Kaum ein Autor und kaum eine Autorin träumt nicht davon, einmal ins Englische übersetzt zu werden. Meist bleibt es jedoch beim Träumen, denn deutsche AutorInnen, die auf dem englischen Buchmarkt erscheinen, sind extrem selten.
Ich hatte nun das unerhörte Glück, dass ein wunderbarer Übersetzer (der übrigens selbst Autor ist), ein Stück aus meinem Psychothriller Schattengesicht ins Englische übertragen hat: Ben Fergusson.
Ben Fergussons Website findet ihr hier.
Der folgende umfangreiche Auszug erschien ursprünglich in Chroma. A Queer Literary & Arts Journal, Issue 11: UTOPIA, London, 2010.
(Schattengesicht erschien im deutschen Original im September 2010 im Querverlag und als Taschenbuch dann 2012 beim deutschen Bloomsbury.)
Dank Ben Fergusson ist dies die erste Möglichkeit für ein englischsprachiges Lesepublikum, einmal in eins meiner Bücher "reinzuschnuppern".
(Interessierte Verlage können sich selbstverständlich gern bei mir oder bei Ben Fergusson melden! *gg*)
So - und nun viel Freude beim Lesen!
When I finished work and opened the changing room door, I was engulfed in a numbing cloud of hairspray and perfume. The room was empty. The other maids were already gone – I was the last from the day shift.
I crossed the room and opened the window. It was a disappointing April day. The hotel porter was running to meet new guests with an umbrella. It had been raining since morning.
I turned and unbuttoned my mint-green dress. Before I threw it in the laundry bag I unclipped the white badge – it read Mila. There were clean dresses in the bag next to it and I pulled one out, clipped the badge onto it and hung it up in the locker. Sometimes, if you waited till morning to find a dress, there wouldn’t be any your size and you had to spend the day wandering around in a mint-green sack, which made the already grotesque costumes even worse.
The dresses were knee-length and were fastened down the front with a row of white plastic buttons. A white pinny, which served no function, was sewn onto the front. It looked ridiculous. Puffed sleeves and a white round children’s collar – it was no wonder that nobody took us seriously.
Then again our work was basic. More basic even than the hostesses, who treated us like slaves, never sat with us in the canteen and never said a word to us, unless they wanted a fag.
But the hostesses wore dark red. Tight ankle-length skirts, high heels in the same colour, inconceivably white blouses, deep-red bowties. Deep red is a colour that you would never laugh at. If you see something deep red coming at you, your guts seize up.
The lift boys wore dark blue; the porters black and silver; room service, a discreet, solicitous tan. But mint green was a colour like candyfloss; the maids could be seen from a distance and people had plenty of time to fix their features into a look of disdain or titillation by the time we came close.
I grabbed my bag from that morning. It was still damp and I shivered as I pulled on my jeans. The porter grinned at me behind his window at the staff entrance. I gave him my bag and he glanced in briefly and shoved it back. “See you tomorrow.” Like the other maids, who hardly spoke any German, I didn’t say anything. And I smiled, because all the maids smile at the porters.
Rain sprayed in my face when I pushed the door open. I hesitated for a second and stood still, but then I sensed the attentive gaze of the porter behind me and I stepped out. Eventually you’ve got to stop this hesitation, I thought to myself.
The porters knew that all the maids walked home down the boulevard after work. So I opened my umbrella and wandered that way. I forced myself to walk slowly and keep my smile taught. Adapted myself to the gondola of tourists. Looked in the shop window. Stopped every now and again. Like everyone.
I would have got home quicker if I’d taken the main street, but it would have been too easy for someone to follow me. I’d worked out another route.
After a hundred metres on the boulevard I reached the arcades, slipped out of the ranks of dawdlers into one of the glass mouths, cut through several connected boutiques, quickly, but not hastily, and slipped outside again through the west entrance. I found myself behind the boulevard, in a parallel street, which consisted of nothing but cafes. I walked past five of these before I opened the door of Endless, went through the bar into the courtyard, past the beer benches, over the grass, to the back door. You can always walk in or out through the delivery entrance, you just can’t hesitate, never look around – you just have to walk straight through, otherwise the staff become suspicious.
