inner city 
experimental living
a capricious periodical
of experimental literature
 

Volume 3

The Meaning of Life,
a page out of the so-called 'secret diary' (aka New Athenian Stories) of the untimely lost Athenian director
Christos Vakalopoulos

 
 
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- 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 overcoat. 
- 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 gray suit. 
- 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 overcoat. 

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 his pocket. 

- 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 machine. 
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 of images. 
- 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. 

 

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    Notes 
  • 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, Hestia©, 1988.
  • 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 argot expressions.
  • 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, meaning "infatueted".
  • school suit : abolished in 1982 to the relief of most greek schoolgirls.