I’ve never actually wondered how many faces there are. There are a great many people, but there are even more faces because each person has several.
Admittedly, since they have several faces, the question now arises: what do they do with the others? They save them. They’ll do for the children. There have even been instances when dogs have gone out with them on. And why not? A face is a face.
Other people change their faces one after the other with uncanny speed and wear them out. At first it seems to them that they’ve enough to last them forever, but before they’re even forty they’re down to the last of them.
Of course, there’s a tragic side to it. They’re not used to looking after faces; their last one wore through in a week and has holes in it and in many places it’s as thin as paper; bit by bit the bottom layer, the non-face, shows through and they go about wearing that.
But that woman, that woman: bent forward with her head in her hands, she’d completely fallen into herself. It was at the corner of rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs. I began to tread softly the moment I caught sight of her. Poor people shouldn’t be disturbed when they’re deep in thought. What they’re searching for might still occur to them.
The street was too empty; its emptiness was bored with itself and it pulled away the sounds of my footsteps and clattered around all over the place with them like a wooden clog. Out of fright the woman reared up too quickly, too violently, so that her face was left in her two hands. I could see it lying there, the hollowness of its shape.
It cost me an indescribable effort to keep looking at those hands and not at what they’d torn away from. I dreaded seeing the inside of a face, but I was much more afraid of the exposed rawness of the head without a face.
Read The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge by Rainer Maria Rilke in its entirety here.