Behind Endless there was a quiet street with old restored buildings and tall acacia trees, which ran fifty metres down to the entrance of the city park. I took the main path there and then turned down one of the less-used side paths. I carefully looked left and right by a group of grey alders, pushed the hanging branches aside and slipped into the opening. The branches closed up behind me and I found myself on an old park path.
The path wasn’t used anymore, at least not by the well-to-do city folk. It sprawled out – a vigorous, dark green wilderness. The gardeners seemed to have forgotten about its existence. Even though it was blatantly visible. From above, at any rate.
From above, the park seemed neat and compliant – its groups of trees, fountains and little grottoes were arranged in a way that was very pleasing to the eye – and yet it seemed curiously pale, almost anaemic. Except for this path: an almost shockingly thick vein, that snaked through the tidied and pruned civility of the park. This vegetal abandon, this will to live, that would be subdued by nothing – you had to be blind not see it, I thought, looking down from the fiftieth floor of the hotel.
Perhaps this path was just forgotten when a new plan for the park was built over the old one. And what wasn’t on the plan would not be seen, however clearly it sprawled into view.
Branches crept over my arms, groped my hair, from everywhere came the sharp forest smell of growth and decay – I liked it. I also liked the crack of old acorns beneath my foot. I reached the bridge, that led over the river, which divided the city in two. At the end of the bridge there was an iron gate – beer cans were skewered onto its spikes. I shut the gate behind me – I had arrived in the lower town.
Pony and I had been travelling for a year and half. From one city to the next – we changed coordinates like other people change their clothes, and every time we withdrew more.
The lower town was a labyrinth of streets, like ladders in tights, that became thinner and frayed out. The half-complete buildings here and there, the excavated foundations and piles of stones that lay around, were all evidence of engaged building development, stopped mid-process. As if the architects had only noticed that they were holding the plans the wrong way round once the building work had already begun, that the plan was that of a completely different city or that it wasn’t a plan at all. That instead it was a heavily blown-up photograph of the palm of a hand, covered in dizzying, fine lines.
This is how Pony had described the lower town.
Pony had tracked down the flat for us. Like always. She seemed to have antennae that picked up the signals that came from those areas never seen by tourists. Areas that the city council would rather forget. The apartment was in the attic of a five-floor block in Rolandgasse.
“Well it’s not the Savoy,” I had said when we first saw it.
“But imposing,” Pony had answered.
It wasn’t served by buses or trams. Nothing lead to Rolandgasse. And even if there had been public transport, I would have walked every day anyway. On foot it was easier to check if anyone was following me.
The old apartment block had something castle-like about it.
When we closed the heavy door behind us during our first visit Pony leant her head back and her eyes almost popped out. “Crazy!”
Steep stairs led to the upper floors, with long corridors burrowing through the damp darkness. We pointed a torch down them and the corridors swayed in the thin light. All of the doors to the apartments were missing and the black openings seemed to grasp for the light. They emanated a musty, indefinable odour. A bad childhood dream of a castle. Not a sound inside. Nothing. The house would always be as still as if it were lying on its death bed. Though death only dwelt in the lower floors. We lived above.
The quota in the Savoy was eight rooms per shift. I had taken on thirteen for the extra money. Thirteen rooms with bathroom and kitchenette, and the moment the guests noticed that the maids also did the dishes they didn’t touch the washing up again.
You got two fifty per room, but because the hotel didn’t ask any questions and paid me in cash at the end of the week, I didn’t haggle. It was only my back that slowly started causing any problems. The guests paid a fortune for a quiet night and the more expensive the sleep, the heavier the mattress.
When everything ran normally you could do a room in twenty-five minutes. If you knew some tricks, a quarter-of-an-hour was enough. If one of us was unlucky though and got caught, then you were watched and you needed an hour.
Two fifty and for two weeks they had cheated me out of a few rooms when they did the tally. But I knew that Rosa was behind it, so I kept quiet.
Rosa. The name fitted her like a bow on a viper, and it was clear to me that she couldn’t wait for me to protest. She stood in front of me during the tally and stared at me with her small eyes.
It began when Mariza stopped coming – one morning Rosa was standing there in the doorway to the changing room, looking at me. Out of all the girls in the room, just at me, and I thought: shit.
