For the Greek version http://goo.gl/imoXJH
He brings his palm on his forehead and touches gently, with the fingertips of a pianist, thin and nervous, the pins of his hair, frozen and up, to make sure it is still here, in place. His eyes narrow and his neck stretches as he tries to distinguish at the end of the road amid the misty darkness, engraved by orange breathless reflections. If he were a dog, his ears would have been erect. The reason of his anxiety is not visible; gel keeps hair raised on his short – cut head, while in his life thriller climax lies way beyond in the future. He is in his thirties, but his yellow tie has past fifty, as for his beige trench coat, breasted and slightly tatty, would have rightly fit to his grand-father.
The sign is fresh, black-and-white and writes ‘MONASTIRAKI’. On the large wall clock the indicators show 10:00, while the points of his shoes 9:15, as he stands motionless , his legs ostentatiously apart at the entrance of the gallery connecting the two roads. Next to him, the stairs, freshly-cut from granite, lead to the underground city, from where he emerged some time before. It is a working day. Even without holding a briefcase, he looks like he arrived straight from work.
The melody from his cell phone seems to surprise him. With a sharp motion he is lifting it up to his ear. His head stays firm, undisturbed. He smiles self-complacently to the screen as if to a mirror. He continues smiling absent minded. Slowly he brings the phone to his ear.
“Hello?” his respond is clear-cut, impersonal, almost professional.
His gaze focuses on the ‘O’ of the sign opposite as if it were a red target; his left hand could have thrown darts if it were not so preoccupied to turn the pin screwed on his tie. These nimble fingers and clean short-trimmed nails are made to shuffle paper and play with keyboards. While talking on the phone he takes a look at the watch on his left hand, a heavy watch, heavy for his thin wrist and unsuitable to his outfit, a diving watch. It looks expensive.
With his back turned he puts the mobile in the pocket of his trench coat. He paces in and out of the gallery. He reaches up to the edge. He stretches his neck to the direction of Acropolis. He is alone again. With his thoughts.
And I have asked her: “Did you get it?” – “Do I look stupid to you?” –that’ s what she says all the time. If I answer, we will quarrel. I have enough of arguing at the office. What can I tell her? She understood, but she does it her way, always. Where is she, now? She was the one who was going mad about a date out. Such a demanding woman! She demands all the time. Even in bed…she cannot stop giving instructions.”Trust me, baby”, I am telling her. “I know what you want, I get you.” “Don’t we have a good time the two of us?” she mews seductively. What can I tell her? And now, going mad about dating out…Where can I take her? What if someone sees us? She has no mind in her head. Frivolous woman. All antics…Obsessed with her clothes and enjoying herself. “You walk me in Athens, baby, won’t you?” she asks. How to escape from her feet, like claws, with the black stockings and the high heels. How can I deny these legs, this bust of hers?
Poor Fofo, she keeps on sending me messages like lollipops, every hour. With her glasses and her flabby body, I reply to her not to disappoint her. She is a friend of my sister. Sister, oh dear, what was her assignment for today? I keep forgetting. I will go back home dead tired and she will be lurking again behind the door of her apartment; at the instant I put the key in my door, she will jump on me from the other side of the corridor. You knew better, father, and left for the island taking your pension along. You found your Russian girl and you enjoy golden age. Oops … my mother, did I call her today?
He stops in front of a shop-window, he opens his raincoat and looks at himself like an exhibitionist.
All skin and bones, soon my spare ribs will be visible to be counted one by one. I would like to know what I find in you. You are almost my mother’s age. Oedipus complex and bullshit. What if Freud has taught us this stuff, what’s the difference? “What is not solved, should be cut, baby,” you would have told me reproachfully, if you knew what I am thinking, and I would be puzzled, -what do you mean? Us, our relationship, or the Oedipus complex? How can I dare to ask you? Your lines crush me. Then, you throw me a sucked kiss and you resurrect me.
That’ how you have driven your husband crazy … One more reason if you do not do it with him, you tell me. He comes at the office pissed off – do you think he suspects something about us? He stares at me ready to shoot. Yet, he does not leave you, despite the exercises you put on him … Why, do I leave you? For whom, for Fofo? Shall I give it a try with Fo …
Suddenly his legs come together to the attention posture. Quickly he brings the phone to his ear. Immediately he turns his head and walks to the corner.
