2024/07/20 - 21:05


Brunelda’s Departure

One morning Karl pushed the wheelchair where Brunelda was sitting out of the gate. It wasn’t as early as he’d wanted anymore. With the journey begun in the night, they were now coming out into an alley to avoid any excitement, which would have been inevitable by day, no matter how modestly Brunelda wanted to cover herself in a large gray sheet. But the move down the stairs had taken too long, despite the willing assistance of the student, who, as it turned out, was much weaker than Karl. Brunelda held up very bravely, she barely sighed and tried by every means to lighten the work of their carrying. But it couldn’t happen any other way besides setting her down on every fifth step to allow themselves and her the necessary rest. It was a cool morning, a cold wind blew down the corridors as if in a cellar, but Karl and the student were covered in sweat and during the rest breaks had to take corners of Brunelda’s sheet, which she kindly offered to them, so they could dry their faces. So it happened, that they got downstairs after two hours, where a small wagon had stood there overnight. Lifting Brunelda into it took some work, because no matter how everything looked to be a success, since the pulling wouldn’t be difficult on account of the high wheels, there still remained the fear that the wagon would collapse underneath Brunelda. They had to accept that danger, they couldn’t travel with a spare wagon that the student had offered to push half-jokingly. Then came the farewell to the student, who was very cordial about it. All of the disagreements between Brunelda and the student seemed forgotten, he apologized for the old insults he had been guilty of during her sickness, but Brunelda said that everything had been forgotten a long time ago and had been more than made up for. Finally she asked the student if he might take a dollar from her in thanks and friendship, which she looked for laboriously in her many skirts. Because of Brunelda’s renowned stinginess, this gift was full of significance, the student really had great joy over it and threw the coins into the air for joy. Then he had to look for them on the ground and Karl had to help, finally Karl found them under Brunelda’s cart. The goodbye between the student and Karl was much simpler of course, they shook each other’s hands and assured each other that they would see one another again and that at least one of them – the student said it would be Karl, and Karl said the student – would receive some notoriety, which unfortunately was not the case at the moment. Then Karl grabbed the handle of the wagon with good courage and pushed it out the door. The student watched them for as long as he could see them and waved with a handkerchief. Karl nodded back in recognition, Brunelda would have also gladly turned around, but such a movement was too strenuous for her. In order to make a last goodbye possible, Karl turned the cart around in an intersection at the end of the street, so that Brunelda could also see the student, who used this opportunity to wave his handkerchief with a special eagerness.
But then Karl said that they weren’t allowed any more breaks, the way was long and they had gotten out much later than had been intended. You could already see carts here and there, and occasionally pedestrians, going to work. Karl didn’t want to say anything more with his remark than he had already said, but Brunelda with her manners understood this differently and covered herself completely with her gray sheet. Karl didn’t object; anyone with a cart covered in gray was very conspicuous, but would’ve been incomparably less conspicuous than an uncovered Brunelda. He pushed very carefully; before turning into a corner, he watched the next street, left the wagon standing if it seemed necessary, and took a few steps out alone, he looked out for awkward encounters, so he waited until they could avoid them or choose a way through a different street. Since had studied all possible routes, he wasn’t about to go significantly out of his way. Obstacles appeared here and there that they needed to be wary of but that hadn’t been foreseen in every detail. So it was that he stepped immediately into a street that rose gently and was very wide to look over and, happily, completely empty, an advantage which he thought to take advantage of in a particular hurry, when a policeman appeared out of the dark corner of a gate and asked Karl what he was carrying in the carefully covered wagon. But he was looking so sternly at Karl, that he had to laugh when he lifted the cover and found the flustered, nervous face of Brunelda. “How?” he said. “I thought you had ten potato sacks in here and now it’s just one woman? Where are you going then? Who are you?” Brunelda didn’t dare to look at the policeman, but only looked to Karl, doubting that even he would be able to save her. But Karl’d had enough experience with police already, it didn’t seem dangerous to him at all. “Please, Miss,” he said, “show him the document you received.” “Oh yes,” said Brunelda and began to look in so hopeless a manner that she must have appeared suspicious. “The lady,” the policeman said with unmistakable irony, “will not find the document.” “Oh, yes,” said Karl calmly, “she certainly has it, she has only mislaid it.” He now started looking himself and took it out from behind Brunelda’s back. The policeman looked at it fleetingly. “So that’s it,” said the policeman smiling. “So the woman here is that woman? And you, little one, worry about the arrangements and the transport? Couldn’t you have found a better job?” Karl merely shrugged his shoulders, this was all the well-known meddling of the police. “Well, have a good trip,” said the policeman when he didn’t get an answer. There was probably some contempt in the words of the policeman, but with that Karl continued without any further acknowledgment, the contempt of the police was better than their attention.
