«The gigantic fall of an eyelash» – a short story collection in greek (Gavrielides Publishing, Athens 2011)
ONE MORE PIECE of concrete piled on Szabó’s knees.
He threw a Mentos in his mouth and chewed it into pieces. He inhaled deeply to get cool air into his lungs and rolled his wheels. He rolled them hard. Humidity made his fingers slip. I noticed a few drops of sweat on my keyboard. I paid no attention.
Even if the thought of “being randomly selected” tormented him for years, he did reach a point where the sound of the word “randomly” echoed no more from ear to ear. The actual word built itself in his head with fireproof bricks and became part of the whole setting. So, Szabó finally accepted the fact that he had been “randomly selected”. In a matter of seconds. Just like a bank clerk with a suit decides to sign a false document and gets a promotion.
Szabó once had a name. He lost it somewhere between the pavement and the road. A white truck crushed it. The doctors couldn’t glue the letters back together. They said “We’re sorry Mr. Szabó but…” and he forgot his first name, since it bled to death and abandoned him. Just like that.
He takes some time to rest on my page. He says his favorite word is one I haven’t written yet.
Szabó had this dirty, dim recorder hanging from his right wrist and he would get 1.5 volt, half-expired batteries from here and there to keep it going. He would switch it on to hear hullámok and then embrace Morpheus for hours. He needed no cold shots of diamorphine into his veins to find God again. He kept God in his recorder and He never complained.
The pompous, glassy building opposite the trendy cafe reflected no clouds. The wheels screeched on the pavement and heat made Szabó’s cheeks melt like ice-cream cones. There was a constant buzzing, the cars, the noise, the shouting, the talking, the horns, the barking and so many other “ands” that inhabited Szabó’s ears and forehead. Humidity and drought (gradually turning the island into the Sahara desert) kept all those noises glued in his head, along with the random thoughts that reproduced in there. Soon, the babies of Randomness and Noise would pop out of his ears looking for candy – but he would be long dead then. Questions like whether he was “randomly selected” or “deliberately selected” or “unjustly selected” or even “viciously selected” and/or “accidentally selected” were now banned from his mind and it would take a long time for new doubts and questions to grow. Szabó wondered. And that was a fact. But he wondered about things like the difference between him and that Somali looking at him through the poster or even that packet of scrambled eggs that now exposed itself so temptingly on the edge of a dustbin. “Maybe it just wants to be burned!”, he heard himself say and that thought scared the shit out of him. He thought that aloud. He didn’t like that. It reminded him of those American films where homeless people talk to themselves in the streets and mutter like mummies. A woman with a JUMBO* shopping bag gave him an unspecified kind of look. Till that very moment, Szabó thought that he had all kinds of looks sorted out in categories: the guilty look, the angry look, the kind look, the scared-terrified look, the apathetic look, the no-look, the half-look, the turn-your-back look. Yet, this one was a look he never experienced before. He saw his own face reflected on that woman’s facial skin. Motionless. Passive. Rough. He immediately excused her! HE had made her look that way. Wasn’t HER fault.
Szabó tells me my words become coins in his pockets. I tell him he makes letters glitter in the dark. He points at the dustbin, looking down. He tells me what to write.
Those scrambled eggs seemed so inviting, lying under the sun but how could he do that? People would see. People would criticize. People would say “Ts..Ts..Ts…” or “Oh my…” or “Hey!” and then, what? What would he do with that shame? Would he throw it in the dustbin too? (Ironic laughter) He would gobble down those eggs no matter how old they were, he would silence that bumping in his stomach and he would leave, without looking. The no-looking look! He liked that.
Saw that? Szabó just smiled at the Ukrainian construction worker that let him drink some of his water. He also remembered the balcony that collapsed the previous day. A huge piece of balcony with the chair and everything, crashing on the road like powder. A “randomly selected” individual could’ve been sitting on that chair drinking frappe*. If Szabó knew the balcony would fall, he would stop right below it, waiting for it to smash his legs. Come on! Szabó was not suicidal. He would just watch the balcony fall. He would freeze it somewhere in the air like a Hollywood director – Freeze Frame – and just watch people’s terrified faces, the cracks on their skin, the void. Adrenaline would rush in his blood.
