JIM HAYNES

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ANARGYRIOS
A letter from John Zervos

It's Spring and time to think of Greek islands of which the one I hate and love most is Spetses; for it is here that I spent a few miserable years in boarding school in an environment as pristine and perfect as Paradise. I was just a wee wimp in 1957 when I disembarked one wintry January morning on the cannon-lined Dappia, exiled from Athens to a place known for its unforgiving discipline for young men who somehow had to learn 'the hard way'. The five imposing structures were known alphabetically and I was assigned to Building B. I think it stood for 'bad' and I was right. As a new boy coming in mid-term I was to bear the brunt of excessive concentrated hazing. The Headmaster, Mantzouranis, had been there many years and still believed in the Eton tradition of fairness consisting of premeditated corporal punishment administered liberally during the day and selectively at night with the help of a cane made of fine olive wood.

Like most other schools that I had attended I did not do well in anything but was very successful at jumping over the wall at night (a dismissible experience) and roaming the back streets of Spetses in search of solace. One night my mentor and friend George Adossidis let me in on a secret. "We go over the wall tonight", he said. Who was I to resist such temptation and at the stroke of the midnight church bell we slunk out of the door and unseen over the wall. We walked about two kilometers through the back of town reaching an old, elegant, neoclassical mansion with a black door and no lights. George rang the bell three times. A smartly dressed sixty-year old lady opened the door and led us into the main living room. I could not believe my eyes. The windows were draped in thick velvet curtains, a long bar lined the left hand of the room where eight provocatively dressed ladies were smoking and chatting to what looked like Athenian businessmen, suited and smart. A Bach sonata was playing in the background and a Steinway grand piano laced with a bouquet of red roses lounged in a corner. In my shock I realized that everyone was speaking French, the Kolonaki lingua franca.

"Ça va, George?" the host asked my friend who bent over and whispered furtively in her ear; she laughed, took me by the hand led me to the bar, poured me a large orange juice and introduced me to a flamingo-clad feline with pouty lips; "this is Vassiliki", she said and without a moments hesitation the femme fatale took me by the hand let me up the curved staircase and into a long room with a four-poster bed. The walls were lined with portraits of Miaoulis, Kolokotronis, Ipsilantis, and other heroes of the Greek War of Independence. Now at 14 my sexual proclivities had been scant and limited to keyhole visuals at home, and night-time fantasies. The dream, or so it seemed, progressed rapidly with the young lady taking all the initiatives in slow motion. I think the juice must have been vodka-spiked for I seemed to have lost control of both the situation and myself.

After what seemed like an eternity we returned to the main room and after lots of kissing on both cheeks we fled back to school just as dawn was breaking. I insisted to give George some money but he shook his head and laughingly said, "de plironoume" we do not pay.

Some months passed. George had left the school to continue his studies in England, where his parents had been posted. It was almost mid-May and my thoughts went back to that January night in the old harbor. I made up my mind and at midnight I leapt over the wall and ran all the way to the hidden house. Panting with exertion and trepidation I rang the bell three times and waited. The door opened a crack. It was the same older lady; she peered at me and I said "I am Adossidis's friend," at which point she opened the door fully and said "kalosorises", welcome, and led me into the main room. It was as if time had stood still. Same scene, only now large overhead fans cooled the numerous sweet smelling bouquets of freshly cut Jasmine. "Edo ine i Angeliki", she said, Angeliki is here, and led me to a small setee. It was a repetition of a dream that I had played over a thousand times in my head. The same room, the same bed, the same portraits. On departing I whispered to my host. "Ti sass ofilo?" what do I owe you. She looked at me and said "rien, vous êtes l'ami de George", nothing, you are George's friend.

I left school that summer never to return. Thirty-five years later I was sitting in the main port having a morning Nescafe frappe with Arthur Beer, an American theatre director. The place thronged with people. As Arthur was talking I saw a woman sitting at a table alone. She looked about 55 years old, well-kept, elegant and poised. I had seen this lady before. I excused myself, got up and went over to her table, and said "signomi ala nomizo oti sas xero", excuse me, but I think I know you. The lady looked at me for a minute, smiled and said "Yanni pos ise", Yannis, how are you? I had never forgotten her magical look. It's been a while, I said, but I have never forgotten. Yes, she said, those were special times. Now I am married and have three children. Arthur was waving to me; I have to go, I said, but there is just one question that has been nagging me. What question, she said. Well, I hesitated, well, how come I never had to pay? She looked at me in a strange way and said "didn't George tell you?" Tell me what? I said, he never told me anything.Well, she said, then I cannot tell you. Please, I said, its been a long time, please. She looked at me for a moment and said: all right, I'll tell you but promise you will not be angry. I sat down again and she looked at me, and said: "remember the portraits on the wall?" I nodded, "well, she said, the eyes were all real."

 
Yannis Zervos
May 2003
 
 
 
 
 
Handshake Editions
Handshake Editions is a small Paris-based kitchen table literary publishing house. We have been publishing from Atelier A2 since 1980. With extremely small print runs, Handshake sells primarily to friends concerned with contemporary writing.
 
 

 

 

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this document last updated on juin 9, 2013