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
“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.