At points, the Ukrainian worker would interrupt Szabó’s surreal thinking, narrating his own life story about a place with a lot of mines called Makeevka, where red sparrows drank water from red ponds. Szabó would just lift the map above his round, tired head.
“The MAP is important!”, he seems to say.
So yes, the map was the only thing Szabó had to cover himself from the heat or hide the mosquito bites on his knees. Villages with unusual names exposed themselves on paper, names he never heard of and couldn’t even read, like Apsiou and Akanthou*. The map, just like that old recorder, kept him company. On one side was the whole island with the red line dividing it in half like a hot-dog and on the other side, a more detailed map of Λεμεσός. And even though he wasn’t born in this city, the sea reflected his home. On most occasions, lucky ones, he would reach and feel the waves. Waves he never saw in the lakes and rivers of his own country.
He now shows me a photo of his baby. “DON’T write about that”, he shouts. I know he doesn’t mean it. He steals some of my full stops and swallows them like sedatives.
Still hot. A new stranger just gave Szabó a disgusted look. The stranger must’ve felt filth covering his nails and arms, gigantic mosquito bites itching his legs, germs climbing up his throat and chocking him. Szabó heard the man’s heavy breathing. He saw him leave, scratching his knees and cleaning his white T-shirt with the Polo brand on the side. An incident like that made Szabó wonder again. He questioned once more the difference between him and that guy he once saw at a kiosk – the one that helped him get on the pavement by lifting his wheels, the one that afterwards tossed a coin between his feet and laughed out really loud. Or maybe that other guy at the bus station, saying things like “Have a great night!” or “Fancy some juice?” or “Fuck off, scum!” or “I love you” or “I have no change!”. I have no change… why would someone infer such a thing? He wasn’t a beggar! Honesty, what was the difference between that fasz that called him a beggar and the Polish guy now sleeping on his bike.
The sexy waitresses he met last night in a dream returned, with the thongs and the see-through white dresses, moving in and out of his subconscious, showing him places like New York bars or Bangkok brothels, asking him with paradoxical innocence “Would you like a blow job?” and then making fun of his incompetence.
These same waitresses in another dream, will ask him where he lives. They will look puzzled – they won’t know the difference between a tiny island like this and the stain of a Starbuck’s coffee on white marble. He will then wake up. He will be old. Old. Alone. Wet.
Shhhh…I think I hear him. He now says things to himself like “…that man is staring at me and I know he’s coming…he’s coming and I don’t want the 5-euro note that he just leaves on my knees but I can’t help it…the phrase just spills out of me like a disorientated lizard… I just say… THANK YOU…”
That’s the time of the day when Szabó turns from disabled into homeless. All over again.
Light fades. I decide it’s time to stop using italics in the story– “I fear limited space just like you fear openness”, he says. Strange. I would swear it’s the other way around.
He asks me to leave the keyboard alone for a while and throws into my head words I can’t write about, words that question my world. I have no reaction to the way he turned from disabled into homeless, from one day to another. He explains to me how “the former is a fact” and how “the latter is what life made out of him”. I leave the keyboard for hours. Nothing to write about. Then he returns, like a ghost. I go back to the fictional reality of things to continue narrating his story, no longer as a stranger. No longer in the Past Tense.
As the day passes and the night bursts in, the wheels get heavier and more reluctant, Szabó’s eyes wetter and street lights just brutal, like knives. There he is, in the middle of things, looking for a home in a place of the world where people once had their beds in their yards and slept under the vines, where hot-dog lines didn’t exist. I want to write Mother Teresa’s words here: “The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty” but Szabó doesn’t want me to feel any pity or sound hypocritical and PREACHY -he asks me to stress the word. I say to him that I’m sorry, that my words have now been written and I can’t take them back – people will notice. Szabó understands. He’s a proud man. So there he is, in the middle of things, having long-forgotten the terms “married” or “divorced” or “unemployed” or xenos*. He now feels like a parasite and the only thing that keeps him going is neither the map nor the bible under his seat. It’s that torn recorder with the repeated lullaby sound. He now gives me an enigmatic look, trying to distinguish himself from that dog with the tumor that looks like a breast or that Cypriot old lady in black that holds a photo frame in her hands. What would he tell her if she listened? How would he excuse ignorance to her?
