Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A slight aura of something dubious and unpleasant

A thin, grey man with a bicycle was going on angrily about not being allowed through. He had finally got a new job, he said, and he had to be on time. Unpunctuality could mean bad trouble for him. And even if his employers did realize he couldn't help being late, they might still be angry with him. Life's nearly always like that: you put difficulties in a person's way, and a slight aura of something dubious and unpleasant still clings to him whether it is his fault or not. "Look, be reasonable, will you?" a fairly high-up SA man, drinking coffee from his flask, told the thin, grey cyclist. "Don't bleat on like that! Just be thankful to the Führer for his high ideals!"

"That's right," said the thin, grey man, "the Führer gets to have the ideals and we get to carry the can." His voice was trembling; you could tell his nerves were worn to a shred. The people who'd heard him were struck dumb with alarm, and the SA man went red in the face and could scarcely get his breath back. All at once the grey man looked utterly broken, extinguished. Three SA men led him away. He didn't put up a struggle.

His bicycle was lying on the ground. People stood around it in a circle, staring in nervous silence. It shone dully in the rain, and had a subversive look about it; nobody dared touch it. Then a fat woman made an angry face, flung her arm up in the air in the salute of the Führer, said, "Disgusting!" and kicked the bicycle. Several other women kicked it too. And then the cordon opened and let us through.

— from After Midnight, by Irmgard Keun.

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