If their gaze falls on you, because something about you doesn’t suit them, if they begin to get a taste for tormenting you, then it’s over. They won’t back off, even if they want to – I’ve got no idea why. Maybe it’s like with fighting dogs that bite into something living and never let go. Because you can scream and pull at it as much as you like, but in the end the animal stops twitching and falls to the ground, limp.
It hadn’t yet gone that far.
Not yet, but it wouldn’t be long. I knew how these things started and how they continued. If I was clever, I might be able to stall Rosa a bit. A few days. Maybe even a few weeks. If you need the job you learn to take risks. But you can’t miss that moment when you can still get out of the game.
I reached the apartment block, looked up at our dark window and then opened the door. On the staircase I put my arm over my face and began to climb. I walked quickly.
A cloudscape of mould crept across the walls – it had taken on a vivid, light-green colour, now that spring had arrived. In winter, when it was freezing, the fungus looked grey and dead, but now it seemed to suck power out of that first tentative warmth, feeling its way forward and unfurling into a large, poisonous work of art.
On the top floor the mould stopped. The doors were all extant. There was always fresh air at the top. Death didn’t find its way up there, so I took my arm away from my nose and mouth. The key lay in my hand, metal, the size of my thumb, heavy and reassuring, warmed in my palm.
A flock of sparrows flew out at me, so unexpected that I pushed myself back against the wall briefly. Birds flying at you inside a house unhinges something in your head. My eyes raced after them, into the rafters, which yielded to the sky. A roof with long sections that were perforated like lace. Day after day it came to bits in an evermore porous beauty.
Our apartment was at the end of the corridor, where the roof was still intact. I shut the door.
“I had some aggro with Rosa,” I cried and fumbled about with the chain for the door. Then I leaned against it. Home. Somehow.
When I used to hear the word ‘chamber maid’ I had such a romantic picture of laughing girls in pretty outfits with starched blouses. I thought of light blue feather dusters, giving the carpet a once-over with the hoover, pulling the bed together and done. Easy money. But it wasn’t like that. In every hotel the chamber maids are the last link in the chain. And in every hotel there’s a Rosa.
Rosa hated everybody. She knew most of us worked illegally, so we wouldn’t say anything when she went into the rooms before us and took our tips out of the ashtrays.
Rosa had kept an eye on me the afternoon that Mariza and I were working the same corridor. It was lunchtime and I had shoved my trolley into the corner and wanted to go with Mariza to the canteen.
When I pushed open the door of her room I couldn’t find her. I saw Rosa instead and I understood. I don’t know why I didn’t leave straight away. Then I wouldn’t have had to see what was happening in that room.
With hindsight I’m sure Rosa’s had planned it that way. She knew we took our break together. So she knew someone would come and open the door at twelve on the dot. Sometimes fortune and misfortune have the same face. And fortune wanted me to open the door.
The heavy double bed stood in the middle of the room – Mariza must have dragged it there from the corner of the room. No doubt because Rosa wanted to show her that the carpet beneath the bed wasn’t spotless. Rosa was sitting in an armchair, wearing a smart outfit, with her legs stretched out, her tights glittering. Mariza lay under the bed.
Mariza lay under the bed on her back and every now and again her hand appeared, dipped a sponge into a bucket of soapy water and disappeared again under the bed. “Every last bit, Mariza. And after that wipe them all dry with a soft cloth.”
Mariza was cleaning the metal springs beneath the bed.
At that moment Rosa turned her head towards me and blood flooded my face. She spoke to Mariza again without changing her tone. “It wasn’t just Herr Konrad that complained about the dust in the room. I apologised. I apologised for you, do you understand?”
“Yes, Frau Mailand.”
“Should I have maybe told him that there were two sorts of chamber maids: neat ones and sluts? I don’t know what your own home looks like, Mariza, but a hotel room is no pigsty.”
She turned her face towards me. She looked me slowly up and down, over my pinafore dress. Over my tights – and then her eyes widened. The ladders in them felt as if they were on fire and I fell back into the corridor.
Before I went into the canteen I bought a new pair of tights from the machine in the changing rooms for two Euros. The machine had been installed just for the maids. Correct clothing was one of the rules. But I sensed that for me it wasn’t going to matter anymore.
