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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 27 September 2014
FEATURE 22 SATURDAY 27 SEPTEMBER 2014 The meeting spot The Greece of today, through the eyes of Melbourne student Elena Piakis As part of her Year 12 Literature studies, and with a focus on ethnic literature, Greek Australian Elena Piakis wrote a creative short story inspired by the grievances suffered by immigrants in Greece that are, in her words, caused by a burgeoning fascism among Greek citizens as a result of the economic crisis. With implicit references to the political party Golden Dawn, her story is limited to an adolescent girl's perspective, reflecting on the deteriorated relationship between herself and her older brother - a fervent Greek patriot and a recently-joined member of Golden Dawn. Meanwhile, she is preparing to meet her Pakistani friend at the local square to walk her home, as it's unsafe for her to walk home alone. "My story highlights the collapsing values, such as democratic or cultural values, that were longstanding in the history of Greece but are collapsing due to a rise in xenophobia and fascism - a concerning phenomenon in Greek society," Elena told Neos Kosmos. The geraniums sang in the afternoon sun, flaunted their Illustration by Elena Piakis. rosy collars, teased the virginal gardenias. The lilies craned their elegant necks as the water trickled down their stems. But the poppies were vibrant amongst their dainty neighbours. Leila had given them to mama the day she first came to our apartment. Mama said she loved them because they reminded her of the crimson poppy fields in Serres. Leila said she loved them because they were the real thing. In Pakistan, poppy fields were heroin fields. I made sure all the pots were slightly swimming in water. I wanted to impress mama when she got back. Before she had left, she hugged me as she did when I was little. I could feel her rings and bangles pressing against my spine. Her long colourful skirt looked unprofessional for a high-ranking lawyer, but I knew she was making a statement. Whenever she wore that skirt Sotiri would always sourly remark that she looked like a gypsy. She'd laugh him off, saying he dealt a compliment, but I could see she was pained by his comment. I made her promise to return from Paris before he was to arrive. I closed the balcony doors behind me and draped the curtain over the glass, hiding the majestic Athens that stretched out from behind it. I was left facing the lavender walls of the dimly lit apartment. They were filled with mama's paintings of the turquoise waters of Lyndos Bay, of the amber plains of Tuscany lined with cypress trees, of Greeks she once told me the names of. In their midst was a painting of Sotiri. Unlike the rough brushstrokes of the other paintings, those that caressed the child's face were gentle and precise. This was an absurdity that grieved me so much I demanded that mama take the portrait down. She was hurt by my outburst and I felt guilty. The smiling boy's yellow hair fell over his forehead. Now he always slicks it back. Άριος. Aryan. I used to delight in looking the same as him. But then I grew to wish my hair wasn't golden like his. I wished it were the auburn of mama's plait or the ebony of Leila's curls. Leila. She'd be walking from tutoring by now. The cobbles were strewn with leaves. The sky was strewn with clouds. Sunlight slid obliquely past the leaden garrison in intervals, as if controlled by a switch. The plateia was almost completely empty, the little shops had no customers. There was little money for spending and the tourists wouldn't arrive until the next summer. Our meeting spot. Each morning before school, beneath the pale oak trees, beside the central fountain, Sotiri and I would wait for Leila. I shivered in my coat. Sometimes we would rise at dawn to wander through deserted streets before meeting her. He would tell me about the birth of democracy, about Alexander the Great, about the Byzantine wars. Me, the eager listener. Now I regret admiring his patriotic sermons. A young boy staggered behind a Labrador as it commanded a pace unachievable for two little legs. Its nose was glued to the ground, its tail beating like a frenzied metronome. The nose found the toe of my boot. I stroked the thick fur on the animal's neck. It smelled of soil. The boy apologetically tugged on the leash and the dog obediently returned to its diligent investigation of the cold hard ground. Leila was late. Like me, she would listen in awe whenever Sotiri spoke. Hazel eyes fixed to the ones of lake blue, downcast in concentration. Then one time, when he was extolling the advanced architecture of the Knossos Palace, she became so enthused that she began to talk of the Golden Mosque of Lahore with its splendid domes and embellished arches. He stared at her curiously after that. The following year, he no longer accompanied us to school. The same year, mama found the party membership documents in his room. Anguished, she paid for his expenses to attend the University of Thessaloniki after he graduated. But the distance only heightened her unhappiness. Eventually I understood why she never took the painting of the smiling boy down. The sun's light was fading and the cold became fiercer. I buried my fists in my coat pockets. Where is she? Things changed. Leila became too afraid to walk back from school alone. Our meeting spot became her refuge. The sun would slowly begin to descend behind the limestone church, bathing its arched windows in golden light, and I would wait for her. She would never blame him as others did her. She only saw the boy in him, the charm, the intelligence, her surrogate brother. She didn't see what I saw. Any affection I had for him had long evaporated. The ring of street lamps produced a wan light, but the darkness was overpowering. The hollow gloom was alleviated only by the entrancing sound of the fountain. Leila was over an hour late. I vacillated between waiting longer or leaving. Perhaps she had left tutoring early, and had tried to call me whilst I was on the balcony. A likely situation. I would return home and call her from there. The cold glided across the tree branches, descended before unlit shop fronts, gloated as it pressed against me, dictating I walk quickly. I followed the circuit of shops. To my right, the distant fountain; an ice sculpture, clustered by a tribe of trees and hedges. To my left, the bakery, the crêperie, the toy shop. The pharmacy on the corner. I turned into the silent street. Half-lit rows of balconies. The cracked cobblestones, punctured by weeds. A dog barking. The lane behind the shops. The smell of garbage. A nightmare. I don't know what caused me greater torment; the whimpering Leila, her body collapsed and bruised and helpless, or the bursts of laughter as they fled around the corner of the dreggy corridor, the distant streetlight catching a flash of blonde hair. It couldn't be; it's not possible. Fleeting shadows licked the cement and dustbins and walls, flickering by the black words that would continue to plague her. ΕΞΩ ΟΙ ΞEΝΟΙ. Out with the foreigners. Beneath, the sleek Meander; a deadly spider. Elena Piakis.
20 September 2014
04 October 2014