by Franz Kafka
In the empty Courtroom – The Student – The Offices
Every day over the following week, K. expected another summons to arrive, he could not believe that his rejection of any more hearings had been taken literally, and when the expected summons really had not come by Saturday evening he took it to mean that he was expected, without being told, to appear at the same place at the same time. So on Sunday, he set out once more in the same direction, going without hesitation up the steps and through the corridors; some of the people remembered him and greeted him from their doorways, but he no longer needed to ask anyone the way and soon arrived at the right door. It was opened as soon as he knocked and, paying no attention to the woman he had seen last time who was standing at the doorway, he was about to go straight into the adjoining room when she said to him “There’s no session today”. “What do you mean; no session?” he asked, unable to believe it. But the woman persuaded him by opening the door to the next room. It was indeed empty, and looked even more dismal empty than it had the previous Sunday. On the podium stood the table exactly as it had been before with a few books laying on it. “Can I have a look at those books?” asked K., not because he was especially curious but so that he would not have come for nothing. “No,” said the woman as she re-closed the door, “that’s not allowed. Those books belong to the examining judge.” “I see,” said K., and nodded, “those books must be law books, and that’s how this court does things, not only to try people who are innocent but even to try them without letting them know what’s going on.” “I expect you’re right,” said the woman, who had not understood exactly what he meant. “I’d better go away again, then,” said K. “Should I give a message to the examining judge?” asked the woman. “Do you know him, then?” asked K. “Of course I know him,” said the woman, “my husband is the court usher.” It was only now that K. noticed that the room, which before had held nothing but a wash-tub, had been fitted out as a living room. The woman saw how surprised he was and said, “Yes, we’re allowed to live here as we like, only we have to clear the room out when the court’s in session. There’s lots of disadvantages to my husband’s job.” “It’s not so much the room that surprises me,” said K., looking at her crossly, “it’s your being married that shocks me.” “Are you thinking about what happened last time the court was in session, when I disturbed what you were saying?” asked the woman. “Of course,” said K., “it’s in the past now and I’ve nearly forgotten about it, but at the time it made me furious. And now you tell me yourself that you are a married woman.” “It wasn’t any disadvantage for you to have your speech interrupted. The way they talked about you after you’d gone was really bad.” “That could well be,” said K., turning away, “but it does not excuse you.” “There’s no-one I know who’d hold it against me,” said the woman. “Him, who put his arms around me, he’s been chasing after me for a long time. I might not be very attractive for most people, but I am for him. I’ve got no protection from him, even my husband has had to get used to it; if he wants to keep his job he’s got to put up with it as that man’s a student and he’ll almost certainly be very powerful later on. He’s always after me, he’d only just left when you arrived.” “That fits in with everything else,” said K., “I’m not surprised.” “Do you want to make things a bit better here?” the woman asked slowly, watching him as if she were saying something that could be as dangerous for K. as for herself. “That’s what I thought when I heard you speak, I really liked what you said. Mind you, I only heard part of it, I missed the beginning of it and at the end I was lying on the floor with the student – it’s so horrible here,” she said after a pause, and took hold of K.’s hand. “Do you believe you really will be able to make things better?” K. smiled and twisted his hand round a little in her soft hands. “It’s really not my job to make things better here, as you put it,” he said, “and if you said that to the examining judge he would laugh at you or punish you for it. I really would not have become involved in this matter if I could have helped it, and I would have lost no sleep worrying about how this court needs to be made better. But because I’m told that I have been arrested – and I am under arrest – it forces me to take some action, and to do so for my own sake. However, if I can be of some service to you in the process I will, of course, be glad to do so. And I will be glad to do so not only for the sake of charity but also because you can be of some help to me.” “How could I help you, then?” said the woman. “You could, for example, show me the books on the table there.” “Yes, certainly,” the woman cried, and pulled K. along behind her as she rushed to them. The books were old and well worn, the cover of one of them had nearly broken through in its middle, and it was held together with a few threads. “Everything is so dirty here,” said K., shaking his head, and before he could pick the books up the woman wiped some of the dust off with her apron. K. took hold of the book that lay on top and threw it open, an indecent picture appeared. A man and a woman sat naked on a sofa, the base intent of whoever drew it was easy to see but he had been so grossly lacking in skill that all that anyone could really make out were the man and the woman who dominated the picture with their bodies, sitting in overly upright postures that created a false perspective and made it difficult for them to approach each other. K. didn’t thumb through that book any more, but just threw open the next one at its title page, it was a novel with the title, What Grete Suffered from her Husband, Hans. “So this is the sort of law book they study here,” said K., “this is the sort of person sitting in judgement over me.” “I can help you,” said the woman, “would you like me to?” “Could you really do that without placing yourself in danger? You did say earlier on that your husband is wholly dependent on his superiors.” “I still want to help you,” said the woman, “come over here, we’ve got to talk about it. Don’t say any more about what danger I’m in, I only fear danger where I want to fear it. Come over here.” She pointed to the podium and invited him to sit down on the step with her. “You’ve got lovely dark eyes,” she said after they had sat