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from carolyn

At the village school in the old days, the children of the policeman, the priest, the retired army officers, the teachers, the postman and the shop keepers stood out from the rest – they were well-dressed with polished leather shoes.

Theodoros, the postman of the village, being salaried, had the opportunity to save money and bought the piece of land where our family had their threshing floor, right on the main road through the village, with two huge mulberry trees nearby which provided shade during harvest time. If you know about farm work, you can imagine the position, the view, and the light wind at the end of summer to help with the winnowing, separating the grain from the chaff.

On this plot of land, a modern house was then built with concrete columns and slabs and bricks and mortar, duly rendered on the outside, plastered on the inside, then painted a cypress green colour, just as if it were in a city. The roof had European-style tiles, first ever in the area. The front section downstairs was used as a storeroom, the family lived at the back, and upstairs was rented to the state as the doctor’s residence and rooms for receiving patients.

As time passed Theodoros no longer used his fine white horse to go to the nearby villages to deliver the mail but instead used a brand new car which he parked on the side of the house behind his tractor. His full head of hair was now silver grey making him look quite distinguished, his eyes as merry as ever.

Then a second postman was taken on to deal with the villages, there was a full-time clerk at the post office, so Theodoros only looked after the postal delivery in the sprawling village itself, which now boasted a branch of the Agricultural Bank of Greece. He would deliver on foot going from house to house in the busy centre of the village, greeting everyone, knocking on doors to leave letters. He used his car to drive up to the highest neighbourhoods. It made a very personalized service.

His wife Angelika was thin, head always covered with a scarf for protection from the sun, helped with the farmwork, looked after her ailing mother-in-law and three children. Those children spent quite some time peeping around the corner of the house giggling when I first visited the village all those years ago.

An Englishwoman who had married at another village started coming to the primary school on Saturdays to give English lessons. The children, now handsome boys and a beautiful girl, joined the class. They finished junior high school, then senior high school, then went to study in Athens, found well-paid jobs, married and produced children. An exemplary family all round.

Theodoros still had a good income even when retired, as civil service pensions in Greece are renowned for being high. He had time on his hands, so could visit grandchildren in Athens and a relative here and there who had moved away. Angelika was happy to stay at home, still taking care of her mother-in-law and the vegetable patch at the back of the house.

One year in the first days of September, before the grape harvest and not long after the lively village fair and dance which lasted until dawn, Theodoros made use of his free time and his spare money. He went to Mykonos, the most expensive and cosmopolitan island in Greece in the 1980s. Not with his wife. He took Dina with him, a still shapely luscious housewife his age who lived in the centre of the village.

They returned to their respective houses a few weeks later, and the village settled down once more to its usual rhythm. It was time to harvest grapes and make wine, and Theodoros and his wife Angelika gathered their grapes from their vineyard near the vegetable patch. The wine that year was exceptional.


from qwazix

I was walking alone, as one does, between the dirty apartment buildings that were stacked one after the other as if by a giant kid that stacks their toy bricks: arranged in a way, but not very neatly.

I entered they gym shop on the ground floor of one of these buildings. I asked for some protein bars and a couple of yoga bricks. While the clerk was fumbling around to open the plastic bag, I was imagining, what if I asked him for a frozen chicken? Would he laugh? Would he just pause and look at me? Or, I thought to myself, he would take the question at face value and tell me he doesn't sell frozen chickens and that I should go to the supermarket next door.

As I exited the shop once again, a man was parked so tightly just off the sidewalk ramp, that neither wheelchairs, nor walking people could cross the road. As I saw him walk away from his vehicle, afraid to chastise him for his blatant lack of consideration, I imagined I was not alone, but with a friend.

I would grab him and hold him, while my friend would slowly remove his backpack, open the zipper and get a portable, battery operated little blender out of it. He would then take a small tablecloth, spread it with care on the boot of his car, and get some pineapples from a supermarket cart we'd be hauling.

In the meantime, I've tied the guy and put a funnel in his mouth. My friend now has a knife and is peeling and cutting the pineapples, laying them tidily on the tablecloth. I take the pieces one by one, put them in the blender and after I'm certain they'd be a homogenous pulp I gently pour the smoothie down the inconsiderate bastard's throat.

What is he gonna do? Go to the police? Who would believe somebody claiming that two guys stopped him in the middle of the street and force-fed him fresh pineapple pulp. They'd think he was mad.

