By Antonia Gounaropoulou
Translated by Panagiotis Tourikis
“The horses! The horses! Kids, come see the horses!”
The kids abandoned their bikes, dropped their stones, marbles and chalks, scurrying to be the first to climb the stairs – and reached the road, there where the wide iron gate would soon be placed and where parents, aunties and uncles had all flocked. Two horses, one white and the other brown, were descending the slope in a light gallop right before their eyes, while a thin ugly boy was running behind in a sweat, cursing with words that kids ought not to hear – though they already had.
“Oh dear!” exclaimed an aunt, and made as if to hide behind the men while the horses were approaching Makedonomahon Street and turning uphill.
“Eeeeee! Brrrr! Brrrr!” the boy spat, all blowzed and running behind the horses.
The little girl clutched onto someone’s trousers and gazed from between the legs of adults. The horses were stunningly beautiful, huge and terrifying. In a moment they had dropped out of sight. But the thin ugly boy with that “Brrrr! Brrrr!” on his fat lips had lingered on, as it took him a while to sprint all the way downhill and follow the horses along the street.
All the grown-ups were laughing. The girl could see the boy before her eyes, even when it was no longer there.
The next time round she saw him at the creek shepherding geese. Being all alone, she was startled. The girl had jumped over the fence, crossed the dry little river – just skipping over it – and had then climbed up the finest of the three fig trees. But she’d feel the figs hard, still like small pebbles. She came down, gazed around her, kneeled at the dry river bank and was watching intently amongst the large boulders in case she’d spot the carapace of some tortoise. And then, somewhere to the right of her, she caught sight of a bird resembling a duck though with longer legs and a longer neck. She stood up, took a closer look and spotted a second one. Stepping cautiously, she examined the birds with a great sobriety as they waddled on the soil and stretched out their neck as if wishing to loosen up – until just a few more steps ahead she found herself facing the ugly boy.
Squatting on the dry yellow weeds, he was staring at her mockingly. The girl didn’t feel uneasy about that. She well knew what “mocking” was all about. Her brother and her own mom had often looked at her that way, and she too had done the same with her cousins. But this wasn’t simply being given a mocking look. This was also something else, which the girl didn’t know how it was called but could recognize. It was something that made her feel ashamed and threatened, terribly threatened, but had no name for it. Unconsciously, she glanced behind her. It was noontime, both her brother and her cousins were asleep and her parents at home. She was all by herself. And she felt a wish that at least it wouldn’t be summer and that she’d be in her winter clothes.
The thin boy with the small face and thick lips was smiling like a man. His bulgy eyes were ogling at the girl’s arms fleetingly, vigorously, then turned to her legs beneath the shorts, and the geese nearby were walking and stretching their neck, walking and stretching their neck. The girl sensed that the boy was stretching his neck right at her, and at the end of that neck a small hideous face with thick lips was preparing to bite her body, disemboweling it.
The boy spurted out a word the little girl had heard from her uncles but only as an unintelligible joke, and he went on to add, “May I be your servant, can I lick it for you?”
Noontime. The figs were still hard like small pebbles. The geese had now drawn closer to her and were hissing with that beak at the end of their lowered, outstretched neck. The girl could sense the danger. She felt the urge to scream “Mommyyyyy!” But was tongue-tied, and screamed nothing.
It wasn’t out of courage that she remained motionless – her legs had simply frozen. She was looking at the boy in the eye, for so her stare was fixed, and wouldn’t dare look away terrified that things could change, with the boy getting up and coming even closer to her.
“No” she said.
And then the boy got up. The girl sucked her lips in, her chest, her tummy. A nightmare it was. Like when she couldn’t wake up whenever she dreamt someone chasing after her. This time he’d catch her and he’d…
The bulgy eyes on the microscopic face were furious.
“Fuck you!...” he bellowed. And then “Brrrr! Sssss! Sssss!”
And he came in great strides right over the petrified girl, gathered round his two geese and flustering them made a roundabout turn to goad them in the direction of the little bridge.
The girl remained stock-still until she’d no longer see either geese or boy. Next, looking over her shoulder every now and then, did not jump over the fence. She ran through the neighbouring plot of land, made it to Makedonomahon Street and opened the iron gate. She rushed inside the house and found her mom in the living room bent over the ironing board.
“Where were you?” her mother asked.
“By the little river”, the child said and dashed to cuddle herself round her mom’s legs.
“Shoo!” said her mother, “you’ll get burnt”.
The girl stole an extra moment stuck on her mom’s legs, and then retreated to her room.
She stood in front of the mirror staring at her arms. Taking a step back, she looked at her legs beneath her shorts. And then raised her eyes to her face. To the image of her lips.
“Brrrr!” she said, and saw the lips swell up, becoming revolting as they smacked upon each other, spitting and all deforming her.
She remained silent for a while. And then went:
“Brrrrrrrr! Sssssssss! Brrrrrrrr!”