How can your eyes be shut so tight and you not see me sob?
Yannis Ritsos, Epitaphios
A man in a tattered shirt, I went down yesterday
to the Piraeus with the few coins that I had, hoping
to buy bread, cheese, fish and maybe a little wine,
but the supermarket was bare and the corner shop
where I had bought groceries for the past five years
had a sign saying Closed for lack of trade, sorry to go.
I asked round the neighbourhood Where is Gregoriou?
What has become of him? but no-one knew anything;
there was no explanation – a shrug, and a finger laid
to the lips were the only response. So I walked on
a step further and came to the old market square,
a desolate, ruined place that looked like a bombsite
with paving blocks lying everywhere and trestle tables
turned over for barricades in the last uprising still
scattered about everywhere, the ground strewn
with spent cartridges, shell cases, canisters, car tyres.
A young woman once had a stall here selling olives,
the largest and tastiest olives, I swear, in all Greece.
Her name was Eftychia, which in English is Happiness;
she would stand by the tubs and sing, often giving
people who stopped by samples of olives and feta,
and always with a smile and a song or a kind word.
Nothing remained. The doorway to the cafenion
where only last week I had argued with Eucris,
Pausanias, Glaucon and other budding philosophers
was a dingy space boarded with plywood, reeking
of piss, vomit and excrement; over the entrance
someone had sprayed an enormous robotic figure
armed to the teeth, the mouth of its rocket launcher
pumping banknotes into the air and the legend
I’m coming to get you beneath. I walked through
a group of abandoned shops, past an old bakery
into Prosperity Square. The banks were all closed,
their doors gated and padlocked; queues stretched
from near-empty cash machines, and the air buzzed
with ambulance sirens, the whirr of propeller blades
from overhead helicopters, the clamour of citizens
like myself who had grown desperate without means.
I turned to go home, but then caught sight of a man
whom I recognised on the steps of the National Bank.
It was my neighbour Gregoriou, sitting towards the top
of the flight, hands round his knees. He was sobbing.
I went over, put my arms round his shoulders, helped
him back to his feet. We made our way homewards.
Out in the harbour, a magnate’s yacht slipped away
to the islands; in the Parliament Buildings, Theseus
rose once again to confront the Minotaur. He said
he’d wear creditors’ loathing with pride. Gregoriou
and I picked over my last few olives, and as night fell
looked out onto the city. The Parthenon gleamed
high above us, resplendent as ever, and I thought
as always at that hour of our obligation to wisdom
and our betrayal of Pallas Athene. Around midnight
lights on the Acropolis failed, and showing Gregoriou
to his door I found the hoot of an owl gave no comfort.
John GohorryTags: Europe
Categorised in: Article
This post was written by John Gohorry