The same evening I was sitting in front of the computer, watching the multiple columns of mastodon scroll endlessly by. Someone commented on the current fad (well by 2020, not so current anymore) for absurd job titles in programming-related ads such as: rockstar developer, javascript ninja and others, equally cringeworthy.

Immediately I thought I should send a CV to all of those companies, just to land a single interview and then show up dressed up like Mötley Crue but with a colorful keyboard instead of an electric guitar, or even better, dressed like a ninja, and go sit there in the waiting room as if nothing weird is happening. “I'm here for the javascript ninja position, yes”.

Which of course reminded me of the time my partner was working at Big Pharma and they usually had these “Round Table Discussions” where opinions of managerial staff and other high ranking officials were supposed to have equal weight with white collar workers and where all kinds of infuriating discussions took place, and I wanted like nothing else to show up in the middle of the meeting dressed up like a medieval knight, with a horse if possible, and announce my presence. I always thought that just the looks on the managers' faces would be payment enough for my imagined bravery.

Next day, on the way to work I stopped to get a coffee at the familiar bakery. There was a new girl there. The coffee was surprisingly good. That made an impression, but I didn't think long about it. At the office I'd remark about the coffee to my new co-worker.

She turns to me in the most natural way and tells me: “You should go back and tell her. Tell her that she made you the best coffee you've ever had. Tell her that you only live for the brilliant coffee she makes and that you want to marry her. Tell her you love her.”

I stayed there looking at her, wondering how did she know.


from georgia

Παίρνεις το φλιτζάνι, το γεμίζεις νερό, πρέπει να είσαι προσεκτικός όταν πρόκειται για την προετοιμασία ελληνικού καφέ, με κάποιο λάθος στις αναλογίες θα είναι σίγουρα αποτυχία. Ανοίγεις το βάζο με τη ζάχαρη, μετράς το ένα τρίτο από ένα κουταλάκι, το ζυγιάζεις με το μάτι, αμφιβάλλεις για ένα δευτερόλεπτο, είναι εντάξει. Έπειτα, το σημαντικότερο, ο καφές, μια φουσκωτή κουταλιά, τη γεμίζεις με μία γρήγορη μονοκόμματη κίνηση, δεν έχεις δεύτερες σκέψεις, είσαι πιο σίγουρος, αποζητάς τη γεμάτη, μεστή γεύση. Ανάβεις το γκαζάκι κι ανακατεύεις. Είναι κρίμα που οι καινούργιες κουζίνες δεν έχουν μάτι για τον ελληνικό καφέ, θυμάσαι τη γιαγιά σου που σε έμαθε να πίνεις καφέ, κρυφά, γύρω στα δώδεκα, το δικό σας μυστικό. Δεν τις πρόλαβε τις νέες κουζίνες η γιαγιά, δεν πρόλαβε ούτε τους υπολογιστές, ούτε τις τηλεοράσεις πλάσμα. Πέθανε ένα πρωί όσο ήσουν στο σχολείο, δέκα χρόνια πριν χαλάσει η κουζίνα, είκοσι πριν τον υπολογιστή, τριάντα πριν τη σmart tv που έχουν τώρα όλα τα εγγόνια της. Νέα μέθοδος να μετράμε τα χρόνια, γελάς, ναι, από τις συσκευές, πότε τις αγοράσαμε, πότε τις πετάξαμε, όλα φθαρτά, και μείς φθαρτοί. Η δικιά μας φθορά έρχεται υπόγεια, τρυπώνει κάτω από τα σκεπάσματα, την ώρα που κλείνεις τα μάτια και σκέφτεσαι ότι να θα το κάνεις το άλμα του ύπνου και αυτό το βράδυ, θα καταφέρεις να κοιμηθείς, δε θα βασανίζεσαι από όλα αυτά που έζησες, που δεν έζησες, που δε θα μπορέσεις να ζήσεις, από το μηδέν, από το μαρτύριο να γνωρίζεις ή να μη γνωρίζεις, από την αλήθεια ή το ψέμα, από.. Έχεις κοιμηθεί. Επιτελέστηκε και πάλι το θαύμα, σώθηκες από τις σκέψεις, η αλυσίδα που σε τραβά στο κενό γίνεται χαλαρή, επιπλέεις σε φουσκωτό στρώμα, είναι δύση και ο ουρανός είναι κόκκινος, αίμα που στάζει, κολλάει αργά στον ιδρώτα πάνω στο σώμα σου, δεν μπορείς να βγεις από τη θάλασσα, θα περιμένεις να σε χτυπήσει ο αιμάτινος ουρανός, έρχεται αργά, το ξέρεις ότι θα πρέπει να κάνεις υπομονή. Πλάτς. Αποσύρεις εγκαίρως το μπρίκι από τη φωτιά. Το κοίταζες που φούσκωνε, ανακάτευες αν και ήξερες ότι δεν έπρεπε, αφαιρέθηκες. Το πρόλαβες. Την τελευταία στιγμή. Η σταγόνα από το αίμα δεν έπεσε στον καφέ αλλά στο μάρμαρο της κουζίνας. Πλατς.


