My version of Kafka's Metamorphosis...
[Author's Note: This was a writing exercise for my class about four years ago, I believe I was 15 then(not a time in my life when I was at my best as a writer...). We had to write a short story based on a theme of Kafka's Metamorphosis. As I could not easily identify with him and his works, I decided to just write my own work as a sort of answer to his work -- a dialogue if you will. I never actually completed the assignment as I intended so excuse the lack of substantive material in places. Otherwise enjoy!]
“Alas!”, cried the broad built, chiseled faced man. “Deia, say it isn’t so! Has Anaj really been imprisoned?”
“He has! He has! Oh, he has indeed been vaulted. I cannot bear this grief. How could the Senetrix be so cruel to an ailing man?” cried the fragile woman all the while looking more frail and small with the torrents of tears.
“You say he is ill?” said the man.
“Oh, what is the point talking about his health, now that he is dying. My brother has never done harm to anyone. You know that he hasn’t, right?!” Said Deia
“He has never harmed anyone, that is true, but what troubles me is that you say he is ill. You know the Ophidemns are meticulous as they are ruthless about health standards. How could those doctors not notice any preliminary symptoms before the malady appeared full blown?”
“It wasn’t any physical illness. He has gone raving mad - lost himself in frenzy. He nearly tore himself apart. The Sestrape arrested Anaj because they “deemed his illness a danger and a health hazard.”
“Well, this is strange, eh. Regardless, my good lady, I shall go to the citadel and pry about to see if I can get your brother free.”
“No! No, please do not cause my family any more grief. My parents are terrified of Anaj’s recent episode. I myself don’t mind if he is being held - my only desire that he may be able to find safety and peace. If you could just do that, then my family will be indebted to you.”
“Very well then, I will do what I can,” he turned his back to her as he left for the door. As he walked upon the paved road, he called back to Deia, “ I will come back in the evening and tell you what I will have learned. Oh, and give my salutations to your parents when they return.” Deia responded with animated but unheard words and waved goodbye.
Now the air was vibrant with the colors of sunlight and a bustling metropolis. Axes were chewing through debris from the last raging storm, plows were tilling the fields, and picks were heard chiseling the stones and gems recently unearthed from the mines in the far distant mountains. Besides the noise of craft, children were hard at work on their studies and play. The caretakers escorting the throngs of children from one of their varied task to another were exhaustless and dedicated to their profession. Indeed, all was clean; all was orderly in this city. It certainly was a gift from the heavens – at least it seemed to be. While on his mission, the man enjoyed the percussion of melodious sounds and sights that functioned like an orchestra. It warmed his soul and made itself all the more intoxicating by its infectious nature. Everyone enjoyed the rhythm; the synchrony of life was after all the city’s name.
“Taukm! Taukm! Wait, wait right there!” The broad shouldered man wondered who was calling his name. Who would dare disrupt the harmony of life? “Taukm wait!” There it came again and this time it was stronger and drowned the entire atmosphere with its heavy-handed direness. Taukm nevertheless knew who it was and spun around to greet the culprit.
“Ah, Dedegsa, how are you? Have you had any reply from Nima?” By now the muscular runner weighed down with concern huffing, grasping for breath he was bathed with fatigue. When he finally caught his breath he answered Taukm. “Ehh, forget that blasted woman. I gave up courtin’ her long ago. I realized that I was too ready to give up my one true power – freedom. I will not be walked over by just anyone. Also, I have five mouths to feed already. My parents are invalids, and my sister with her husband do nothin’ for the family. Their children are absolute demons and I feel my head baldin’ more everyday – if they stay any longer I swear … Anyways, when did you get released? I heard from Deia you were back. I said to her that that was impossible – you were not due for another year!”
“As you can see, I am here in the flesh.”
“But how is that possible?”
“I cannot truly say, the Gremartel must have mistaken me for one of the injured. On the front lines, things always grow a bit messy.”
“Huh. Well, can you say if they will ship you out again.”
“Not really.” Taukm noting the time said, “Look, I really must be going. Anaj has gotten himself into a bit of trouble.”
“Hah! A bit of trouble, more like a whole cartload of it. Did you hear what he did to the Sestrape’s House?”
“No, what did Anaj do?”
“Why, he committed the ultimate sacrilege – the unsanitary act of urination. He defiled the great edifice with his impure wastes. He will die for that, you should be sure of that.”
“That is ridiculous. Whoever heard of any honorable man performing such an abominable act?”