down, looking up into K.’s face, “people say I’ve got nice eyes too, but yours are much nicer. It was the first thing I noticed when you first came here. That’s even why I came in here, into the assembly room, afterwards, I’d never normally do that, I’m not really even allowed to.” So that’s what all this is about, thought K., she’s offering herself to me, she’s as degenerate as everything else around here, she’s had enough of the court officials, which is understandable I suppose, and so she approaches any stranger and makes compliments about his eyes. With that, K. stood up in silence as if he had spoken his thoughts out loud and thus explained his action to the woman. “I don’t think you can be of any assistance to me,” he said, “to be of any real assistance you would need to be in contact with high officials. But I’m sure you only know the lower employees, and there are crowds of them milling about here. I’m sure you’re very familiar with them and could achieve a great deal through them, I’ve no doubt of that, but the most that could be done through them would have no bearing at all on the final outcome of the trial. You, on the other hand, would lose some of your friends as a result, and I have no wish of that. Carry on with these people in the same way as you have been, as it does seem to me to be something you cannot do without. I have no regrets in saying this as, in return for your compliment to me, I also find you rather attractive, especially when you look at me as sadly as you are now, although you really have no reason to do so. You belong to the people I have to combat, and you’re very comfortable among them, you’re even in love with the student, or if you don’t love him you do at least prefer him to your husband. It’s easy to see that from what you’ve been saying.” “No!” she shouted, remained sitting where she was and grasped K.’s hand, which he failed to pull away fast enough. “You can’t go away now, you can’t go away when you’ve misjudged me like that! Are you really capable of going away now? Am I really so worthless that you won’t even do me the favour of staying a little bit longer?” “You misunderstand me,” said K., sitting back down, “if it’s really important to you for me to stay here then I’ll be glad to do so, I have plenty of time, I came here thinking there would be a trial taking place. All I meant with what I said just now was to ask you not to do anything on my behalf in the proceedings against me. But even that is nothing for you to worry about when you consider that there’s nothing hanging on the outcome of this trial, and that, whatever the verdict, I will just laugh at it. And that’s even presupposing it ever even reaches any conclusion, which I very much doubt. I think it’s much more likely that the court officials will be too lazy, too forgetful, or even to fearful ever to continue with these proceedings and that they will soon be abandoned if they haven’t been abandoned already. It’s even possible that they will pretend to be carrying on with the trial in the hope of receiving a large bribe, although I can tell you now that that will be quite in vain as I pay bribes to no-one. Perhaps one favour you could do me would be to tell the examining judge, or anyone else who likes to spread important news, that I will never be induced to pay any sort of bribe through any stratagem of theirs – and I’m sure they have many stratagems at their disposal. There is no prospect of that, you can tell them that quite openly. And what’s more, I expect they have already noticed themselves, or even if they haven’t, this affair is really not so important to me as they think. Those gentlemen would only save some work for themselves, or at least some unpleasantness for me, which, however, I am glad to endure if I know that each piece of unpleasantness for me is a blow against them. And I will make quite sure it is a blow against them. Do you actually know the judge?” “Course I do,” said the woman, “he was the first one I thought of when I offered to help you. I didn’t know he’s only a minor official, but if you say so it must be true. Mind you, I still think the report he gives to his superiors must have some influence. And he writes so many reports. You say these officials are lazy, but they’re certainly not all lazy, especially this examining judge, he writes ever such a lot. Last Sunday, for instance, that session went on till the evening. Everyone had gone, but the examining judge, he stayed in the hall, I had to bring him a lamp in, all I had was a little kitchen lamp but he was very satisfied with it and started to write straight away. Meantime my husband arrived, he always has the day off on Sundays, we got the furniture back in and got our room sorted out and then a few of the neighbours came, we sat and talked for a bit by a candle, in short, we forgot all about the examining judge and went to bed. All of a sudden in the night, it must have been quite late in the night, I wakes up, next to the bed, there’s the examining judge shading the lamp with his hand so that there’s no light from it falls on my husband, he didn’t need to be as careful as that, the way my husband sleeps the light wouldn’t have woken him up anyway. I was quite shocked and nearly screamed, but the judge was very friendly, warned me I should be careful, he whispered to me he’s been writing all this time, and now he’s brought me the lamp back, and he’ll never forget how I looked when he found me there asleep. What I mean, with all this, I just wanted to tell you how the examining judge really does write lots of reports, especially about you as questioning you was definitely one of the main things on the agenda that Sunday. If he writes reports as long as that they must be of some importance. And besides all that, you can see from what happened that the examining judge is after me, and it’s right now, when he’s first begun to notice me, that I can have a lot of influence on him. And I’ve got other proof I mean a lot to him, too. Yesterday, he sent that student to me, the one he really trusts and who he works with, he sent him with a present for me, silk stockings. He said it was because I clear up in the courtroom but that’s only a pretence, that job’s no more than what I’m supposed to do, it’s what my husband gets paid for. Nice stockings, they are, look,” – she stretched out her leg, drew her skirt up to her knee and looked, herself, at the stocking – “they are nice stockings, but they’re too good for me, really.”