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from carolyn

An SMS appeared on my phone last November reminding me it was time to pay the dues for maintenance of our graves and the upkeep of the local cemetery.

This message appears about the same time each year, mentioning it can be done through Alpha Bank at such and such account number, or in person at the church. One afternoon last week as I was driving past on the way back from the supermarket, I saw the priest’s car parked outside, pulled over and parked next to a long whitewashed stone wall.

The church looks closed, but there is a little sign that says “Close The Door – Airconditioned”. It’s a bit of a tight moment to push the heavy ornate iron door inwards, and then to pull the inside wooden door towards you. To ease the situation there’s a little sign that says “Door Opens Outwards” and another that says “Mind Your Feet”.

It is warm inside thanks to the airconditioning that is working effectively against the cold January weather, and looks cozy in the half dark with the tiny flames of votive candles reflecting off polished brass and glass. The sumptuous rich red carpet softens any noise. The walls are covered in icons, in memory of souls departed. It seems deserted.

Behind the carved wooden sanctuary screen there is a movement and suddenly the church bells ring out for a few moments. Silence again. Then the figure behind the screen moves, stops, continues on its way to the sanctuary door on the right. A pale thin young man has been standing there with his hymn books, ready for the service of Evensong.

The priest appears, hesitates on the top marble step as if he’d only just seen me. He greets me by name. He has a way with remembering names, even of those who don’t attend church regularly.

I greet him and state my business, he says he doesn’t want to hold me up or keep me waiting, so goes back into the sanctuary returning with the receipt book and a pen. There’s a table just by, near the huge dark wooden carved throne where the Archbishop would be seated. It’s convenient for resting the receipt book on. One receipt in my name, one receipt in the husband’s name. Ten euros each.

The priest farewells me with good wishes for the new year and I’m about to leave, but there is no congregation, not even the ladies who attend church more regularly than most. I feel bad for the priest and decide to stay; after all I do in fact have a free fifteen minutes. It’s really cold outside and there’s nothing in the supermarket shopping on the back seat of the car that will spoil by being out of the fridge for a little longer.

Evensong starts. The priest’s powerful voice fills every corner of the church, the cantor responds in turn, the Byzantine chanting is uplifting and half an hour passes quickly. Then a mobile phone rings, the chanting stops and the church fills with silence.

I’m not sure if the service has finished and the minutes pass. As I leave, the difficult wooden door thuds closed behind me, probably reverberating around the whole church.

Outside from the steps of the church I look across the road to the cemetery dead ahead of me behind the whitewashed wall. Indeed it does look tidy and well maintained, with the white tombstones gleaming eerily in the fading winter afternoon light. Yes, it was definitely worth buying our plots to have everything nice and organized, and paying the annual fee, in spite of what the husband says.


from qwazix

I took the words “urban exploration” to their literal meaning. There wasn't a nook nor cranny that I wouldn't sneak in. Friends and family started worrying about me. They saw weirder and weirder photos scrolling past their feeds and the comments below revealed unease and worry. “Where are you going? Is it safe?” “What is that thing?” “Are these junkies?”

They were not junkies, of course. Not that I hadn't met people under influence, but they don't ever let you take their photos. During the day they are mostly decent people, working at the desk next to you and you are none-the-wiser. They were what they call themselves “The Guardians”. They take turns to guard spaces in the city that don't play by the usual rules.

Today I was down there below Surgeon street and I was trying to move the trashbin that was strategically positioned to obscure the entrance, but it wouldn't budge. A few moments later a skinny face emerged behind the bin: “Go away, the bin is here for...” he paused. “Oh, it's you. Can you slide in through here?I bolted the bin in place because I think they must have sniffed us out. Damn cops.”