“Don’t you know Taukm, he has gone loony – poor Anaj has been influenced by a malefidying spirit! Or so the neighbors say.”
“I know what is said. I just came from Anaj’s home; his sister appears to believe him mad. I am not entirely certain as to the problem, but I am certain the truth is not the gilded surface. From my experience there is always a rat in such bizarre circumstances – politics certainly takes its toll even in this city of harmony.”
“When did you become such a lunatic Taukm? I know he is your friend, but to place him in your esteem above the honor of the Senetrix (the sacred Sestrape no less!) is criminal.”
“ I am a stranger in my own homeland. Therefore, I can see the inner workings of crooked men. I know the power and the position of the Sestrape, I just don’t accept the validity of the men who are in it now.”
By now Taukm had thoroughly exhausted himself with talking to this turbulent little man.
“I bid you farewell my friend, I am off to the citadel.”
“Why are you going there?” asked Dedegsa with a puzzled look.
“I earnestly need to see if I can save my good friend from death,” said Taukm with a little fluster.
“Don’t be stupid Taukm, Anaj is now on trial, he will never set foot in the citadel again – either he is innocent or guilty.”
“Guilty of what?! The man is not guilty of any crime – he is only a little “ill”.”
“He is guilty of sacrilege!”
“What nonsense are you spouting out of your mouth! Anaj is your friend too, is it alright with you if he is wrongfully killed?”
“It is not my place to acknowledge my affiliation with a criminal, nor to judge him. I only do what is good for my “community”, I listen and I obey.”
“By all that is sacred and holy, I must go and stop this at once. Thank you for this information – I must bid you adieu.”
“Wait, I will come along with you. I just want to keep you out of trouble.”
“Do as you please, but I will not make the mistake of calling you a friend anymore.”
As Taukm said these words he sprinted off to the Xaew, a place where criminals faced their dark hour of judgment. Dedegsa stood where he was, puzzled by the statement that Taikm made. Just before Taukm turned the corner of the street Dedegsa ran and caught up to him and asked, “ Exactly what do you mean by that, huh Taukm? Are you calling me a traitor to my friends?”
“I do not see why it is hard for you to see my point? I am a human being; I care for my friends and my comrades unlike yourself. Though I want to know, when exactly did your heart turn to cold stone? Why do you mock yourself? The Dedegsa I used to know not so long ago, had been compassionate, full of joy and happiness. What happened to that strong spirit?”
“Why do you say these things? I am a man of responsibility. As head of a family, I have to consider my position in society. I am a respectable postmaster. I cannot be seen to be publicly supporting a lunatic, or a criminal for that matter.”
“I see your point. But it does not justify, what you said about our good friend Anaj. Regardless of your duty to your family, why do you hold your friend in such low esteem? Surely you don’t think that what is being said about Anaj is the truth, do you?”
“ I… I don’t know what to think. As I said before, I am a man who wants to be free, but I can’t be free. There is always something that holds me, locks me to ground. It just won’t let me spread my wings, like the eagle and soar forever onto the sun’s pathway. The way I am shackled, I cannot think of that man as my friend. Not even in my own heart. Instead I must live everyday thinking of him as my enemy, because he is the enemy of our customs.”
“You are ridiculous! Fearing an unseen prison. Squirming in an imagined box while you have a whole field of earth and sky. I feel sickened to speak with you. I cannot say anything more to you now.”
After saying this both men grew somber and silent. All the while they were nearing the Xaew, along the way crossing the market square, the Senetrix consular offices, even the mighty edifice of the Sestrape came into view. The offices of government stood aloof from the rest of society. No one was allowed to build their home or business within its sacred grounds. There in the exact middle stood the Xaew even grander than the Sestrape House, it shining metallic dome shone with splendor against the sun as a beacon for weary travelers that they had reached the shores of paradise, of civilization.
Guards were posted at its gates regardless of night or day, it was the holiest shrine to order, holding a divinely supreme grasp on the people who entered its massive halls. Taukm did not stop to marvel at this great building. His friends fate held supremely upon his mind. Bursting thought the gates, down the hall he strode with no sign of respect nor awe on his mind. His pace speeding by every second, running faster and faster. Then, he burst through the doorway, only to find it thundering with malice.
There at the far end of the room seated upon a high position was the chief among the four rulers of the city, the greatest of the Sestrape, Del-Unzah – a man with a mighty voice.
