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Glykeria Patramani


Walking, walking, running, puffing. His clothes feel sticky, his mouth feels sticky and the saliva thickens. He’s dizzy, short of breath, his chest hurts; he thinks this may be what a heart attack feels like so he coughs, he heard somewhere that that helps. He stops and coughs again and leans against the wall, just outside where his friend once lived, where his friend’s brother died. He thinks it must be bad luck. He walks further down, goes past the church and around the old castle. A fly passes him by, the wind passes him by and then an old woman. Her legs are podgy and her shoes are stretched and full of toes. He continues gingerly on his shaky legs and leaves her behind, together with the backyards, the flowerpots, the Holy Virgin icons, the embroidered curtains and heads towards the centre of town.
        He turns. He can already hear the marching band. A black cat passes among the ruins and stares back at him. More bad luck. He walks on, thinking this is what his own end will be like, on a sunny day, with a black cat and a school parade. He reaches the main street huffing. Along its pavements, streams of humming people flow past. In the middle of the road, the flag floats by and the matching blue and white children march in tune. Right across, in front of the halva, she stands, as always, surrounded by the wrinkles of her parents, as always; there she is in her plush-looking coat. He tries to call out to her but a hundred voices come out of his mouth all at once; a hundred and one with the loudspeaker.

The higher powers of the soul do not soar at eudaemonistic times. They are born under the threat of upcoming storms. Onward young friends, onward to defend the great ideals of the race, the fatherland, religion and democracy. Your strength is an ocean, your will is a rock...

His son, one of the ‘young friends’ approaches from the ranks of the 31st Trikala elementary school. There goes his tie, his neatly parted hair, his funny little short trousers. He pushes through the crowd and moves up to the front. His son is getting closer. He raises his camera. His son is getting even closer now. He focuses. And all of a sudden, the taste of iron fills his mouth. Everyone applauds, everyone pushes, everything spins. Click. He falls back on the crowd, falls back on something soft. A red T-shirt flashes by and then everything goes dark. And then somebody must have noticed, somebody screamed and somebody carried him to a corner and called an ambulance. And then the parade must have gone on as usual with the kids and the band and the tanks. Hopefully he at least managed to capture the moment.


Do you have frequent dizzy spells? I do of late. Ever passed out before? No. Vertigo? Take this pill, and that pill, eat well and get plenty of rest. Now, resting in bed—counting gaps in the radiator, then stripes in the rug, then crumbs on his plate and then back again to the radiator—resting. The clock goes tick-tock and the rain goes tick-tack and the only quiet things are his body and the turned down TV.
        And those holy calendar sayings flash past and if he’d read them properly he’d be wise by now, because he would have known that “the prudent spend their whole lives in ease and ample spiritual freedom” and “there are no lost causes apart from the ones we ourselves have abandoned.”
        But for the time being he lives his little adventures, fearful and passionless. He focuses on the silence of his house and wonders if it is the same as when he is out; he hears the woodworm in his wooden bed frame and if he ends up on the floor one night at least he’ll know why; he smells his son’s sweat, there, on the back of his neck, under the thick duvet; he smells his own sweat, older and more pungent than ever. And he had a dream after so many years. It was one of those simple dreams, where you drown in a stormy sea and you cry out but nobody hears. But just as he was going down, the phone rings. Urgent they say. A leak they say. In the main square, the beauty shop. Can you come over? Yes, he says. The water saved him from drowning, he thinks. He straightens his warped body and gets up.


He walks uncomfortably along the aisles full of cosmetics and had he not had his tools with him he’d have chewed on his lips, bitten his fingernails, fiddled with his hair. Following the shop girl impatiently as she chatters on, endlessly, he feels the basement calling.
        “I shut down the cash register and ran to have a drink of water, but there was this slow dripping noise, which sounded ominous, and then I opened the door and there were these gushing, splashing noises coming from downstairs. And I was really worried because we’ve had a leak before that we didn't find in time and all sorts of stuff got ruined: thirty sets of curling tongs, twenty blonde wigs, seventeen mascara pens and five pairs of tweezers. Or was it six? Right here we are. So, you go straight down there and I’ll be standing just here if you need me.”
        So he takes the stairs one by one. Water flows in and around the pipes, that old familiar sound, and by the time he reaches the basement he already knows what’s wrong. But as soon as his feet touch the floor he sees something which nearly makes his eyes pop out, his legs start shaking again and his bag flops down to the flooded floor. And if we could see better in the dark we’d see his face drop with utter amazement, like the amazement that must come with great discoveries; like gravity, gunpowder or America.
        We don’t know how much time passes until the voice is heard asking, “What on earth is happening down there?” and “are you ok down there?” and then he changes the pipe in a instant and returns to the other, upper world.