Shortly afterwards he had an even more awkward encounter, if that was possible. It was all done chiefly by a man who was pushing a wagon with large milk cans and who would have liked to learn to the last detail what was laying under the gray sheet on Karl’s wagon. It wasn’t possible that he was going the same way as Karl, but he stayed by his side no matter what surprising turns Karl made. First he contented himself with statements such as, “You must have a heavy load,” or, “You’ve piled everything on there terribly, something’s going to fall down from the top.” But later he asked precisely: “What do you have under that cover?” Karl said: “What does it matter to you?” But when the man became still more curious, Karl finally said: “It’s apples.” “So many apples,” said the man astonished and didn’t stop repeating that statement. “That’s an entire harvest,” he then said. “Well, yes,” said Karl. But if he didn’t believe Karl, then he would bother him, he kept coming back and started – for the entire trip – stretching his hand out to the sheet as a joke and daring in the end to pluck at the sheet. What Brunelda must have suffered! Out of consideration for her Karl didn’t let himself get into a fight with the man and went for the next open gate as if that were his destination. “Here I am, home,” he said. “Thanks for the company.” The man remained standing, astonished, in front of the gate and looked at Karl, who calmly went in, to cross the entire courtyard if he had to. The man couldn’t doubt any more, but just to satisfy his spite one last time, he left his wagon, ran behind Karl on tiptoe, and pulled so strongly at the sheet that it almost revealed Brunelda’s face. “So your apples will get some air,” he said and ran back. Karl tolerated that as well, since it finally freed him from the man. He pushed the cart into a corner of the courtyard where some large empty boxes were standing, so he could say some reassuring words to Brunelda under their protection. But he had to speak to her for a long time, because she was completely in tears and implored him in all seriousness to stay here behind the boxes for the entire day and start traveling again at night. Maybe he alone wouldn’t have been able to convince her how big a mistake that would’ve been, but when someone on the other end of the pile of boxes threw an empty box to the ground with a resounding echo in the enormous empty courtyard, she pulled the sheet over herself without risking another word and was probably overjoyed when Karl without any hesitation began traveling immediately.
The streets were now becoming lively, but the attention the wagon aroused wasn’t as great as Karl had feared. Maybe it would’ve been smarter to have picked a different time for the move. If such a trip should become necessary again, Karl wanted to try taking her out in the noonday hours. Without being bothered very much, he turned finally into the small dark street where Project Number 25 could be found. In front of the door, a squinting manager stood with a watch in his hand. “Are you usually so late?” he asked. “There were some difficulties,” said Karl. “There are always difficulties, everyone knows that,” said the manager. “But they do not apply in this building. Remember that!” Karl barely listened to such speeches anymore, everyone exploited his own strengths and abused his neighbors. Once you grow accustomed to it, it doesn’t sound any different than the regular chimes of the clock. But what scared him, as he pushed the wagon into the hallway, was the dirt that prevailed here, which, admittedly, he had expected. If you looked closer, there wasn’t any actual dirt. The tiles of the hallway were almost swept clean, the paintings on the walls weren’t old, the artificial palm trees were only a little dusty, and yet everything was slimy and repulsive, it was as if everything were terribly used and could never be cleaned enough to look good again. When he came in, Karl thought gladly about what could be improved here and what joy it would have been to immediately intervene here without any consideration for the probably endless work that would ensue. But he didn’t really know what there was to be done here. He slowly took the sheet off of Brunelda. “Welcome, Madame,” said the manager pretentiously, there wasn’t any doubt that Brunelda made a good impression on him. She noticed this quickly, she understood, while Karl watched with joy, that she had to take advantage of this right away. All the fear of the last few hours disappeared. She [or They] –

Karl saw on a street corner ...

Karl saw on a street corner a poster with the following inscription: “Today, at the racetrack in Clayton, from six o’clock in the morning until midnight, staff will be hired for the Theater in Oklahama! The great Theater of Oklahama calls you! It’s only calling today, only once! Whoever misses the chance now, misses it forever! Whoever thinks towards the future, listen to us! Everyone is welcome! Anyone who wants to be an artist, report! Our theater needs everyone, everyone in his place! Anyone who chooses us, we congratulate him right here! But hurry, all of you, because you’ll only be let in up to midnight! Everything will close at twelve and never open again! Damn those who don’t believe in us! On to Clayton!”
Actually, a lot of people stood in front of the poster, but it didn’t seem to find much approval. There were so many posters, no one believed the posters anymore. And this poster was more unbelievable than the others. But above all it had a large error, it made no mention of payment. If it were even a little worth talking about, the poster certainly would have given it; it wouldn’t have forgotten the most tempting thing. Nobody wanted to be an artist, but everyone wanted to be paid for his work.
But the poster had a great temptation for Karl. “Everyone was welcome,” it said. Everyone meant Karl too. Everything he had done up to now was forgotten, no one would criticize him for that. He would be able to sign up for a job, nothing shameful, to which he was openly invited! And just as openly, the promise was given that they’d take him in. He asked nothing more, he wanted at last to find the beginning of a decent career and maybe it would show itself here. It all might just be big talk on that poster, a lie, the great Theater of Oklahama might be a small wandering circus, it wanted to hire people, that was enough. Karl didn’t read the poster again, but only looked for the sentence one more time: “Everyone is welcome.”