“You are out of order young man! Sit down now!” Sestrape Del- Unzah was addressing the man, dressed in meager clothes while wearing a frown of wretchedness on his face. In chains he looked all the more decrepit, half starved by his gaolier (warden) the wretches twisted shape, mangled hair, and frenzied appearance showed an overture of his sufferings. A crowd of people was sitting along the rows made for them in the back, near the entranceway. Within the first moment of entering the court chamber Taukm was stunned at the spectacle. He pulled Dedegsa to his side, who was grasping for breath at having jogged another length of miles.
“That man there, is he Anaj?”
“Yes, (panting), he is,” said Dedegsa.
I can hardly recognize him. How he has changed! Good grief, he looks hideous … and disgusting.”
“Well what did you expect a loony man would look like? Sure, your rosy speech to me about friendship was nice, but now you see your friend what do you have to say, eh?”
Before Taukm could answer, the Chief of the Sestrape spotted the two at the doorway and thundered, “ You two young gentlemen, why are intruding on these proceedings?”
Quaking, even in terror Taukm scrabbled to answer him. “Well … ehh … excuse me, your e-eminence. I – ”
“Oh, never mind, you may sit down. I will speak with you later.” The two men not willing to argue with this imposing figure sat themselves in the nearest seats. The trial of Anaj proceeded where it had left off – in the middle of chaos.
“Now!” said the Sestrape Del- Unzah, “ Young man, tell me again, why are you terrorizing everyone.”
The frail, sickly figure spoke in a soft voice, “ I am not trying, to kill anyone, Sir. I am just in a nightmare, that’s all.”
“What do you mean young man?”
“A nightmare Sir this is all a bad dream.”
“But what does that mean!” thundered the furious sestrape. His answer came with equal frustration and resentment.
“ What does it mean? I tell you what it means. I am living this nightmare and I just can’t seem to wake. I just can’t seem to see the colors I once did before. I am tired of this place!”
“How dare you speak such blasphemy? Heed my warnings you will not see a bright future with that arrogance and contempt.”
“What can you do?” Anaj shouted. Then with great conviction he thundered, “The way I see it, I am already dead. This god-forsaken place is hell. Hell that I can’t escape and doomed, doomed to an eternity of damnation!”
Utter shock lay on the face of the most high of magistrates. Taukm too shocked to see the pale, disgusting small man standing before him committing open heresy. “How could Anaj have gone to such a point as this?” Taukm thought, “But all the same, his madness cannot be helped.” Del – Unzah regained his composure and asked Anaj, “How can you say that?” A long pause came and no one dared even breathe.
“Not more than a few days ago, I was an ordinary man, living a normal life. I had done nothing out of the ordinary in my life whether good or bad. My only crime was to be born in material poverty. Then just like that my whole life is turned upside down. I wake up to find myself in a strange place. I don’t know anyone! Everyone who greets me is a stranger and they all laugh and gouge at me whenever they see me panic. Do you think that I enjoy humiliation? When I first saw your world I could not see it. I only saw irregular blocks jutting out of the ground, I only saw barren fields – there were no crops. I only heard shrieks from children’s mouths, and I could only hear shrill scraping noises coming from craftsmen tools. I am tired. I just am tired!”
Then Anaj just broke down to tears, his whole body shaking with fatigue and with misery. At this point his will broke and his feet gave way to make him fall down to his bench. The sestrape spoke nothing not even moved to breathe simply stared at the little man sobbing on the Defendant Bench. All the while the audience were on the edge of their seats waiting for the next course of action.
Then Del- Unzah grew more calm even placid, beaming with a benevolent smile and with twinkling eyes he asked the accused, “There lad, no need for tears. You only need to answer me with all honesty, and then you will be treated with respect. Do not worry any longer of humiliation. I am curious though, why are you so harsh to us – your own people. Why do abuse your city’s name. Are you unhappy in paradise?”
In the same low-toned voice as Taukm had heard when he had fist came to the court chamber, Anaj spoke, “By my Almighty Lord, Sir. I swear that this is not my homeland. I come not from this unearthly place, but from a beautiful land full of life. How can you say this is paradise when it is really a desert? How can you call me a member of your race when you are not even human – you are all strange beings that only look like humans – you are all made of sand. Your farmers grow fields of salt in the sand. You are creatures that die in water and yet thrive in the arid sun. I cannot be like you. I am not a man of sand, of the dead. I am of the living; I am a man of the dirt, of clay. I thrive in water, in the rains, and feast upon succulent plants full of life watery bounty. Life flows with red blood in my veins not white slime. Children’s laughter is sweet and melodious, like the mockingbird not like the shrieking of a falcon. Tools make a satisfying noise of achievement, not the wasteful scrapes like a fork on ice. All these things are from my world, all my life I have lived as such accustomed to the norms of my home. This is not my home Sir, this is my hell.
