It was an evening late in November. The fog that during the afternoon had been lying like a crouching beast between the closely built houses had now risen. It was as though it had waited till nightfall for its prey, and then departed, leaving a sense of sulkiness in the atmosphere that weighed persistently on the spirits. A slight drizzling rain was wetting the pavements. It clung in a mist to the glass panes of the street lamps, dimming the glow of the light within.
In the windows of all the houses the electric lights were burning. You could see clerks, male and female, bent up over their desks beneath them. Some worked steadily, never looking up from their occupations; others gazed with expressionless faces out into the street. Occasionally the figure of a man would move out of the apparent darkness of the room beyond. The light would fan in patches on his face. You could see his lips moving as he spoke to the occupant of the desk; you might even trace the faint animation as it crept into the face of the person thus addressed. But it would only last for a few moments. The man would move away and the look of tired apathy settle itself once more upon the clerk’s features as soon as he or she were left alone.
As it grew later, there might be seen men with hats on their heads, moving about—in the light one moment, lost in the darkness the next. Some of them were pulling gloves on to their hands, or lighting cigarettes, others would be pinning a bunch of violets into their button-holes, or brushing the shoulders of their coats. These were the ones who had finished for the day. It could always be known when they had taken their departure. The heads of the clerks would twist towards the interior of the room. You could almost imagine the wistful expression on their faces from the bare outlines of their attitudes as they turned in their chairs. Then, a minute later, the main door of the house would open, the figure of a man emerge; for a moment he would turn his face up to the sky, then the umbrella would go up and he would walk away into the darkness of the street, for one brief moment an individual with an identity; the next, a mere unit in the great herd of human beings.
There were many departures such as these before, at last, the clerks rose from their chairs. When finally they did move, it was with a lethargy that almost concealed the relief which the cessation of work had brought them. One might have expected to see the slamming of books and the rushing for hats like children released from school. But there was no such energy of delight as that. Ledgers were closed wearily, as though they were weighted with leaden covers; papers were put in tiny heaps as if they were a pile of death-warrants. Typewriters were covered with such slowness and such care that one might think they were delicate instruments of music with silver strings, instead of treadmills for tired hands.