She suddenly interrupted herself and lay her hand on K.’s as if she wanted to calm him down, and whispered, “Be quiet, Berthold is watching us.” K. slowly looked up. In the doorway to the courtroom stood a young man, he was short, his legs were not quite straight, and he continually moved his finger round in a short, thin, red beard with which he hoped to make himself look dignified. K. looked at him with some curiosity, he was the first student he had ever met of the unfamiliar discipline of jurisprudence, face to face at least, a man who would even most likely attain high office one day. The student, in contrast, seemed to take no notice of K. at all, he merely withdrew his finger from his beard long enough to beckon to the woman and went over to the window, the woman leant over to K. and whispered, “Don’t be cross with me, please don’t, and please don’t think ill of me either, I’ve got to go to him now, to this horrible man, just look at his bent legs. But I’ll come straight back and then I’ll go with you if you’ll take me, I’ll go wherever you want, you can do whatever you like with me, I’ll be happy if I can be away from here for as long as possible, it’d be best if I could get away from here for good.” She stroked K.’s hand once more, jumped up and ran over to the window. Before he realised it, K. grasped for her hand but failed to catch it. He really was attracted to the woman, and even after thinking hard about it could find no good reason why he should not give in to her allure. It briefly crossed his mind that the woman meant to entrap him on behalf of the court, but that was an objection he had no difficulty in fending off. In what way could she entrap him? Was he not still free, so free that he could crush the entire court whenever he wanted, as least where it concerned him? Could he not have that much confidence in himself? And her offer of help sounded sincere, and maybe it wasn’t quite worthless. And maybe there was no better revenge against the examining judge and his cronies than to take this woman from him and have her for himself. Maybe then, after much hard work writing dishonest reports about K., the judge would go to the woman’s bed late one night and find it empty. And it would be empty because she belonged to K., because this woman at the window, this lush, supple, warm body in its sombre clothes of rough, heavy material belonged to him, totally to him and to him alone. Once he had settled his thoughts towards the woman in this way, he began to find the quiet conversation at the window was taking too long, he rapped on the podium with his knuckles, and then even with his fist. The student briefly looked away from the woman to glance at K. over his shoulder but did allow himself to be disturbed, in fact he even pressed himself close to the woman and put his arms around her. She dropped her head down low as if listening to him carefully, as she did so he kissed her right on the neck, hardly even interrupting what he was saying. K. saw this as confirmation of the tyranny the student held over the woman and which she had already complained about, he stood up and walked up and down the room. Glancing sideways at the student, he wondered what would be the quickest possible way to get rid of him, and so it was not unwelcome to him when the student, clearly disturbed by K.’s to-ing and fro-ing which K. had now developed into a stamping up and down, said to him, “You don’t have to stay here, you know, if you’re getting impatient. You could have gone earlier, no-one would have missed you. In fact you should have gone, you should have left as quickly as possible as soon as I got here.” This comment could have caused all possible rage to break out between them, but K. also bore in mind that this was a prospective court official speaking to a disfavoured defendant, and he might well have been taking pride in speaking in this way. K. remained standing quite close to him and said with a smile, “You’re quite right, I am impatient, but the easiest way to settle this impatience would be if you left us. On the other hand, if you’ve come here to study – you are a student, I hear – I’ll be quite happy to leave the room to you and go away with the woman. I’m sure you’ll still have a lot of study to do before you’re made into a judge. It’s true that I’m still not all that familiar with your branch of jurisprudence but I take it it involves a lot more than speaking roughly – and I see you have no shame in doing that extremely well.” “He shouldn’t have been allowed to move about so freely,” said the student, as if he wanted to give the woman an explanation for K.’s insults, “that was a mistake. I’ve told the examining judge so. He should at least have been detained in his room between hearings. Sometimes it’s impossible to understand what the judge thinks he’s doing.” “You’re wasting your breath,” said K., then he reached his hand out towards the woman and said, “come with me.” “So that’s it,” said the student, “oh no, you’re not going to get her,” and with a strength you would not have expected from him, he glanced tenderly at her, lifted her up on one arm and, his back bent under the weight, ran with her to the door. In this way he showed, unmistakeably, that he was to some extent afraid of K., but he nonetheless dared to provoke him still further by stroking and squeezing the woman’s arm with his free hand. K. ran the few steps up to him, but when he had reached him and was about to take hold of him and, if necessary, throttle him, the woman said, “It’s no good, it’s the examining judge who’s sent for me, I daren’t go with you, this little bastard…” and here she ran her hand over the student’s face, “this little bastard won’t let me.” “And you don’t want to be set free!” shouted K., laying his hand on the student’s shoulder, who then snapped at it with his teeth. “No!” shouted the woman, pushing K. away with both hands, “no, no don’t do that, what d’you think you’re doing!? That’d be the end of me. Let go of him, please just let go of him. He’s only carrying out the judge’s orders, he’s carrying me to him.” “Let him take you then, and I want to see nothing more of you,” said K., enraged by his disappointment and giving the student a thump in the back so that he briefly stumbled and then, glad that he had not fallen, immediately jumped up all the higher with his burden. K. followed them slowly. He realised that this was the first unambiguous setback he had suffered from these people. It was of course nothing to worry about, he accepted the setback only because he was looking for a fight. If he stayed at home and carried on with his normal life he would be a thousand times superior to these people and could get any of them out of his way just with a kick. And he imagined the most laughable scene possible as an example of this, if this contemptible student, this inflated child, this knock-kneed redbeard, if he were kneeling at Elsa’s bed wringing his hands and begging for forgiveness. K. so enjoyed imagining this scene that he decided to take the student along to Elsa with him if ever he should get the opportunity.
