|- Patience, they'll get us out, said the young man with
the black overcoat.
- I can't stand the immobility, I think
I'm gonna go nuts, stated the mature woman with the groceries.
She was coming from the laiki and her bags pushed
aside the short man with the gray suit who in his turn was pushing the
old man of the sixth floor. He had him cornered pretty badly, the elderly
becoming one with his reflection on the mirror.
- The best thing is to start talking, said the young man with the black
- And say what? asked the shorty with the gray suit.
- A story, answered the young man.
Silence followed his words. The biggest problem they had to face was
their glances. They didn't know where to place them, to what spot they
should leave them, it was too tiring. They had, it seems, to look down
and their necks were getting stiff. But there wasn't any other solution,
since when their glances met each other an inexplicable sense of guilt
overwhelmed them. They had never imagined that such a lot of guilt could
be gathered into such a small place.
- I'll tell you a story, said suddenly the old man. In August 1965 I
was blocked inside this hell machine, in Toshitsa
street, along with a schoolgirl.
- Did she perform ? asked the shorty with the
- She did what? wondered the old man.
The young man with the black overcoat explained to him that the shorty
was asking whether the schoolgirl was beautiful. The lady moved nervously
her bags. A pepper fell on the feet of the shorty. Unconsciously the shorty
kicked it away and the lady looked at him with discontent. Nobody cared
to pick up that pepper.
- Of course she was good, said the old man. The story I'm telling you
is a love story.
- Coup de foutre ,
etc., commented the shorty.
- Do you believe in love ? asked the young man.
- Since August 1965, love is my god, said the old man. I am referring
of course to love at first sight, the one I felt for that student.
- Rubbish, said the lady. You were nervous because you got stuck inside
and you took it out to that poor girl.
The short man laughed loudly. With a nervous gesture he drew from his
pocket a pack of cigarettes and offered it to the group.
- Don't you dare, said assertively the lady.
- Just to make time pass, said the shorty slipping the packet back
into his pocket.
- No, I didn't do it to get over the anxiety of the still time, said
the old man with a dreamy look. That girl impressed me because she was
melancholic. She didn't seem to be upset by the unfortunate situation.
With her head down she was thinking of something; something much more important
seemed to absorb her. She was so quiet by my side, that for a moment I
thought that she was an angel who came in help.
- Did you talked to her ? asked the young man with the black overcoat.
- She talked to me first. She looked me straight in the eye and posed
the question : "When somebody dies, is he then cured of his jealousy?"
- The poor thing, murmured the lady.
- Her face was glowing, continued the old man. Before I had a chance
to answer, she posed to me a second question. A tear run through her little
cheek as she was asking me : " If you were in my place, wouldn't you just
kill him ? "
- Whom ? asked the short man.
- He's gonna tell us now, said the lady.
- Did she tell you whom she meant ? asked the young man with the black
The old man sighed, took out of his pocket a white handkerchief and
swept the sweat from his face. He seemed exceptionally moved, the remembrance
of the student had upset him terribly and he could not hide it. The shorty
drew again his packet, attempted to open it and then he shove it back into
- Was she any beautiful ? asked the lady.
- A real beauty, said the old man. At that point I tried to utter something
as an answer to that, but she interrupted me. She took out of her school
suit a paper and read to me a... I don't know what to call it, something
like a poem..., it had only two verses.
- Do you remember them? asked the young man.
- How could I forget them? My whole life is enclosed in those verses
and those verses enclose - yes, I believe they do - the meaning of life.
But something happened that...
The old man interrupted abruptly his speech and started crying. The
short man took for the third time the packet out of his pocket and lit
a cigarette. This time the lady said nothing, she just stared at the old
man like stoned. The upper lip of the young man with the black overcoat
started trembling slightly.
- I'm sorry, uttered the old man. You see me in a state that - I know
- is not at all agreeable. It's just that I'm narrating here the most important
experience of my life. At that time I was a man like everybody else, I
wasn't aware of what is going on. The only thing I did well, was to fool
myself, lie to him just in order to endure, not to be taken away by the
stream of everyday life.
- You're a poet, murmured the lady with the bags. My horoscope said
that today I was going to meet a special person.
- I'm just a naught that have managed to see the truth, said the old
man. Since I stopped working, I stopped doing any effort whatsoever.
- What exactly happened when she read to you the two verses? asked
the young man with the black overcoat.
- She vanished, said slowly the old man. I was left alone inside this
The bags fell from the lady's hands. The short found himself around
peppers, threw away nervously the remnant of his cigarette and the lady
hurled like a horn. The young man with the black overcoat passed artfully
over a pepper and put out - somehow nervously - the still lighten remnant.
- How could she have vanished? he asked, somehow out of breath.
- It happens, said the old man. But first, you have to understand that
the girl had long crossed her limits, she was experiencing a strange moment.
Even now, that I'm talking to you her image stays inside of me, like I
had absorbed her, like it was printed inside of me.
- Do you suggest that what we call "soul" is in reality a black
chamber ? said the young man with the black overcoat.
- Spell it in dimes, cut in the shorty.
- The thing fools call "psyche", explained the young man with the black
overcoat, is probably a movie theater which lies inside of
us. The girl who vanished is starring at this moment in a movie that this
man here is directing inside him.
- But it a silent one, said the old man with grief, a silent synthesis
- The silence is also a sound, commented the young man with the black
overcoat. But the real sound of the movie that is projected inside you,
are the two verses the girl told you.
- The one that revealed the meaning of life, said the lady.
- What was it about, briefly? asked the shorty.
- I remember it but I have never told to anyone ever, said the old
man. I am afraid that, if I say it, I will cause something... that something
terrible will happen.
- There's no meaning to life, said the young man with the black overcoat.
- There is, but we don't know it, said the lady.
- Just a minute, said the shorty to the old man, say it to me in my
ear. Whatever will be, will be.
The old man leaned to his side.
- Are you all right? said the fireman.
- Mrs. Euthymiou, are you all right? asked the doorman.
They didn't get any answer. The fireman unblocked the door. First came
out the shorty . He seemed shocked. He threw a glance around him and left
with his head turned down. The young man with the black overcoat came next.
He was paler than pale.
- What is the matter with you? asked the fireman.
- Get this inside your head, cried the young man with the black overcoat,
there is a meaning, there is a meaning...
The doorman cried with astonishment. Third and last, Mrs. Euthymiou
was lying down, unconscious, with her face inside the peppers.
- You told me there were four people, said the fireman.
The doorman raised his shoulders :
- If they were four, it's their fault, murmured the fireman, either
way its the machine's.
to homepage: inner city experimental living
About the author: Christos
Vakalopoulos (Athens, 1956-1992) was one of the most promising young
film directors. He also wrote three successful books and worked as a film
critic, radio producer and screenwriter. Look for this story also in his
book New Athenian Stories,
laiki : street grocery markets taking
place weekly and distrubuted in every Athens region . The author here refers
to the laiki in Kallidromiou street, in the bohemian district
called Exarhia . Exarhia is the background for many modern
greek novels, as well as for this work.
Toshitsa street : a busy street leading from
Exarhia to the Museum, near Polytechnic school , a
place traditionally rebels, anarchists, avant-guard artists hang out and
social riots happen, especially since 17 November '74 when the student's
riot overthrew the greek Junta, a 7-year military regime.
to perform : one of the most recent greek
coup de foutre : love at first sight, a french
expression usual in everyday greek. Here the original expression was "tinfoil"
or "you've bitten the tinfoil", untraslatable in english,
school suit : abolished in 1982 to the relief
of most greek schoolgirls.