One of Franz Kafka's shortest short stories, and one which touched me greatly the first time I read it, commuting 'home' to Cambridge, where I felt no sense of belonging. I was tired, feeling disposessed, homesick and pointless. Reading Kafka in this state of mind was probably ill-advised, but then again, that's probably why it struck a chord.


I stand on the end platform of the tram and am completely unsure of my footing in this world, in this town, in my family. Not even casually could I indicate any claims I might rightly advance in any direction. I have not even any defence to offer for standing on this platform, holding on to this strap, letting myself be carried along by this tram, nor for the people who give way to the tram or walk quietly along or stand gazing into shop windows. Nobody asks me to put up a defense, indeed, but that is not relevant.

The tram approaches a stopping place and a girl takes up her position near the step. She is as distinct to me as if I had run my hands over her. She is dressed in black, the pleats of her skirt hang almost still, her blouse is tight and has a collar of white fine-meshed lace, her left hand is braced flat against the side of the tram, the umbrella in her right hand rests against the second top step. Her face is brown, her nose, slightly pinched at the sides, has a broad round tip. She has a lot of brown hair, and stray little tendrils on the right temple. Her small ear is close-set, and since I am near her I can see the whole ridge of the whorl of her right ear and the shadow at the root of it.

At that point I asked myself: How is it that she is not amazed at herself, that she keeps her lips closed and makes no such remark?

Franz Kafka
translated by Willa and Edwin Muir.

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