I squeezed with some disgust behind the filthy bin and descended the makeshift ladder. The air smelt of mold. The Guardians were gathered in a circle, conversing quietly. “Where are the days when we were squatting empty buildings in plain sight? We could help people back then: there were community meals, free lessons, parties. Now we're gathered here, underground, like rats” I heard the oldest one say, a bald, skinny man in his mid-50's or so. “There's no point in reminiscing the past, Peter” remarked another one, younger, muscular, with reddish hair and short beard. “there's reason to believe they're onto us and they've been more aggressive than ever, at least since we've gone underground”. He let a long breath of air come out as if he didn't want to say the rest of the sentence.

“We have a lot going on down here. We could go down as terrorists for most of it if not only for helping that young mother and her baby. They're illegally here and since they passed that law that conflates immigration with terrorism” he let a tired sigh out “I can't even talk about it. How many are you ready to risk your lives?”

“Fuck it I still remember how it was before and I do curse myself for supporting this oppression for 8 hours every day. Somebody has to fight. Somebody has to die. Might as well be me.” Peter said without a hint of hesitation. This seemed to energize the group. The whispering between them grew louder.

I attempted to whisper something myself to the woman next to me but before I could, my field of vision blanked. It felt as if the movie of my life suddenly faded to white. A fraction of a second later, a loud bang. My ears hurt. When I regain some kind of sensory input I hear loud voices and the sound of rubber clanking on plastic. Clubs on shields.

“Grab whatever you can, and charge!” Peter's voice was heard, louder than ever, and echoing on the cavern walls. “We're dead ahead, anyway”.


from georgia

Survivors Ants are walking on my kitchen tiles, up and down, without a stop. I would like to kill them but I cannot. It is certain: I am unable to hurt any living being. As I approach the sink, I see them. There, moving, carelessly, as if they owned the whole world. Whenever, I am washing a fruit, the dishes, the glasses, I am pouring water to make them scared –in vain. I am trying to imagine how I might look to their eyes: huge, 1 m 90 height, heavy, over the past years I have been gaining weight, it won’t be long before I reach 100 kilos. It is not difficult to deduce, that I am not a typical human specimen, nevertheless this does not prevent me from thinking that to an ant all humans are giants, another species, among which they move boldly and manage to survive. I am walking from the kitchen to the bedroom, back and forth, stopping at times in the bathroom. Μy movements inside the house are limited. As for going out, it is out of the question. I dread reliving it. Chest pain, sweat all over my body and a sound, my heartbeat turning into something deafening. While it used to be quiet, almost built in, inside my body, in a way that I never knew it was there, now all of a sudden it became more and more vivid, attacking the acoustic nerve. The first day I dealt with it calmly. I executed meticulously the daily tasks at the bank and returned home. Inside the apartment the symptoms began to faint away. In the evening, before going to bed, I was almost convinced that I was done with it. It would not have been the first time. We have been living together since my childhood. In my finals I was that close to dropping out from the exams. My parents dragged me to school, just before I get locked in my room. All that hard work and late hours should not be wasted. Just thinking about it, twenty years later, I honestly wish they had been wasted, I would have spared myself from the stain of excellence. I graduated from Law school quite painlessly. Working hard, staying in, consuming mild sedatives though. My cousin, ten years older than me, an obstetrician, served as the perfect provider, she was also taking them in order to cope with the hospital stress and the menace of the unstoppable upcoming births. With the help of half a pill and two strong coffees I was able to go through tomes of studies’ material with apparently no great effort. Piece of cake. The actual working reality was another story. I got the job in the bank, after marking a high score in demanding examinations- all due to my usual blind method of continuous studying and to my brain capacities, which at that time was still running a constant sprint. Then came the training, devotion and a never ending stress. To my surprise and despite any personal intention, I made it to the top. I failed to make any friends in there. They disapproved of the fact that I despised smoking, failed to join their jokes, and kept a solemn face, never letting them have a clue of what was really going in my mind. For years I managed to cope with the pressure at work. Thanks to the sedatives, the control of the breath, the counting to ten and the exercises or relaxation….Finally I thought that I have beaten it. I had stopped sweating all of a sudden, I didn’t lose my breath while talking, my hands kept steady, my pulse was normal. With no obvious reason that morning I knew that nothing had really changed. It was alive inside me, hidden, sedated maybe, and suddenly it was wide awake again. Α triggering event was enough to get it started. The news announced to me by the board of directors, a decision I knew nothing about. “Congratulations, you are now the manager of our branch in………………….. Congratulations!” “Since when?’ “As soon as possible. By next week at the latest you should be at your new position”. It didn’t take more than a minute for the sweat to immerse my body; soon it would be evident on my clothes. There was no way out. The heart followed afterwards. The pounding was so strong that made my ears hurt. Ι pretended to be sick and got home with a taxi. Unable to react to a change I didn’t desire and to the responsibilities I despised, I was caught off guard and there it was taking hold of me again. Days passed by and it didn’t get better. I had informed them that Ι was suffering flu, but for how long I could go on with that story? I knew there was no turning back when I tried to leave the house in order to gather some supplies. The same symptoms once again along with a sense of dizziness and the difficulty to breathe. I got home keeping the head bent and dragging my feet. It was only when I had closed and locked the door behind me that I started feeling a bit better. I know that it was waiting for me. A lifetime. Ι had let it asleep. I had made the mistake to ignore it and there it was on the attack. I could blame the fact that I was approaching middle age, a crucial period of human life no doubt, or my living alone for so long, like a machine. And now my engine was rusty, and everything that was suppressed inside me had awakened.

