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On the eve of his thirty-first birthday

 it was around nine o'clock in the evening, the quiet time on the streets—two gentlemen came to K's apartment. In frock coats, pale and fat, with top hats that seemed immovable. After a little formality at the apartment door because of the first entry, the same formality was repeated on a larger scale in front of K's door. Without being informed of his visit, K. sat in a chair near the door, also dressed in black, and slowly put on new gloves, tightening them tightly over his fingers, in the attitude one expects guests to have. He got up immediately and looked at the gentlemen curiously. "So you are meant for me," he asked. The gentlemen nodded, one pointed at the other with his top hat in his hand. K[ 393 ]admitted to himself that he had expected another visitor. He went to the window and looked once more at the dark street. Almost all the windows on the other side of the street were still dark, many with the curtains drawn. In a lighted window on the floor, small children were playing together behind a grate and, still unable to move from their seats, felt their hands over each other. "They send old, inferior actors around me," K. said to himself, and looked around to make sure of it again. "People are trying to deal with me cheaply." K. suddenly turned to them and asked: "Which theater are you playing at?" "Theater?" one gentleman asked the other for advice, the corners of his mouth twitching. The other behaved like a mute struggling with the stubborn organism.


On the stairs, the gentlemen wanted to attach themselves to K., but K. said: "First on the street, I'm not ill." But right before the gate they attached themselves to him in a way[ 394 ]as K. had never walked with a human being. They kept their shoulders close behind his, didn't bend their arms, but used them to encircle K's arms the length of them, gripping K's hands from below in a schoollike, practiced, irresistible grip. K. walked stretched out between them, all three of them now formed such a unit that if one of them had been smashed, they would all have been smashed. It was a unit that almost only inanimate things can form.


K. often tried under the lanterns to see his companions more clearly than it had been possible in the twilight of his room, as difficult as it might have been with this close proximity. Maybe they're tenors, he thought, looking at their heavy double chins. He was disgusted by the cleanliness of their faces. You could literally still see the cleaning hand that went into the corners of her eyes, that rubbed her upper lip, that scratched out the wrinkles on her chin.


When K. noticed that, he stopped, so the others stopped too; they were[ 395 ]on the edge of an open, deserted square decorated with plants. "Why was it you who was sent?" he exclaimed more than he asked. The gentlemen didn't seem to know an answer, they waited with their free arm hanging down, like nurses when the patient wants to rest. "I'm not going any further," said K. tentatively. The gentlemen didn't have to answer that, it was enough that they didn't loosen their grip and tried to lift K. from the spot, but K. resisted. "I won't need much power anymore, I'll use all of them now," he thought. He remembered the flies struggling away from the limestick with their little legs tearing. "The gentlemen will have hard work."


In front of them Fraulein Bürstner climbed up a small stairway from a lower alley to the square. It wasn't quite sure if it was her, although the resemblance was great. But K. didn't care whether it was Fraulein Bürstner, he just realized right away that his resistance was worthless. There was nothing heroic about resisting, about making trouble for the gentlemen now, when[ 396 ]he was now trying to enjoy the last semblance of life while defending. He set himself in motion, and some of the pleasure he gave the gentlemen in this way passed over to himself. They now tolerated him determining the direction of the journey, and he determined it according to the path the young lady was taking in front of them, not because he wanted to catch up with her, not because he wanted to see her for as long as possible, but only for the sake of her reminder she meant for him not to forget. 'The only thing I can do now,' he said to himself, and the evenness of his steps and the strides of the other two confirmed his thoughts, 'the only thing I can do now is to keep my calm, dividing mind to the end. I always wanted to go out into the world with twenty hands, and moreover for an unacceptable purpose. That was wrong. Shall I now show that not even the year-long trial could teach me? Should I go away as a slow-witted person? Should I be allowed to say that at the beginning of the process I want to end it and now at the end of it I want to start it again. I don't want people to say that.[ 397 ]I am grateful that I was given these half-mute, uncomprehending gentlemen along the way and that I was left to say what I needed to say to myself.”


