Man on the Moor (English)

Translated by Laura Theis & Lucy Duggan


I told him: “She reminded me of something,” I said, but I did not say what. However,

the headmaster, who was sitting opposite me on a swivel chair behind his massive

wooden desk, fixing me with his quick eyes behind rimless glasses, eyes that were lying

in wait for something which I did not want to divulge, the headmaster did not get tired

of asking me to speak. Speak, he ordered, in an almost pleading tone. But I – I did not

speak. I was silent for a while, a while which seemed long to the headmaster; I know

this because in the meantime he nervously started to tap his feet, only gently, but I could

hear the soles of his black shoes softly beating on the grey carpet. The tired carpet heard

the tapping of the hard patent leather shoes like Morse code in the middle of the night, I

– am – the -Head- mas – ter, it heard and passed the message on to me like a Chinese

whisper. I – am – the -Head- mas – ter whispered the carpet and immediately sank back

into its grey fatigue. A dense silence grew inside the room, grew big, big and even

bigger, until it covered the entire space under its pesky dust sheet. The Headmaster

coughed once, out of embarrassment, and then he emitted a theatrical sigh; this created

a little eddy of dust on the desk, but really, that was all.

By the way, there is a picture hanging in the Headmaster’s office, it hangs right

behind his head, but sometimes I can sneak a look at it, for example if the Headmaster

rolls towards the side a bit. The picture has a title, Man on the Moor is its name,

although I am unable to make out either a man or a moor even if I look at it very

carefully, but that doesn’t matter. Most of the time I don’t look carefully anyway, it’s

more that it is just there, hanging there, which is nice. I am exceptionally fond of the

painting, the more I come here, the more I like it. “It seems to me,” the headmaster said

all of a sudden, “that you do not want to speak,” he said and crossed his legs and

adjusted his glasses on his nose, which had become damp from the warm lamp light,

which in its solitude sent its large beam down onto our heads and curiously inspected

the swirling shreds of dust.

I looked up straight into the light and squinted. Up there, the lamp was a strange

white being, a tropical flower, an orchid that had grown from a barren stem and thirstily

bowed its head towards us.

My tongue had become furry, the words clung to it: Mrs Rautenstengel (I did not

invent the name) has a beak where other people have a mouth. Her eyes stare dully into

another world and when she speaks, I can only see her Adam’s apple…it moves up and

down, but I hear nothing. Instead of opening up to the music, my ears close against her

iron determination to explain it, which resounds from her voice as if from loudspeakers

and coldly creates its own bars. Instead of letting the music speak for itself or instead of

telling us about the music, she wants to explain the rules of the musical arts in the midst

of her own clucking, her incessant panicked clucking.

Anyone who does not pretend to listen skillfully enough is punished: the beak closes

and pecks around the room with a vengeance. It gobbles up all the children’s ears that

have fallen to the ground in one gulp and lets them slide down her throat, gurgling. Red

drips from the holes that once used to be ears. Those who still can, begin to listen to the

sounds deep down in their excited children’s bodies. They hear their own blood

whooshing, a chorus of throbbing children’s hearts, which in turn heats up the whole

class. The heated class, wanting to give up its helplessness, and willing to defy the

ongoing injustice, to rebel against it.

“You can tell me in confidence,” the headmaster spoke into my thoughts, “what was

it that possessed you just now, I too was young once,” he claimed, squinting through his

glasses. At this, his nostrils flared into gigantic caves, out of which at any given

moment a knight and his corresponding dragon might come riding and flying.

The hairs on my head rose up like a thousand tournament flags and on the inside,

noisy trumpets declared battle with a fanfare. Finally, it burst out of me, red-hot. With

glowing words I announced the reason why I had thrown the blackboard eraser at Mrs

Rautenstengel (I, who after all had never dreamt of throwing an eraser at any living

soul) :

“SHE REMINDED ME OF A CHICKEN,” the words erupted from me, “her whole

being just cries out to be a chicken. That is the truth,” I heard myself say, and then ask if

I might be excused.