Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Things We Left Behind - excerpt

It had all began at a time I was young, no more than a drop in the vast ocean of humanity; it all came to an end at a time during which I’ve stubbornly refused to grow up. Besides, I never felt that I was anything more than a child; despite the almost non-stop drinking, our so-called high society, the fake friendships and the illusions of happiness, and the drugs that were so easy to find and consume, and thus be rewarded with fleeting moments of pleasure, while at the same time flooding with money the pockets of the dealers and the coffers of the inappropriately luxurious detoxification clinics. It was at that exact moment, as I was plummeting into the abyss and at the same time trying to rise to the surface, that I met him.
     Andy looked nothing like the people I’ve been acquainted with thus far in life –I, yet had no real friends- I felt that he didn’t belong there. There where we were, that is. In that big university that was full of spoilt rich kids, who tended to make the rules, while the others just had to obey and follow. In his case, it wasn’t the money and the invisible guardian-parents, which paved the way to a golden future, but the hard work and the will to learn, the full-hearted devotion to a dream that demanded big and nonstop sacrifices in order to come true. And last but not least it was the poverty; the almost inhuman conditions under which he lived that made him so much a better person than all of us put together. As I was soon to find out his scholarship was hardly enough to make ends meet, so he had to keep a handful of a part-time jobs that saw him running from the one place to the next, seven days a week, without a break. However, despite all that, he was always smiling. And it was that smile exactly that made me feel an unwelcome kind of attraction towards him, which let me to abandon without any sense of guilt my girlfriends, with their silly talking; with their unwillingness to just let me be. But it was not only that that drew me close to him; it was also his eyes; a pair of big gray eyes, which in an odd way seemed to be sad and happy at the same time; full of irony and warmth; rage and serenity. His was a glance staring straight into the future. This man seems to have a purpose in life, I thought the very first time I set eyes on him, and felt a pinch of melancholy tormenting my soul. He had a purpose, one that I never did, since my future was decided for me without me; probably from day one; from the moment I took my very first breath and shed my first tears in the sterile environment of an exclusive and definitely expensive clinic. All of a sudden I felt jealous of him, even though I had yet no clues about his what’s and why’s, without knowing what was it that he was going through. For a moment I felt that poverty could set me free, but as I was to find out in the months to follow poverty was not the answer to my inner demons. He was! Maybe everything in my life happened for a reason after all; maybe that was the plan that the fates braided for me: to be there at that exact moment, to see him, to feel curious about his being, to make me at last wonder about the meaning of my life.
     I didn’t dare to talk to him that day. I just sat there staring, almost in awe, at his brilliant presence, as he was reading a book and every now and then raising his head and looking out of the window. And I didn’t dare to approach him the days that followed either, even though I saw him almost every time I was in the campus cafeteria. What could I tell him? What would I tell him? – Absolutely nothing. I had nothing to say and knew not how to talk. Besides, even though I used to talk to other girls about this and that, stupid stuff really, I was pretty shy; I’d never dare to make the first step. Unless we played Truth or Dare, of course; then I would. But we didn’t, so I kept watching him, trying to guess his thoughts -I’d give more than a penny for them- eager to know who he really was, without showing though how interested I were in him. However, as I’ve already pointed out, he was a stranger in our world, so how was I supposed to invade his? That was the question. And right now I feel so lucky, blessed in a way that he decided to take matters into his own hands. If he didn’t, I’d never really meet him; he’d stay nothing but a daydream to me. And then I’d still toady be somebody else; someone I wouldn’t like; I’d perfectly fit in the cast that they made for me. My parents, that is.
     “Why are you always so sad?” I heard his voice asking me a couple of weeks later, and I felt truly surprised, as if suddenly awaking from a dream. I was sitting alone and lonely, as I usually did, in the cafeteria staring at a book; just staring at it, totally distracted, unable to read a single sentence. I was about to burst out yelling -who the hell did he thing he was, and who gave him the right to talk to me?- but then I raised my head, swept the fog from my eyes and saw him. I smiled. It was the very first time I’ve heard his voice and I dare say that it unquestionably suited him. His gray eyes were focused on me, as if repeating the question, but their look was gentle, full of understanding; they imposed no pressure at all on me to answer.
     “I have no idea,” I finally said and asked him to sit there, at the opposite site of the table. I’m sure that if I didn’t he’d never think of doing it. He had manners that man. He really did.