High up the Acropolis is illuminated. To his right, across the street, Monastiraki metro station is lighted.
In the bright frame formed at the exit of the station the outline of her silhouette is sketched, the waisted coat and the slim straight legs. He stays still and watches her left foot stepping down on the stair. In the tiny fraction of a second he is watching her teetering between light and darkness. His eyes like a chisel run the outline around her body, black upon the bright background of the station.
He shudders – his chest is one with his neck; he makes a move to rush in front and stop her.
The next second the woman is wrapped again in her coat, elegant. He sees her walking towards him. The lamps in Monastiraki square highlight her bearing and her walking, lighthearted on her high heels. Her chin sinks in her fur collar. She never parts from it, not even in bed. Gray hair, long, it makes him sneeze.
“Cheers, baby,” she says stretching out her hand with the flawless manicure to reach his.
“Wolf,” he replies removing from his nostril a tiny hair damp by her perfume.
“Fox,” she insists, and probably she knows best, but he likes to tease her.
She has seen him and she approaches walking at the pavement just across him.
The road, the cars and the traffic light, red for the pedestrians, separate them. She lifts her hand to greet him. He is watching her, absent-minded. Her chin is slighted lifted, her back straight and her hand starts a greeting, technically flawless and appropriate for a woman above forties, with a conquered extroversion and self-confidence in place of her obsolete spontaneity.
The young man only sees the comfort in her greeting and waits to see it completed withholding his biased impression of the woman hailing crowds. “The woman is a sucker, a crank ” he thinks tenderly as he is ready to move towards her.
With his first step he feels uplifted like flying, the right foot takes too long to come in front of the left – someone has pressed the button «Slow motion», only his button, because the rest of the people in the square run erratically, only she is frozen, in her fur collar. Her hand, out of tune, left the hailing unfinished. She is staring over the heads of the crowd that is swirling around her like clock indicators going mad.
He follows her gaze which is fixed at a point, to the left of her half-rising hand. Her eyes are pinned on a hat. It is dark gray with a gray silk ribbon.
By the time he brings his left foot in front of the right, he recalls the touch of the gray hat. It is made of soft felt, with glossy lining in light gray color with the initials I.K. embroidered. The head of Mr I.K., a successful economist and his boss, is crowned with the golden logo of the hat maker in a London, Baker Street 15, a label square and austere like the power that Mr I.K. exercises in the office and in the rest of his life, as the young employee is in the position to testify from first-hand experience. The young man reading and rereading the label has memorized the address, because one day, yes, he is positive, he will go to this shop and he will buy the exact hat. He will also order to have his initials put.
His left leg finally catches soil. He had rehearsed this hat many times in the mirror of the bathroom, in the office, secretly, when the owner of the hat goes out without wearing it. This happens rarely in winter, because his boss has an extensive baldness and a confirmed sensitivity to the cold. The young man thinks that the hat fits him well, yes, very well, like a glove. Too bad he cannot rehearse it in front of her, sometime, when she passes from the office to escort her husband to some event. The young man is watching his boss as he unhooks his hat and his loose trench coat to go out with her. He is looking forward to the opportunity to try the hat in front of her and see what she thinks. He totally trusts her taste.
Suddenly someone presses «Forward». The young man makes a U-turn on the spot, a quick passing of his open palm – which has stayed open, ready to respond to her greeting, the one that was revoked – from the pins of his hair to make sure that it is still there, frozen and up, a tangible reassurance that the thriller of his life is in progress.
At the press of «Full speed» his feet no longer touch soil, his beige trench coat open sails and the black pins become antennas in direct communication with the universe.
The first signals in the fog are the red funnels from Gazi as he is running down Ermou Street.
This short story titled ‘Στα πόδια της Ακρόπολης’ was published in Greek along with another 6 short stories & novellas in my book ‘The City with the Bachelors’ (Η Πόλη με τους Εργένηδες), Ellinika Grammata, Athens 2005 – for reviews please check relevant blog pages
© Copyright Lisa Samloglou, 2005. The moral rights of the author and translator are asserted.