The traumatic events of the days leading up to the incarceration of an officer of the Brno city hall in the Cernovice mental asylum.
The unfortunate subject of this story, a Mr. Kuba, citizen and former civic officer of the city of Brno now resides in an asylum of that city, largely unaware of his sad circumstances but content in his ward, surrounded as he is by camellias of fifteen different species one of which has a lovely fragrance which he sniffs regularly but, so the nurses think, rather wistfully. The following story relates the incidents in the days before his committal to the Cernovice asylum, from which it is not expected he will be leaving any time soon...
Raising his right hand Kuba reached into the collar of his shirt and scratched the itch on the left of his chest. A bead of sweat rolled down his temple. Since the ordeal of shingles four years ago, this recurrent itch had been a barometer of the state of his nervousness and today, sitting on a bench in Namesti Svobody, he was feeling very nervous indeed. He had only taken his job in the town planning office as a way of not having to work, so that he could concentrate more fully on tending to his camellias, and now, he could see, there was every possibility he would soon be unemployed and unemployable.
The file in his left hand, light though it was, weighed heavily on him as he couldn't see at all how its contents could fail but to end his short career, and with it the salary and short working hours so favourable to the care of his camellias. Possibly as soon as today, in as little as less than an hour. He had an appointment with an important official – a certain Professor Pavlovsky - from the Town Hall's Alterations to Historical Monuments Department and he was convinced that it would go badly. Worse than that, he would very likely be thrown out of the office, papers hurled after him and in short, become a laughing stock and a liability to be fast-tracked out of the office.
He frowned, got up from the bench, and his attention was immediately arrested by the obscure rotating black clock planted off-centre to the South of the triangular town square. But after all, he reasoned, they had managed to get the appropriate permissions and stamps and agreements and legal say-so not to mention political wherewithal and clout to have that folly built. It gave him a glimmer of hope. A clock from which not even the creator can give you an accurate measure of the time must have been a hard sell, but sold it was, and erected too.
Kuba raised his troubled eyes still further to the Baroque plague column on his right. One last look, for inspiration. The trouble was, it looked perfectly fine. There was nothing much wrong with it. True it wasn't a match for the layered bodies which reached up to the heavens over Vienna or the grandeur of Olomouc's golden column, but in its own unassuming way it did its job as it had done for centuries yet and irked nobody. He would never be able to convince anybody of the sense of this plan. Least of all Professor Pavlovsky of the Alteration of Historical Monuments Department.
Two weeks earlier, his mind on a particularly troubling suspected case of petal blight in a favoured Camellia Calendonta, Kuba had attended a meeting in a state of more than his customary absent-mindedness.
'Now, as you know,' his boss had begun, 'The Roads and Streets Department of the city has an easy time of it. This year Milada Horakova street, next year Husova road, the year after that, who knows? Who cares, frankly? There's always another square to re-pave and the cash just keeps rolling in to their coffers. Next to the Treasury, they're the most influential department in the Town Hall. We over in Monuments though... well that's another story – we need to fight our corner. We need a project, a big one, to secure next year's funding and this office's continued existence before we get subsumed by those bastards over at Concrete and Brass Structures.'
Kuba's thoughts were elsewhere. The humidity was probably wrong. He would have to increase the output of his humidifier. See if that had any effect on the petal blight. It was possible that the bloom could be saved. He was used to this bluster from his boss, Ing. Zdenda so it mostly went over him and didn't distract from the thought in hand. He'd heard the stories of the meetings where the clock's erection had first been proposed and the awful hush that filled the room after the presentation of how one was supposed to tell the time from it. He'd witnessed first hand last year's unveiling of plans for a monumental equine statue which many held to be more similar in appearance to a giraffe than the steed befitting the great Jobst of Moravia. Only narrowly had he avoided being included in the team for that project.
Clearing his throat, and casting a glance over to K, who was not in any appropriate state of concentration to return or even notice it, Ing. Zdenda continued...
'Now then, we've just about filled up all the available parcels for new monuments so this year we're in a bit of a bind. We have to think laterally to find an appropriate project and rather than create, this year we're going to rotate! That's right, rotate! The Plague column in Namesti Svobody, we'll rotate it by 90 degrees. It will change the aspect of the square entirely. Revitalize it and give a good impression to the citizens that their officials are punctilious and attuned to the details of the city. For too long now, that angel on the top of the column has been staring off aimlessly down Koblizna street, rather than facing Southwards towards the train station, welcoming new arrivals into the heart of the city.'
Torn from his cares by the unusually high degree of senselessness of this latest of his superior's plans, Kuba's eyes focused somewhat, and it began to dawn on him that this proposal was clearly a poisoned chalice. He'd seen it before from Ing. Zdenda. When he wanted to fire somebody, this being nearly impossible to achieve through the conventional means, his preferred method was to humiliate them or create such a scandal around their name, that it became politically feasible to lean on the Employees Rights Department such that they wouldn't kick up too much of a fuss.
“Kuba, you are to do it. You're just the man. Here is the file. I've lined up a meeting with Professor Pavlovsky from Alterations to Historical Monuments for tomorrow. I want you to present our proposals to him using all your powers of persuasion. His support is crucial. We need him on board. If we are to attain the go-ahead, not to mention the funding from the town hall, it is vital that Professor Pavlovsky supports this project Kuba. Don't let us down.'
Kuba took the file, as the room rapidly emptied, and sat down with it, leafing through the proposal. Dig up and rotate, through 90 degrees, the plague column, with a view to the angel on top facing, head-on, new arrivals to the city. Those, at least, who chose to arrive by train. Who in their right mind could possibly support such an entirely unnecessary rotation?