To be continued

Image taken from here

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Wheels of Fortune

The following is the first draft of a story that ended up coming out as a novel in Greece three years ago. The English version has never been edited or revised.

At the age of sixteen Joanna was a gorgeous girl. Just looking at her, the prettiest and the sweetest girl not only in the village, but in the whole province, was like a blessing from god. As was the habit in rural Greece in those days, young men would send their special representatives to ask for her hand in marriage to her mother every so often, but she would turn them all down. She was waiting for the right one to come along for her precious daughter, which back then meant, “Show me the money!” Joanna felt quite relieved that her mother turned down every husband to be. She didn’t want to get married so young in age. She had dreams to fulfill. She wanted to travel to a big city, and study, and become a teacher. But her mother would say: “Get that nonsense out of your mind. I’ve spend too many precious years bringing you up all on my own; now it is time for me to rest.”
    Joanna was determined to fight her way to her dreams, but so was her mother to stop her from doing so.
    One day the husband to be that the mother dreamed for her daughter finally showed up at their door. Not himself of course, but an old lady that came at his command. The man was rich and a hard worker, and he was willing to give the woman anything she asked for to make Joanna his bride. It didn’t take much for the mother to say yes.
    Well, just when the girl found out what was going on behind her back, she locked herself into her bedroom crying rivers of bitter tears. Even the walls cracked from her mourning, one would say. Only her mother’s soul refused to feel her pain. And so, she called for Joanna’s best friends to talk her out of the room, and they happily came. And they did it, as they all praised to heavens the husband to be: “Vaggelis is beautiful and rich, and a hard working man, a blessing for you Joanna. You’ll live as a queen!” they would say.
    Joanna got married on a warm summer afternoon, and in the couple of years that followed she was as unhappy as a woman could ever be. Vaggelis, the good man that everyone talked about was no more than a savage that painted her life’s canvas deep black. He’d hit her like an animal at any given chance, and “making love” were words he didn’t understand; rape was his game.
    She was hardly passed the age of seventeen when she started feeling old and abandoned. She’d lost her will to live. Dark circles covered her eyes, darker ones her soul. The girl that always used to smile now did nothing else but cry. Her everyday life was moving in circles of pain, less the one day, more the other. All that until she got pregnant; then she once again felt alive and her soul’s burden lightened a bit.
    Her daughter, a child produced by the seed of hatred and brought to life by the womb of love, was born on a chilly January morning. She gave her the name Aggeliki, as in her eyes she had the face of an angel. Vaggelis didn’t want to have anything to do with the name or the girl. Since the child was not a boy, it was of no value whatsoever to him.
    Poor Joanna thought that now that the child was born things could change with her husband, so she tried to show him some tenderness and affection, but to no avail. All he cared about was to hit her and to rape her. If it weren’t for Aggeliki, she would break down. She used to sit for many hours with the baby in her embrace, caressing it and talking to it about all her sufferings, and promising that she would one day take it away to a better life. No other choice was left for them; they had to run away; to run away from that every day death that her mother gave her as a wedding gift.
    All the people in the village knew about her drama, but no one dared go close and offer her some consolation. They were all afraid of her husband, the brute, who would most certainly hunt them down. And she couldn’t go out either; he had prohibited her from doing so. Besides, where could she go? There’s no way she could stand the looks of sadness that would most definitely follow her everywhere.
    On a cloudy morning she was startled to hear a knock on the door. As she opened it she was more surprised to see an old woman, a neighbor of her mother, standing there and offering to her a toothless smile. She invited her in and asked what brought there. “Are you not afraid of Vaggelis?” she added. “When you are as close to death as I am, there are not many things left that can still scare you. Take my word for it,” the old woman said and smiled again showing both her teeth. “Now, as to what brought me here I’m afraid that I have both good and bad news to bring you. The bad is that your mother is seriously ill, and the good is that she’s regretted for what she has done to you, and so she’s sent me here to tell you to find a way and leave your husband. She is really sorry for the misery that she put you into. Now, take this money and run away at the first given chance. It is the money that Vaggelis gave to her to buy you as his bride.”
    Joanna felt furious and touched at the same time, and started trembling. She hated her mother for all the misery that she brought on to her, but now that she regretted somehow she felt sorry for her. No matter how much she hurt her, how unhappy she made her, deep inside she still loved her mother. “But, she sold me!” she would think again, and get furious and sigh and shed a tear.
    Her mother died that very same day and they buried her the one after. The people who haven’t seen her for quite some time thought that it was the sorrow, from her mother’s death that made her face seem so broken and sad; only a couple of her old friends came to understand that it was the tyrant that ruled her life that turned the spring of her face into a winter.
    Joanna from that day onwards started little by little preparing and waiting for the right moment to escape. And it was not a long wait. A quiet and dark night, as they sat at the dining table, Vaggelis told her that he’d be away for a couple of days from the village since he had some business to attend to at a neighboring town. He left the next afternoon, and she at the dawn of the following day. Mother and daughter headed for the big city of Athens; determined to get lost in the crowded streets and start a life anew.

