Herr Lehmann resembled Kafka. He looked less like Kafka at first but more like Kafka as I came to know him. He was Kafka-esque though not in that sense, the sense of being horrifyingly bureaucratic – which he was, though this is not the reason – but in the sense that his face seemed, for always, like Kafka yet imagined with slight errors. Herr Lehmann grew into this role when at the college in Baden-Baden, visiting Bühl with cast iron gates around his heart and lichen growing upon his spine.
He would walk – oh could he walk! – in the nearby hills and mountains. The shining buttons fell off his coat at regular intervals; the coat which stayed on in all weathers in spite of its heavy material, coarse as pinecones. Clouds would part their soul to pour down onto such finely tailored lapels, and to think! The material, tattered, turning even darker, perhaps to the colour it once was when bought from the skilled old tailor in Achern. Naturschutzgebiet Wilder-See, Hornisgrinde, the landscape of choice, was famed for its natural spring which had welcomed holy pilgrims on their lost way, now flooded into a pond and bordered by reeds that sang of days long since lost.
That was his realm.
Herr Lehmann loved dragonflies, darting about like fireworks with obsidian eyes, and they, in return, loved him; shuffling about like a ghost through their lives. They granted him safe passage through the paths and forests, fizzing in his wake to clear away the bluebottles which were snared with gleeful pleasure. He would talk, often to them, but to himself also, of those dreams lost in the abyss of those Kafka-esque features which threatened to earnestly slide off the skin.
A face left to falsify common darter confidence.
I could not enjoy such walks. The sun would withdraw too early with miles yet to tread, the evening light turning to amethyst. But Herr Lehmann knew of the pond created by the natural spring, in earlier years taken in deep gulps by the pilgrims on the forest trail to the cathedral in the south. Parched lips quenched with holy essence, the only drink required on such occasions for lifting the mind’s heavy fog. We were both grateful when parched and miserable on our return journeys.
The evening would descend, dark paths darker than even the darkest path should be. I would reject a further invitation, I often thought; wouldn’t you? A bedroom seemed so warm and lovely when considered so far off, when down some lonely path in the Baden-Baden. But Herr Lehmann would continue, profuse apologies forthcoming of course, before arriving at the safe destination of the town with its packs of confident cats who knocked over ill-placed porcelain vases of the romantic kind from windowsills. Candles glowing behind glass would tell of our late return, as would scornful words from elders who always asked worried questions when one of their flock was afar after sundown.
I cannot come again Herr Lehmann, my work must come first and another day cannot be lost! Perhaps, I laughed, a volume of Kafka would be of better company! Or I could take a mirror, he retorted, but sans smile or humour; just ice.
He did not return. I daydream of his meander, following dragonflies once more. Deeper and deeper he would go and, when asked of such matters by chirping acquaintances, I could only reply “That faux-Kafka has gone and got himself lost!” A walking group from Strasbourg soon came upon his empty shell. His shoes, scuffed as always, sat neatly placed by the pond’s new tidal pool. There had been a wave, pushing the gentle reeds aside; making way for the new debris that was to sink briefly in its waters before rising again. Memories of the flood now sat tranquilly on the surface, his lichen spine rising out of the water as a small, bony island.
On the pond, he floated with his back rudely turned to the sky. The men had tried in vain to bring him to shore, standing on the ground which was barely ground, more water than soil. Reeds swaying, blinking in horror. Yes, the pond where Herr Lehmann died is still popular for tourists to photograph though they know not of its final resting; only of its holy water spring which folklore purports to give eternal youth rather than a quiet grave, dampened and lost as dragonflies watch on.