At first he thought about walking to Clayton, but that would have been a tough three-hour march, and he might have had to put up with all that only to find out that all the available positions were taken. According to the poster, the number of people hired was limitless, but all the want ads were written like that. Karl saw that he had to do without the job or catch a ride. He counted out his money, it would have lasted eight days without this trip, he pushed the small coins here and there on the palm of his hand. A man who was watching him clapped him on the shoulder and said: “Good luck on your trip to Clayton.” Karl nodded silently and continued counting. But he soon decided, divided up the necessary money for the trip and ran to the subway.
When he got off in Clayton, he immediately heard the sound of many trumpets. It was a tangled noise, the trumpets weren’t coordinated with each other, they blared heedlessly. But that didn’t bother Karl, it confirmed to him all the more that the Theater of Oklahama was a large undertaking. But when he walked out of the station building and looked across the entire layout, he saw that everything was even larger than he had been able to imagine, and he didn’t understand how an undertaking solely for the purpose of getting workers could be so extravagant. In front of the entrance to the racetrack, a long, low stage was built, where a hundred women blowing on trumpets were dressed as angels in white sheets with large wings on their backs. But they weren’t directly on the stage, each one stood on a pedestal that couldn’t be seen because the long, fluttering sheets of the angel’s dresses wrapped them up completely. Since the pedestals were very high, up to two meters high, the figures of the women looked gigantic, it was just that their small heads spoiled their large appearance, and their loose hair hung almost laughably short in-between the large wings and down the sides. In addition, no uniformity was established, someone had bought pedestals of different sizes, there were some very low women, not much above life-size, but next to them other women were swinging so high you’d think they’d be in danger from the slightest puff of wind. And now all these women were playing.
There weren’t many listeners. Small when compared to the large figures, about ten youngsters walked in front of the stage here and there and looked up at the women. They pointed out this one or that one to each other, but they didn’t seem to want to walk in and get themselves hired. Only one older man could be seen, he stood a little to the side. He had also brought his wife with him and his child in a stroller. The wife held the stroller with one hand, with the other she leaned on her husband’s shoulder. They stared in wonder at the performance, but you knew they were disappointed. They had expected to find a job opportunity, these trumpet blasts upset them.
Karl was in the same situation. He walked up to the man, listened to the trumpets a little and said: “Is this where they hire for the Theater of Oklahama?” “I think so too,” said the man, “but we’ve been waiting here an hour and have heard nothing but trumpets. There aren’t any posters to be seen, no speakers anywhere, nobody who could us give any information.” Karl said: “Maybe they’re waiting for more people to gather. There are really very few people here.” “Maybe,” said the man and they continued being silent. It was difficult to understand anything in the noise of the trumpets. But then the woman whispered something to her husband, he nodded and she yelled to Karl: “Could you go over to the racetrack and ask where the hiring takes place?” “Yeah,” said Karl, “but I have to go over the stage, in-between the angels.” “Is that so hard?” asked the wife. To her, the way seemed easy for Karl, but she didn’t want to ship her husband off. “Well then,” Karl said. “I’ll go.” “You’re very helpful,” said the woman and she and her husband shook Karl’s hand. The youngsters came together to get a closer look at how Karl was climbing onto the stage. It was as if the women blew more strongly to greet the first applicant. But those on the pedestals he was walking by took the trumpets out of their mouths and bent over to watch him on his way. Karl saw a restless man walking on the other end of the stage, who was only waiting for the people so he could tell them all the information they could wish for. Karl wanted to go up to him when he heard his name being called from above: “Karl,” yelled an angel. Karl looked up and started laughing at the happy surprise; it was Fanny. “Fanny,” he yelled and waved at her with his hand. “Come over here,” Fanny yelled. “You shouldn’t pass me by.” And she pushed her skirt to the side to reveal a small staircase leading up to the pedestal. “Am I allowed to go up?” asked Karl. “Who would keep us from shaking hands?” yelled Fanny and looked anxiously around for someone to come with a refusal. But Karl was already running up the steps. “Slowly,” Fanny yelled. “The column will fall with us on it.” But it didn’t happen, Karl luckily came up to the last step. “Just look,” said Fanny after they’d said hello, “just look what kind of work I’ve gotten.” “It’s very good,” said Karl and looked around. All the women nearby had already noticed Karl and were giggling. “You’re almost the highest,” said Karl and stretched out his hand to measure the heights of the others. “I saw you right away,” said Fanny, “when you came into the station, but unfortunately I’m here in the last row, no one sees me and I can’t yell out. I even played especially loudly, but you didn’t recognize me.” “You all play terribly,” said Karl. “Let me play once.” “But of