Athens; a man-eating city. At first it scares the shit out of her, but after a while she gets used to it. She has no other choice since she has a child to bring up. They live in a small, dark basement apartment, just until “the better days come.” She’s looking for a job but it’s hard to find one that suits her, since wherever she goes she has to take her daughter with her. At long last, just a notch before she falls into despair, she finds work at the home of a rich couple. The husband is a businessman and the wife an air-hostess. The latter is almost always away. They have a little boy, Petros that Joanna has to take care off, along with the household of course.
    It is a hard work really, as every day she has to wake up before dawn to dress and to feet her Aggeliki, before going to work. There she will prepare breakfast for the family, and then she’ll start to take care of the rest of the household’s businesses that seem to have no end. The kids will always be messing around, getting themselves in her way; and her lady boss will come at the weirdest hours of the day asking for lunch or this or that; and as for the male boss he’ll be like a pain in the ass, asking for everything, always to be perfect, even though he doesn’t spent too much time at home when his wife is away, but rather sleeps someplace else, with someone else. So, Joanna has to stay there many a night, to look after the kid.
    And time flows by. And her bosses seem to take advantage of her more and more. They know she’s in need and they have no intention of making life easy for her. So they order her around at any given chance. They feel like king and queen. And she, no more than twenty of age, feels old. Life is breaking her down; Aggeliki brings her up to her feet again. “If I haven’t had you what would I do?” she asks herself and smiles lovingly at her child.
    But her smiles are not meant to last for long. During the last few days she noticed that something was going wrong with her boss. He stopped sleeping around, he seems to get more nervous by the day, and he started looking at her in strange and unsettling ways.
    And today… Today what she was afraid of just happened. As she was making up the couple’s bed, which she was sure never really knew any bright days, her boss came on to her. He grabbed her from the waist and threw her on the bed while trying to rip her clothes off. She was fast enough to kick him in the balls and run away. “This is not going to be the end of it, you bitch!” she heard him scream in pain, as she rushed her way out of the bedroom.
    She said nothing to his wife about what has happened. She knew that it would be useless to do that since it was more that certain that she would put the blame on her. She just hoped that the beast would not try to do anything of the kind again. Her hopes remained nothing but hopes!
    It was a Saturday morning and the setting just the same; but this time he did manage to catch her off guard. He grabbed her neck from the behind with one hand, while with the other he started undressing her. She couldn’t scream because if she did the kids who were playing together next door would rush over, and that could only make things worst. No, they didn’t have to see the face of terror at such an early age. She suffered the rape quietly, resigned, offering no resistance. For a moment she thought that she once again was under the reigns of her savage husband. Soon enough he finished and grabbing his penis, fully satisfied and ironic he asked: “Are you satisfied, you bitch?” “With what?” she asked back, staring him coldly in the eyes, showing her contempt. She was sure he was going to erupt in fury, but instead he smiled and said: “You’d better never tell anyone about this, because if you do the worst are still to come. I’ll look to that. You won’t be able to find a job anywhere, not even as a cleaning lady. Unless… Unless you become a whore…”
    Joanna picked up her daughter and her pride and left the damned house. And she went on and became a whore.

