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Kafka’s Sudden Walk and Mine

At times when you cannot sleep, when you lie there tossing and turning, there’s nothing better to do than to get up and get out. It’s 2AM. It’s hot, uncommonly quiet and your clammy skin threatens to smother you. Then, as if compelled by some irrepressible urge to stand erect, you suddenly get out of bed, toss on some clothes, run your fingers through your hair and drive roof-down past the whores touting on Main Road to the Sea Point promenade for a sudden walk.

It’s cool and balmy at the same time. The sea air fills your body. It’s too late for the walkers, for the joggers, for lovers even who are now sleeping, their love exhausted. And it’s too early for the birds although sea gulls glide above. The city doesn’t sleep, yet it does; the rhythm is slower and the cars drift by, they don’t rush. Everything drifts by, life drifts by, even the sea waves drift in then out of your diaphanous awareness for you’re still in sleep.

Conscious walking

Conscious walking

It’s just a tired walk at pace. You look through rheumy eyes around you. There is no mist out today. The last time you walked here at this time of night, years ago, a snappy mist was out, thick but fresh, and out of the mist would arise men, men, two hundred or more men loitering around on the lawns, aimlessly, ambling in and out of your visibility bubble like moving sentinels on the lookout. They engaged you with pretexts but it is clear it was sex they wanted, obliquely, sex they offered, sex for your singleness, there it was. One or two ask you for a light, cigarette in hand. It’s always a light they run out of, never smokes. Bad place for recruiting arsonists, this. Others asked you for the time, cultivating a deliberate achronicity as a pretext. Believe me, they own better watches than you. But tonight, even the cruisers are asleep, resting their energies for the next mist, the next liaison. But you are here.

This is not Franz Kafka’s Sudden Walk. Kafka’s walk starts when all seems as though he’s settled in for the night, when the weather is foul outside so that any departure must occasion surprise to anyone, and when he has been sitting quietly at the table for so long that the prospect of a walk is the furthest thing from his mind. In a sudden fit of restlessness he changes into his jacket, abruptly dresses himself for the street, explains with a few curt words of leave-taking that he must go out and bangs the front door more or less hastily according to the degree of displeasure he thinks he is leaving behind him. Once in the streets, with limbs swinging extra freely in answer to the unexpected liberty he has procured for them, Kafka feels concentrated within himself all the potentialities of decisive action, and he recognises with more than usual significance that his strength is greater than his need to accomplish effortlessly the swiftest of changes and to cope with them. Striding down the long streets in that frame of mind, Kafka has for that evening gotten away from his household, which fades into insubstantiality, while he himself, a firm, boldly drawn black figure, slaps himself on the thigh and grows to his true stature.

My walk is different from Kafka’s. I walk without stature, just firmly, as though trying to get rid of some invisible pressure within. Neither do I have the sprightliness to slap my thighs. Neither, to my eternal mortification, does my walk have the literary merits of Kafka’s, the great genius, the literary hero of my twenties, a paragraph from whom I have replicated above in reported speech. As for the potentialities of decisive action, mine will lead to nothing but a temporary surcease from worry, essentially by physically pacing it out my being for a while. But I greatly identify with Kafka’s restlessness; this, we have in common.

I get to my car. I arrest my walk and with grim determination summon the will to capture some sleep, which I know might not come.

Perchance I might dream.