Saturday, 23 February 2019

F Fic, Non-fic

The Hairpins

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Maria has a huge collection of hairpins and clips her brother Kostas brings her from his travels abroad on the ship. Her hair is as straight as uncooked spaghetti and she uses the pins to decorate it. She looks fabulous in them! Got all kinds of colours and different shapes. Flowers, leaves, animals, even pearls and one with a doll’s head on. She’s also got some wonderful wood hair clasps with intertwining geometrical shapes at the front and two hair bands, bright and velvety, a blue and a red one. Problem is she never gives or lends any. Only once in all those years, when my dog had died and I was very sad, only then she did give me a blue pin with a yellow daisy on top. But the daisy was missing a petal. I didn’t mind. I wear it just the same.

We never talk about boys. Never seen her warm to a boy. Not even look at one for more than a second. If she fancies one, I wouldn’t know. She won’t tell.

I’m head over heels in love with somebody. Never told her. It’s not that I don’t trust her, but her mana is one of my mana’s best friends and what if she accidentally spills the beans and my mana knows? I’m doomed. Last month Maria’s elder sister, Eugene, met a boy in a secret rendezvous at the playground round the corner late at night when her parents were asleep. Kyra Georgia, the neighbour, saw them and Eugene still has these horrid red marks on her arms and legs. From her pateras’s belt. And she’s not allowed to go out till her pateras says so. Till he judges she’s got a good head on her shoulders. That’s never because she’s the complete opposite of Maria. Always out there after boys.

My love is Vasilis. A tall boy two years my senior. He’s in the third year of gymnasio and he’s got eyes the colour of thyme honey and fleshy lips like Elvis’s. Maria doesn’t like him at all. She says all boys of the third year are ugly but the ugliest of all is Vasilis with this lump on the spine of his nose and the protruding chin. He looks like a rat-munched wedge of feta cheese in profile, she says. I find him very attractive. He’s got personality. The heart and soul of his class. All boys swarm around him at break time. Never seen him alone. So very popular! And I like his smile, his laugh. So full and husky in such a pretty way.

I’ve seen him stare my way during breaks and I’m sure he’s got feelings for me. His eyes shine so much when I meet his, and I feel as if there’s a golden, mellow string attaching us. Forever.

Today is a sunny October day and we’re going on an excursion to the forest of Vonitsa. It’s our first school trip this year and only a half-an-hour journey. I slump into the cozy, plastic-smelling seat of the tall, green coach that’s taking us there. It’s stifling in the bus, but I’m happy because Vasilis is sitting two seats ahead of me, and I’ll be able to watch him all the way to our destination. I spend the whole trip hypnotized in my seat, still as a chair. Maria looks out the window most of the time whilst I secretly admire the sun being divided and reflected in his golden eyes, the trees flashing there as they rush past the coach windows.

I’ve made so many dreams which include just the two of us. Walking all the way to school hand in hand. I touching his fair hair, he ruffling mine. In my world, of course, because in my parents’ world that would mean detention and a good, strong smacking on the buttocks.

Vonitsa is near. The air is now humid, sea-smelling, and just around the big bend on our right is Koukoumitsa, the small island with the whitewashed exokklisi in the middle and the olive trees and cypresses around. The scrubland is a mixture of shades of green against the grey of the rock along the coastline. We follow the asphalt past the island and head to the Venetian castle - or what is left of it – whose huge, square, grey stones peep out of the greenery. We take the winding road up the castle under a stony arch, past a small exokklisi with arched windows and a big white cross on top of the bell tower, and the driver pulls over at the side of the road next to the eucalyptus forest. Majestic!  Giant trees with their naked, khaki trunks boldly standing in front of us, one beside the other like soldiers in uniform, ready for battle.

We gush out of the boiling coach like milk frothing out of a heated pan and scatter amongst the trees. The forest is right next to a part of the Amvrakikos gulf and the ground is a bit wet. Soon it is inscribed with patterns of interlocking footprints from various trainers’ soles.

Maria and I settle down on a fallen eucalyptus trunk under the shade from a big tree, and the boys run to the football field to our left to play. Most girls chase each other around the tree trunks and some others play hide and seek and hotchpotch on the soggy ground. Maria and I know better. If we go home with muddled shoes our manathes will give us a rap across the knuckles. We’re on safe ground here at the trunk.

Maria has brought some new hairpins to show me and she unfolds a big white handkerchief where they’re neatly placed one beside the other. All twelve of them.

“They look lovely on you!” I tell Maria after she’s tried them all on, pinning either her long fringe by the side or the hair at the sides just above her ears. “Can I have one?”

“No, none of these. I’ll give you one of those Kostas will bring next.”