K. was curious to see where the woman would be taken and he hurried over to the door, the student was not likely to carry her through the streets on his arm. It turned out that the journey was far shorter. Directly opposite the flat there was a narrow flight of wooden steps which probably led up to the attic, they turned as they went so that it was not possible to see where they ended. The student carried the woman up these steps, and after the exertions of running with her he was soon groaning and moving very slowly. The woman waved down at K. and by raising and lowering her shoulders she tried to show that she was an innocent party in this abduction, although the gesture did not show a lot of regret. K. watched her without expression like a stranger, he wanted to show neither that he was disappointed nor that he would easily get over his disappointment.
The two of them had disappeared, but K. remained standing in the doorway. He had to accept that the woman had not only cheated him but that she had also lied to him when she said she was being taken to the examining judge. The examining judge certainly wouldn’t be sitting and waiting in the attic. The wooden stairs would explain nothing to him however long he stared at them. Then K. noticed a small piece of paper next to them, went across to it and read, in a childish and unpractised hand, “Entrance to the Court Offices”. Were the court offices here, in the attic of this tenement, then? If that was how they were accommodated it did not attract much respect, and it was some comfort for the accused to realise how little money this court had at its disposal if it had to locate its offices in a place where the tenants of the building, who were themselves among the poorest of people, would throw their unneeded junk. On the other hand, it was possible that the officials had enough money but that they squandered it on themselves rather than use it for the court’s purposes. Going by K.’s experience of them so far, that even seemed probable, except that if the court were allowed to decay in that way it would not just humiliate the accused but also give him more encouragement than if the court were simply in a state of poverty. K. also now understood that the court was ashamed to summon those it accused to the attic of this building for the initial hearing, and why it preferred to impose upon them in their own homes. What a position it was that K. found himself in, compared with the judge sitting up in the attic! K., at the bank, had a big office with an ante-room, and had an enormous window through which he could look down at the activity in the square. It was true, though, that he had no secondary income from bribes and fraud, and he couldn’t tell a servant to bring him a woman up to the office on his arm. K., however, was quite willing to do without such things, in this life at least. K. was still looking at the notice when a man came up the stairs, looked through the open door into the living room where it was also possible to see the courtroom, and finally asked K. whether he had just seen a woman there. “You’re the court usher, aren’t you?” asked K. “That’s right,” said the man, “oh, yes, you’re defendant K., I recognise you now as well. Nice to see you here.” And he offered K. his hand, which was far from what K. had expected. And when K. said nothing, he added, “There’s no court session planned for today, though.” “I know that,” said K. as he looked at the usher’s civilian coat which, beside its ordinary buttons, displayed two gilded ones as the only sign of his office and seemed to have been taken from an old army officer’s coat. “I was speaking with your wife a little while ago. She is no longer here. The student has carried her off to the examining judge.” “Listen to this,” said the usher, “they’re always carrying her away from me. It’s Sunday today, and it’s not part of my job to do any work today, but they send me off with some message which isn’t even necessary just to get me away from here. What they do is they send me off not too far away so that I can still hope to get back on time if I really hurry. So off I go running as fast as I can, shout the message through the crack in the door of the office I’ve been sent to, so out of breath they’ll hardly be able to understand it, run back here again, but the student’s been even faster than I have – well he’s got less far to go, he’s only got to run down the steps. If I wasn’t so dependent on them I’d have squashed the student against the wall here a long time ago. Right here, next to the sign. I’m always dreaming of doing that. Just here, just above the floor, that’s where he’s crushed onto the wall, his arms stretched out, his fingers spread apart, his crooked legs twisted round into a circle and blood squirted out all around him. It’s only ever been a dream so far, though.” “Is there nothing else you do?” asked K. with a smile. “Nothing that I know of,” said the usher. “And it’s going to get even worse now, up till now he’s only been carrying her off for himself, now he’s started carrying her off for the judge and all, just like I’d always said he would.” “Does your wife, then, not share some of the responsibility?” asked K. He had to force himself as he asked this question, as he, too, felt so jealous now. “Course she does,” said the usher, “it’s more her fault than theirs. It was her who attached herself to him. All he did, he just chases after any woman. There’s five flats in this block alone where he’s been thrown out after working his way in there. And