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from georgia

Το πότισμα

Φορώντας το κοντό μαύρο φόρεμα, το αγαπημένο του καλοκαιριού, ποτίζω το λουλούδια όπως κάθε βράδυ, με το ποτιστήρι όχι με το λάστιχο, κι ας το νιώθω βαρύ στο ταλαιπωρημένο από την τενοντίτιδα χέρι μου, το έχω γεμίσει ως απάνω και μου θυμίζει το κόκκινο ποτιστήρι που είχα μικρή, το βασικό είναι ότι εξακολουθώ να έχω γλάστρες να φροντίζω, όχι όμως τριανταφυλλιές, σε εκείνες ήμουν μια αποτυχία, δεν πειράζει κάπου χάνω, κάπου κερδίζω, για παράδειγμα οι βασιλικοί μου ήταν οι πιο φουντωτοί, τους ζήλευαν οι γείτονες και μέσα μου ένιωθα περήφανη σαν να ήμουν προσωπικά υπεύθυνη για την όμορφη όψη τους, αλλά μπορεί και να’ μουν, επιβίωναν λόγω της φροντίδας μου, έτσι δεν είναι; Η αλήθεια είναι ότι εδώ και δύο εβδομάδες ζούσαμε απίστευτα καυτές ημέρες, το νιώθαμε στο σώμα μας που κολλούσε από τον ιδρώτα, το νιώθαμε από την αϋπνία που μας βασάνιζε τις νύχτες καθώς δεν ήταν δυνατόν κανείς να κλείσει μάτι από τη ζέστη, μία λύση ήταν να μπαινοβγαίνει στο ντους, τακτική που υιοθετούσα κι εγώ εναλλάξ με το πότισμα των λουλουδιών και το τραγούδι, αυτό το τελευταίο ήταν το πιο απελευθερωτικό, νανούρισμα, το δικό του το αγαπημένο, νάνι το μωρουδάκι, νάνι το μικρό μπεμπάκι, ή δίχως λόγια καλύτερα για να μην προσελκύω το ενδιαφέρον ή τον οίκτο των γειτόνων, από τα ανοικτά παράθυρα όλα ακούγονταν, τα κλάματα και οι φωνές μου τότε στην αρρώστια, τα τραγούδια τώρα που όλα είχαν τελειώσει, ίσως και η βρύση που έτρεχε, το νερό που κυλούσε με δύναμη για να γεμίσει το ποτιστήρι, όλα να γίνονταν ήχος, το μόνο που έλειπε ήταν το κλάμα του μωρού, όμως ποια άλλη απουσία θα μπορούσε να ήταν τόσο οδυνηρή; Καθώς κουβαλώ το ξέχειλο ποτιστήρι έτοιμη να δροσίσω τα λουλούδια μου τραγουδάω και χάνομαι, αγγίζω τα φυλλαράκια του βασιλικού, σκύβω και τον μυρίζω, η ευωδιά του βάλσαμο, δεν σταματώ ούτε στιγμή το νανούρισμα, νανουρίζω τον εαυτό μου και τις φωνές στο μυαλό μου, ίσως σε μια προσπάθεια να αποκοιμίσω τις σκέψεις μου, να εξαφανίσω τη λογική μου, ταυτόχρονα αφήνω και νερό να πέσει στα πόδια μου, συλλογίζομαι ότι άμα δροσιστεί το σώμα μου θα είμαι ακόμη ζωντανή.

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