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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Metamorphosis Decaf

A report in today's Times of India indicates that Crossword bookstore will soon be opening a coffee shop to be called "the Kafka Cafe".

One morning, Franz Kafka awoke from troubled dreams to find himself transformed in his bed into a trendy cafe. He lay on his cappucino-coloured back, and if he lifted his head a little he could see his brown belly, slightly domed and divided by arches into sections. Waiters, pitifully small compared with the size of the rest of him, scurried about helplessly as he looked down at them.

Franz then turned to look out the window at the crowds gathering outside. People carrying copies of The Da Vinci Code could be spotted, which made him feel quite sad. "How about if I sleep a little bit longer and forget all this nonsense", he thought, but that was something he was unable to do.

He slid back into his former position. "Getting up early all the time", he thought, "it makes you stupid. You've got to get enough sleep. I'm a writer, not a cafe in a bookshop. And besides, even if I was to be a cafe, it would be one with labyrinthine corridors where what you ordered isn't always what you received and the waiters sneered at you behind your back causing you to wonder if you were dressed the wrong way, or if you had committed some crime such as adding too much milk to your espresso. Not this open, sunny place next to a bookshop that calls itself a ‘lifestyle booktore’ "

He was still hurriedly thinking all this through, unable to decide to get out of the bed, when there was a cautious knock at the door near his head. "Franz", somebody called - it was his mother - "it's quarter to seven. Didn't you want to go somewhere?" Franz wanted to answer but all he could muster up was the rumble of the cappucino machine and the clink of spoons on teacups as well as the chatter of excited schoolgirls pawing the latest novel by Robert James Waller.

He tried to get the top part of his body out of the bed first, carefully turning his head to the side. This he managed quite easily, and despite the cries of executives trying to save their laptops from toppling off the table, the bulk of his body eventually followed slowly in the direction of the head.

When Franz was already sticking half way out of the bed it occurred to him how simple everything would be if somebody came to help him. He called out faintly but this was quite lost in the hubbub of sales assistants asking people if they could help them and the ringing of cash registers as yet more consumers ordered hazelnut-flavour cappucinos. "Mother! Father!" he cried out. "I'm a cafe!"

"Oh, God!" called his mother, who was already in tears. “Did you hear the way Franz spoke just now?" His sister added, "And what's that aroma? Smells like someone has dropped jugfuls of latte in there!" "The nincompoop!" growled his father.

Franz slowly pushed his way over to the door and then set himself to the task of turning the key in the lock . As the door opened he heard his mother go "Oh!" Then his father gave him a hefty shove from behind which released him from where he was held and sent him flying, deep into his room. The door was slammed shut; then, finally, all was quiet.

It was not until it was getting dark that evening that Franz awoke from his deep and coma-like sleep. The cafe was full; the bookshop to which it was attached had just hosted a book launch and the place was overflowing with journalists trying to stuff sandwiches into their bags, fans patting their autographed copies adoringly and some hangers-on who had realised that this was a good way to stay out of the sun

He looked down upon himself to find some familiar figures in the throng. “Mother? Father? Sister? Is that you?” he said weakly. It was them, he now realized, sitting at a corner table upon which was a chocolate dessert that the three of them were greedily consuming. His father, he noticed, was surreptitiously filling his pockets with sachets of Equal from a small silver bowl.

“What are you doing?” he cried. They looked up at him. “What do you think we’re doing?” his father sneered and then, turning to his mother, “See – I told you he was stupid.” “Hush,” said his sister. “Franz, dear, please try and understand. Your turning into a café is quite the best thing that’s happened to the family. We can come here whenever we like, it’s close by and it’s free! A welcome change from roaming around in those bleak Prague squares with no money in our pockets.” “Give him some stationery,” whispered his mother. His sister held out some diaries, along with some floral-patterned letter paper. “We bought these for you,” she said, “from the stationery department. It's well-stocked.” “Yes,” sniggered his father, “Scribble, scribble, scribble all day long – how’s that going to fill our stomachs, eh?” “Don’t worry, Franz,” his mother said, “We’ll give your letters to Max and Felice and tell them you had to leave town. Go to sleep now.”

“But – but – ” said Franz, but it was no use. They had turned away. His sister simpered and caught the eye of a leather-clad youth who entered the café with a copy of Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance; his mother asked the waiter for some more crostinis; and his father picked up the remaining sachets from the bowl, tore them open and added them to his coffee.


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