just sitting down to breakfast. I’d like to see what happened if I tried that out with my director some time; it would be the order of the boot just like that. That said, it might be just the thing for me. If I didn’t have to exercise restraint for the sake of my parents, then I would have quit a long time ago; I would have gone up to the director and told him exactly what I thought of him. He would have fallen off his desk in surprise! That’s a peculiar way he has of sitting anyway, up on his desk, and talking down to his staff from on high, making them step up to him very close because he’s so hard of hearing. Well, I haven’t quite given up hope; once I’ve got the money together to pay back what my parents owe him – it may take me another five or six years – then I’ll do it, no question. Then we’ll have the parting of the ways. But for the time being. I’d better look sharp, because my train leaves at five.’

  And he looked across at the alarm clock, ticking away on the bedside table. ‘Great heavenly Father!’ he thought. It was half past six, and the clock hands were moving smoothly forward – in fact it was after half past, it was more like a quarter to seven. Had the alarm not gone off? He could see from the bed that it had been quite correctly set for four o’clock; it must have gone off. But how was it possible to sleep calmly through its ringing, which caused even the furniture to shake? Well, his sleep hadn’t exactly been calm, but maybe it had been all the more profound. What to do now? The next train left at seven; to catch it meant hurrying like a madman, and his samples weren’t yet packed, and he himself didn’t feel exactly agile or vigorous. And even if he caught that train, he would still get a carpeting from the director, because the office boy would be on the platform at five o’clock, and would certainly have reported long since that Gregor hadn’t been on the train. That boy was a real piece of work, so utterly beholden to the director, without any backbone or nous. Then what if he called in sick? That would be rather embarrassing and a little suspicious too, because in the course of the past five years, Gregor hadn’t once been ill. The director was bound to retaliate by calling in the company doctor, would upbraid the parents for their idle son, and refute all objections by referring to the doctor, for whom there were only perfectly healthy but workshy patients. And who could say he was wrong, in this instance anyway? Aside from a continuing feeling of sleepiness that was quite unreasonable after such a long sleep, Gregor felt perfectly well, and even felt the stirrings of a healthy appetite.

  As he was hurriedly thinking this, still no nearer to getting out of bed – the alarm clock was just striking a quarter to seven – there was a cautious knock on the door behind him. ‘Gregor,’ came the call – it was his mother ‘it’s a quarter to seven. Shouldn’t you ought to be gone by now?’ The mild voice. Gregor was dismayed when he heard his own in response. It was still without doubt his own voice from before, but with a little admixture of an irrepressible squeaking that left the words only briefly recognizable at the first instant of their sounding, only to set about them afterwards so destructively that one couldn’t be at all sure what one had heard. Gregor had wanted to offer a full explanation of everything but, in these circumstances, kept himself to: ‘All right, thank you, Mother, I’m getting up!’ The wooden door must have muted the change in Gregor’s voice, because his mother seemed content with his reply, and shuffled away. But the brief exchange had alerted other members of the family to the surprising fact that Gregor was still at home, and already there was his father, knocking on the door at the side of the room, feebly, but with his fist, ‘Gregor, Gregor?’ he shouted, ‘what’s the matter?’ And after a little while, he came again, in a lower octave: ‘Gregor! Gregor!’ On the door on the other side of the room, meanwhile, he heard his sister lamenting softly: ‘Oh, Gregor? Are you not well? Can I bring you anything?’ To both sides equally Gregor replied, ‘Just coming’, arid tried by careful enunciation and long pauses between the words to take any unusual quality from his voice. His father soon returned to his breakfast, but his sister whispered: ‘Gregor, please, will you open the door.’ Gregor entertained no thought of doing so; instead he gave silent thanks for the precaution, picked up on his travels, of locking every door at night, even at home.

 
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