I don’t know exactly what this thing is or if it’s mine. It was given to a former flatmate around five years ago as a travel souvenir. According to her, it’s a ‘genuine’ plant seed from Africa. Its form and patterning recall a large pine cone, but its surface is unusually smooth and hard, quite unlike any other organic thing I know. When you shake it, another thing can be clearly heard rattling about inside, something the shape and size of a ping-pong ball. Though this thing might be a pit or seed in a pod, I’ve often wondered if it could have been made by human hands out of some synthetic material. If so, then what is its use?
I don’t know what would happen if it were planted in suitable surroundings, nor what kind of surroundings would be suitable. I’ve also wondered whether it might be a gift in both the English and German senses of the word (a present and a poison). It might be dangerous for the thing to develop beyond its sealed state. In spite of its immaculate exterior, it is not entirely lovely to behold – its shape and colour evoke the abject.
In any case, when this thing showed up, it immediately settled down in a striped Japanese tea cup – probably because it fit so snugly inside this porcelain vessel, which I used to love to drink from; my flatmate left the thing there when she moved out, entrusting it to my care. Or did she just forget it? Precisely because I’m unsure whether it belongs to me and what it really is, I treat it with the utmost respect, faithfully moving it with my other belongings from one apartment to the next.
I just hope this thing – which has managed to escape common notions of ownership while raising many interesting aesthetic issues – doesn’t take on a life of its own, like the impertinent celluloid balls in Kafka’s story Blumfeld, an Elderly Bachelor (1915), which constantly follow the main character around, hopping up and down, refusing to leave him alone …
Translated by Nicholas Grindell