Aggeliki was put in a prep school run by nuns as an inmate, while Joanna –a body without a soul- started practicing the well paid but soul-killing job of the hooker. At first she felt at a loss. She didn’t know how to behave in front of the hungry eyes of men. Actually, though not a virgin, she never made love before. She thought that the rape was the usual order of things. So, prostitution became a kind of school for her. Having had to go with all those men, she came to learn a lot of things; but yet not enough. With the first few customers she would behave pathetically; as if she wasn’t there; as if she had nothing to do with the act at hand. And the men were fast to realize that; and one by one they stopped visiting her. She’d never come to know why, if a furious young man didn’t scream to her that it was the first time that he felt like he was making love to an ice doll. She got the message!
    From that day on Joanna became a different woman. She no longer looked at men like some objects that simply used her body as a boxing sack. She started loving the body that until then received only pain, and she started showing some understanding to the souls of men. Many times she treated them just like kids; caressing them, helping them feel better with themselves. And a lot of them became fond of her. “This one is different than the others,” they thought. She didn’t make fun of them. She was a warm-hearted woman. And many a time they would confide in her, or just lie down and weep on her breasts looking for some comfort. She’d have a good word for everyone; she’d care for everybody. She’d become a mother all over again, and many would be her children.
    As for Aggeliki, even though she missed her mother, she led a happy life. She learned new things every day, she made a lot of friends, and there was always a smile on her smooth innocent face. Every Sunday they spent together was like a feast with no end. As strange as it sounds Aggeliki was teaching her mother everything about life, about the joys of it. As for her, looking at her angel spreading its wings, she just wanted to fly along, to accompany the little thing in its first travels in the unknown skies. And that brought back to her life an old habit; she started reading again. Books were her whole world once, but that before her mother made her sign a contract with misery. Now that she rediscovered the joy of getting lost in a book, she’d read just anything: novels, short stories, sci-fi, fairy tales, just everything. And then she would recite stories to her child. That helped her attitude towards life change. It didn’t look so sad and grave any more. There were colors and melodies that she’s never seen or heard before. And as for her work, she didn’t feel ashamed of it as she did at first; now she’d say: “the body is a temple that needs to be worshiped”, and it was worshiped, a lot, by many!