The young lady had meanwhile turned into a side street, but K. could do without her and left himself to his companions. All three now crossed a bridge in the moonlight in complete agreement, the gentlemen now willingly gave in to every little movement that K. made, when he turned a little towards the railing, they turned towards it in full front. The water, glistening and trembling in the moonlight, parted around a small island on which masses of leaves from trees and bushes were piled up as if pressed together. Below them, now invisible, led gravel paths with comfortable benches on which K. had stretched and stretched many a summer. "I didn't want to stop at all," he said to his companions, embarrassed by their willingness. One seemed to the other behind K.[ 398 ]


They came through some uphill lanes in which here and there policemen stood or walked; sometimes far away, sometimes close by. One with a bushy mustache, his hand on the hilt of his saber, stepped close to the not entirely unsuspecting group as if on purpose. The gentlemen hesitated, the policeman seemed to be opening his mouth when K. pulled the gentlemen forward with great force. Often he turned around cautiously to see if the policeman wasn't following; but when they had a corner between them and the policeman, K. started to run, the gentlemen had to run with them, despite their severe shortness of breath.


In this way they quickly got out of the town, which in this direction adjoined the fields almost without a transition. A small quarry, deserted and desolate, lay near a house that was still quite urban. Here the gentlemen stopped, either because this place had been their goal from the very beginning, or because they were too exhausted to walk any further. Now they let go of K., who was waiting silently, took off their top hats and, while they looked around the quarry, wiped their sweat with their handkerchiefs[ 399 ]from the forehead. Everywhere lay the moonlight with its naturalness and tranquility that no other light gives.


After exchanging a few pleasantries as to who was to carry out the next task—the gentlemen seemed to have received the assignments undivided—one went to K. and took off his coat, waistcoat and finally his shirt. K. shivered involuntarily, whereupon the gentleman gave him a light soothing slap on the back. Then he carefully put the things together, like things that will be used, even if not in the near future. In order not to expose K. to the still cool night air without moving, he took him under his arm and walked him up and down a little while the other gentleman searched the quarry for any suitable spot. When he found her, he waved and the other gentleman escorted K. there. It was near the quarry wall, there was a broken stone there. The gentlemen put K. down on the ground, leaned him against the stone and laid his head on it. Despite all the effort they made, and[ 400 ]in spite of all the concessions that K. showed them, his attitude remained very forced and unbelievable. So one gentleman asked the other to let him lie down alone for a while, but that didn't make things any better either. In the end they left K. in a position that wasn't even the best of the positions that had already been reached. Then one of the gentlemen opened his frock coat and took a long, thin butcher's knife, sharpened on both sides, from a sheath that hung on a belt stretched around his waistcoat. He held it up and tested the sharpness in the light. The disgusting politeness began again, one handed the knife over K. to the other, who handed it back over K. again. K. now knew exactly that it would have been his duty to take the knife as it swung over him from hand to hand. to grab and dig yourself in. But he didn't do it, just twisted his free neck and looked around. He couldn't prove himself completely, couldn't do all the work for the authorities, the responsibility for this last mistake lay with the one who had denied him the rest of the necessary strength. his looks[ 401 ]fell on the top floor of the house adjacent to the quarry. Like a light flashing, the casements of a window there slid open, a man, weak and thin in the distance and high, bent far forward with a jerk and stretched out his arms even further. Who was it? A friend? A good guy? One who attended? One who wanted to help? Was it an individual? Was it all? Was there any help? Were there any objections that you had forgotten? Certainly there were. Logic, while unshakable, does not resist a man who wants to live. Where was the judge he had never seen? Where was the high court he had never come to? He raised his hands and spread all fingers.


But one gentleman's hands rested on K's throat while the other drove the knife into his heart and twisted it twice. K. watched with trembling eyes as the gentlemen leaned against each other, close to his face, watching the decision. "Like a dog!" he said, it was as if shame should outlive him.


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