As you approach, faint semiquavers of an unearthly and infernal music startle your ears with their harshness. Disconcerted, you walk on and then, step back breathlessly. For before your very eyes emerges the thrice (and well) bodied Cerberus, covered in grizzly, matted air as black as the smell of the burning pitch which suddenly assails your nostrils. These Cerberoi are fire breathers and they bare their yellow, nicotine-stained teeth as they snarl, all the while breathing fire and brimstone upon you from their cavernous nostrils as they strut their digitally enhanced chests at the level of your chin. You wave them aside as you point to the skeletal old Charon, dressed in leather pants and black t-shirt in the corner, inconspicuously counting moneys behind a counter. You have paid your obol already.
Attempt then the tortuous climb into the realm of Hades. As you mount the blood-red carpeted stairs, the screams of the damned become louder and more intense. You shrug them off and climb on. At the head of the stairs and left, lie the Elysian Fields. Here pleasures of all sorts can purchased, as if a shower of nectar can erase in one draught, a lifetime of suffering. Rumours of other pleasures that can also be bought are whispered into your ears by the lotus-eating denizens of the domain: Magic powders that can perform miracles, flesh that can obey your every command. These are but rumours, privileges that can be found if only one knows where to look and suddenly the Elysian fields are the black wastelands of the fields of Tartarus, lit only by multi-coloured spotlights, a place where the guilty are damned to the perpetual search for privileges that cannot be gained. Yet the obol-rich dwellers of the Elysian fields are most fortunate compared to their cousins actually in Tartarus. After imbibing enough of the nectar-juice of the lotus, they can no longer hear the screaming of the damned….
You leave the fields of pleasure and take your place at a Tartarian bench. You look around and notice that no one speaks. All look dead ahead at the misty figure undulating in the centre, under the cruel, mocking lights of the disco ball, separating the prism of all existences into their constituent primary colours. Is the secret to life so simple? And yet it must be, for the dead here wear jackets of such hues, turquoise and yellow, that you begin to think that you are back in the nineties. You try to speak and shrink back into your seat, defeated. The screaming of the damned is too loud for you to ever be heard and the pale, ashen faces of the dead next to you stare straight into space, condemned forever to pin their hopes on the steely semibreves of the hellishly immaculate-coiffured screamers in the centre of the great room.
This room is full of Persephones. Some are young and beautiful, others old and bulging at the seams. All are ashen, all have coveted too many pomegranates, the sin of their desire for companionship now stains their blood painted lips. Like automatons, they get up onto the tables and dance; their faces contorted into a strange, lifeless smile as they undulate their behinds. These are the thrice damned. It is their lot, like Prometheus to return to the same place night after night in search of a love they will never find, in clothes that will never suit them, condemned forever to wiggle their posteriors at the same speed regardless of the rhythm of the music thrown in their faces.
And at last, there is Tantalus. He who supped too much, who wanted too much, condemned to watch Persephone night after night dance on his table, his passion only able to be expressed by the Cerberus smoke escaping from his nostrils as he twirls his worry beads and strokes the leather jacket he bought from the Victoria Market ten years ago. He too is condemned to an aeon of everlasting damnation, consigned to an unquenchable thirst to slake his animal passions, a thirst that no flesh subservient and no nectar can ever assuage. His pockets bulge with obols and he too smiles the smile of the dead as he plays perfect host to his companions. The tinned sentiments hurled out of screaming mouths by the infernal bards pour further vinegar upon his wounds. For here he is, with all his obols lusting after every Persephone in the room, lusting after the admiration of all, looking up at the disco ball and seeing all his insignificance parted into the colours of the spectrum. True happiness will always elude him and his passions will roast within him like Ixion on his burning wheel. He sighs as he continues his sacrificial feast of burnt meat.
Only one person was ever able to ascend to Hades and come back to tell the tale: Orpheus, the master songster, in search of his beloved Eurydice. Yet he looked back to soon and she was lost. Here she is still, pelting out nineties’ tunes that no one can remember and whose lyrics don’t make sense as she winks at the obolly endowed who drool at her uncovered midriff. Years on, Eurydice still looks damn sexy in jeans and a sparkly top. There are no Orpheic songs here. Instead the singers bombard their dead audience with mocking parodies of what they wished their lives to have been or what others had told them they should feel. To add insult to injury and so that the dead will not complain, the music is at such a decibel level that their auditory nerves are forever damaged. They sit on, staring at performers pelting out dithyrambs they can no longer discern, powerless to stop themselves. And you sit on, wondering whether this Balkan Baroque spectacle had already been prophesised in “Let’s Go Greek Entaxi’ of the mid-eighties and whether as a result, Harry Michaels, quite apart from being a visionary, was also a prophet. Your eardrums shattered, you sit on, as your girlfriend reaches toward you and you glimpse the inane sentiments of the Hadean songs in her smoky eyes. You sit on as you fill your glass with yet another cup of lotus-nectar, look about you and smile in case the Cerberoi are watching and catch you out not pretending to be happy at the bouzoukia. And you pray for the resurrection of the dead and the remission of your sins, real, but most of all, imagined.
published in NKEE on 2 August 2004