Friday, February 02, 2007

clips from a life in motion

An old fat orthodox priest stands waiting for the bus. He reaches into the folds of his robe and removes a blue box of Chesterfield cigarettes, and raises one to his lips, replacing the box. Then from another fold emerges a cigarette lighter printed with the Greek flag. He lights inhales deeply.
…I retreated into the dressing room, and as soon as I had taken off the pants, the sales girl poked her head in the door and smiled brightly. “So, where are you from?” I was quite surprised, and a bit embarrassed to be standing skinny legged in my underwear, but I answered and we had the usual conversation: what are you doing here, how long will you be here, how do you like it here. “And the people?” she asked, “How do you find us Greeks?”
“Greek people?” I had never been asked this question directly, and again I was taken off guard. At least I had pants on by this time. “Ah…they are mostly good. I mean, they are fine. They are very funny, I think. I like them. I like you.” I had begun stammering, but she dove in and saved me.
“No, we are not good. We are not friendly at all.” She shook her head, looking at me with the pity given to a naive child. I zipped my jeans, and reached for a shoe. “How can it be that you don’t see this?”
“I don’t know.” I was absolutely unsure of what the right thing to say was. “You are very nice.”
“Yes, I am, but we as a people are very awful. You can’t trust us. We Greeks are terrible.” I pulled on my other shoe. Her face change as she smiled broadly. “Your life will be full of happiness and joy,” she said matter-of-factly. “I can see it. All of your dreams will come true.” And she stepped back to let me out of the dressing room. “Thanks,” I said, a bit confused. “I hope the same for you.”
“5 euro,” she yelled to the other sales girl at the register down stairs...
“When I heard that your name was Amara, I couldn’t believe it! I wanted to stop and take you in my arms! How can you have this name if you are not Nigerian? You know, it is a very good name. Very good!”
“Do your best, fuck the rest. This is what I say every day. This is my motto. Look at me – I smoke too much, I drink too much, I eat too much. But I try, and so it is ok. If I die tomorrow, I will die happy. Ah, look the police behind us!” Effie slowed the car and smiled. “Ha, look at the police! They can’t get through the traffic!” Everyone around us had also slowed, and true to Greek fashion was ignoring the lane lines. The three lane highway had magically become a 5 lane parking lot, the police siren wailing at the back. “Great! It’s great! Look at these guys!” Effie rolled down the window and leaned her head outside for a better view. “You can’t get through! You will never pass us!” she yelled. For the first time all day, she looked happy and excited. “Oh, I hate the police! HA!” She turned up the radio to drown out the siren, and drummed happily on the steering wheel.
“I have seen you in Athens. You were in the market buying beans. I have an amazing mind. It is like a box with no holes at all. Nothing escapes, and when I see you, I won’t forget it. Yes, I did not forget your face, but I don’t remember if it was you or I who was buying beans.”
There is a tall Greek man standing on the corner where there are usually South Asian men selling flowers or cell phone holders. He holds a tiny bouzouki, the body no larger than a balled fist. He is playing and singing furiously, eyes closed, mouth open, an earnest look of contentment on his face. It is cold today, and all of the cars have their windows rolled up. His long hair blows loose in the wind.
“Yes, the protest today was very weak. You know, last week, they set a policeman on fire. It was not the students, but the anarchists. The anarchists come and they don’t even care for the meaning of the protest. They use it as an excuse for violence. But you should have seen the pig roasting -- I was very happy! The next day in classes, when someone entered the classroom, we all called, ‘burn the police, fuck the pigs!’ Ok, that’s not a good translation. The Greek is much stronger. It was very beautiful!”
“Of course, I would have helped you no matter what. But I would not have asked you to share my dinner if you were not beautiful. What kind of man would I be if I did not pay my respects to youth and beauty? What? Am I making you uncomfortable?”
“I would like to move into my studio. It is on the ground floor of the building where I am now living. But before I move, I must save money and buy a washing machine. Why can’t I use my brother’s or my aunt’s? Ok, it’s true that my whole family lives in the building, but I would never ask to use their washing machine – it would too strange! No, I must have my own. I am addicted to laundry.”
She is a strikingly beautiful woman, her white hair wrapped in a brown scarf, clear grey laughing eyes, and thick round cheeks. I can imagine just what she looked like as a young woman. She sits all day at the bus stop with two paper bags at her feet. Each bag is filled with neatly stacked plastic containers. This bus stop is the starting point for all buses to Elefsina, but before they leave, they sit with their doors open for several minutes waiting. As the bus fills, usually with older Greeks and Albanians, and young South Asian men, she slowly stands and with the help of a heavy wooden cane, climbs aboard the bus. Click step, click step, she walks heavily with a hopeful gleam in her eyes. In her right hand, she holds an empty plastic container, and arm outstreached, she begins to call out in an unearthly voice, high and insane in its rising and falling tempo. Click step, she moves along the isle toward the back of the bus, and a few people reach out with coins to drop in her container. Others look away. Click step. As she approaches, you begin to smell stale urine and unwashed body. You see that her leggings have disintegrated, somehow merging with the flesh of her ankles. Click step, she is still speaking, still moving, and does not stop until she reaches the back of the bus. Slowly she climbs down the two steps, and sits down again on the bench outside, two paper bags at her feet.
The man was asleep on his stomach in the small patch of grass in front of the National Library, pigeons pecking all around him. He wore a wrinkled, but beautifully cut suit, and looked peacefully out of place. “Only on Sunday morning,” I thought.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amara - your mom linked Marie and I to your blog. You really are a great writer. Your short clips create great images.

Take care. Matt (your mom fulbright friend from Ghana)

7:49 AM  

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