The years were flowing by like sweet river water. Aggeliki was growing up like a princess. All that her mother never dreamed of having, she possessed. If someone ever saw them walking together in the street he’d think that they were no more than a couple of angels that came to earth by some mistake. That’s how beautiful and full of grace they were. Joanna, at twenty-six, looked untouched by time; she was pretty as a sunny spring day; as a girl that never knew pain.
    On a warm Sunday night she was surprised to hear someone knocking on the door. That was weird because all her men knew that she was not working on Sundays. As she opened the door she saw a young pale man, sighing, and barely standing on his feet staring at her with empty eyes. Before she had time to ask him what he wanted he heard him whisper “please…” and saw him collapse right there at the doorstep. She stayed still, frozen by surprise for a few moments, but after a while she gathered herself and pulled him in by the feet. She let him lie on the carpet, while thinking what to do. Finally she tried to wake him up by washing his face, but with no success. It looked like the situation was far more complicated that she wished it to be. Thinking of no other way to wake him up, in the end, he grabbed him from the waist and pulled him into the bathroom. He wasn’t heavy. His body was light as a child’s. When she took his clothes off to bath him, she came face to face with terror. Both his arms were pierced by the needles of death. “Poor kid,” she thought weeping, as she started washing him. Then she cleaned his wounds and managed to pour some water between his lips, before slowly carrying him to her own bed. She really didn’t know what to do, but she thought that with the water and the tea and some soup, at some point or the other, he’d revive.
    For the next few days she didn’t open her door to anyone. She only took care of the young man, who no longer seemed to be under any direct threat. It was on the fifth night that she saw him opening his eyes and smile to her. “Thank you!” was his first and only words. He remained silent for quite a while, looking at her with eyes filled with gratitude. It was long before he talked again. “I woke up before, you know, and I saw you; but you didn’t notice. As I looked at you I thought that I have died and gone to heaven, because, well, in my eyes you had the shape of an angel; it is true, you really were angel-like as you sat there caring and peaceful, reading your book. She smiled at him. “Who knows? Maybe I am your angel.”
    After a couple of days Costas, that was his name, managed to stand back on his feet again. Till then they have talked a lot. He told her about his life; she told him about hers; he confided that the night she knocked on her door the police was after him. He also said that he was determined to get over his drug addiction; that he would get into a rehabilitation program and when clean start his life anew. Joanna tried to give him courage, to help him believe that he could do it. “Everything will be fine,” she’d say, “Everything will be fine!” She even wanted to offer to him financial backing for as long as the ordeal lasted, but he declined. “I can do it on my own little mother,” he said.
    On that very same day he called a friend to come and pick him up. And so Joanna met Margo. She was nineteen years old with a wide smile and shiny hazel eyes on her blossoming face. “She’s my soul,” said Costas, “The soul that I was stupid enough to risk losing!”
    Late at night, as she went to bed to sleep, her mind could find no peace. The words that Costas spoke to her were drumming through her inner ear, filling her soul with his certainty that everything would be all right; that she could also make it on her own. Make what? Do what? Start her life anew. She thought: “If he can do it, why not me?” She was strong and she knew it.
    She spent a lot of days all alone, thinking, and at long last she decided to give it a try. She had nothing to lose, everything to gain. She no longer opened her door to any customer saying that she retired, but also telling them that they could always come and visit for some coffee and a chat. And some of them did, as she started planning her new life. The first thing she would do was take her daughter out of that school at the end of the school year. She’d sent her to a public one. She kept her in the prison long enough. After that they would move to a new house. With the money that she saved during the past few years, they could now afford to go and live in a better house, in a brighter neighborhood. And from then on, everything, absolutely everything would change for the better. Joanna could at last enjoy the childhood years of her daughter, and Aggeliki could get to know just how much her mother really loved her. And soon enough she would get a job; a normal job, one that wouldn’t make the daughter feel ashamed of the mother. That was the future to be.
    A few days before moving out she once again heard an unexpected knock on the door. She opened it only to see Costas and Margo smile at her. She hardly recognized the man whom a few months back she saved from the teeth of death. He looked so alive! “You made it,” she whispered and let soft sweet tears run smoothly down her cheeks. “This is no time for tears,” said Margo, “we came to take you for a small trip.” Wiping the tears from her cheeks, she called Aggeliki to come and introduced her to them.
    Joanna sat at the front sit of the car with Costas, while Aggeliki and Margo sat at the back, becoming good friends at no time at all. Margo was full of life and it wasn’t long before she made Aggeliki get into her high spirits. She would say stories, and sing, and recite jokes mimicking voices, making the young girl giggle with joy. Joanna and Costas talked only a little; they preferred to listen to the chitchat at the back. But even those few words they exchanged made the man’s face lighten up and soon enough he said: “Since you love reading so much, why don’t you go to a night school and finish your studies. Even a high school diploma is better than nothing. Then it would be easier for you to move on.” A flame started burning in her eyes the moment she heard those words. How come she never thought of that? Margo who was listening thought that she could also put a stone on the building of Joanna’s new life, so she was fast to add: “After that you could even go to university. Everything can be done these days Jo!” She started thinking about it. And the more she thought, the more she liked the idea. Her thoughts were happy; her spirits were rising high. Everything can be done! Just as they arrived at Sounio Margo and Aggeliki jumped out of the car and started running like cats in the wilderness. She walked silent, in deep happy thinking, accompanied by Costas, and at long last she burst out: “I will do it!”