my wife is the best looking woman in the whole building, but it’s me who’s not even allowed to defend himself.” “If that’s how things are, then there’s nothing that can be done,” said K. “Well why not?” asked the usher. “He’s a coward that student, if he wants to lay a finger on my wife all you’d have to do is give him such a good hiding he’d never dare do it again. But I’m not allowed to do that, and nobody else is going to do me the favour as they’re all afraid of his power. The only one who could do it is a man like you.” “What, how could I do it?” asked K. in astonishment. “Well you’re facing a charge, aren’t you,” said the usher. “Yes, but that’s all the more reason for me to be afraid. Even if he has no influence on the outcome of the trial he probably has some on the initial examination.” “Yes, exactly,” said the usher, as if K.’s view had been just as correct as his own. “Only we don’t usually get any trials heard here with no hope at all.” “I am not of the same opinion”, said K., “although that ought not to prevent me from dealing with the student if the opportunity arises.” “I would be very grateful to you,” said the usher of the court, somewhat formally, not really seeming to believe that his highest wish could be fulfilled. “Perhaps,” continued K., “perhaps there are some other officials of yours here, perhaps all of them, who would deserve the same.” “Oh yes, yes,” said the usher, as if this was a matter of course. Then he looked at K. trustingly which, despite all his friendliness, he had not done until then, and added, “they’re always rebelling.” But the conversation seemed to have become a little uncomfortable for him, as he broke it off by saying, “now I have to report to the office. Would you like to come with me?” “There’s nothing for me to do there,” said K. “You’d be able to have a look at it. No-one will take any notice of you.” “Is it worth seeing then?” asked K. hesitatingly, although he felt very keen to go with him. “Well,” said the usher, “I thought you’d be interested in it.” “Alright then,” said K. finally, “I’ll come with you.” And, quicker than the usher himself, he ran up the steps.
At the entrance he nearly fell over, as behind the door there was another step. “They don’t show much concern for the public,” he said. “They don’t show any concern at all,” said the usher, “just look at the waiting room here.” It consisted of a long corridor from which roughly made doors led out to the separate departments of the attic. There was no direct source of light but it was not entirely dark as many of the departments, instead of solid walls, had just wooden bars reaching up to the ceiling to separate them from the corridor. The light made its way in through them, and it was also possible to see individual officials through them as they sat writing at their desks or stood up at the wooden frameworks and watched the people on the corridor through the gaps. There were only a few people in the corridor, probably because it was Sunday. They were not very impressive. They sat, equally spaced, on two rows of long wooden benches which had been placed along both sides of the corridor. All of them were carelessly dressed although the expressions on their faces, their bearing, the style of their beards and many details which were hard to identify showed that they belonged to the upper classes. There were no coat hooks for them to use, and so they had placed their hats under the bench, each probably having followed the example of the others. When those who were sitting nearest the door saw K. and the usher of the court they stood up to greet them, and when the others saw that, they also thought they had to greet them, so that as the two of them went by all the people there stood up. None of them stood properly upright, their backs were bowed, their knees bent, they stood like beggars on the street. K. waited for the usher, who was following just behind him. “They must all be very dispirited,” he said. “Yes,” said the usher, “they are the accused, everyone you see here has been accused.” “Really!” said K. “They’re colleagues of mine then.” And he turned to the nearest one, a tall, thin man with hair that was nearly grey. “What is it you are waiting for here?” asked K., politely, but the man was startled at being spoken to unexpectedly, which was all the more pitiful to see because the man clearly had some experience of the world and elsewhere would certainly have been able to show his superiority and would not have easily given up the advantage he had acquired. Here, though, he did not know what answer to give to such a simple question and looked round at the others as if they were under some obligation to help him, and as if no-one could expect any answer from him without this help. Then the usher of the court stepped forward to him and, in order to calm him down and raise his spirits, said, “The gentleman here’s only asking what it is you’re waiting for. You can give him an answer.” The voice of the usher was probably familiar to him, and had a better effect than K.’s. “I’m … I’m waiting …” he began, and then came to a halt. He had clearly chosen this beginning so that he could give a precise answer to the question, but now he didn’t know how to continue. Some of the others waiting had come closer and stood round the group, the usher of the court said to them, “Get out the way, keep the gangway free.” They moved back slightly, but not as far as where they had been sitting before. In the meantime, the man whom K. had first approached had pulled himself