course,” said Fanny and gave him the trumpet, “but don’t bother the choir, otherwise they’ll fire me.” Karl started playing, he had thought the trumpet would be poorly made, maybe good for noise making, but now it seemed to be an instrument that could almost carry out every nuance. If all these instruments were of the same quality, a great crime was being carried out on them. Karl played with all his lungs, without disturbing the others with the noise, a song that he had head somewhere in a bar. He was happy to have met an old friend here, to be privileged to play the trumpet in front of everyone, and to maybe be able to receive a good job. Many women heard the playing and listened; when he suddenly broke off, barely half the trumpets were being used, the full noise came back only gradually. “You are an artist,” said Fanny when Karl gave her the trumpet back. “Get yourself hired as a trumpeter.” “Will men be hired too?” asked Karl. “Yes,” said Fanny, “we play for twenty hours. Then we’re relieved by men dressed as devils. One half plays, one half drums. It’s very beautiful how valuable all the instruments are. Aren’t our clothes beautiful too? And the wings?” She looked down at herself. “Do you think,” asked Karl, “that I could get a job as well?” “Absolutely certainly,” said Fanny. “It’s the largest theater in the world. It’s so convenient that we’ll be together again. In general it depends on the kind of job you get. It would really be possible, even if we’re both hired here, that we wouldn’t be able to see each other at all.” “Is everything that large then?” asked Karl. “It’s the largest theater in the world,” Fanny repeated. “I haven’t seen all of it myself, but many of my colleagues who have already been in Oklahama say that it’s almost endless.” “But few people volunteered,” said Karl and pointed down to the children and the small family. “That is true,” said Fanny, “but consider that we hire people from all the states, that our recruitment group is always traveling and that there are still very many groups.” “Isn’t the theater opened yet?” asked Karl. “Oh, yes,” said Fanny, “it’s an old theater, but it’s always growing.” “I’m amazed,” said Karl, “that more people don’t crowd around.” “Yes,” said Fanny, “that is strange.” “Maybe,” said Karl, “all these extravagant angels and devils are scaring more away than they attract.” “How could you figure that out,” said Fanny. “But it’s possible. Tell our leader, maybe you can be useful to him.” “Where is he?” asked Karl. “In the racetrack,” said Fanny. “At the judges’ table.” “That also surprises me,” said Karl. “Why is this hiring taking place on a racetrack?” “Yeah,” said Fanny, “we make the largest accommodations for the greatest crowds. There’s lots of room on a racetrack. And wherever the bets are usually taken, the hiring offices are set up. There should be about two hundred different booths.” “But,” yelled Karl, “does the Theater of Oklahama have so large an income to be able to maintain such recruitment groups?” “What worry is that to us?” said Fanny. “But go Karl, now, so you don’t miss anything, I have to keep on playing. Try whenever you can to get a job with this group and come right away to tell me. Remember, I’m waiting very impatiently for the news.” She squeezed his hand, scolded him to be careful climbing down, put the trumpet back on her lips, but didn’t start playing before she saw Karl safely down on the ground. Karl laid the sheet over the steps, as it had been before, Fanny thanked him by nodding her head, and Karl, thinking over what he had heard in various ways, walked up to the man who had already seen Karl up with Fanny and had gotten closer to the pedestal to wait for him.
“Would you like to join with us?” asked the man. “I’m the chief of personnel for this group and welcome you.” He was constantly fidgeting, a little bent over, as if out of hospitality, but he didn’t move from the spot and played with his watch chain. “Thank you,” said Karl. “I read the poster for your business and am reporting here like it said.” “Very correct,” said the man appreciatively. “Unfortunately, not everyone behaves so correctly here.” Karl thought that he might now be able to let the man know that the allure of the recruitment drive might be failing because of its magnificence. But he didn’t say it, because this man was not at all the leader of the group and it would have been ill advised to make suggestions for improvement when he hadn’t been hired yet. So he only said: “Someone’s waiting outside still, who wants to report too and just sent me out. Can I get him now?” “Of course,” said the man, “the more that come, the better.” “He has a wife with him and a small child in a stroller. Should they come too?” “Of course,” said the man, seeming to smile over Karl’s doubts. “We can use everyone.” “I’ll be right back,” said Karl and ran back to the edge of the stage. He waved to the married couple and shouted that everyone was allowed to come. The children stared, gathered together, then slowly climbed, hesitating until the last moment, their hands in their pockets as they got on the platform and finally followed Karl and the family. Even new passengers came out of the station from the subway, who within view of the stage lifted their hands in astonishment at the angels. It seemed now that applying for jobs should become lively now. Karl was very happy to come so early, maybe as the first one here, the married couple was nervous and asked various questions about whether or not great demands would be asked. Karl said that he didn’t know anything for certain, but he really had the impression that anyone would be taken without exception. He believed they could be calm.
