Franz Kafka: The Diaries 1910-1923
Excerpt from Franz Kafka: Diaries 1910-1923
From the section called Memoirs of the Kalda Railway
Once a month, but always on a different day of the month, an inspector came to examine my record book, to collect the money I had taken in and – but not always—to pay me my salary. I was always warned of his arrival a day in advance by the people who had dropped him at the last station. They considered this warning the greatest favour they could do me in spite of the fact that I naturally always had everything in good order. Nor was the slightest effort needed for this. And the inspector too always came into the station with an air as if to say, this time I will unquestionably uncover the evidence of your mismanagement. He always opened the door of the hut with a push of his knee, giving me a look at the same time. Hardly had he opened my book when he found a mistake. It took me a long time to prove to him, by recomputing it before his eyes, that the mistake had been made not by me but by him. He was always very dissatisfied with the amount I had taken in, then clapped his hand on the book and gave me a sharp look again. “We’ll have to shut down the railway,” he would say each time. “It will come to that,” I usually replied.
After the inspection had been concluded, our relationship would change. I always had brandy ready and, whenever possible, some sort of delicacy. We drank to each other; he sang in a tolerable voice, but always the same two songs. One was sad and began: ‘Where are you going, O child in the forest?’ The other was gay and began like this: ‘Merry comrades, I am yours!’ It depended on the mood I was able to put him in, how large an installment I got on my salary. But it was only at the beginning of these entertainments that I watched him with any purpose in mind; later we were quite at one, cursed the company shamelessly, he whispered secret promises into my ear about the career he would help me to achieve, and finally we fell together on the bunk in an embrace that often lasted ten hours unbroken. The next morning, he went on his way, again my superior. I stood beside the train and saluted; often as not he turned to me while getting aboard and said, “Well, my little friend, we’ll meet again in a month. You know what you have at stake.”