It’s on one of these rubbery plastic tablecloths with brightly coloured flowers that they eat, because they’re convenient, instead of any crumbs getting crushed in you just wipe them off with a sponge. That’s where their six elbows rest, that’s where their three bowls of soup are set and the salad, the bread and the thing with the salt in.
        And the two grownups, her and him, chat—It was a big theatre, do you remember?—Sort of not really—You’d have to go a long way down to reach the stage, remember?—Mmm—And the curtains were red and heavy and the floor was wooden, with a prompt box and lights and big dressing rooms with mirrors?—Yeah—Well, it’s all still there, under the boxes of face creams, the hair dyes and the damp...
        They eat silently for a while and then he turns to the kid and says: “Once upon a time, there was a theatre called Achillion in our town and I acted in a play in that theatre and they said I was good and talented and sounded like I really meant every word, and one time when I was pretending to look for a hanky from my pocket someone from the audience got up and gave me one and a director saw that and asked me to go to Athens as soon as I finished school and I would have but...Ouch!” he says, and touches his head.
        Why do we remember all that? she wanted to say. Are you dizzy? she said. You don’t understand, he wanted to say. No, he said. Leave the child alone, she wanted to say. Eat something, she said. Something changed inside, he wanted to say. Ok, he said. Did you get paid? She wanted to say but she said nothing. And the child, who all this time ran up and down the corridors in his mind and was in and out of the dressing rooms and took bows on stage, wanted to say and then did say: “I want to go to the Achillion too.”


He crosses the yard running. His old mother in her black headscarf watches him. What you doing there child? Cats and ants scurry to avoid him, gravel and overgrown shrubs block his way. He gets into the barn and behind the haystacks, next to the laying chickens, below the weaving spiders, he finds a box with My Language, Physics, Mathematics, the school newspaper and Uncle Vanya. And the book comes out of the box and the pages open all stuck together, and as they open this is underlined in red....
    “In ten years I’ve become a different person. And why? I’m worn out, I’ve worked too hard. I’ve been on my feet from morning till night. And when night comes and I hit the sack, I’m afraid they’ll drag me out of bed again.”
        And then this....
     “Oh, God! I’m forty-five. If I live to be sixty I’ve got thirteen years left. That’s too much! How can I fill it? If we could live the remains of our lives differently, in a new way...”
     He is Vanya himself and everything is true and time is circular. He takes the book and leaves. From now on he knows why and he can cry his heart out.


The windowpanes get misty, the dice are sticky, the cards reek of smoke and old man’s hands and the checkers hit the backgammon board softer and softer each year. And these are the only things that change in there and certainly not what is said because people always marry and have children, die, hunt, vote, work and it’s always hot or cold. So he sits there too, with his arms hanging by his sides. And it’s as if his brain just snaps and awakes and he takes everything from the start and this must somewhere, somehow be said.

Today the weather is not that bad. It was cloudy in the morning; you’d think it was going to rain but now the sun’s out. This autumn was great in fact, and the winter crops look promising... it’s just that the days are getting shorter...

And heads move up and down over the tables and mumble something like mmm, hmm, like they agree that it’s just like he says. Until somebody comes in and starts blurting out some “how’s it going” and “how ya doing” here and there, and he picks one and answers...
        “I love life. But I can’t stand our kind of life, provincial, Russian, monotonous.”
     And the heads that hear it stop short. Because everything was fine and fitting, the weather, the autumn and the crops. But this one word, Russian, wasn’t. And the heads turn one by one and look at him. And a thick silence falls. And then someone with a missing front tooth starts laughing. And they all start laughing and you wouldn’t know if they were laughing at the tooth or at Russian; whatever it is he understands that they don’t understand and he picks up his brain with Vanya inside and goes.


