(Before the deluge:
“A pelasgian gangster in Chicago”
“The murderess naked”
I love the rain, the sea and the rivers. And the lakes too, but most of the times they irk me because they refuse to move, to change.
Water is the element of the perpetual shift, the motion, the change. The dark Heraclitus used it as an allegory for time: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
Water means change, time, it is life.
But it can be also disaster, death. After all, life encompasses death, the final one as well as all those small ones we experience in between.
Today it rains since the crack of dawn. It soaked the walls and the streets and washed the cars. Its sound provides the background for every conversation, song or sleep.
-How are you? (sound of the falling rain) Did you come back? (sound of the falling train)
-We’ve been here for a week (sound of the falling train). Shall we meet and drink some wine? (sound of the falling train)
-Rather! (sound of the falling train)
And shortly after, while listening to the white album.
“Still my guitar gently weeps” (sound of the falling train)
It’s September and is almost through. I’m about to put pen to paper (sound of the falling train); and I can’t get my village, Thalatta, out of my mind.
It’s been two years since then. A lot of things occurred, to me and the whole world, beautiful things, nasty things, insignificant things. One of the most remarkable is that I found trace of Thanasis, the gangster who supposedly had died in Chicago. It was a mere stroke of luck, a coincidence, even though –come to think of it- coincidences are too pretentious to be considered as such.
I want to write about Thanasis but the rain won’t let me (sound of the falling train). It compels me to narrate the story of the deluge, as I heard it from the centenarian old-Vasilis.
I grant you, I don’t believe what he told me – and what you’re about to read.
I’m sure that these things did happen but I can’t tell when and to what extent. Old people, those demented and age-old beings that are close to being dead as makes no difference, regardless that they breathe, speak, eat and shit themselves, are on-line with mankind’s collective unconscious.
Personal memories have tangled with dreams and the outcome is buried underneath tons of legends and tales, just like the fossilized bones of a pterosaur which convince people that dragons were once in existence.
So, there are plenty of dragons to find in the mind-closet.
Old-Eleni, who is almost ninety years old, suffered a stroke when she was eighty. When she came round in the hospital, and for three days long, she spoke only ancient Greek in a very strange sing-song pronunciation. Then she came back to reality and went on relentlessly watching Turkish series speaking Greek, as usual.
So old-Vasilis talked me about this deluge that turned the village into a sea but I can’t tell exactly when it happened, since he had heard the story from his grandfather and he, in turn, from his and he from previous ones, so the thread could reach people who were talking Greek in a sing-song manner or older ones who believed in the god of the forests, the goat-legged.
I take a break to drink a swig of wine and listen to the sound of the falling rain. The dogs that live in town, those gloomy creatures that stick out their nose from the balcony railings, don’t bark when it’s raining but cower at their feet.
There’s nothing to be heard but the sound of the rain and an airplane approaching tentatively the airport.
-This is flight 231 to control tower, this is flight 231 to control tower, there is no sight of landing field, we can’t see you, this is flight 231 to Macedonia control tower, we see nothing, do you read us?
The sound of the falling rain and sound parasites.
Icarus loses control and dives. SOS SOS save our soul. He is lost in Thalatta. And Daedalus mourns in an unknown language which sounds like the Cretan rizitika songs.
Back then there was no rain. The sweat on my face was the closest to it.
We had gone out with Nelli and Telemachus to stroll in the countryside but it turned out to be a bad idea, since our soles were melting like the wax-wings of the pioneer flying man.
We took our time to watch two goats and a donkey panting, even though they carried no weight – and vice-versa. We laid to rest a dehydrated dragonfly with state honours. We reached Enipeas, the river of Oleni but it was almost dry, a shadow of his former self, a sight that was tugging at your heartstrings.
We took our way back. Nelli plunged into a speech about the waters of Pelion, Telemachus was daydreaming about seasides and I was looking to the sky hoping against hope for a rain to come.
As we entered the village, we saw a weird spectacle, something like a reflection upon the baking hot road surface. A grotesque animal with two heads, two legs and two wheels went down the street screeching in our direction.
As soon as it got closer, I recognized two people joined together. It was the hunched Mary pushing her father in a wheelchair, united in body and soul.
They finally saw us and moved towards us menacingly slowly, like undead coming for our brains.
It was old-Vasilis who spoke first with his tell-tale stentorian voice, before we greet them.
-Are you out Thanasis to recollect the layouts?
-Our village is fascinating.
-After all the things you saw, do you still think it is fascinating?
He laughed and then he fixed his eyes on Nelli.
-Is she a ‘Merican you brought here?
-She’s Russian, I said delivering the sequel of my fiction.
Nelli is blond with blue eyes with white Caucasian skin. As Mary eyed carefully her legs to verify her nationality, Nelli whispered in my ear “OK, but don’t expect to hear Russian from me.”
-You’ve always had a good taste in women, said old-Vasilis.
-Just like Mari from Smyrna?
-You still remember that witch?
-Women like her are impossible to forget.
-Ha,ha it was you who knocked her up, huh? I knew it!