The chief of personnel came up to them, he was very satisfied that so many came, he rubbed his hands, greeted everyone with a small bow and put them into a row. Karl was the first, then came the married couple and then all the others. When they had all lined up, the children bunched together and it took awhile before they were quiet, as the trumpets fell quiet the chief said: “I welcome you in the name of the Theater of Oklahama. You came early (it was already almost midday) the crowd isn’t large yet, the formalities of your hiring will be easier because of this. You have, of course, your identification with you.” The children immediately took some papers out of their pockets and waved them at the chief of personnel, the husband nudged his wife, who took out from under the hood of the stroller an entire bundle of papers, Karl actually had none. Would that get in the way of his being hired? It wasn’t impossible. Karl knew from experience, that those who are a little stubborn with these regulations can get around them easily. The chief of personnel glanced over the row to make sure that everyone had papers, and since Karl lifted up his hand, even though it was empty, he went right by him as if everything were in order. “It’s good,” said the chief of personnel and looked at the children, who wanted their papers to be looked at right away. “The papers will be checked in the hiring office by the hiring official. As you saw on our poster, we could use everyone. However, we must know, of course, what kind of career a person has practiced up to now, so we can put him in the right spot to utilize his knowledge.” “But it’s a theater,” thought Karl doubtfully and listened very carefully. “Therefore,” continued the chief of personnel, “we’ve set up a hiring office in the betting area, a booth for each career group. Everyone will now give me his career, the families generally belong to the husband’s booth, I will then lead you to the booth, where first your papers and then your expertise will be tested – it will only be a very short test, no one has to be afraid of it. There you’ll be hired right away and receive further instructions. And so we begin. Here, the first booth already says it’s intended for engineers. Is there an engineer among you?” Karl raised his hand. He believed that because he didn’t have any papers, he would have to try to run through all the formalities as quickly as possible, he also had the small justification that he had always wanted to be an engineer. But when the children saw that Karl raised his hand, they became jealous and raised their hands too, all of them. The chief of personnel stretched up tall and said to the children: “Are you engineers?” Then they all slowly sunk their hands, Karl in contrast stuck with his first statement. The chief of personnel looked at him in disbelief, because Karl seemed to be dressed miserably and was also too young to be an engineer, but he didn’t say a thing, maybe out of gratefulness, because Karl, at least in his opinion, had led all the applicants to him. He pointed to the booth in meager invitation, and Karl walked in while the chief of personnel turned to the others.
In the engineer booth two men sat on two sides of a right-angled desk and compared two large lists lying before them. One read out loud, the other checked off on a list the names being read out loud. When he stepped up to them to say hello, they put the list down immediately and picked up a different, larger book that they opened up. One of them, apparently just a secretary, said: “I’ll ask for your identification.” “Unfortunately, I don’t have them with me,” said Karl. “He doesn’t have them with him,” the secretary said to the other man and immediately wrote the answer in his book. “You’re an engineer?” asked the other, who seemed to be the office director. “Not yet,” Karl said quickly, “but –” “Enough,” continued the gentleman. “You don’t belong to us. I’ll ask you to read the inscription.” Karl clenched his teeth, the man must have noticed, because he said: “It’s no reason to worry. We can use everyone.” And he waved to a servant, who walked around unhurried between the barriers. “Take this gentleman to the office for people with technical experience.” The servant took the order literally, taking Karl by the hand. They went between many booths, in one Karl already saw one of the kids being prepared to be hired, and a man shook his hand thankfully. In the booth where Karl was now brought, as Karl had foreseen, there was a process similar to that in the first booth. When they heard he had been to high school, they shipped him away from there to an office for those who had been to high school. But when Karl said he had been to a European high school, they said this wasn't right and had him taken to the booth for those who had been to European high school. It was a booth at the furthest edge, not only smaller but also lower than all the others. The servant who had brought him here was furious over the long trip and the many rejections, for which, in his opinion, Karl was alone to blame. He didn’t wait for any more questions, but left immediately. This booth was also the last refuge. When Karl looked at the booth director, he was frightened at the similarity he had to a professor who was probably still teaching at his secondary school at home. The similarity wasn’t only general, but stood out in details, the glasses resting on the broad nose, the full, blonde beard maintained like a showpiece, the gently sloping back and the always unexpectedly loud voice held Karl astonished for some time. Luckily, he didn’t have to be very careful, because it all went more simply here than in the other office. It was here written down that his identification was missing and the booth director called it an incomprehensible carelessness, but the secretary, who had the upper hand here, quickly ignored that and, as the director asked some short questions that were leading up to a large question, he explained that Karl was hired. The director turned with open mouth to the secretary, but he made a concluding hand gesture, declaring, “Hired,” and carried the decision to the book right away. The secretary was openly of the opinion that to come from a European high school was something so low that it could be believed of anyone who claimed it without anything further. Karl, for his part, had nothing to object to, he walked up to him and wanted to thank him. But there was still a small delay when they asked him his name. He didn’t answer right away, he was afraid to give his real name and have it written down. Once he got the smallest position and completed it to satisfaction, then they might learn his name, but not now, he was keeping quiet for too long when he should have told them something. So, since no other name occurred to him at the time, he only gave his nickname from one of his last jobs: “Negro.” “Negro?” asked the director, turning his head and grimacing as if with this Karl had now reached the high point of implausibility. And the secretary looked at Karl a while to test him, but then he repeated “Negro” and wrote the name down. “You didn’t write down ‘Negro,’” continued the director. “Yes, Negro,” the secretary said calmly, making a hand gesture as if he were leading the director somewhere else. The director collected himself, stood up and said: “And so, you, by the Theater of Oklahama, are –”. But he didn’t go any further, he couldn’t go against his conscience, he sat down and said: “His name is not Negro.” The secretary raised his eyebrows, stood up himself and said: “Then I’ll tell you, that you, by the Theater of Oklahama, are hired and that someone will now introduce you to our leader.” A servant was called again, who led Karl to the judges’ table.