“Okay,” I say, but I know she won’t.

I let her pack her hair pins and go over to a eucalyptus tree. The bark is so weird! Light sky-blue in parts with goldish brown streaks. I glide my fingers along it again and again. Smooth and cool! It’s like touching a strong human arm. So different to the coarse olive tree or almond tree barks up at the village. I hardly want to touch those. And there are some abrasive grey-brown patches of the bark that flake out. I want to rip them off, clear the trunk free though I realize it can never be clear enough. Some patches are part of it. It’ll always be mottled, like parched skin. The part of the tree next to the root is dark grey-brown and dry, so harsh it scratches my palm.

“Stop caressing the tree like that Katerina. They’ll think you’re a lunatic,” Maria says.

“Don’t you like the bark? Don’t you want to touch it?”

“I’m hungry.” Maria rummages into her satchel for her lunch. She takes out a small green kitchen towel with two fat slices of bread in a sandwich, olive oil and sugar in between. And then I notice something between the long leaves of the tree. Some bunches of dark brown capsules, like tiny pomegranates. I grab a bunch and yank it off. Wonder what they are?

“Are these fruit?” I ask Maria.

“Don’t be silly. Have you ever heard of eucalyptus fruit? I haven’t.”

“They look like fruit.” I dig my thumb nail into one. Too hard for fruit. What then? “They can’t be flowers, can they?”

“Could be.”

“Maybe buds. Baby flowers. Well, if they’re flowers they can really hide themselves well.” I pluck the capsules one by one and hurtle them against the hard trunk.

I’m about to get the bowl with my hard boiled eggs out of my satchel when I see the boys coming our way, shuffling their muddy feet. The football game is over so I tuck the bowl back in, mumbling, “I’m not hungry yet.” Don’t want Vasilis to see my mouth stuffed with the egg, the yellow egg yolk smudging my teeth.

The teachers, who had been sitting at a wood bench to our right are now coming towards the boys, and they muster us all, saying we are to climb the castle to the top. We start pushing our way up the steep cliff along the winding path, our shoes slithery against the fallen pine-needles. And then I see that Vasilis turns his head back and looks in my direction. Lots of times. Clearly, boldly this time. So finally he admits he’s interested in me. At last! My heart flutters uncontrollably. I float up the castle, - don’t just walk, envying the sun that flickers through his fair hair and the brown and green pine needles that fall over his shoulders like sudden summer rain. I want so much to touch him but by now he’s reached the top, looking down at us, a triumphant smile on his face, and we’ve still got a long way to go. I can’t wait. He’s holding something but I can’t make out what. Looks like a knot of flowers.

There are some clusters of lilac cyclamens along the path. Maria picks some and I pluck out a couple too. So delicate and subtle with shy, bent heads and spiky petals rising skywards, like candle flames. And their naked stems are supple, like a ballerina’s malleable body. They smell of forest freshness. And there’s this black anther deep down in their round mouths, aiming at me like a tiny arrow. I don’t make a bouquet. I’m sure I’ll be given one as soon as I reach the top. And then I’ll tell Maria about it, but I’ll beg her not to tell anyone. I can’t keep it a secret anymore. I love him and now I’m sure he loves me too. He’ll tell me so, and then I’ll tell him I feel the same, and we’ll arrange to meet somewhere secret, maybe at our village forest next to the cemetery, at night, when nobody’s there, only ghosts. I won’t tell Maria about our meetings though. I’ll try to hide that. If I can. I’ll be able to touch him, even kiss his fleshy lips, oh God…

I reach the top flushed, panting but I don’t sit down onto one of the square rocks that frame the top, like the rest of the kids do. I stand still, eyeing him, waiting. Maria is sitting on a rock, smiling, a red pin with a yellow butterfly shining above her ear, the gap between her teeth showing. Vasilis wipes his forehead and temples with his left hand, the small bouquet of cyclamens in his right one and heads to Maria.

Maria’s jaw drops, her eyes get rounder and rounder. Vasilis just hands her the flowers, red in the face like an Easter egg and, without a single word, he rushes to his boyfriends who have all been staring at them, giggling. Maria is dumb like a fish but her eyes sparkle more than her glaring hairpin. She looks at the delicate flowers and then at me. She opens her satchel, takes out the handkerchief with the pins in and lays them all on the flat, mossy surface of the rock. She then wets the handkerchief with some water from her tin bottle and wraps the flower stems with it.

She shows me the pins and says, “Which one would you like?”

Konstantina Sozou-Kyrkouis a Greek writer living in Athens but writing in English. She studied Literature and hold an MA in Creative Writing. Her short stories have appeared in print and online in several journals.

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