by Anastasia Kalos
Graffiti stenciled by an unknown auteur glares down at the riot police and states
“Democracy from a box: As Seen on TV.” The two dimensional man in the TV looks like
Rod Serling and enters the third dimension by displaying a single finger salute. It’s
another day in 21st century Athens. Flares burn red and tear gas sashays through the
furious crowds. Stella pulls her scarf up around her chin and over her balaclava. Her lips quiver and her throat is like sandpaper from launching words like hollow point bullets.
Coppers, swine, murderers. A water cannon cuts through charcoal nefos in the air. Water droplets form a stream of iron. She is off her feet for an infinitesimal pocket of time. Aloft like Icarus, until her torso slaps against a pock marked concrete wall, and then a heavy fall.
As she comes to, her primal brain kick starts the cogs of consciousness and her body
shivers in response to the damp. Her co-conspirators are relieved and compliment her
tenacity, but it’s not the time or place for conversation. They all scatter until the scent of rotting egg fades. She looks at the backs of her hands and her fingertips, they are dry, afflicted by the petrol and kerosene and rubbing alcohol. Over time she became
accustomed to the human sweat, the collective patchwork of immune systems and
hormonal secretions. Fear wafts through the air like airborne disease that the people
contract instantaneously. Her nose habituates to the smells. The odors are carnivalesque at first; an amalgamation of deodorant, for those who could still afford it, and panic infused perspiration infiltrate protestors without gas masks. No amount of eau de parfum or cheap cologne can eliminate fear, frustration and anxiety.
Stella walks through a dilapidated street, vaguely aware of her location. Only her agenda remains imprinted in her mind, for now is time to collect. This time between protests she’d spend collecting bottles, she’d find plenty outside the nightclubs. How people continued to afford the clubs was beyond her understanding, but they provided plenty of bottles for her purposes. She could safely hold at least six bottles, and if the bottles were the smaller imported juices, Italian bottles, she’d make it to ten. All screwed tightly with the contents. She’d keep the lids. She amassed a tidy collection of screw on lids, just in case. Sometimes she’d see lids on the ground and pick them up unconsciously. She amassed hundreds. They lay within drawers, in boxes, and occupied plastic bags that shared the space with the packet food in the pantry cupboard.
Her mind returns to her latest effort. Her bottle met the ground and the effect was
instantaneous. The television did little justice to the multi-dimensionality of fire. The red orange flames took immediately, fanning out, spreading like a fine satin sheet. The
beauty of the colours briefly mesmerized her to the point where intensity overrode the
flaming feet and legs of riot police. They may have had on fireproof gear, but all the
engineering and design in the world failed to outmanoeuvre fire indefinitely.
Stella grins underneath her soaked balaclava.
She walks past boarded up shops. Anger finds its way into more images, perhaps betraying the very psychology of its maker. Calm stencils, angry scrawls, bombastic murals composed by small contemplative groups making their emotions stand out with multiple colours, strange alien like creatures with uneven antennae, trying to register a signal. Perhaps the aliens could hear the Athenian plight. Perhaps…she saw it, the red flying saucer. She had to have passed it so many times that she expected or sensed it. Two comical orange eyes hover above the flying saucer. Underneath the saucer, an emoticon accompanies one word: Ερχονται…;) [‘They’re coming’]
On the wall opposite, Jesus appears, disheveled like an unwashed homeless beggar
adorned with a halo, holding a placard like Bob Dylan. A cigarette dangles from his
lower lip. Martin Luther King Jnr takes up a small wall and confronts passersby with a
stark statement in black stenciled courier font: “Martin’s dead, I’m still dreaming.” The
air around her is simultaneously ripe, dank and sweet, the result of a trash collector
There amid the fetid streets, she recalls her morning dream. Something about a tortoise trying to find its way out of Syntagma Square. Its hundred-year-old shell is spray-painted red: “Die Pigs!” There were voices chanting, riot police breaking formation as Molotov cocktails rained down hard, in contrapuntal waves, on the stairs of the Parliament building.
When Stella arrives home to the small subterranean flat two stray tabby cats greet her.
Both are accustomed to her balaclava and mewl for food. She pulls off her mask and
shakes her hair free. Her clothes follow next, until she stands in her bra and panties and shivers a bodysuit of goose bumps. She opens a can of Spam and the cats come running. They chow down fast. She apologizes for her delay and waits until they finish and lick their chops before recounting the sights, sounds and emotions of the day.
“You should have seen it. The flames. A carpet of flames…I got them this time. One of
them even called me a whore.”
The word thaws her emotions. On the sofa, she grips the remote and unravels the day’s
events. When her cell phone rings, as it always does at this time of the afternoon, she
displays her rehearsed smile and listens to the equally rehearsed voice of her mother who is taking advantage of her new cell phone deal and the free daily minutes.
“How’s Germany treating you?”
“Good. I’ll be sending you some money. How is the capital?”
“The capital is burning most days with protestors finding new ways to give the riot police hell,” she replies, in the same tone as someone would use for describing a theater play.
“I hope you’re keeping busy and staying away from the trouble.”
She doesn’t have the heart to tell her mother, who has gone from owning two stores to
cleaning offices in Berlin, that she is part of the trouble, that between her hospital shifts
as an underpaid ER consultant, she dreams of out running tear gas bombs and maiming the squads that try to stamp out free speech. She clears her throat.
“I’ve been busy, mother. The hospital is busy. People wait for hours. Some sit on cold
floors…” and she doesn’t lie, the people do queue for hours. They moan and cry. Some
plunge into despair and coat the stark white hospital walls with profanities. Stella
overlooks her state reduced workdays, and switches the focus with questions about
Berlin, the place and people all the while fighting the intrusive images that poke into her brain like warheads, but her mother worries.
“Are you keeping away from those crazy protestors.”
“I’m all right, mother.”
Stella omits the deliciously warm flames that paint the landscape within her mind and the faint scent of burning riot cop flesh that feeds her imagination when she retires each night.
Anastasia Kalos holds a degree in English and psychology and a graduate certificate in creative writing. She is currently studying for a Juris Doctor degree and lives in Sydney, Australia.