She irons clothes and lays them out warm on the couch and the room smells of freshness. And he looks at her hand that got scorched and she smears the toothpaste on but the scar remains regardless. She watches a lion go after a zebra on TV and he looks at her hair, he’d love to find some thorny burdock in it, the kind you break open and it’s full of seeds. She’d want it too, because she used to like it but by now she must have forgotten, like she forgot to turn on the oven the other day and they went without food. And if it’s true what they say, that a happy woman forgets to turn off the oven but the unhappy one forgets to turn it on, then she’s unhappy. Because she counts the minutes every day for today to finish, and counts the hours for tomorrow to come so she can start counting the minutes again. And he in turn counts circles under her eyes, as they get deeper and darker with time. But around the time he should have fallen asleep on the couch, he starts to speak.
        “All these years, ever since I met you, I haven’t had a day to myself. How could I not grow old? You see weird people around you. And when you live close to them, little by little without noticing you become weird too. I turned weird myself. But my brain is in place. It’s my feelings that are sort of numb. I want nothing, care for nothing, love nothing... Apart from you, maybe. I think that you I do love.”
        She turns with the iron in hand. And the child? Yes, the child too, naturally the child too. It’s not me saying all this. Who’s saying it? That is, it is me saying it but not me. Are you ok? I’m fine. Have you taken your pills? I have. Won’t you go to sleep? I will. He gets up, pats her hair where the burdock should have been and goes out. And then a tear lands on the trouser leg. But she irons it out. And then the lion eats the zebra.


He’s standing among boxes containing bones of all sizes and maybe even souls. And young and old men and women look out from their photographs, serene and silent. And among them a man that looks just like him, a little older perhaps and with a moustache. That’s who he’s looking at, who he’s talking to.
        “It’s about to rain. Everything will be refreshed in nature, let out a sigh of relief. I’ll be the only one this shower will not revive. Day and night, the thought that my life has gone to waste will smother me like a nightmare. My feelings are wasted and dying like a ray of the sun in a pond. The whole of me is totally lost.”
        And suddenly a gust of wind opens the small window and hurls down the brick that was holding it open and the brick breaks. And the candles that were burning in their sand flicker and along with them the faces cloud over and a guerrilla of the forties waves his gun ominously.
          Then he steps back, tells the paper man “it’s your fault” and opens the door to get out. And the bats over his head are flustered and start flying low. And in the second that it takes him to cross from darkness into the light he thinks that if he could find a bat bone for a lucky charm he might save himself but now it’s too late.


It’s an ordinary square, with benches, a pond, a peeing statue, ducks, kiosks and a bus stop. He sits there and whispers to himself.

“...All I did was dull my spirit with your nonsense and I failed to see harsh reality. And I thought I was doing right. But now, if only you knew! I lie awake at night seething with anger and spite for having wasted my time in such a pointless, stupid manner...

And people going by look at him and scatter like oil in the water when you’ve been given the evil eye. And only pigeons come close. And a mother with two children walks past and one of them points at him and she drags them along by the hand saying something about loonies. And he, who’s heard it, steps on the bench and starts speaking out loud.

“I am the loony, not they, who under the mask of the professor, the wizard, hide their incompetence, their idiocy, their horrible callousness. My life is wasted. I had talent, I had courage, I had brains. Oh, I’m losing it, going crazy!”

And just before the words run out, a bus stops right there and lots of children pour out carrying their schoolbags. All but one stare at the dangling man and laugh. And the father sees the son and the son sees the father. And the father wavers and falls on the flagstones and the son falls on him. And then all the children form a circle around them and the father says “The Achillion exists, it’s there. I saw it...”


Today he missed school. Today he missed prayer because everyone will think they know what he’s praying for. And because, if he gets angry when the kid behind him takes his rubber and won’t give it back, they’ll call him a loony. And because, if he rubs his eye with the hand that held the chalk and it goes red they’ll call him a loony again. That’s why he missed school today and that’s why he said he had a fever. But once grandma, in the black headscarf, leaves his side, he gets up, puts on some clothes and gets out of the house.
        And he walks, he walks, he runs, he puffs. He’s out of breath but he goes on, street after street, gets to where he was going and walks in. Around him, ladies are getting made up, spraying, tightening and stretching. What are you looking for little one? I’m waiting for my mother he says and points somewhere. So he creeps deeper, through a door that must be the right door, creaks it open just enough and squeezes through.
        He flashes his torch and goes down the steps one by one. Water runs through the pipes and his heart is pounding and his legs shake and maybe he’s turning into his dad. And the steps come to an end and he reaches a room like the stomach of a whale. And he looks around and sees only boxes on boxes and plastic naked women with broken arms. And no velvet curtain, no ornate gallery, no prompt box, no mirrors, nothing. And then he stands there and cries.
        Until suddenly, through the curtains of his tears, he sees something. Some chairs in red velvet stuck to one another, opening and closing like hungry mouths and he’s sure they must be from a theatre, although he’s never been to one. And then his tears stop. And if we could see better in the dark we’d almost certainly see the joy as it beams across his face.

Translated from the Greek by Memi Katsoni, Aran Hughes & the Author

Glykeria Patramani is a writer, based in Athens, working within the fields of cinema and documentary.


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