They move out and the new life begins. Joanna enrolls at a night school. When she’s not at home her daughter spends her free time at Margo’s house that doesn’t live far from the place they do. As for a job, always something comes along; always part time, but that’s good enough. Aggeliki rediscovering her mother now seems to love her more than ever, and so she gives her strength and courage to go on and do what she started to do. They spent a lot of time together, sitting next to each other, reading. And at the weekends they take short trips with Costas and Margo. Their lives become more colorful by the day.
    Two years pass like a whisper of the wind and at long last Joanna gets her high school diploma with excellent grates. Some of her professors urge her to continue with her studies at the university: “You are sharp, you can make it,” they say. She can.
    She gives the exams and passes among the very best of young students. She’ll study to become a teacher. That’s what she wants. But life isn’t easy. Now she has to spend too many hours in a class, and many more studying. How could she handle a daughter, a household and those long hours of study all by herself? She talks about it with her daughter and friends, and well, as they say: “Where there is will, there is a way;” so it’s not long before they work out a solution. And life goes on.
    Joanna feels as alive as ever at the university. All those young people, some of them as much as ten years younger than her, make her feel the joy of life at every step. She’s fast to make some new friends, and to learn new things. The lost years of her life seem to be reclaimed; no matter if such a thing could certainly not happen.
    Some of her new friends treat her with a certain respect, and every time they face a problem they turn to her for help. Joanna, who’s studied in the big and hard school of everyday life, seems to have all the answers to their questions. And for that she feels happy, truly happy. She feels loved. What else could she ever ask for?
    Years come and years go. Aggeliki is already a beautiful adolescent girl, while her eternally young mother is getting ready to graduate. Costas and Margo still live together, in a relationship full of love. Nothing seems to be able to upset their peaceful lives. They’ve cut the past off and now look at the future with optimism.
    Joanna gets her diploma, but since it’s impossible to get appointed right away, she just gets any job that comes her way; from cleaning lady to typist. Till one day, her “good angel”, as she calls Margo, will find for her a job at a newspaper. She’d be responsible for the archives and whenever the need arises she would type some texts on the computer as well. It is there that she comes to know that the old saying that goes: “All that is done is paid for right here,” is not really fiction. They ask her to type a phone dispatch that made her sigh with relief, but also feel a bit sad. According to it her former employer and rapist has been arrested for a financial fraud, and killed himself while in custody. She feels good for his punishment, but sad for the lost life.

    The newspaper will turn out to be a big school for her. Even though she will never work as a journalist she’ll come to know a lot about the profession, about its beauty and its filth, its truths and its lies. And she’ll be lucky enough to see some of her own writings find their way into the Sunday editions; mostly some “thoughts on life.”
    As for a love affair, there’s none in her life, even tough she now has many friends. She is still looking for the right one, she says.
    Finally she gets appointed to the job of her dreams. For start they’ll sent her to a quiet little island. Once again she feels happy and sad at the same time. She really likes it at the newspaper, but her childhood dream is right there waiting for her to make it come true. She has to. The right moment has arrived.
    As for Aggeliki, she, at the age of eighteen, is a bright young woman full of self-confidence. While her mother will be taking the boat to the island, she’ll be climbing the train to Salonica, to start her own studies. She plans to be a psychologist. So, as they’ll both be very busy, the separation will not be very hard on them. They have to follow their separate ways.
    Joanna, by the very moment that she enters the classroom, she knows that she has found her destiny. And even before the school year is over, she decides that she wants to spend her career teaching in the islands. She’ll not ask to be transferred to a city. She knows that right there or in any other island she can offer something to the kids, and be appreciated for that. And that’s what she wants: appreciation and affection and love, just like the little children and their parents offer them to her there.
    A few days ago she’s written to Margo saying, that maybe, just maybe, at last, she has met the right man for her; a folklore researcher and writer who’s full of life and madness. Oh, she’s also started writing a book about her life. She will appropriately call it The Wheels of Fortune.