Szabó passes by the trendy cafe again. He sees the Orthodox church right opposite the Mosque in the distance. He sings something to God in his recorder. Then he swears, in Hungarian. A lady he knows offers him a glass of wine – Rose wine – its temperature is just right. Szabó drinks it all. Non-stop. His cheeks blush. The young lady puts a cigarette into his mouth and lights it up for him. The lighter says I LOVE CY. He feels the nicotine and tar shoot right into his lungs. A clean shot. He moves a bit further. Numb. “You made my day, young lady! You made my day!”, he shouts. A boy close by starts to walk faster.
Szabó is lucky. He still has a name. “One day I’ll tell you…”, he whispers in my ear.
Now it’s dark enough for the moon to be trapped in the high-tech building.
“Goodnight Moon!”, he seems to say – his heart shrinks. He shows me.
Maybe it all started when the taste of chicken turned into the taste of flesh.
I see him. Switching on his tape recorder for 10-15 seconds.
I hear what Szabó hears. I’ve known it all my life:
DAD AND I chat away at night; he wrapped in cellophane.
When mum goes to bed I open the closet in the guestroom. I show him my new toys, the big remote control tractor and my “grandson” teddy bear – and he fogs up the cellophane with his breath, grooving hearts for me with his nose. I try to come closer and kiss him in the Eskimo way, but I can’t reach, and before too long the sketches on the cellophane will fade, there’s no room for more. He stands there still, like Tutankhamun’s mummy enclosed in wood. This reminds me of the boxes that keep the dead locked in. “The living can’t stand the dead”, grandma used to say. The living are afraid of the dead, that’s why they shut them in a box, to keep them from waking up and seeking revenge like vampires do! My words.
…/Mum keeps to herself/ I burnt a hole in the carpet with your lighter/ Sorry dad/ Aren’t you hot in there?/ Why don’t you speak? / Can you wrap me with you in this cellophane from the DIY store?/ I love you dad/ Today mum told me to shut up!/ Yes. I’ll be good/ Yes. I promise!/ Leave me alone! she said/ Me too, dad…/ Are you hungry? There’s chicken if you want/ Goodnight…/Will you talk more tomorrow?/ I don’t have any friends! Do you?/…
I spend several hours in the closet with him. I stroke his cellophane. He can feel it when I touch him, I’m sure he can. I can see the droplets on the cellophane. It’s probably his sweat of joy. If it wasn’t for me, he’d be bored in the dark. He tells me he can still hear the tires squealing.
But I mustn’t talk about that.
I want to tell mum that dad didn’t go away, that she must stop crying at night and yelling at me because dad is still here, with us, and I talk to him and ask him things and he answers. I want so much to tell her how he told me that there are billions of stars in the sky and that I can even be an astronaut if I want to (it doesn’t matter that I’m nearsighted) and that I should never listen to anyone else because if I do I will only be what they want, and that the word “gay” means many things and the dictionary says, if I read it closely, that the word is used: “(with a positive connotation) for someone who is happily excited”. I also want to tell her that my having discovered dad wrapped up in cellophane in the closet makes me really «happily excited» because if it hadn’t been for me he would have died of hunger, thirst, loneliness, moth and thousands of other microorganisms.
Last night, dad and I chatted away for hours on end. I asked if he wanted me to take the cellophane off him so that he could move. He kept quiet.
This morning I found dad outside, thrown out in the large container that had SKIP written on it. He was still wrapped in cellophane, one arm sticking out.
I screamed “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah” and started to cry aloud.
Mum yanked me back into the house.
“It’s just a suit, god damn it! A suit…” she said and shut herself in the toilet.
OVIS ARIES ORIENTALIS
A MOUFFLON STOOD in a corner shop (that sold Russian furs), looking at the passing faces of businessmen and the dirty hands of creeps. Its body remained motionless, no single hair was curled by the wind. Nothing penetrated its thick, transparent glass. It could not see the expensive Gucci bags carried by women or the dark thoughts of old, distorted men. It had its own thoughts. The moufflon paid no attention to the sun or the clouds or the freshly-waxed Porsche in the narrow streets or the little girl with the glassy eyes and the lollipop. Just its sickly reflection. It had no idea where the luxury villas or the Main Hall’s gardens, watered with laundered money, were. Its bones, skeleton-like and yellow, exposed themselves like hieroglyphics, not a strange sight considering its mummified position. A red bulb lighted its glassy box. Blood lines carved its stomach, cutting it in half. Thick pieces of wood kept it standing. Some of them pierced its skin. A lot of strangers paused for a moment or two, fixing their eyes on its once elegant body. At nights, some of them masturbated right in front of it, ordinary people, not psychotic ones. It spat on them and cursed but nobody ever noticed its anger and the way it grew, deformed and repulsive.