A trap had been laid and K had failed not to take the bait, and now, as he turned to walk down Koblizna street, feeling the stare of the plague column's angel on his back he could feel all to clearly the push and the jerk of the hook within that damn file that was to seal his fate, and lose him his job.
As he walked down the gentle hill to the Magistrate's office at the bottom of Koblizna street where Professor Pavlovsky's offices lay, his thoughts turned to the left, to the Jesuit College where in 1682 Georg Joseph Kamel had novitiated, before leaving on his travels through Cadiz to the Phillipines and Manila where he would document the fauna and flora of those islands in greater detail than anyone before, and leave with the most beautiful of all the flora his name, camellia. How Kuba wished now, to be in Manila.
He entered the magistrate's office and stared at the lift. It hummed continuously, as its rose-wood cubicles whirled round and around. Suited officials with name tags and briefcases as though momentarily taking leave of the straitened formality of their clothing and purpose leapt on and off the ascending and descending platforms and disappeared head-first or appeared shoes and socks-first. K hated these Paternoster lifts, designed to throw the casual user completely off guard before an important meeting, whilst those who worked in the building and used them regularly were experts, even able to offer the customary 'Good day' or 'Good Bye' to their fellow travellers mid-leap. Kuba leapt, and steadied himself with the hand which didn't contain the file, against the back wall of this cubicle of perpetual motion ascending to his fate.
Two thirds of the way down an interminable corridor Kuba stopped in front of a door with a name plate which read, 'PH dr. Professor P. Pavlovsky Ph d.'
'Good morning Professor Pavlovsky. My name is Kuba, from Monuments. Thank you for seeing me. I have with me a... a proposal which I would like to discuss with... er, with you, and we'd very much welcome it if you would, well, support our ideas in next month's meeting with the town council.'
He could feel that the skin of his temples and forehead was not quite as dry as would befit the Alterations to Historical Monuments Department and his voice lacked conviction. The professor would sense it.
'Well, what do we have here?' Professor Pavlovsky indicated the file still clutched by his side, in Kuba's left hand. 'Hand it over and let's have a look. Sit down, sit down.' With a leaden arm and a sense of grief for his expected loss, Kuba lifted the file into the outstretched hand whose proportions had grown to fill entirely, his consciousness.
'Of course, it will be difficult. Most of the proposals from your lot are nonsense. We've had to take away Mendel's Pea, after all. Looked nothing like a pea. Don't know how it lasted so long. Collection of bottles. Anyway, let's see what you've got.'
'It's not a new proposal, as such, professor. It's more of... an amendment.'
'An amendment, you say. An amendment. An amendment of what exactly?'
'Of the Plague column, professor.'
'And what is it about the Plague column that needs amending, precisely?'
'Well, professor, what we propose is a 90 degree rotation of the column, such that the angel faces towards those arriving in the town from the train station. At the moment anyone arriving in the town square from the station has only... well a side-on view, and we, I, the department feels that a rotation will give the square... well a new spin. An improvement, more than an amendment, I would say. A new aspect. A... a... breath of fresh air.'
'A breath of fresh air from a plague column, you say. A 90 degree change in the angle of the angel?'
'No professor, not the angel. The whole column. After all the proposal is meant to lend a new perspective to the square.'
The professor took the papers, and spent a full 3 minutes turning the pages, during which time his eye-brows performed a series of swerves, climbs and plummets of increasing rapidity. Looking up, and removing his glasses, he fixed Kuba with astute blue eyes.
'This is nonsense! Pure idiocy! Rotating a column which already has a perfectly good aspect for no fathomable reason whatsoever. Who employed you? Who sent you here, eating into my lunch hour with this humbug!? Is this some kind of joke? Is that it?'
The professor got up, opened the door to his office to check that nobody was waiting outside in the corridor and, finding nobody, slammed it shut.
'I will not lend my name to this labyrinthine absurdity of yours. I shall not be advocating even the slightest twist to the column. It's perfectly fine how it is. I shall, however, be writing to your superiors over in that catastrophic ministry of yours to tell them never to send you in this direction again!'
The professor's words ringing in his ears, Kuba fled, close to tears. His mind raced over what was to come. He had failed, utterly to convince the professor of the sense of the plan. Of course he had. He had never been meant to be able to. Ing. Zdenda had sprung his trap, and Kuba was caught in it, squirming and exposed for all to ridicule. He turned from the corridor into the vestibule where he saw two pairs of legs, the pinstripes gradually disappearing upwards, the stockings lengthening into a skirt, blouse, head. The damned paternoster. Should he take the stairs? Steeling himself, he jumped forward, no longer really caring even for his own safety. As the lift creaked and wobbled its way downwards, K could see what lay ahead for him. He would return to the office shamefacedly, and report to Ing. Zdenda that all was lost – Professor Pavlovsky had not been at all supportive of the proposals, however unjustifiably, whereupon he would immediately be consigned to intensive paper-shuffling. Then the rumours would start. Overheard conversations about how the department had been made a laughing stock. His colleagues would wonder more or less distinctly in his direction whether the department wouldn't be closed down, whether they all might not lose their jobs shortly. An announcement would no doubt be made within two months of a departmental reshuffling – a repositioning, a change of aspect. And he would be first out of the door.
The bottom was approaching all too fast for Kuba's liking as his vertical open-cask coffin conveyed him downwards. The pate of an officer hove into view and K realized that he would have to try to avoid this man as he performed his outward leap. Careful timing and positioning would be required not to bump into him. Shifting over to the right K waited for the optimum time to jump and as he did so, distracted by the 'Good day' the officer wished him, he fell, and his file flew up into the air, unfurling its papers which started to float down, and into the rotating cubicles of the lift.