At the bottom of the steps Karl saw the stroller and just then the married couple came down, the wife with the child on her arm. “Are you hired?” asked the husband, he was much livelier than before, and the woman watched him smiling over her shoulder. When Karl answered that he had just been hired and was going to his position, the husband said: “Then I congratulate you. We’ve also been hired, it seemed like a good enterprise, you can’t really turn anything up anywhere, but it’s like that everywhere.” They said goodbye and Karl stepped up to the table. He went slowly, because the small room above him seemed to be overflowing with people and he didn’t want to force himself in. He remained standing and looked across the large racetrack that reached on every side into the distant forests. He suddenly wanted to see a horserace, he hadn’t yet had an opportunity for that in America. In Europe he had once been taken along to a race, but could remember nothing other than not wanting to be torn away from his mother in the middle of all the people he was being pulled through. He had actually not seen a race yet. Behind him, machinery started rattling, and he looked at an apparatus, which displayed the names of the winners for the race and now showed the following inscription up high: “Kaufmann, Kalla with wife and child.” So here was where they announced the names of the hired from the booths.
Just then some men ran down the steps, talking excitedly to each other, pens and notebooks in hand, Karl pushed against the railing to let them by and climbed up, since there was now an open space up there. At a corner of the wooden-railed platform – it looked just like the flat deck of a narrow tower – a gentleman was sitting, his arms stretched along the wooden railing, with a broad white band across his chest that read: Leader of the Tenth Recruitment Group of the Theater of Okalahama. Next to him, on a small table, stood a telephone device used during the race, from which the leader learned all the important information about the recruitment for individual positions, and so he asked no questions to Karl, but instead said to a man, who leaned next to him with crossed legs, his hand on his chin: “Negro, a European high schooler.” And as if everything were settled with the deeply bowing Karl, he looked down the steps to see if anyone was coming. But when no one came, he listened a little to the conversation the other man was having with Karl, but mostly he looked back over the racetrack and tapped his fingers on the railing. These delicate, yet strong, long and quickly moving fingers attracted Karl’s attention in the meantime, even though the other man had taken up enough of it.
“You’ve been unemployed?” the man said first. This question, almost as much as all of the questions, was very simple, not awkward at all, and none of the answers were verified in-between questions, but despite that, from the way he spoke with wide open eyes, the way he observed the effect with a bent torso, the way he accepted the answers with his head sunk to his chest and spoke loudly here and there, he gave an especial importance to things that he never really told you, but which made you careful and self-conscious. It happened often, that Karl dragged out an answer so he could repeat it in a different way to find more approval, but he always held back, because he knew what a terrible impression such wavering would make and how the effect of these answers was for the most part indecipherable. In general, however, his hiring seemed to have already been decided, this knowledge gave him support.
He answered the question if he was unemployed with a simple, “Yes.” “Where were you last employed?” the man asked then. Karl wanted to answer, when the man lifted his index finger and said again: “Last!” Karl had understood the last question correctly, he instinctively shook his head at the off-putting last remark and answered: “In an office.” It was the truth, but if the man were to demand more detailed information about the type of office, he would have to lie. But the man didn’t do that, he just easily accepted the answer as completely true: “Were you happy there?” “No,” Karl yelled, almost interrupting the sentence. With a side glance Karl noticed that the leader smiled a little, Karl regretted how he didn’t think out his last answer, but it had been too tempting to shout out no, because at his last job he had only had the great wish for some strange employer to walk up to him and ask that question. But his answer brought out another disadvantage, because the man could now ask why he wasn’t satisfied. Instead he asked the following: “What kind of position do you feel suitable for?” This question might have been a trap, because no matter what they would ask, Karl was already hired as an actor; but even though he recognized that, he couldn’t force himself to say that he felt especially suited to be an actor. He went around the question and said, out of fear of appearing defiant: “I read on the poster and there it was, you can use everybody, I reported.” “We know that,” the man said, remaining silent and showing that he was persisting in the previous question. “I am hired as an actor,” said Karl hesitantly, to make understandable to him the difficulty the last question had put him in. “That is correct,” the man said and fell silent again. “Now,” said Karl, and all his hope of finding a job came into jeopardy, “I don’t know if I’m suited to theater work. But I want to strain myself and try to carry out every task.” The man turned to the manager, both nodded, Karl seemed to have answered correctly, he maintained his courage and waited for the next question. It came: “What did you originally want to study?” In order to make the question clear enough – the man relied very much on being clear enough – he added: “In Europe, I mean.” Then he took his hand from his chin and made a weak gesture, as if with that he wanted simultaneously to make clear how far away Europe was and how meaningless those