The sestrape laughed at this, along with everyone else, Taukm knew that this was a dangerous situation. The Sestrapes were not a friendly bunch of people. As he was thinking this the Del- Uzah composed himself and spoke in a serious manner. “So then, you say you and not one of us Anaj Bachka. But you have lived in this city of harmony from the day of your birth and – ”
“Pardon me Sir, but I am tired of people calling me that. It is infuriating to be called by a name that is not your own.”
“Eh, Well then, who are you young man?”
“ I am Mark Brevin, Sir. I come from Acirema, where I live with my parents, wife, and two children.”
“Oh dear! Your fantasies are deranged young ‘Mark’. I am truly sorry, but I cannot allow you to remain in this state. Your illusions will poison the well-being of this paradise – that the Senetrix cannot have.” After addressing the alarmed Mark the sestrape summoned a guard to bring forth an Ophidemn expert. The guard arrived shortly with the expert witness.
“Well doctor, in your opinion and personal experience with the defendant. What would say is the best course of action.”
The Ophidemn spoke in his bookish tone, “Well, your Eminence, I have known the person in question for quite sometime, since he was a boy. Every week I screened him he was healthy in mind and body. He always wanted to make something of himself and worked hard to impress authorities. I am said to see that this fine young man has gone astray. In my experience with the realm of mental illnesses though, I must say, he is pretending these symptoms, which are obviously orchestrated by some repressed childish frustrations. He selfishly and consciously acts out to gain attention. This is not honorable behavior, we must do something to expel this from our society before it infects other decent young men.”
“Thank you for you excellent judgment of the situation, my good Ophidemn, with that in mind I will now make my final judgment. I order that the execution of this defendant, Anaj Bachka be carried out this afternoon within the hour before dusk. Let it be known –”
“Wait!” shouted Taukm, “ Your Eminence, please don’t do that.” From the rafters of the audience this one voice stood alone in resistance of the verdict.
“Who among you speaks? Step forward and state your purpose?”
Taukm stepped forward, at first his feet faltered, then he saw his old friend in the Defendant’s Bench staring straight into his eyes With that he mustered up every ounce of resolve and courage and marched forward.
“Ahh! It is the rude fellow from before. Well, I said I will speak with you earlier, but I did not have this in mind. Tell me, what is your name?
“ My name is Taukm Nagam, Your Eminence.”
“And your occupation?”
“I am a soldier in the 27th ‘Red’ Battalion, Your Eminence?”
“My! A war hero! Well, I am honored to be in your presence soldier. What was it that you wanted to say, eh?”
“Your Eminence, if you please, I would like to ask you to spare this man.. I have heard many bad rumors but nothing that cannot be dealt with.”
“You would risk your honor for that man?” asked the sestrape pointing to the disheveled figure.
“Your Eminence, he is my good friend. Despite his appearance, he was truly decent and honorable throughout his life. I owe it to that memory to save his life. To shield him is the honorable thing, the right thing. I have also promised his family that no harm would come to him. Will you please help to fulfill my pledge, your Eminence?”
The sestrape looked at him hard and long, reflecting greatly what was the best thing to do. Then after much agitated internal deliberation he said. “ Very Well. The execution of Anaj Bachka will not take place. Instead, he will be treated by the Ophidemns and rehabilitated so as to become a valuable productive member once again to our community. If there is any danger that befalls our society before his treatment is finished, the responsibility is on your head. Do you understand soldier?” “Yes, your Eminence!” said Taukm with an official salute.
And this is how my first days in the city of harmony came to a close. By the end of it I could not speak of my “former life”. I could not speak my custom tongue. I could not even stare into someone’s eyes without getting into trouble. The sestrape’s rehabilitation was little better than prison. I could not bear it but I had to endure I thought they would eventually believe me. Then I discovered it was easier to play their mind game – I have always kept my wits about me, and my memories. I pretended to b their precious Anaj. When I came out from rehabilitation, I confided in my new friend Taukm about my actually position, he seems to be different from the rest – like me! Granted he does not have memories of another life before this one, but he has definitely gone under a metamorphosis of his own. We two comrades refuse to have our spirits crushed.