New age

New age

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

http://photography.atheo.eu/

 

The count

The count

382 beautiful things and 12 stupid things was the blonde six-year-old’s count on the way from his home in the city to his grandma and grandpa’s house in the country. That was what he announced to his mother, coming to the conclusion that the world was more beautiful than ugly after all.

As the small yellow car was coughing its way along the country road, he sat on his seat, looking outside, with those big, cosmic eyes of his, at the transient images of the world passing by and counted… One, two, three, four beautiful things. One, two, three stupid things.

I pause for a quiet moment and think of him. The image of him lingers and gently floats within me. He is those 382 beautiful things, I think. Just the thought of him makes 382 beautiful things blossom inside me, and (at least) 12 stupid things get pushed aside. I wonder what a blond little boy in his tender and carefree years might find beautiful and what he might find stupid. I wonder what I, meticulously examining the world of grown-ups, might find beautiful and what stupid. I stop whatever I’m doing in order to think. The blond little man has stirred up some big questions. I realise that I don’t have any answers ready. I decide to play his game and count, too. I go out on the balcony and try to look around through his eyes: the street down below, the municipal stadium on my left, the mountain way up there, the inside of my flat behind me. Beautiful or stupid things?

A short gentleman with his giant dog is trying to pick figs from a fig tree on the building lot across the street (he doesn’t seem to be doing a good job). An old car is slowly turning up the alley with the engine roaring and the speakers blasting out decadent Greek music (and throwing that afternoon siesta out the window). A brindled cat on the first floor window ledge is curiously watching people covered in sweat going in and out of the building as they’re trying to carry a heavy piece of furniture. The young girl next door is singing in her pink ruffle panties. The watered basil stretches out its leaves in gratitude. My exotic friend is lying on the floor, resting. So many images captured by just one look. Beautiful or stupid things?

I close my eyes to decide. No time… Other images are conjured up inside me. These ones come from further away, from a soft place within: the fallen oranges in the back yard of the apartment block across the street – that fascinating man washing my dishes and looking at the fallen fruit through the kitchen window (someone has already picked them up, my fascinating man). The horror and exhaustion in my friend’s eyes as he recounts events of his mother’s illness. The tired woman on the train, resting her head against the window and putting her dirty, smelly bare feet up on my seat. Me, alone, riding my bike through an empty city on vacation, on a full-moon summer night, and getting distracted by the scent of jasmine blossoms. The juicy peach I’m clumsily trying to peel on a summer sea porch, on a morning of love. The persistent high fever that gives me mental clarity. My little puss looking deep into my eyes with bewilderment and adoration at the same time as I hold him tightly in my arms and wait until he falls asleep; the charming young vet patiently waiting to take him into surgery, away from me. The young father’s distress over his son as he takes him to hospital in the ambulance. The tears of pain on beloved eyes that gently ask for their lost friend back. A bloodstained towel. The swing under the stars. The last secret look between two future lovers just before they are uncovered by indiscretion. The blond six-year-old loving me and holding me tightly. The girl I used to be. The joy, the sorrow, the anger, the despair, the hope, the fear, you, me, him, them, us, our lives in and out, up and down. Beautiful or stupid things?

Translated by Natassa Diamanti

 

photo by Andreas Theologitis

http://photography.atheo.eu/

At the bottom

At the bottom

“Drink water”, he tells me and holds me tightly by the arms seconds before he leaves me there, on the platform, alone waiting for the train that will take me away from his summer. He could have told me to take care, to write now and then, to think of him. Perhaps he could have told me that he loves me, that he will not forget me. “Drink water”: these are the last words I hear coming out of his mouth, and I feel them like an unexpected blow on my face. Inside the adored mouth that is forming those words I numbly see my panicking 6-year-old self drinking water, jerkily moving her little arms and trying to get back to the surface of the sea, as an older boy is having fun watching me drown while he, sadistically, presses me down.

I remember those lost breaths. I’m breathing them now. I’m breathing the anger and pain of that near drowning. “Drink water”, I hear and I automatically find myself at the bottom of the sea, I feel the seaweed touching my little feet, I see tiny bubbles coming out of my tension-filled swimsuit, I stir the water with the movements that my distress is causing.

“Drink water”, I hear and I automatically think of death, the end of life, of life without him. I look at those tender lips of his that gave me countless small deaths. I feel his hands holding my arms tightly; it was those hands that pulled me back to life every time I sank into non-existence. Ι take a few last short breaths on his neck, the smell of his sweat, cologne and beauty.

“Drink water”, I hear and the platform automatically turns into the bottom of the sea; the coming train takes the form of a school of fish; the stray dog lying on the floor becomes the slippery rock with the sea-urchins; the sweaty young soldiers smoking are now my group of friends; the plump lady in the terry cloth dress and the plump little girl at hand become my grandmother, who is absorbed in conversation with the neighbour and can’t see me, she can’t see me… Everything is the seabed of the 6-year-old girl drowning by the hands of the 10-year-old. Everything is the seabed of the 43-year-old woman drowning by the hands of the man who is holding my arms tightly for the last time. No one is moving. No one will move. No one will save the girl. No one will save the woman. I’m at the bottom and I’m drowning. I drink water.

His hands suddenly let go of my arms and move away from my body. I’m still drowning, though. He turns around and moves quickly towards the exit stairs, takes his eyes, lips, neck, smells and all the small deaths, and disappears. I drink more water. I hear the plump lady in the terry cloth dress call out to the plump little girl; the woken-up dog huff and puff in disgruntlement; the soldiers quickly saying their goodbyes. The train brakes squeal. It’s already here. He’s already gone.