dreamed-up plans actually were. Karl said: “I wanted to become an engineer.” He was reluctant to answer, it was ridiculous to revive the old memory again in full knowledge of his American career up to now – would he have even become one in Europe? – but he knew no other answer at the moment and so he said that. But the man took it seriously, as he took everything seriously. “Now, an engineer,” he said, “you couldn’t become one right away, maybe it would agree with you to carry out some lower technical work for the time being.” “Certainly,” said Karl, he was overjoyed, if he took the offer he would be pushed off the actor’s stage into technical work, but he believed he’d actually be able to better prove himself with this work. He repeated again and again, that it didn’t depend on the kind of work so much as how well someone stuck to it. “Are you strong enough for difficult work?” the man asked. “Oh, yes,” Karl said. Here the man allowed himself to get closer to Karl and feel his arm. “He’s a strong lad,” he then said, showing Karl’s arm to the leader. The leader nodded, smiling, and gestured to Karl from his quiet rigidity and said: “And so we are finished. In Oklahama, everything will be put to the test. Make our recruitment group proud!” Karl bowed in goodbye, he wanted to thank the other man, but he was already walking back and forth on the platform, his face turned upwards, as if he were completely done with him. As Karl climbed down the steps, the inscription showed up high on the race board: “Negro, technical worker.” Since everything had gone in such an orderly way, Karl really wouldn’t have been bothered that much if his real name had been read on the board. It was all arranged carefully, because at the foot of the steps a servant waited for Karl and tied a band on his arm. When Karl lifted his arm to see what was on the band, there was the completely correct printout: “Technical work.”
However, now that Karl might be traveling, he first wanted to report to Fanny how luckily everything had fallen into place. But to his regret he learned from the servant that the angels and the devils were already preparing to travel to the next destination of the recruitment group. “A shame,” Karl said, it was the first disappointment he experienced in this enterprise. “I had a friend among the angels.” “You’ll see her again in Oklahama,” the servant said, “but come now, you’re the last.” He led Karl to the low part of the stage where the angels had earlier been standing, now there were only empty pedestals. Karl’s assumption, though, that more job-seekers would come without the music of the angels proved incorrect, because there weren’t any more adults in front of the stage, only a few children fought over a long white feather that had probably fallen out of an angel’s wings. A youth held it up high, while the other children tried to pull his head down with one hand and reached for the feather with the other.
Karl pointed at the children, but the servant said without looking: “Come more quickly, it took a long time before you were hired. Did they have doubts?” “I don’t know,” said Karl amazed, but he didn’t believe it. Always, even in the most transparent relationships, there was always someone who wanted to trouble his fellow men. But with the welcoming sight of the stadium bleachers they now came to, Karl almost forgot the servant’s remark. On these bleachers, one of the very long benches was covered with a white sheet, all the newly hired people sat with their backs to the racetrack on a lower bench and were being served. Everyone was happy and excited, just as Karl was sitting unnoticed as the last one on the bench, many stood up with raised glasses and someone raised a toast to the leader of the tenth recruitment group, whom he called “Father of the Job-Seekers.” Everyone noticed that you could see him from here, and actually the judges’ table and the two men weren’t too far out of sight. Now everyone raised their glasses high, and so Karl grabbed the glass sitting in front of him, but no matter how much they yelled or tried to get themselves noticed, nothing happened at the judges’ table to suggest that anyone noticed the praise or wanted to notice. The leader leaned in the corner like before and the other man stood next to him, his hand on his chin.
A little disappointed, they sat down again, now and then turning again to the judges’ table, but soon they were busying themselves only with the extravagant meal, large poultry such as Karl had never seen was passed around, with many forks in the crisp, roasted flesh, wine was constantly being handed out by the servants – you barely noticed it, you were bent over your plate, and into the glass fell the stream of red wine – and anyone who didn’t want to take part in the festivities could inspect the pictures of scenes of the Theater of Oklahama that were stacked up at the end of the table and were going from hand to hand. Still, no one concerned himself very much with the pictures, and the same happened with Karl, who, being last, only came upon one of the pictures. Judging by this picture, however, they were all worth a look. The picture contained the box for the President of the United States. At first glance you might think it wasn’t a box but the stage, the curved balcony rose so far into free space. This balcony was made entirely of gold in every part. In-between little columns, which seemed cut out with the most delicate scissors, portraits of former presidents were displayed, one had a conspicuously straight nose, raised lips and sinking eyes underneath protruding eyelids. All around the box, from the sides and above, came streams of light; a white and mild light ceremoniously revealed the foreground of the box, while its nooks, containing hanging red velvet bordered with cords, looked like a dark, red, shimmering emptiness. Everything looked so imposing you could barely imagine people in this box. Karl didn’t forget the meal, but looked often at the illustration which he laid next to his plate.