When they pick you out to be tormented, something happens to them – something similar to the process of falling in love. They show the same symptoms. They send out particular signals, and the longer you don’t respond, the greater their fascination grows.
After Mariza suddenly stopped coming, Rosa would stand by the door of the changing room and look at me. Out of all the women in the room, just at me. I didn’t look back and made an effort not to get changed any slower or any faster. I did up the shirt dress, I tied the laces on my trainers, checked my hair and slipped out the door past Rosa. I lined up in the mint-green queue of chamber maids that stood in front of the store room to fill up their trolleys. Rosa wasn’t there. There was no Rosa.
Unfortunately ignorance is only a short-term solution.
Ignorance leads them to think your arrogant. And because there are only a few genuinely arrogant people, arrogance creates the impression of beauty. Beauty silences for a while. Rosa was also silent, but I could feel her eyes burning into my neck. I knew: nothing betrayed such fascination as the thought of destroying something beautiful.
I went into the kitchen and put on the kettle. I rummaged around in my handbag and pulled out a couple of single-cup hotel coffees and felt miserable, because I knew that soon Rosa would start searching my bag at the end of each day. That’s how it began with Mariza.
Though all the maids did it. It was normal to take the little sachets out of the rooms. Most of the guests ignored them, just like the toiletries in the bathroom cabinets and the fruit arrangements on the walnut side table – someone’s got to make use of these things. It helps Pony and me to save money. All maids do it and the porters that check us at the exit never said a word. It was officially forbidden, which Rosa knew very well. Which had been Mariza’s misfortune.
It was a rule: someone was always for it. And no one helped when it happened – all the maids looked the other way. I was exactly the same. Like everyone else I was silent when Mariza didn’t come back. Afterwards I took over half her rooms.
I poured water onto the powder and stirred it. Waited until the coffee cooled. My hands lay on the white plastic table, which felt cold and clean. A regular circular pattern was stamped into the surface. I let my gaze wander. A long crack crossed the wall, which I had plugged up with rubbish. At least none of it cost us a penny.
Everything came back to money. Every cent of every tip that Rosa had missed, because it was hiding under a pillow, was another centimetre away from here.
Of course I wanted to leave. But it would have been the same in any other city and that brought me back to my senses. When we set off a year and a half ago I believed in some later hour, in some other city, that we would be able to get our old life back. Our life, with a proper apartment for Pony and me, where I would work in a bar. I believed that we just had to be patient, that the misery that we lived in was a bridge to our real life. That we had to stick it out. And I clung to this picture. But the cities pass by, and the time passes by and your life drains away like water down the plughole, and suddenly it becomes clear that you’re chasing a ghost. That your old life isn’t waiting for you anywhere. That it simply doesn’t exist anymore.
The bridge was our life. Alternating apartments, which I plunged into darkness, so that they wouldn’t stand out from the outside, a constant whisper and hush, alternating Rosas. There was no calm anymore, there wasn’t room to breath. Our life consisted of: find a job as soon as possible, the moment we’re in a city. Put aside – as much money as possible. Consider what the minimum of things one might need in order to survive are. It consisted of: do anything to avoid getting to know anybody. The moment someone began to take an interest in me, God forbid began to fall in love with me, then we moved on.
It had been a long time since I’d slept through the night. The walls were too close – they forced out the air. Or I would have the feeling that they were going to gape open. Then I would lie numb on the bed and just listen. Because maybe someone had followed me into our alleyway, into this blind, dried-up stain in between the two halves of the city. Maybe someone was standing in the hallway, waiting for me to fall asleep, clenching their fists, their knuckles bulging out white.
It wasn’t a state one could be in for long without going crazy. Something had to happen.
“You know where we have to go.” said Pony. “You know that we’ve got to go over the border. To Nästeviken,” she said. “Are you listening, Mila? Forever.”
But I was frightened of crossing the border. I hadn’t told Pony this. I had the same fear I had when I travelled on the train without a ticket. I never travelled without a ticket. I never took the train – I just walked. Because if you get caught without a ticket, they want to see your ID card.
“Mila, come here!”
I stood in front of the bed with a pillowcase in my hand and looked up. In the dim light of the wall lamp the cream flock wallpaper was golden. It was overgrown with twisting, filigree tendrils. When you moved the tendrils seemed to shiver and to move forward in waves. I silently shoved the pillow into its case.
