by Maria Olymbiou
As published in In Focus Vol. 10, No. 3, September 2013“You see now which time I’m talking about. The time when you replied that your Arc was full to the brim and there was no room for my salvation. Whilst from the back door you let in and let in every Tom, Dick and Harry, rescuing that rabble of cruelty…” (K. Demoula)
She met Psara years ago. At the time, this gentleman had long hoary hair, wore a black suit and a red bowtie. His shoes were holey, his pockets too. From them hung handkerchiefs soiled with tears and snot.
He used to run a small shop in the old city market. The shop’s windows were dusty, spidery, full of rusty pins, trinkets for women, unclean mannequins, handless, legless, eyeless. When she sat opposite him, he looked at the floor pensively. He enclosed her hands within his palms and asked her:
-Why are you sad?
Yes, she was sad. She inhabited a world that was strange, absurd, silly. Everything was uncertain, miserable, gray. Harshness was omnipresent and omni-ruling. To cut a long story short, she went through days that were full of addled eggs, mannequins eyeless, handless, legless. Mannequins shot at the head and at the back of the heart.
-Don’t be sad. Things will get better. Some day the earth will be sheathed with open-hearted trees. Fruit, wine and money will be distributed to everyone. Nobody shall work. All shall live.
Indeed… Psara believed that he who worked did not live.
As for him, he lived inside his dime store. He slept at the stockroom. The floor was made of raw earth. The sun, washed out like a stale egg blending yolk and white together, broke in through a small dormer and killed the darkness.
Psara… at the market they called him “The nutty. The nutty who drew fish”. That’s what Psara did, from morning till night he painted fish. Fish that in due time would come alive and rule over the universe without uttering a word. Perhaps they would also eat the most tasteless of men.
It’s been years since then. Was Psara still alive? When she met him he was an old man with hair hoary, gait unsteady and eyes blurry. He was always on her mind. Did he have food, did he have water to wash, quench his thirst? She thought about him but she always strayed away. Was she afraid of the fish?
At nights she roamed the streets. She was calmer when embracing the darkness. During the day her lashes quivered, her tears fell. At nights she looked at the illuminated windows of people. Behind the curtains were the silhouettes, just like those of Karagioz and his gang. Some of them kissing, others arguing, some merely looking at one another without talking. She watched and thought that at those moments death was overtaken. It could be that the silhouettes themselves murmured: “Blessed are the dead who forget…” But each time the lights went out, the silhouettes too were extinguished.
She dared pass by Psara’s store for the first time in several years. It was still day. Her lashes quivered, tears falling. She found the store closed. She sat on the doorstep. She would wait for Psara. Perhaps he had gone somewhere and would come back. Then again, so many years had gone by… Was she certain that Psara was still alive?
Sitting on the doorstep, she began counting the ants on the ground. How come they were never sun-struck without a hat, without a sunscreen?
-Are you expecting someone? The next door storekeeper who sold shoes was curious to know.
Yes, curiosity it was. She saw it in his eyes that looked like a pair of mousetraps.
-I may be expecting someone. I may… see him if he comes. I will recognize him after so many years. Perhaps he’ll treat me with fruit, wine and paper money from his tree.
Yes, she would wait for him. She had so many things to tell him… About the neighborhood cat that every night risked his life daring to satisfy his hunger from the alpha dog’s plate. About people not saying I love you and thank you. Those who forgot how the best things in life are not things. About the sky that was no longer cloudy. It is dusty, more often than not. Dust from the African desert. A gift, perhaps, to remind us that wilderness lies everywhere, inside and out, high and low.
She would ask him for a favour… to take her there where everything is nice…
The curious gentleman let her be for a while, but then came back with a pair of red shoes and a steaming cup of coffee. He was looking for a pretext to talk more.
-Come on, put on the red shoes. It will make you feel better. Drink the coffee too, to clear your mind. You look perplexed, troubled…
She put on the red shoes and drank up the coffee. She smiled. From afar she saw the hoary-haired old man drawing closer.
-It was you I was waiting for.
-It was you I came for.
– There where everything is nice! You’re ready… what with your red shoes and all.
Translated by Despina Pirketti