together and even answered him with a smile. “A month ago I made some applications for evidence to be heard in my case, and I’m waiting for it to be settled.” “You certainly seem to be going to a lot of effort,” said K. “Yes,” said the man, “it is my affair after all.” “Not everyone thinks the same way as you do,” said K. “I’ve been indicted as well but I swear on my soul that I’ve neither submitted evidence nor done anything else of the sort. Do you really think that’s necessary?” “I don’t really know, exactly,” said the man, once more totally unsure of himself; he clearly thought K. was joking with him and therefore probably thought it best to repeat his earlier answer in order to avoid making any new mistakes. With K. looking at him impatiently, he just said, “as far as I’m concerned, I’ve applied to have this evidence heard.” “Perhaps you don’t believe I’ve been indicted?” asked K. “Oh, please, I certainly do,” said the man, stepping slightly to one side, but there was more anxiety in his answer than belief. “You don’t believe me then?” asked K., and took hold of his arm, unconsciously prompted by the man’s humble demeanour, and as if he wanted to force him to believe him. But he did not want to hurt the man and had only taken hold of him very lightly. Nonetheless, the man cried out as if K. had grasped him not with two fingers but with red hot tongs. Shouting in this ridiculous way finally made K. tired of him, if he didn’t believe he was indicted then so much the better; maybe he even thought K. was a judge. And before leaving, he held him a lot harder, shoved him back onto the bench and walked on. “These defendants are so sensitive, most of them,” said the usher of the court. Almost all of those who had been waiting had now assembled around the man who, by now, had stopped shouting and they seemed to be asking him lots of precise questions about the incident. K. was approached by a security guard, identifiable mainly by his sword, of which the scabbard seemed to be made of aluminium. This greatly surprised K., and he reached out for it with his hand. The guard had come because of the shouting and asked what had been happening. The usher of the court said a few words to try and calm him down but the guard explained that he had to look into it himself, saluted, and hurried on, walking with very short steps, probably because of gout.
K. didn’t concern himself long with the guard or these people, especially as he saw a turning off the corridor, about half way along it on the right hand side, where there was no door to stop him going that way. He asked the usher whether that was the right way to go, the usher nodded, and that is the way that K. went. The usher remained always one or two steps behind K, which he found irritating as in a place like this it could give the impression that he was being driven along by someone who had arrested him, so he frequently waited for the usher to catch up, but the usher always remained behind him. In order to put an end to his discomfort, K. finally said, “Now that I’ve seen what it looks like here, I’d like to go.” “You haven’t seen everything yet,” said the usher ingenuously. “I don’t want to see everything,” said K., who was also feeling very tired, “I want to go, what is the way to the exit?” “You haven’t got lost, have you?” asked the usher in amazement, “you go down this way to the corner, then right down the corridor straight ahead as far as the door.” “Come with me,” said K., “show me the way, I’ll miss it, there are so many different ways here.” “It’s the only way there is,” said the usher, who had now started to sound quite reproachful, “I can’t go back with you again, I’ve got to hand in my report, and I’ve already lost a lot of time because of you as it is.” “Come with me!” K. repeated, now somewhat sharper as if he had finally caught the usher out in a lie. “Don’t shout like that,” whispered the usher, “there’s offices all round us here. If you don’t want to go back by yourself come on a bit further with me or else wait here till I’ve sorted out my report, then I’ll be glad to go back with you again.” “No, no,” said K., “I will not wait and you must come with me now.” K. had still not looked round at anything at all in the room where he found himself, and it was only when one of the many wooden doors all around him opened that he noticed it. A young woman, probably summoned by the loudness of K.’s voice, entered and asked, “What is it the gentleman wants?” In the darkness behind her there was also a man approaching. K. looked at the usher. He had, after all, said that no-one would take any notice of K., and now there were two people coming, it only needed a few and everyone in the office would become aware of him and asking for explanations as to why he was there. The only understandable and acceptable thing to say was that he was accused of something and wanted to know the date of his next hearing, but this was an explanation he did not want to give, especially as it was not true – he had only come out of curiosity. Or else, an explanation even less usable, he could say that he wanted to ascertain that the court was as revolting on the inside as it was on the outside. And it did seem that he had been quite right in this supposition, he had no wish to intrude any deeper, he was disturbed enough by what he had seen already, he was not in the right frame of mind just then to face a high official such as might appear from behind any door, and he wanted to go, either with the usher of the court or, if needs be, alone.
