Beginning of September. Beginning of a new age. Beginning of a new life. My beloved friend, her young son and I are getting ready for a long, evening walk through the streets of the densely packed neighbourhood. She and I, same but different, women starting afresh, at the beginning of September, at the beginning of a new age and a new self; we – the fearless girls and frightened women, in new homes and with new hair, new drivers on new paths – take the autumn and the young boy by the hand and go to the playground. The boy will play. The girls will smoke their cigarettes and sum up their losses and conquests again and again. And somehow the young boy will become a man and the girls inside us will become women.
The boy wants us to visit the playground next to the church. It’s Saturday night and there are crowds of people everywhere; around the church, too, of course. As we get closer, I get a sensory overload: in the churchyard, in front of the decorated entrance, a big, imposing, shiny Porsche is waiting for two people to become one while, a few metres away, countless dirty, sweaty and nervous teenagers are playing football with the commitment and violence you would see at a cup final. Inside the church, a platinum blonde bride and a polished groom in a happy-end mood; outside the church, a raw reality that will soon catch up with them: wild, mischievous kids playing, shouting, fighting, kicking, crying, complaining and, on the sidelines, their worn-out parents, beaten down by stress and fatigue, impatiently and clumsily trying to bridle their offspring.
The Barbie bride and the Ken groom come out of the church blissful and finally complete, ready to suffer the customary rice-throwing attack (for a minute there I’m truly scared that, apart from the rice, the couple might get hit in the head by a ball through some unfortunate topspin) and walk daintily towards the black Porsche that will drive them to their new life, a life they imagine perhaps as decorated and shiny as this luxury car. They probably don’t know that the real ride will basically be around the block, that it will last for a few years to end up in the same playground, where they’ll find themselves platinum, perhaps, but not at all shiny, tired and unkempt, waiting for their own dirty kids to tire themselves out playing so that they can all go home to bed. Beginning of September. Beginning of a new age. Beginning of a new life for the newlywed, as well. In my mind, I send them wishes and greetings in a spirit of comradery.
On the way back home, we climb the steep streets of the neighbourhood huffing and puffing, while performing important tasks: together with the young boy, we put out imaginary fires mimicking the sound of a fire engine siren: “nee-naw, nee-naw, nee-naw…”; we are impressed by the unperturbed sleep of cats we see on car bonnets; we draw up an emergency action plan in case of fire during the night and, having carefully listened to the boy’s arguments, we come to the conclusion that it is, indeed, better to stay awake until dawn just in case anything bad happens. As expected, though, a short while after we’re home, the boy goes to bed all tired out like the rest of the playground kids. I tenderly bring them back to mind; the bride and groom, too. Goodnight… Sitting alone on a wooden chair, on the oblong balcony, I wait for the boy’s mother to finish the fairytales of sleepiness so that we can smoke one last cigarette before I drive back to my own bed. My car is not a shiny Porsche but it’s going to drive me home to my bed and that’ll do. I light a cigarette and I attempt to briefly look back in time at the age that has passed. All that has happened – the pain, the anguish, the attachments, the frustrations – is long behind us, away from this balcony. The thought of it slightly upsets me and, without realising it, I start to move right and left in my chair, trying to get into a more comfortable position. In this new age, I move – I realise – and I automatically engage in comparisons: back in August I would sit on the sofa for hours while staring motionless at the wall in front of me, resigned to loss and grief. I would watch everything – houses, people, jobs, friendships, loves – pass before me, reach the front door and disappear forever. Now I’m sitting here, on this wooden chair, on the oblong balcony, at the beginning of September, of a new age, of a new life, and I’m looking ahead, at the moon filling up, as I’m trying to rest my feet against the railing. The young boy is asleep. My beloved friend sits quietly next to me. We’re both exhausted after a long day that is now coming to an end; after the evening walk up steep streets; after the fires we put out; after the age that has just passed. We smoke in silence and tranquility, with joy and fulfillment. These are our urban lives, I think to myself, at the beginning of September, at the beginning of a new age, at the beginning of a new life, and I smile sleepily.
translation by Natassa Diamanti
photo by Andreas Theologitis