Rosa wasn’t there.
I put the pillow on the bed next to the others and travelled over the cool damask.
Rosa wasn’t anywhere to be seen.
“Mila! Are you deaf or something?”
I tensed up, pulled my dress straight and told myself not to answer back. Whatever happens: never answer back.
I went into the corridor. Rosa Mailand was leaning on the door of the room I had just cleaned. She stared at me across a span of blue carpet. She wore a staggeringly white blouse with black pleated trousers and I knew instinctively that she had dressed that way for me. Her black hair was combed back tightly and pinned up, which accentuated the delicateness of her chin. Her mouth seemed redder and more vulnerable than normal, or it was that unbelievably white blouse, or she was glowing from the inside.
“I heard you, Frau Mailand.”
She ran her hand across her hair, as if a hairpin had come loose. “Shut the bedroom door, we’ve still got more to do here. And bring your bucket.”
I grabbed the bucket and as I turned off the wall light the tendrils disappeared. It left behind the smooth surface of the wall. I pulled the door shut and wished I was there, where the tendrils were.
“My God, are you always this slow?”
I remained silent. All the maids had learnt to only speak to Rosa when it was unavoidable. Talking was dangerous. One rule that all of us quickly understood from the outset, was that she used the casual form of ‘you’ and we used the polite form.
Rosa, however, loved to speak to us.
“What have you got to say about this?” She shoved me into the bathroom. The tiles, the taps, the mirror all sparkled. The shower head lay neatly on a white flannel. The handtowels were smartly folded. The toilet paper had also been folded into a perfect triangle. I couldn’t see anything wrong.
“I don’t know.”
“And this here?”
She squatted down in front of the basin and pointed out soap marks underneath. “I forgot that…” I murmured.
“Oh right,” said Rosa and stood up. “And this here? Did you also forget this?” She unscrewed the top of the toilet cistern and removed it.
“But we don’t have screwdrivers for that.”
“Then why don’t you ask me for one? Take this one. And now clean it. Where are you going?”
“To get my gloves.”
“Mila, please!” She sighed. “You spend the whole day cleaning up filth – don’t tell me that this is any different.”
She leaned on the wall, while I dunked the sponge in the cistern and began to scrub at the brown tidemark on the sides.
“To the very bottom. Not so prissy.” She looked at her nails.
In the next-door room an alarm clock went off. It was nine. Rosa stared at me for a while, then left the bathroom and went into the main room. When I finally joined her, she was standing in front of an open window. She beckoned me over. “Have you missed anything?”
I looked over the city: roofs that glistened in the morning rain, swarms of colourful umbrellas moving about in the streets. Rosa held on tightly to the window frame. “Here!” She pointed at the windowsills and the frame. “Filth, Mila.”
“But the window cleaner…”
“So you’re one of the lazy ones? Just one chore to many, is it?” She sat on the freshly made bed. “Get your sponge.”
I looked at the open window and then at Rosa, back at the window and then I lost my nerve. “Frau Mailand,” I said, “I’m scared of heights.”
When I looked at Rosa there was a lustre in her face as if someone had given her a compliment. “Get on with it.”
And you always got on with it. There was no way out. The moment you rebelled, you were fired, and to protect yourself you got on with it.
But we all knew how it ended. The maid was finished. Sometimes it was on her side – she didn’t come anymore, like Mariza. Rosa preferred to personally fire someone though. That required time and instinct. She wanted to find the maid’s weak points. The more hidden they were, the more interesting it became. To find. And to hide.
“Maybe you’re just not cut out for this, Mila. It’s just taking too long. Do the whole thing again. Quickly please.” That voice. Casually offensive.
It was now a week since Rosa had began to break me. She sat behind me in an armchair.
My hair was sticking to my forehead. My face felt as if it was burned. The door was ajar and I could hear Lin’s trolley rolling over the carpet in the corridor, her light steps. I heard her knocking on the door of a room and then calling out in her light accent: “Good morning!”
I got new sheets from my trolley for the fourth time. I stripped the bed again and laid a fresh sheet over the large mattress. Again I held it in both hands and flung my arms apart so that it spread out tight, without any wrinkles. Rosa cleared her throat behind me.