But he must have seemed very odd standing there in silence, and the young woman and the usher were indeed looking at him as if they thought he would go through some major metamorphosis any second which they didn’t want to miss seeing. And in the doorway stood the man whom K. had noticed in the background earlier, he held firmly on to the beam above the low door swinging a little on the tips of his feet as if becoming impatient as he watched. But the young woman was the first to recognise that K.’s behaviour was caused by his feeling slightly unwell, she brought a chair and asked, “Would you not like to sit down?” K. sat down immediately and, in order to keep his place better, put his elbows on the armrests. “You’re a little bit dizzy, aren’t you?” she asked him. Her face was now close in front of him, it bore the severe expression that many young women have just when they’re in the bloom of their youth. “It’s nothing for you to worry about,” she said, “that’s nothing unusual here, almost everyone gets an attack like that the first time they come here. This is your first time is it? Yes, it’s nothing unusual then. The sun burns down on the roof and the hot wood makes the air so thick and heavy. It makes this place rather unsuitable for offices, whatever other advantages it might offer. But the air is almost impossible to breathe on days when there’s a lot of business, and that’s almost every day. And when you think that there’s a lot of washing put out to dry here as well – and we can’t stop the tenants doing that – it’s not surprising you started to feel unwell. But you get used to the air alright in the end. When you’re here for the second or third time you’ll hardly notice how oppressive the air is. Are you feeling any better now?” K. made no answer, he felt too embarrassed at being put at the mercy of these people by his sudden weakness, and learning the reason for feeling ill made him feel not better but a little worse. The girl noticed it straight away, and to make the air fresher for K., she took a window pole that was leaning against the wall and pushed open a small hatch directly above K.’s head that led to the outside. But so much soot fell in that the girl had to immediately close the hatch again and clean the soot off K.’s hands with her handkerchief, as K. was too tired to do that for himself. He would have liked just to sit quietly where he was until he had enough strength to leave, and the less fuss people made about him the sooner that would be. But then the girl said, “You can’t stay here, we’re in people’s way here …” K. looked at her as if to ask whose way they were impeding. “If you like, I can take you to the sick room,” and turning to the man in the doorway said, “please help me”. The man immediately came over to them, but K. did not want to go to the sick room, that was just what he wanted to avoid, being led further from place to place, the further he went the more difficult it must become. So he said, “I am able to walk now,” and stood up, shaking after becoming used to sitting so comfortably. But then he was unable to stay upright. “I can’t manage it,” he said shaking his head, and sat down again with a sigh. He remembered the usher who, despite everything, would have been able to lead him out of there but who seemed to have gone long before. K. looked out between the man and the young woman who were standing in front of him but was unable to find the usher. “I think,” said the man, who was elegantly dressed and whose appearance was made especially impressive with a grey waistcoat that had two long, sharply tailored points, “the gentleman is feeling unwell because of the atmosphere here, so the best thing, and what he would most prefer, would be not to take him to the sick room but get him out of the offices altogether.” “That’s right,” exclaimed K., with such joy that he nearly interrupted what the man was saying, “I’m sure that’ll make me feel better straight away, I’m really not that weak, all I need is a little support under my arms, I won’t cause you much trouble, it’s not such a long way anyway, lead me to the door and then I’ll sit on the stairs for a while and soon recover, as I don’t suffer from attacks like this at all, I’m surprised at it myself. I also work in an office and I’m quite used to office air, but here it seems to be too strong, you’ve said so yourselves. So please, be so kind as to help me on my way a little, I’m feeling dizzy, you see, and it’ll make me ill if I stand up by myself.” And with that he raised his shoulders to make it easier for the two of them to take him by the arms.
The man, however, didn’t follow this suggestion but just stood there with his hands in his trouser pockets and laughed out loud. “There, you see,” he said to the girl, “I was quite right. The gentleman is only unwell here, and not in general.” The young woman smiled too, but lightly tapped the man’s arm with the tips of her fingers as if he had allowed himself too much fun with K. “So what do you think, then?” said the man, still laughing, “I really do want to lead the gentleman out of here.” “That’s alright, then,” said the girl, briefly inclining her charming head. “Don’t worry too much about him laughing,” said the girl to K., who had become unhappy once more and stared quietly in front of himself as if needing no further explanation. “This gentleman – may I introduce you?” – (the man gave his permission with a wave of the hand) – “so, this gentleman’s job is to give out information. He gives all the information they need to people who are waiting, as our court and its offices are not very well known among the public he gets asked for quite a lot. He has an answer for every question, you can try him out if you feel like it. But that’s not his only distinction, his other distinction is his elegance of dress. We, that’s to say all of us who work in the offices here, we decided that the information-giver would have to be elegantly dressed as he continually has to deal with the litigants and he’s the first one they meet, so he needs to give a dignified first impression. The rest of us I’m afraid, as you can see just by looking at me, dress very badly and old-fashioned; and there’s not much point in spending much on clothes anyway, as we hardly ever leave the offices, we even sleep here. But, as I said, we decided that the information-giver would have to have nice clothes. As the management here is rather peculiar in this