by Maria Olympiou
As published in In Focus Vol. 11, No. 4, December 2014
In the closed-up room all the things are there… if you have eyes to see them, if you have hands to touch them…
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For some days I’ve been going in and out of the blue room I had as a child. I admit it; I have been making dives into the past which are dangerous for my capabilities and stamina. I hit my head on the bottom, on the bedrock of the years and then I return to the present with injuries, open wounds, eyes full of tears.
What am I going to do with so many dusty memories? I don’t need them and they don’t need me. No memory comes to life again or breathes. Do friends come back from the past to sit at the same table and eat chocolate cake and drink ice-cold water? They don’t have time. They’re in a rush. Not to mention that the friends must dash because they have an appointment at the hairdresser’s. The friendships of the past have evaporated. After school everyone chooses his own path and walks it alone. Alone, without the stories with which we grew up.
My first story books… “The Wolf and the Seven Children,” “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”… How many times did I turn their pages then because I didn’t have any others. Big bookshops were not the fashion at that time. I remember only one bookshop, in the centre of the old town, run by a man and a woman. I imagined scenarios. The man is always wearing a dark suit and the woman is always in long dresses with lace and matching hats. The two of them are madly in love and create a small bookshop together, with a green wooden floor and a loft full of magic trunks. A memory with the taste of shortbread biscuits and black tea which the couple would surely have enjoyed in front of the fire at home after a whole day at the bookshop.
I put my story books aside. If I had had more then, when I needed them, perhaps I would have been different today. I would fly more, have my feet less on the ground. Perhaps… But instead of story books thick, grey, melancholy books stare at me. How many dreadful school books are collected here in one, so small blue room… Physics books. How many hours did I spend reading them in order to pass the exams, to do well in the test, even if I didn’t understand much. To want the incomprehensible laws of physics. To consider magic whatever I could not explain with theories and mathematical calculations. So an apple fell to the ground. Eh! Do I care which law caused it to fall and at what speed… I don’t want the physics books there in front of me. I don’t want to remember those years in school when I didn’t know what I wanted from life.
Buried under the fat books are thousands of photographs from all the countries to which I once travelled. If I throw them all into the black garbage bag no one will be the wiser, nothing will change in my life. Because, anyway, memories and images from the past have nothing precious to give to the present. They don’t make you younger or happier. We live the here and now. We don’t have yesterday or time. I look at the photos one by one… My goodness, what awful clothes I’m wearing! Oh dear, what awful hair! What an awful expression on my face! Here, however, I was cheerful and happy… It happened… one in a thousand photographs exudes happiness.
Here are the wooden pirates thrown down on the floor. One without a leg, another without an arm. The most repulsive is missing his right eye. I don’t want them. They remind me of rotting wrecks of ships, bums, thieves, liars.
A blue room which never empties. How many things have accumulated, crammed in here.
The blue walls are overloaded. Decorated with tens of masks which I made of plaster and then painted. Full of photos of people from my travels, whom I don’t know if they are still alive on this earth. Ziat speeding like a mad man in his car, Mark, who was drowning in his saliva because he feared the death of his friends, Roé who made blankets of multicoloured wool, Angela who was searching for a cure for diabetes to make her grandmother well, the unknown man in the photo riding a horse.
Here are the Indian gods carved in wood. The diamond nightingale of the King of China, signals from lighthouses that have gone out and magic totems from unknown tribes and youthful bodies and the blue of summer, deaths and fires and invisible beauty… A black wooden swallow, two white wooden cats, an ebony idol. Maps of various parts of the planet I didn’t visit. Roads I never walked along but wanted to so much… Morocco, India, Lapithos…
Lots of pictures, lots of postcards. I wanted the blue walls to be a gallery. Once upon a time… Now I don’t. I pull them all down. I must breathe the present, and, alright, a little future if it exists. And this will only happen in an empty blue room…
Translated by Christine Georghiades