You’re strong, Rosa, I thought, furious, but you can’t harm me, because you don’t know me. No one knows me. My heart thumped wildly. I lifted up the rock-heavy mattress and pressed the foot end of the sheet underneath it. My arms were noticeably shaking. Not a word was said. But I felt Rosa’s eyes on my back, between the shoulder blades, where I suspect sweat had broken through the fabric.
The same feelings as when your in love.
When you give up, you get fired. And if you don’t react to their provocation, they think there is something that lies deeper. Something that doggedly resists. As long as one doesn’t give a clear answer, the relationship doesn’t start to form. Only the distance becomes noticeable. This makes them alert.
As I lowered the mattress, my muscles quivered, and I struggled against the impulse to sink down with it. With a straight back I walked forwards and folded a panel skilfully. Geometrically exact, a clean, pin-sharp fold. The pillows lay exactly two centimetres above it. Then I looked over at the counterpane that lay on the sofa. It depressed me. The cover was too heavy, too large and not pliant enough. I was exhausted.
The light in the room was warm and yellow. Rain gently struck the windowpanes. Lin has turned on the radio in the neighbouring room. With a lurch I lifted up the lead-heavy cover and threw it over the bed. The material was so intractable that you could only pull it into the correct position with the utmost force. And at the same time you have to make sure that the skilfully placed pillow and sheet ensemble beneath it isn’t affected. I forced the cover into a dainty fold at the top end by hitting it with the side of my hand. I tucked the pillows that lay beneath it into the fold. Formally perfect. I breathed heavily.
It was an April morning and Lin and I worked on the same corridor. There was just the morning and us two.
And a thing that sat on the armchair behind me and, when I turned around and looked at it, appeared to be a woman.
I lay two pralines on the pillows, turned and sat on the floor. Drops of sweat ran between my breasts and over my belly. I desperately needed a break. “Again, Mila,” said Rosa.
I pressed my fingernails into the palms of my hands. It was always the same. Your breakdown was not really their concern. They wanted you to long for it. Your worth consisted of the extent of the longing that you can supply them. Don’t forget that I thought. This grey in the sky outside. Your outrage. And don’t forget the shame.
“Did you hear?”
As I lifted my head and looked up at Rosa, I imagined Rosa’s longing as a rope. Braided. Six millimetres thick. A rope around her body and legs, whose ends I tie behind her back. Impossible to escape. I imagined how I would turn off the light.
How I would leave.
I left three days later.
I was almost sorry, because Rosa would have thought that she’d won so easily. But she had left me alone in the room when she went to the canteen. A twenty-minute chink in the daily game. A crack out of which a leather handbag rose. The bag sat on the dressing table. The zip was undone and it was Pony’s laugh that seemed to rise up out of the bag. It grabbed for my fingers and pulled them down beneath the leather walls, it pushed itself against the walls of my head. A rebellious girl’s laugh, what else – when I was alone with Rosa there was only silence. What a remarkable kind of silence, that is broken by nothing except the rips that run across my skin.
It had to be that way. Life had become thin, like glass polished for too long. And what does one know about a life so long lived? Only that a day comes and you have to move more carefully and at some point, not move at all, so that you don’t explode.
And one day someone discovers how thin you are. Suspiciously thin.
Rosa noticed it. Maybe she read it in my face – too much shine in my eyes and that absence of resistance. And like everyone else she wanted to find out. And the walls of life squeezed Pony and me together, like in Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum, and for weeks I kept seeing the hole in my dreams that was waiting for us. We would fall. Or we would steal a new life.
I had never stolen anything. I took a wallet out of the leather bag and the ID out of the wallet. The woman in the photo was called Jana Kammeritz and was the same age as me. She also had long hair like me.
I took off my shoes, put the ID card inside, put my shoes back on and tied them up. When Rosa came back the bag was sitting in exactly the same place as it had been in before.
The next day we stood on deck. Our fingers on the railings, our faces towards Sweden. Pony’s hair fluttered in my face and suddenly I had the feeling that the old apartment block in Rolandgasse lay months behind us, in a past that was already so strange to me, it was as if hadn’t happened to us, but to someone else.
Translator: Ben Fergusson
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