respect, and they would get them for us, we had a collection – some of the litigants contributed too – and bought him these lovely clothes and some others besides. So everything would be ready for him to give a good impression, except that he spoils it again by laughing and frightening people.” “That’s how it is,” said the man, mocking her, “but I don’t understand why it is that you’re explaining all our intimate facts to the gentleman, or rather why it is that you’re pressing them on him, as I’m sure he’s not all interested. Just look at him sitting there, it’s clear he’s occupied with his own affairs.” K. just did not feel like contradicting him.. The girl’s intention may have been good, perhaps she was under instructions to distract him or to give him the chance to collect himself, but the attempt had not worked. “I had to explain to him why you were laughing,” said the girl. “I suppose it was insulting.” “I think he would forgive even worse insults if I finally took him outside.” K. said nothing, did not even look up, he tolerated the two of them negotiating over him like an object, that was even what suited him best. But suddenly he felt the information-giver’s hand on one arm and the young woman’s hand on the other. “Up you get then, weakling,” said the information-giver. “Thank you both very much,” said K., pleasantly surprised, as he slowly rose and personally guided these unfamiliar hands to the places where he most needed support. As they approached the corridor, the girl said quietly into K.’s ear, “I must seem to think it’s very important to show the information-giver in a good light, but you shouldn’t doubt what I say, I just want to say the truth. He isn’t hard-hearted. It’s not really his job to help litigants outside if they’re unwell but he’s doing it anyway, as you can see. I don’t suppose any of us is hard-hearted, perhaps we’d all like to be helpful, but working for the court offices it’s easy for us to give the impression we are hard-hearted and don’t want to help anyone. It makes me quite sad.” “Would you not like to sit down here a while?” asked the information-giver, there were already in the corridor and just in front of the defendant whom K. had spoken to earlier. K. felt almost ashamed to be seen by him, earlier he had stood so upright in front of him and now he had to be supported by two others, his hat was held up by the information-giver balanced on outstretched fingers, his hair was dishevelled and hung down onto the sweat on his forehead. But the defendant seemed to notice nothing of what was going on and just stood there humbly, as if wanting to apologise to the information-giver for being there. The information-giver looked past him. “I know,” he said, “that my case can’t be settled today, not yet, but I’ve come in anyway, I thought, I thought I could wait here anyway, it’s Sunday today, I’ve got plenty of time, and I’m not disturbing anyone here.” “There’s no need to be so apologetic,” said the information-giver, “it’s very commendable for you to be so attentive. You are taking up space here when you don’t need to but as long as you don’t get in my way I will do nothing to stop you following the progress of your case as closely as you like. When one has seen so many people who shamefully neglect their cases one learns to show patience with people like you. Do sit down.” “He’s very good with the litigants,” whispered the girl. K. nodded, but started to move off again when the information-giver repeated, “Would you not like to sit down here a while?” “No,” said K., “I don’t want to rest.” He had said that as decisively as he could, but in fact it would have done him a lot of good to sit down. It was as if he were suffering sea-sickness. He felt as if he were on a ship in a rough sea, as if the water were hitting against the wooden walls, a thundering from the depths of the corridor as if the torrent were crashing over it, as if the corridor were swaying and the waiting litigants on each side of it rising and sinking. It made the calmness of the girl and the man leading him all the more incomprehensible. He was at their mercy, if they let go of him he would fall like a board. Their little eyes glanced here and there, K. could feel the evenness of their steps but could not do the same, as from step to step he was virtually being carried. He finally noticed they were speaking to him but he did not understand them, all he heard was a noise that filled all the space and through which there seemed to be an unchanging higher note sounding, like a siren. “Louder,” he whispered with his head sunk low, ashamed at having to ask them to speak louder when he knew they had spoken loudly enough, even if it had been, for him, incomprehensible. At last, a draught of cool air blew in his face as if a gap had been torn out in the wall in front of him, and next to him he heard someone say, “First he says he wants to go, and then you can tell him a hundred times that this is the way out and he doesn’t move.” K. became aware that he was standing in front of the way out, and that the young woman had opened the door. It seemed to him that all his strength returned to him at once, and to get a foretaste of freedom he stepped straight on to one of the stairs and took his leave there of his companions, who bowed to him. “Thank you very much,” he repeated, shook their hands once more and did not let go until he thought he saw that they found it hard to bear the comparatively fresh air from the stairway after being so long used to the air in the offices. They were hardly able to reply, and the young woman might even have fallen over if K. had not shut the door extremely fast. K. then stood still for a while, combed his hair with the help of a pocket mirror, picked up his hat from the next stair – the information-giver must have thrown it down there – and then he ran down the steps so fresh and in such long leaps that the contrast with his previous state nearly frightened him. His normally sturdy state of health had never prepared him for surprises such as this. Did his body want to revolt and cause him a new trial as he was bearing the old one with such little effort? He did not quite reject the idea that he should see a doctor the next time he had the chance, but whatever he did – and this was something on which he could advise himself – he wanted to spend all Sunday mornings in future better than he had spent this one.
The Trial by Franz Kafka