Image taken from here

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Hikikomori - Excerpt

They found his foot floating close to the Pafos coast and I got upset; really upset. Bitter memories came rushing back into my soul from a past not so long gone, a past I was trying hard to forget, but could not just yet do so. They are going to find me, I’d think, and the tears would start flowing one after the other, a slow quiet stream, out of my eyes and into the world, scaring the wits out of me. They were going to find me, and then what?
     It was late at night and I was sitting on an old wooden bench, under an almost ancient tree in Faneromeni square in Nicosia, Cyprus and I was crying; as quietly as I possibly could. Every now and then some people, with faces unknown in an estranged world, would pass by, take a good look at me and leave. No one stood there for more than a moment, nobody dared to talk to me. People are so afraid of sorrow that they’d rather hide behind fake smiles than show to the others how they really feel. But I’m not like them, even though I have my secrets; my own horrible secrets; secrets that up to now I have never dared share with anyone, or almost anyone.
     As I was swimming deep into the dark waters of my soul I heard footsteps approaching from somewhere I could not see. My head was down and through the veil of my tears I could only watch the pale shadows cast by the buildings, the tree and the lights, on the paved walking street. The birds of the night were probably flying over the buildings and the great steeple of St. Mary’s church at that very moment, chasing their shadows, like phantoms, all the way to the moon, as they usually did. Somebody sat next to me. I didn’t lift my head up, I didn’t have to. I knew who it was. I felt him. Him! The Different One; that’s what I called him. He was different because he didn’t belong there; he never did, he never will. He spoke not a word. He touched me not. He just let me run out of tears and when he finally heard a desperate sigh escape my breast, he simply lifted himself off the bench and said, let’s go.
     I got up. I didn’t have to dry my tears since they were lost somewhere deep within me and buried into the arms of the big night. We started wandering aimlessly and in the quiet, in the narrow ill-lit streets of the old town. An unsettling peace and quiet seemed to have settled over every single neighborhood, apart from the ones taken over during the past few years, slowly and painlessly, by the immigrants. There one could still smell the aromas of the day and see couples sitting on benches speaking in whispers, smiling, thinking maybe about yesterday, and surely making plans for tomorrow. I really liked it there, especially during the day, when the immigrants’ kids filled the streets, playing and laughing and shouting at each other, happier in their poverty than we ever were in our wealth. We kept walking. We reached the red light district if there ever was one in this city. Girls, or rather middle-aged to old women, were sitting inside ancient houses or out in the street, waiting for customers to come by, inviting every lonesome soul in to have a good time. Every time I saw them I felt like I was living in a fairytale, in another land and some different times.
     Cyprus is my curse; I used to complain every now and then, no matter how much I loved her. A land divided, not only geographically, but also mentally. Everyone seems to be honest, but dishonesty is the norm. They all say that they are faithful, but most of them go to church just once or twice a year. And they all know what’s the right thing to do, they point it out, but most of the time they don’t even follow their own advice. Every now and then I find myself feeling desperate, a bitter taste fills my psyche, I mourn about the way things are, but then I cry and get over it, before it starts all over again. Why am I like this? Why are the girls of my generation like this? Are we only phantoms wandering into a world not made for us? Are we only bad imitations of other people, of our parents or of somebody else? And why do we cry? Why do we cry so much? We cry at school, at home and on a bench under a tree, we cry everywhere, even when there are no tears in our eyes. This world is not our own. We are trying to change it, to make it ours, but obviously it has the upper hand. Nobody ever changed the world by wearing colorful clothes, smoking weed and creating revolutions by saying words that are soon to dissolve into thin air. Yes, that’s exactly what my friends do, and that’s what I do too; ours is a rebellion in words and hearsay, a safe revolution, destined to survive as long as our fathers keep providing for us. This is a cheap revolution. Ok, maybe I myself have no money and no father, but nevertheless…