All of sudden I became ancestor and descendant of my fictional self.
Telemachus gave me a furtive unease look. I winked at him.
-Bob, shall we go home and run a bath for us to cool ourselves off?
-Blazing hot summer said Mary.
-Dog days. In America we call it “Indian summer”. The Indians of Arizona, Pokahontas, say that the world was a barren wasteland, dry and infertile. Then God spoke: Let it rain. And out from the rain originated the human race.
-Those Indians need a check-up from the neck up.
That’s how old-Vasilisis spoke pointing at the sky.
-Sun and rain, everything co-existed. If one vanishes, life itself comes to an end. If one takes over the other, life itself comes to an end. Male and female, if there were only males left, if there were only females left…A priest used to say: “Balance has two “a”s. That’s how God created the world.”
-With two “a”’s ?
-Don’t laugh you-know-all, do you think the Indians are right? Don’t you remember the deluge?
-You mean Noah’s flood?
-You went to America and you’ve lost your marbles, haven’t you?
Telemachus-Bob laughed and so did Nelli-Irina.
-I’m sorry but…what is this flood you’re talking about? You know that I’m man of action, I was never fond of old things and tales.
While I was playing Thanasis’ role, I felt as if I was absorbed by him, affected from a personality of a guy I’ve only seen in a picture and heard of from a tale. But, if Thanasis really was my ancestor then his blood ran in my veins, so I might be a man of action, potentially at least.
The sun shone hot flinty on us. Old-Vasilis made a gesture to Mary to take him aside the road where the cypresses, the trees of the dead, cast heavy shadows. We joined them and breathed again with relief in the coolness the shadows the necrotrees provided.
He narrated us the story of the deluge and his daughter threw in some additions every now and then.
After all these things I heard, the way I store them in my memory, who can tell if they are true or not? The dragons or the dinosaurs?
It was a long-lasting summer, that started uncannily in March and till July was ever-present.
Not a single drop of rain had fallen on earth all these months. The gathering clouds were dry and had nothing but thunders in their insides. They stroke three villagers. Two of them died, they were fried literally. The survivor was Louvikis but remained crippled.
The Easter was late to come, it was due to May, and half of the goats kicked the bucket and the other half were rawboned because their mothers couldn’t find grass to feed themselves so they were pretty much dried up.
There were no flowers or bees. Later, as the sun got hotter, the entire earth was parched, it was turned to stone and the snakes and the wild animals dared to go to the village to find water, to drink blood. And the cucumbers got heated and decayed, the pumpkins and the tomatoes dried up before they ripen.
The dogs were lying dead on the streets and the donkeys were upchucking sand from their mouths. Enipeas dried completely and if you dug two meters in the riverbed, there was no water to be found. The wells dried too, the frogs stank and the villagers were hungry and empty.
One glorious day seemed as if it was about to rain, but there was no water that fell, only red dust that covered up the houses and the fields. And the villagers finally decided that they should go to the priest and plead him to say a litany for the rain to come.
But he denied doing so. God sent the drought and God decides what should be done, God knows everything, that’s what he said, God’s ways are unknown.
Then he started narrating the story of Job, God’s man who went through the mill, diseases and penury and death, he lost his children and his house but he never uttered a blasphemy.
-Job should eat shit, said the coffee-house owner and everybody agreed.
The priest went ballistic, short-tempered that he was. He told them not to expect anything from God. Then he entered the temple and closeted himself.
Two weeks passed, without rain, only dust. During the nights the heat didn’t rest, as if the earth had high fever caused by an incurable illness.
Until one day someone floated the idea to say a prayer to the goat-legged’s cave.
It was a place an Enipeas’ head at the root of an enormous rock, a destination for goat pilgrims. At this place the ancient ones worshipped their Gods, those ones who were as old as the forests.
The cave was well-known among the unmarried and the childless, because they would go there secretly from the priest and offer honey and walnuts to the goat-legged God, to help them give birth to vigorous males.
The cave was known among the men too, because every time they returned from hunting with their game from the mountains of Arcadia, they would leave the pig’s heads there.
It was known among the children who were frightened by dreams of the God with the flute and his erection.
It was known to the priest too, who would foreworn every now and then from the pulpit about the worship of this Satan’s predecessor and all the evils that were bound to befall those who would honour him as a real God.
But the true God, the one God, had closeted himself and had doomed to thirst the faithful ones who didn’t possess Job’s patience or faith.
So in the first days of August, a Saturday night with a big moon, everybody put on their Sunday or wedding clothes and they set out to ask Pan for rain to fall.
Once they reached they got down to drinking, singing and dancing because they knew that this God wasn’t a fan of seriousness and fast, it was a carnal one. The couples, once they got drunk, hid behind the bushes and they paid lust honours to the goat-legged. And they were so hammered that it was hard to distinguish them from animals.
The next day in the morning they hadn’t recovered from the hangover and as they started picking up their clothes from where they had tossed them off, they heard the first distant thunderclaps. The wind had changed its direction and was coming from the sea, carrying salt and water.