I drink water.

 

 

Translation by Natassa Diamanti

photo by Andreas Theologitis

http://photography.atheo.eu/

Melted ice cream

Melted ice cream

Summertime. It’s July but it’s rainy and windy, like autumn. Something starts to slowly shift within me: a sluggish reaction to this sudden weather change. I can still smell the sunscreen on my skin. I am summer. I smell the rain. It’s autumn.

I’m confused.

I touch my sunburnt nose and my mind drifts back to that big umbrella by the sea (“I am summer”) as I watch the awning shake in the wind (“it’s autumn”). I want to eat an ice cream but it suddenly feels very wrong. I’m shocked at this realisation. My feelings, too, shake; they peel out and lunge at me menacingly like a huge, rough sea wave. Sadness acts like rain and soaks me up; restlessness imitates the wind’s fury. I am autumn. The flowerpot on the balcony falls over (was it blown down by the wind or by my restlessness?). A moody weather, inside and out, in the middle of July. I try to regain control, become summer. Everything is autumn, inside and out, in the middle of July.

“Is it possible that feelings make the weather more intense?” I ask myself. I immediately find the thought absurd, but I don’t completely dismiss it, either. I close my eyes and picture gloom coming out of my mouth, like cigarette smoke, penetrating the air and turning into a drizzle or a storm.

It’s raining gloom.

I hear the sound of rain. I feel alone. I hear the sound of water running in the shower. I’m not alone. A man is having a shower. I’m shocked at this realisation, as well. This man is part of the picture of the big umbrella by the sea; it’s his hands that are putting sunscreen all over my back. It’s raining now and the awning is shaking. His presence incites a confrontation: I’m torn in half and the two halves are fighting each other: summer or autumn?

The man has finished his shower and is climbing up the stairs; he is here. My confusion has gotten washed, walked up the stairs with him; ‘she’ is here. We’re all here. The man takes an ice cream out of the freezer. I look at him and I smile awkwardly as I watch my confusion stand beside him, by the fridge, wrapped in a towel, teasing me with a smile – a sexy, wet confusion. I ask her to take a walk outside, in the rainy July weather, and leave me alone with him and the ice cream so that I can become a hot summer. I want her to leave so that I can melt in his heat. I want to watch my body and my sense of self go beyond their limits. I want to be the ice cream in his hands and mouth; a melted ice cream. I want to stain his clothes, stick myself onto him, let myself be licked by him insatiably until no trace of me is left.

The thought of it makes me sweat with excitement. I smell like sunscreen. I am summer.

 

Translated by Natassa Diamanti

 

photo by Andreas Theologitis

http://photography.atheo.eu/

 

 

Crossing the sea

Crossing the sea

I’m in a German town, in a stranger’s house, sitting on the edge of the bed, in a room that feels distant and unfamiliar. I bow my head to look at my shoes. All of a sudden, I’m overwhelmed and paralysed by the thought that today would have been my second wedding anniversary. Tears run down my cheeks and I watch them reach the floor, next to the shoes I’m looking at. It’s pouring down outside, while I’m sitting and crying in stillness. I hear people in the room next door talk in French. Upon hearing them, I take a quick look at the wardrobe mirror right in front of me, long enough to think how awful my hair looks and wonder what the French next door will think of me while tears keep falling over my lost anniversary.

I remember that 10 minutes ago I watched a video about a war-torn town in Syria. I tell myself that I might be crying over the ruined town and not my ruined anniversary (it looks like a more formal reason to cry over and I definitely consider myself formal). I’m not fooled; my small personal experience is bigger than the immensity of the sweeping experience of millions of others. I look at the small sea of tears and I think of those millions of others. I want to become a refugee, get away from this ruined anniversary. I want a different thought to come and help me cross the sea to another, hopefully more inviting, place inside me. I’m hungry. I grasp at my hunger. It will take me across, I think to myself. I remember the biscuits I have left on the kitchen table. The thought of them intrigues me but not enough to disturb my stillness. In no time, I draw up a short list of possible delicacies I could buy when we go out. The tears keep flowing, the sea is getting bigger and I am still on the same shore. I ask myself how this could be happening: my body in one state – my mind in another. My body still stuck on the lost anniversary – on that fleeting thought that came to life thousands of thoughts ago, long before the refugees, the biscuits, the German delicacies and my disorderly hair occurred – and my mind in constant movement.

I am a film where the picture has frozen but the sound keeps going; a still body – a still body with moving tears and moving thoughts. Suddenly, I feel a French body move towards the room and another one heading towards the kitchen (maybe going for my biscuits?). A still body with moving tears, moving thoughts and moving French bodies around it. The French body is coming closer. I don’t want this French body to see my stillness. My tears come to a sudden end. The French body is coming even closer. My hair is a mess. The French body is almost here. The biscuits are still there. The French body is now at the door, standing still. My last thought is that I have to smile. It crosses me over – I realise with a sense of detachment – as I lift my gaze from the shoes and the sea and smilingly turn my head towards the still French body. My stillness comes to an end. My smile becomes warmer. The welcoming sensation of the other side fills me with relief.

“The rain has stopped”, the French body tells me, “let’s go out to eat”. At once, my mind goes back to that short list of the possible German delicacies and then to the biscuits on the kitchen table, to the hunger that would take me across the sea I wanted to cross, to the refugees, to the war-torn town, to my lost second wedding anniversary. Tears run down my face as I look at the still French body in stillness.

 

Translated by Natassa Diamanti

photo by Andreas Theologitis

http://photography.atheo.eu/