     Anyway, we arrived at his home. It was an old house with walls raveled from chronic moisture. He’d let me stay there now and again, since I had nowhere else to go, I didn’t have a place of my own; not for a year now. At the time I used to stay wherever I found myself, in friends’ homes, but more often than not in an old ravaged building, which we, the modern outcasts have taken over, from nobody. There we could do whatever we ever wanted. And we did everything, or just about everything. The only thing we never made was love. It was as if even the idea of erotic traction could never be; as if no one would ever want to feel somebody else so close to him or her; like sex was really a sin. We met and hugged each other, we kissed, but we didn’t make love, fuck, we didn’t even feel love; perhaps because everybody knew that love hurts, it really does. We couldn’t fall in love, me and my friends, the only things we were capable of were to wander and to talk, to speak big words, even though I prefer the silence.
     The Silent One or Silence; that’s how Giannis calls me, the friend that picked up my pieces that time. Goodnight Silence, he said, when we entered his home, and headed for his bedroom. I followed his example and headed for the spare one, where I would spend the night. Thank God or Buddha or whomever that it was him who’s found me, I thought. I didn’t want to meet anybody else; sometimes people drive me mad, them and all their questions.
     The room was almost empty. It contained only an old mattress thrown on the white but not so clean marbled floor, with a couple of flowery sheets and a pillow on top, and a small library. I really liked that; the library I mean. I liked picking up its books that were full with fairytales and let myself drift like smoke into the worlds of fantasy. No, I did not believe in fairytales, I can even say that I hated them, but at the same time I really, really needed them. When I read them I tended to forget about all that was going on in my world and that night that’s exactly what I needed the most. I picked up a book. The Giving Tree. Quite childish but well-written and beautifully illustrated. It reminded me of the tree at the square, my tree. I’ve read it in a few minutes. And I smiled. And then I stayed still for quite a while staring at the ceiling; a high ceiling like in most houses in the old town. Every now and then I would close my eyes and see the picture; the same picture over and over again; the picture that was drifting like dead wood into the currents of my thought; the picture of his leg. Could things go wrong yet again, I wondered. Could they?
     Things Gone Wrong; that could be the title of my autobiography if I ever got to write it. Because if they didn’t go wrong, I wouldn’t have done what I did, I wouldn’t be so sad, Giannis would not call me Silence but probably scream, or even Smile; Giannis, who was fast asleep next door, the man who knew all my secrets. The only man I ever trusted and trust still. The guy who said to me: It was a good thing you did, killing that bastard. Yes, I have killed a man. The one whose leg they found today in the sea; the man that for years without end abused me; who did not allow me to learn how to smile; that made me at the tender age of seven lose my faith in men; who years later would make me render justice; the man who gave me life; the man that stole it from me; the one who repeatedly raped me; my father.
     My name is Chara, which ironically in Greek means Joy, and this is my story.

To be continued

Image taken from here

Monday, April 2, 2012

Maria Polidouri - Twilights

Before me rushes the day away
Like a beam of light.
And that’s how that always finds me
Unexpectedly and from afar
The burden of the twilight.

You’ll also run out of light
My hope made of gold,
The shadows will approach you
And thus you’ll fatefully beckon
Towards the twilight too.

© For the translation & the photo: Lakis Fourouklas