The priest was waiting in vain for the flock this morning to beg for forgiveness for the blasphemy. Enraged, with his vestment flames of hell alike, went downhill to the village – since the temple was built up the mountain, on the rock.
The old women he met gave him the lowdown and the priest stood to wait for the debauchers on their way back at the entrance of the village, where the necrotrees stood.
Once he saw them coming, he began anathematize them. But he wasn’t allotted adequate time to say much because at this moment a raindrop landed on his nape.
And thus the rain started and the raindrops were as big as grapes and hit the ground with a thump. The villagers hugged each other and celebrated and the priest of the Real God cursed them.
The villagers stood in the rain to purify themselves from their night-deeds and savour the rainwater. Then they returned to their homes to get prepared for their chores and prioritize them.
All Sunday long the sound of rain did not cease and it was a balm to their ears.
Τhe next day the rain continued unabated. The third day ditto but they didn’t worry. It wasn’t unusual to rain torrentially for three days in a row, although –granted- it had never happened before during August.
The fourth day there was nothing to be heard in the village except the sound of the rain. The men stood at the window, looking at the sky, but no smile flickered on their faces.
And when Sunday came, a solid week of torrid rain, the land was overflowed. The cracked ground and the stones were covered by small lakes and all over the place creeks were making their way to Enipeas.
Any surviving plant soaked and rotted away and others were carried away by the rushing waters. The disaster had only just begun.
The second week, Enipeas, the son of the Ocean, overflowed, bringing along new waters from the mountains through newly created rivers. Before they grasp what was happening and what was yet to come, the water invaded the houses and kept on rising unconstrainedly.
Fish were swimming in the rooms and eel would slip between their legs. The kids were swimming too and they were having a good laugh but their mothers were lamenting their possessions.
And then, with a loud bang, the hillside that was facing the cliff collapsed, the earth sank and three houses, mixed with mud, stones and living souls vanished forever into the river.
Before the disastrous landslide was through, the villagers took with them whatever they could carry and went running and splashing to the temple, refugees in their own village. They found the gates of Heaven’s Kingdom shut.
-Open the door and let us in to save ourselves, save us!
-Only God saves, he answered sternly and dry too.
-Tell Him to save us.
-You’d better ask it from the goat-legged one.
-We’re Christians, open up.
-Christians do not mate like animals.
But the kids were whining, the women were screaming, his wife was urging him too, so he succumbed and opened the door and accepted the strayed sheep in His lap. But he made everyone say the Lord’s Prayer thrice before they enter the temple.
Six hundred times the Lord’s Prayer was uttered and the temple was crammed with so many souls in a way similar only when celebrating Jesus Christ’ Resurrection. They kept a vigil praising God, the Real One, with unprecedented awe.
When the new day dawned, they opened the Ark’s door and got out. The rain had ceased and in the sky…
-They saw the rainbow, put Telemachus-Bob in.
-That’s right. That’s a smart boy.
But the curse hadn’t been lifted. Out of the stagnant waters emanated swarms of mosquitoes and hordes of frogs, ravaging the village. The sun stayed hidden behind the clouds, weak, impotent, autumnal.
Following the priest’s advice, they marched on the goat-legged’s cave and tore it down with their own hands, they eliminated it. And only then the priest shouted: The fake God is dead.
Once he uttered these words the sun came out and the flood waters began to withdraw. They left behind copious amounts of sand and seashells, as well as fish that held out to feed the villagers for a week.
-Is this the reason why everybody eats fish for a week after the Dormition of the Mother of God?
-You’re not as smart as your son but you can dig a thing or two.
These were Mary’s words. Her father was standing motionless, mouth open and his blind eye fixed upon us. Nelli-Irina dug me in the ribs and pointed with her head the old man, who seemed to be dead.
-That’s typical, Mary reassured us. He keeps talking and all of a sudden stops in his tracks. He sleeps for two hours and when he wakes up there he goes again bitching and crying.
-Just like a baby, said Telemachus.
-We’re born babies and die as if we’re babies. In between we’re not missing out something too thrilling. Sometimes I reckon all that distinguishes us from the animals is the stories we’re spinning.
-You mean, humans are animals spinning yards?
-And believe them too, mostly, believe them too. That’s the way of the world, isn’t it?
She swiveled the wheelchair and headed for their home.
-God be with you.
– Записки из Мёртвого дома, a familiar voice answered next to me.
Dumbstruck I looked Nelli-Irina who had spoken Russian.
-What? There are things you don’t know about me, she said laughing.
I wanted her and Telemachus wished subconsciously that I was dead, to have her all his own.
The rain ceased. Perla went out to the balcony and set out barking the dog-snails who trod in their saliva, harnessed by their leashes. The din of the cars is prominent, coupled with the sportscaster’s voice from the internet-café across the street. A gang of Americans goes up the street.
The town goes back to normal.
Maybe that’s why I am fond of the rain and water. Because it carries with it something magical, mythical, otherworldly. And, truth be told, I never could get the handle of reality.
Translated by Alexandros Mantas
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photo: Sebastião Salgado