Saturday, May 04, 2019


“You will forgive me If I light up a cigarette,” the polite old man asked as he reached for his lighter with gnarled, trembling hands, as we stood outside the church toilets. His bulbous bald head, covered in liver spots, fringed with just a wisp of hair, glowed in the morning sun. His suit, a deep, striped purple, hung loosely in folds around him like an ancient chiton, the tell-tale signs of a person who had lost a lot of weight since the time he had first purchased the garment.
 “I haven’t eaten any magheiritsa yet, this year,” he confided. “Ever since my wife became bedridden, my sister makes the magheiritsa, but this year my wife took a particularly bad turn and I stayed up most of the night nursing her. It’s hard. I had just finished my third round of chemotherapy when we found out that she too has been afflicted by the “κακιά αρρώστια.” All I had time to do, was to drive past my sister’s after Anastasi, and pick up a pot. It’s waiting for me in the fridge. Hopefully I’ll eat it today when my son comes over. He…”
At that moment, the old man’s telephone rang. Gesturing to me to wait, evidently wishing to complete his narration, he lifted the phone to his ear.  Between pauses in order to hear his interlocutor’s responses, the old man spoke:
  • Έλα Χριστός Ανέστη.
  • Τι; Δεν θα έρθεις; Γιατί;
  • Ἐχει football το παιδί; Σήμερα; Μα είναι Λαμπρή.
  • Ας μην πάει. Χάθηκε ο κόσμος αν δεν παίξει σήμερα;
  • Γιατί λες bloody; Μια ερώτηση κάνω. Κακό είναι;
  • Όχι δεν επιμένω. Αλλά τον περιμένει και η μάνα σου.
  • Τον έχει ανάγκη το team? Και εμείς τι είμαστε δηλαδή; Τημ δεν είμαστε κι εμείς;
  • Γιατί νευριάζεις; Πάσχα είναι, τι ήθελες να σου πω;
  • Μα έχουμε μαγειρίτσα.
  • Για βάλ᾽ τον να του μιλήσω.
  • Ετοιμάζεται; Καλά θα περιμένω.
  • Καλά, αφού είναι έτσι, άλλη φορά.
  • Πότε θα περάσεις;
The old man shuffled nervously from one foot to the other. As he held his hand to his head, his fingers began to scratch the back of his ear. I watched as the ear turned angry shades of deeper and deeper red.
  • Καλά, μη φωνάζεις. Πού είναι η μικρή; Δώσ᾽ τη μου να της μιλήσω.
  • Γλύκα μου Χριστός Ανέστη!
  • Χάππυ Easterdarli μου. Τι κάνεις;
  • Χάβαγιου, good?
  • Ο παππούς είναι.
  • Is pappou.
  • Η γιαγιά κοιμάται και πήγα λίγο στην εκκλησία.
  • Yiayia sleep en ai go to the tserts.
  • Πήγες χθες στο βράδυ στην Ανάσταση;
  • Γιου γκο to the tserts last nai for the Ista?
  • Όχι. Γιατί δεν μάνα μου;
  • Γουάι γιου no go to the tserts for the Ista?
  • Ποιανού γενέθλια; Ποιος γιορτάζει τέτοια μέρα;
  • Χου μπερντάι γιου γκο;
  • Εντάξει. Θα᾽ρθεις το μεσημέρι;
  • Γιου κάμιν for lunts?
  • Δεν θα έρθεις; Γιατί;
  • Γουάι γιου nκαμ;
  • Τι πελάτες; Δεν καταλαβαίνω τι μου λες.
  • Γουάτ πελάτες;
  • Pilates γυμναστική; Μα σήμερα είναι Λαμπρή.
  • Τoday no πελάτες. Ista.
  • Μα σε περιμένει η γιαγιά.
  • Yiayia wait for you.
At this point, the old man’s voice wavered, ever so slightly. Still he persisted.
  • Μα είναι άρρωστη. Κάνε μια προσπάθεια. Δεν ξέρουμε αν θα την έχουμε μαζί μας του χρόνου.
  • But γιαγιά sick. Maybe die.
  • Δεν μπορείς να χάσεις το μάθημα; Λίγο αργότερα;
  • Γιου καμ later?
  • Εντάξει κουκλίτσα μου. Κάνε όπως καταλαβαίνεις.
  • Ok λαβ. Νο γουόρις. You do what you understand.
The old man limply began to lower his arm, and it appeared that the telephone conversation had reached its terminal point. All of a sudden, angry, staccato tones began to emanate from his device. The man started and his body jerked as if he had received an electric shock.
  • Χριστός Ανέστη λένε πρώτα, νύφη.
  • Τι πρέσα; Ποιος έκανε πρέσα; Μια απλή ερώτηση της έκανα. Δεν την πίεσα.
  • Μα την περιμένει και η γιαγιά.
