A dive in the dirt

By Antonia Gounaropoulou
Translated by Panagiotis Tourikis

Vassilis Selimas, Hypnos, Acrylics on paper, 80x60, 2016-2017

“Who’ll get there first!”

They’d find themselves low at Makedonomahon Street, at the height of Gioura’s place, and her cousin had lagged behind, stooping at the edge of the dirt road and gathering cyclamens that sprout among pine needles beneath the trees. It was then that she decided to shout:

“Who’ll get there first! Come on, who’ll get there first!” And she started racing towards the house before little Panos could catch on to what she meant.

“Hold it, that won’t do!” shouted the kid all taken aback, and he sprung up clutching a bunch of cyclamens in his left hand. “That won’t do!”

The girl, however, kept running as she teased him:

“Whoever gets there last is a dummy, a dummy, a dummy!”

And suddenly, just as she’d pass by the sand pile in front of the headmaster’s place, a very loud boohoo burst out behind her, a howling not of the sort kids use to communicate between them, but meant to urgently call on the adults. She froze. Panting, flushed, she turned round and saw her cousin having fallen – yet again! – with his face on the ground, palms stretched out by his head, the cyclamens scattered aside, crying, spitting out and eating the dirt. She gasped. With guilt dripping all over her, she sought to run by his side, but before she’d get to him, all the adults had surged out in the street and little Panos’s dad was already bearing him back home. Her mom dashed out as well, and seeing at a glance that her girl was okay, grabbed her by the arm and dragged her inside, foaming at the mouth.

“Haven’t I said we don’t run in the dirt roads? Well? Haven’t I? What’s happened to him? Did you push him?”

“No! We were playing!”

Her cousin’s face covered in blood, her own gone crimson for she knew she’d acted wrongly. And upstairs in the house, little Panos on his dad’s arms crying his heart out, stretching his dirty, sodden and bloodied face backwards, backwards, backwards, as if wishing to escape, to tumble over and yet again fall on his face, this time on the concrete floor.

You dummy! the girl says to herself with resolute anger. She can never forgive him for the blood on his face and the fever she feels on hers. She now believes that little Panos is deliberately crying at the top of his voice, so that he avenge her for having been duped and win his own way – since surely he’d be the last to make it home. And anyhow, the girl almost always beats him, in all their games.

She feels she alone realizes the deceit, but also feels her mom’s rebuke with that look in her eyes and the pursed lips as she eyes her daughter – and she keeps on eyeing her with mounting suspicion, probably because mothers have their way of scenting certain vexing truths. The girl feels a mess until her auntie shouts over all the others so that she be heard:

“Come on, come on, alright, no big deal, they’re just kids, they’re bound to fall and get hurt. Stop it now – you’re frightening Sia as well!”

And for the umpteenth time she bends over little Panos, who’s started to calm down, and with a piece of cotton wool she applies mercurochrome to the scratches. Which, truth be told, are not that many.

Sia takes on as terrified a facial expression as possible, as if about to cry, and looks at her cousin pretending to be deeply engrossed. Whatever, as long as she doesn’t have to look at her mommy again. A minute goes by and while the adults continue busying themselves with cotton wools, mercurochromes, hansaplast and the like, Sia slips away, goes down the stairs and comes out the upper pilotis. Once again, she makes her way up to Makedonomahon Street and then goes walking rather slowly – she doesn’t run in the dirt roads! – a bit further down, to the spot where her cousin had fallen. Little Panos’s cut, dusty cyclamens look woeful. If only he hadn’t cut them at all, now lying all wasted. She recalls his devotion in selecting them, as she turned and called on him to race. Her lower lip pouts out in sadness, trembling. She bends over the flowers and she as well picks out two that haven’t been crushed, haven’t been ruffled, not covered in dust. And right that moment, the headmaster and his eldest son Vassilis, together with mister Babis, appear on the road.

They’re all in work clothes. Mister Antonis is also sporting a trilby hat. He’s saying something to the other two, pointing to the piles of sand and cement. The girl drops her head and hastily goes up the road in the direction of her house. On reaching them, mister Babis, the construction worker, starts the concrete mixer and the drum begins turning.

“Hello, little mermaid”, mister Antonis greets her – he’d always call her that – and the “mermaid” blushes again, mumbles a hoarse “Hello sir”, and starts running, tightly clutching the cyclamen stems. When she reenters the house the crying has died out. She’d better go to her cousin and tell him she’s saved two of his cyclamens. And tell him not to squeal on her. If he doesn’t, they’ll play whatever story he likes in their next playmobil game.


From the collection of short stories, Makedonomahon Street (Odos Makedonomahon), Thessaloniki: Petites-Maisons 2022
Diakopto, Achaea, Winter 2022

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