One morning, the girl with the glassy eyes and the lollipop knocked on the glass. The moufflon heard the sound. It wasn’t deaf. Dead to the world maybe but definitely not deaf. It rarely heard knockings on its big, bulletproof glass. As if operated by a 1-euro secret mechanism, the moufflon’s jaw opened like a dead man’s chest and sang a song. It sang like this because big pieces of cotton stuffed its mouth to make it look alive to the window shoppers and the after-midnight perverts: It’s cold in here will you give me a kikjhfskjhfkdsdk will you give me a kjssdflkldhfldshf give me a kshsddfsdfh I need a huhfskfjdksfgk I want I want I want I want a hhjsdhjsadgs love me and I’ll ljskfhjsh you back love me and I’ll lojskfhjsh you back cold cold in here can you hofksjhfdh can you hofksjhfdh? Red light off. Silence.
“Do moufflons sing?”, the little girl asked. Her mum just snatched her from the elbow and rushed her to the nearest candy shop. A new lollipop would shut her up. And it would make her keep her questions unfinished. “Mum…where are we gojhdskhk? / Mum…why are you sjhd? / Mum…can you buy me a moufsdhsn?”. The truth is that the little girl hated lollipops. They made her tongue red, green and blue and she didn’t like that. Kids at school called her names and she just wanted to cut her tongue out and make it disappear.
“I wonder where they live…”, she often thought, touching her hair right in front of the mirror. One day, she packed. “Where do you think you’re going?”, her mum shouted, pulling away the mini pink suitcase from the girl’s little hands and arranging everything back into the closet. Pink T-shirts up. Trousers and skirts down. Glossy accessories in the drawer on the left. Games in the straw basket. Teddy bears on the bed. Undefined objects in the dustbin.
One other day, the little girl got a cyber friend.
SPONGEBOB: How r u?
SPONGEBOB: How old r u?
SPONGEBOB: Me2. Where do u live?
The next day, her cyber friend said: I want to liiifdfsdfh your lollipop! She answered: I ATE 3 TODAY. Smiley face. Smiley face.
Their conversation continued for days. The little girl completely forgot about that moufflon it once saw mummified behind a shop window. She no longer needed it. She had found a new friend. The poor moufflon watched everything from a distance. It felt something was wrong. It banged its head on the glass. Froth came out of its jaws. Hard disc sounds and cables appeared, plugged like parasites at the back of its head. Amorphous steel pieces exploded in the air. Yet, nobody cared. It was just a humiliated national symbol, not even a symbol anymore.
SPONGEBOB: At the park?
SPONGEBOB: Your mum?
CINDY: NOT HOME
The little girl saw the moufflon sitting on the bench that day but just ignored it. GO AWAY, she said. The moufflon was used to people’s ignorance but it could not understand ignorance coming from innocence itself. It struggled to grab the girl’s attention by stuffing its lungs with more cotton or by pretending to walk on stilts but the little girl only thought about her new friend. She did find the one she was looking for by the swings. He was a lot older than she expected. He smiled at her. She smiled back. He touched her hair. She held his hand. She didn’t mind that her friend had grey hair. She didn’t mind that his car gave off a strange smell. Nor did she mind that his hands were cold and hard and wrinkled. She did mind when her pink bag shrank out of fear. She did mind when her dress got stained with mud. And most of all, she did mind when he abandoned her, when he did not want to play with her anymore. The little girl got back home. Her mum threw her broken glasses and a bunch of leaves she found in her pockets in the dustbin. The little girl never talked about her cyber friend. She just continued to suck her lollipop, turning her tongue red, green or blue and the other kids at school continued to call her names.
The moufflon, heavy and exhausted, locked itself back into that shop window, switched off the red light and stuffed itself with so much cotton that it choked to death, without even realizing it.
(this story was also presented at LOGOS International Literary Festival – 2013)
LE PETIT CHANDELIER