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?
translated by Willa and Edwin Muir.