  • Μα έχουμε και μαγειρίτσα.
  • Τι θα πει δεν τρώνε μαγειρίτσα;
  • Να της πω sorry? Μα τι της έκανα; Χριστός Ανέστη, της είπα.
  • Δεν της κάνω έλεγχο αν πάει στην εκκλησία. Όχι δεν την μάλωσα. Μια μικρή κουβέντα κάναμε. Ναι το αν πάει εκκλησία είναι δική της δουλειά, συμφωνώ μαζί του. Μα δεν μπορώ κι εγώ σαν παππούς….
  • Μα δεν την κορόιδεψα. Πού να ξέρω εγώ γέρος άνθρωπος, τι είναι pilates? Σάμπως είχα και στο χωριό μου;
  • Όχι δεν της είπα να μην πάει. Το ξέρω ότι δεν μου πέφτει λόγος.
  • Μα η γιαγιά δεν είναι καλά. Να ξεχάσει κι αυτή λίγο. Να χαρεί.
  • Από πού κι ως πού ψυχολογική πίεση;
  • Δεν τα καταλαβαίνω εγώ αυτά τα γκιλτ τρύπια.
  • Θέλει να της ζητήσω συγγνώμη;
  • Μα γιατί;
  • Καλά, δως᾽ τη μου αφού επιμένεις και θα της ζητήσω εγώ συγγνώμη.
Blood began to flow from the tip of the old man’s ear, where his nail, compulsively scratching against the skin, had opened up a small wound.
  • Γλύκα μου, σου ζητώ συγγνώμη, αν σε πίεσα.
  • Sorry λαβ for the πρέσαΝο μπι upset.
  • Δως᾽μου τη μαμά. Θα σε δω άλλη φορά.
  • Give me mum. See γιου next τάιμ.
The indistinguishable tones emanating from the speaker this time were the dynamic spiccato of one who was master of the discourse. Mopping the blood with a folded handkerchief, the old man responded in antiphon.
  • Έλα. Εντάξει τώρα;
  • Εσύ δε θα περάσεις καθόλου;
  • Ε πέρνα για λίγο, έστω.
  • Ποιος θείος Πασχάλης; Πρώτη φορά ακούω για θείο Πασχάλη.
  • Μετά από τους γονείς σου, μετά από τον θείο σου, πέρνα.
  • Μα δεν χρειάζεται να μαγειρέψεις. Έφτιαξε η θεία μαγειρίτσα.
  • Τι θα πει δεν τρώτε μαγειρίτσα;
  • Να πω της θείας να φτιάξει κάτι άλλο. Μπορώ να πάρω και κάνα τσόπυ.
  • Vegan? Τι είναι τούτο πάλι.
  • Ναι μα τώρα που τελείωσε η Σαρακοστή θες να νηστέψεις κι εσύ;
  • Ποιος σε πιέζει; Δεν κατά…..
Abruptly, the telephone conversation came to an end. Defeated, the old man slipped his telephone into his pocket and a long, drawn out sigh emanated from the depths of his chest. His watery blue eyes looked through me, away towards the street and I immediately understood that I had tarried too long. Overstepping the bounds of propriety, instead of discretely removing myself from the vicinity, I had remained and thus witnessed the old man’s loss of dignity. Now, I was convinced, he was safeguarding his shame and setting things aright by pretending that I wasn’t there.
“I was telling you about the magheiritsa,” the old man unexpectedly broke the silence. “Did you have some this year? Where are you spending Easter?”
“To my infinite regret, both my wife and my mother are sworn enemies of magheiritsa and as a result, the indignity of an extremely delicious chicken soup is forced upon us instead,” I informed him.
“Chicken soup?” the old man scoffed. “How are you supposed to herald in Easter with chicken soup.”
“ I agree wholeheartedly,” I concurred. “Even with enough avgolemono to make your heart curdle with joy, it truly is a poor substitute for the real thing.”
“So what is your programme for today?” the old man enquired.
“A very long lunch consisting of a vast number of courses at my parents’ home,” I replied.
“Do you live close to your parents?” the old man asked.
“Yes, most of my family live in the same suburb,” I informed him.
“And where is that?” the old man asked again.
Upon processing my response, he commented: “That’s about half an hour away from where we live. Because, well I mean to say, solely as you seem to like magheiritsa so much, if you are not doing anything after lunch, you are more than welcome to come past and taste some of ours. Did I mention, my sister made it, to an old Messenian recipe. No pressure. Only if it’s convenient. No, it’s no trouble for us. Bring the whole family. My wife will be happy to meet you.”
And that is the story of how, for the first ever time in Australia, I came to become enmeshed in the throes of piping hot magheiritsa-consuming ecstasy, and in the recesses of some of the warmest hearts I have ever had the honour to meet, this Easter.


First published in NKEE on 4 May 2019