In the end he would have liked very much to have seen at least one more of the pictures, but he never would have been able to catch one, because a servant had his hand on the pictures and order had to be maintaineo, he kept trying just to glance over the table and figure out if a picture was coming nearer. Then he noticed, astonished – at first he didn’t believe it at all – the bent-over face of a good acquaintance on the other end of the table – Giacomo. “Giacomo,” he cried. Shy as always when he was surprised, he picked himself up from the meal, stepped into the small area between benches, wiped his mouth with his hand, but was then very happy to see Karl and asked him to sit next to him or to let him come to Karl’s spot, they wanted to explain everything to each other and constantly stay next to each other. Karl didn’t want to disturb the others, so the both of them had to keep to their spots, the meal would be at an end soon and then of course they’d stick by one another. But Karl still remained by Giacomo, just to look at him. What memories of days gone by! Where was the head cook? What was Therese doing? Giacomo himself had almost not changed his appearance at all, the prediction of the head cook that in half a year he would become a sturdy American had not come true, he was delicate like before, his cheeks sunken-in as before, generally they were rounded, because he had in his mouth an oversized piece of meat, out of which he was slowly taking overflowing bones so he could throw them onto the plate. As Karl could read on the armband, Giacomo was also not hired as an actor but as an elevator boy, the Theater of Oklahama seemed to be able to use everyone.
Lost in the moment with Giacomo, Karl stayed away too long from his spot, he was just now going back when the chief of personnel came, stood on a higher bench, clapped his hands and made a small speech, while mostly everyone stood up and those still sitting, unable to separate themselves from the meal, were finally forced into standing by jabs from the others. “I hope,” he said, Karl was in the meantime running up to him, “that you were satisfied with our reception dinner. Generally, people praise the meals of our recruitment group. Unfortunately, I must be prepared to end the feast, because the train that should bring you to Oklahama leaves in five minutes. It is really a long trip, but you’ll see that you are being cared for well. Here I introduce you to the man who will guide your way and to whom you owe your obedience.” A small, thin man climbed onto the bench where the chief of personnel stood, barely took the time to make a fleeting bow, but immediately began with nervous, outstretched hands to show everyone how to gather, get in order and get set. But no one followed him, because someone in the company who had made a speech before slammed his hand on the table and began a long speech in thanks, although – Karl was becoming very impatient – it was just then being said that the train would be leaving soon. The speaker didn’t care that the chief of personnel wasn’t listening, but instead gave various compliments to the transport leaders, he spoke loudly, counted all the dishes being picked up, gave his judgment to each and ended in summary with the statement: “Honored gentlemen, this is how you win us over.” Everyone except for those being spoken to laughed at the statement, but it was more truth than jest.
This speech had to be made up for, because now the way to the train had to be made at a running pace. That wasn’t very difficult, though, because – Karl first noticed it now – nobody carried a piece of luggage – the only luggage was actually the stroller, which bounced up and down unstably at the head of the pack as the father pushed it along. What kind of homeless, dubious people were coming together here, and were being received so well and being protected! And the transport leader had to be heavily involved. First he grabbed the handlebar of the stroller and spurred on the others to cheer on the group, then he was behind the last row, which he urged on, then he ran along the side, spotted some people in the middle with his eyes and tried to show them with swinging arms that they should be running.
When they came to the train station, the train stood ready. The people at the train station pointed one another to the group, you heard statements like “All these belong to the Theater of Oklahama,” the Theater seemed to be well-known, he had never really concerned himself with the theater. An entire car must have been for the group, the transport leader urged people on more than the conductor. First he looked into every compartment, ordered some people around here and there and then climbed on himself. Karl, by chance, had gotten a window seat and Giacomo pulled in next to him. So they sat squeezed up against one another, both of them overjoyed about the trip, they had yet to take such a worry-free trip in America. When the train began to move they waved their hands out the window as the children pushed up against them and found it all funny.

They traveled two days ...

They traveled two days and two nights. For the first time now Karl understood the largeness of America. He looked tirelessly out the window and Giacomo strained to look until the children opposite him, who busied themselves with card games, became tired of it and willingly gave him the window seat. Karl thanked them – Giacomo’s English wasn’t understandable to them – and they became very friendly over the course of time, as always happens between roommates, but their friendship was often troublesome, because, for example, when a card fell on the floor and they all looked for it, they pinched Karl’s or Giacomo’s legs. Giacomo cried out, always surprised, and picked up his leg, Karl tried to answer sometimes with a kick, but he tolerated everything quietly. But everything in the room, which was filled with smoke in spite of the open window, was insignificant compared to what there was to see outside.
On the first day they traveled through mountains. Blue-black stone masses traveled in sharp outcroppings by the train, they bent out the window and tried in vain to see their summits, dark narrow valleys opened up, they pointed to the places where they disappeared with their fingers, broad mountain streams hurried up in great swells along the hilly ground, from which a thousand small foaming wells drove up, they burst out under the bridges the train traveled over and they were so close that the breath of their coolness made everyone’s face shiver.

Revision: 2021/01/09 - 23:40 - © Mauro Nervi

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