Published in Overland Issue 216 Spring 2014 · Uncategorized Petals Christos Tsiolkas Written in Greek and translated into English by the author I am imprisoned. I am in here for three years. I am having to endure and more two years and three months. I don’t know if I can endure. I don’t speak. This is a curse and there is no reply to make back to a curse. They are blaspheming all the time in here. They are beasts, and not only the imprisoned ones. The ones with the keys, they too are wild. The master too and those who are working here, they all have the stare of a beast. This gaze they all share, it doesn’t come from in here, it is carving on their faces from long ago. Their fathers too have the same stare and their grandfathers and the grandfathers before them. It tells where they come from and what they are. I sing yesterday. I don’t know why, I no sing from the first day here. No, from even before. From the moment when I open my eyes in the peace and in the calm and I is hearing a song from inside my body. Not from outside me but inside, a melody that is being sung by my blood and my bones. I hear my voice and I open my eyes and all is mud and dirt. She is white, as if a leech has drunk all of her juice. I am killing her, the singing stops. She falls, a bird I shoot with my sling. Then I see that her fingers on her left hand are twitching, her eyes are opening and closing and opening and closing. I have not killed her, I lay her before Death but He does not take her. For bringing her to Death’s door I am here for three years and I must endure two years and three months more. I have no hunger for song and I have no right for song. Even my pain and my solitude do not deserve a song. Even so, I sing yesterday. My voice is a clarinet. Where are the greens of the meadow, the water from the well? He hears does Stiv. Stiv is the name of that poofter, sometimes they call him Stivi, the little Stiv. It is not possible such a pollution is once a child. I struggle to say their names, they makes my mouth twist, a stone is caught there. Stiv Gharin, such a name tears at my throat. Stiv Gharin shouting at me, What’s that shit you are singing, dago? Who said you’re allowed to sing? – I don’t need permission from you to sing, you fucking animal. – What was that, you refo? I say again in Greek. And that is when his eyes go the glare of his race and of the demons and I swear to all the gods and all the saints and to the Mother of us all that I am speaking the truth. They are all devils, him and his father and his grandfather and their grandfathers before them. Till you reach the end of their line and you find The Satan. That is their start and that is their story. It is written, in their eyes. He makes a scream, from deepest hell. Each word is a gob of spit at my face, at my brow, at my cheeks. – Speak English you dirty fucking wog! Where are the greens of the meadow, the water from the well? His forehead smashes into mine and there is pain, then black, then a yellow light. Then I am throwing up an ocean of blood. Stiv Gharin, the poofter, that obscenity, that demon, he is gone. I see it then that I will kill him. A vision of a prophet, ancient and built by the gods. I have two years and three months. Why do I care, what is there to seek from a future? I have no future, I only have fate. All future is gone now. I see this written as if a commandment from our God. – Are you hurtin’? It is Tzim. He is a good lad. It is him and me and the poofter Stiv, we are the three in this cage. Tzim is good, he is tasty, he is sweet and he is handsome. He is half of that race of beasts and criminals and he is half of that black race here that is made a misery. He is good and he is handsome but the drink in here has made him slow and the pooftering here has made him a whore. That is as it is. I too jump the kid but only when we alone. Of course I jump him. He is tasty and he is sweet. When I kiss him, his lips are soft, they are as a child. He tastes like a child. I kiss him. The others only jump him, they are a gang and they jump him together. One is in his arse and two are in his mouth and the others spill themselves all over him. But I am a man, I am still human and I kiss him. – I no hurt. He doesn’t believe in me. He brushes his finger on my nose and pain makes tears in my eyes. And I curse, I curse the Christ and the Mother and I curse my balls. Tzim jumps back, a scowl, a shadow in his eyes, the mark of the beast of that damned white race in his glare. And even him, and even him that they spit on and they fuck and they bash and they have made his arse the same as the cunt of an old woman who has birthed a dozen children, even he does not bear it when I speak my tongue. That is what every stranger is like. I understand it first on the ship that takes me to these dark horizons, I understand it that the stranger cannot bear our tongue. Of course, I understand it. I too cannot want to hear a stranger’s tongue. That is God’s law everywhere. I speak in English. – Thanks, mate. He is again sweet. He smiles. He takes a scrap from his pocket, a cloth that is a handkerchief also and full of his sweat and his spit. The cloth is red now with my blood. He gives it to me the cloth. – Come on, I’ll take you to the sick room. Butchers they have here, not doctors. The doctors and nurses here they too have that wild stare. I don’t want to go but there where Tzim touches it my nose it begins to shake like a bell. Fuck bloody God, I want to hear a ring of a Greek church bell! I want to hear a chant from a priest, even though them I can’t bear. I leave Greece and in here I leave one more time my homeland. There is no Greece anywhere left for me, not even in that toilet of shit they call Melbourne. Even there I am exile. Two years and three months. What does that matter? – No sick room, no bloody doctors, I say to Tzim. I tell him I want to go to the desert. – Go bush, I go bush, I become black bastard like you. He doesn’t like it. I take his hand. The dog with the keys, that outrage, he laughs when he sees me. – I want sick room. – And I want cunt. What are you going to do about it? Two years and three months. I slaughter him now and then they hang me with that beautiful lad, Ronilt Raen, handsome that one, a man that one, I am proud to swing next to a man like that. And I will meet Death with at least one cunt cop head hanging from my belt. Tzim lets go of my hand. The Doctor is new, only here four months and not yet savage. He is a kid, he is a little darling. He has red hair and he has blue eyes. It will happen, it will happen. He is of their race, soon he’ll be a beast. – What happened, Arthur? He says our names, the animal with the keys doesn’t like it. I don’t speak. – What happened to him, Donaldson? – He fell. And with that the monster with the keys, he pushes Tzim out of the room. The doctor and I only alone. Tzuli too has red hair. Tzuli too has blue eyes. Before I making her eyes black, before I am killing her. Slowly slowly the doctor fixes me up. He is taking my nose and pushing. There is a pain, it is burning in fire but I am not even one breath leaving to escape. I do not move at all. – You really need a hospital. That makes me laughing. I am eleven years old when I first coming to Athens and has having my nose breaking in a boxing match. There is no hospital for me then and there is no hospital now. Hospitals not belonging to us. To forget pain I looking up at the Icon of the queen on the wall behind the Doctor. She is not beautiful but she is young and she looks like one of them but not with that ugly savage stare. It is this forsaken land that making them beasts. It will make us all beasts. Her skin is white, I’d like to touch her skin, to touch her tits, to put my hands on her tits, to make her cunt lick my fingers. The Doctor is noticing my staring at the queen. Not for him, he doesn’t like her. He talks of my homeland, he starts to say big words I can’t understand, I hear democracy, I think I hear fascism. I think. I don’t know, they are big words and I have no appetite to answer him even if I did understand him. Why is he asking me questions? What does he want from me? Tzuli too asked me questions. All the time, asking me questions. About the wars, about Greece, about politics. Tzuli is a student and she wanting to know everything. In the end, she betrays me. Best not to say a word to no-one, that’s the first and best lesson I taking from Greece. Best to not say one damned word. Tzuli wanting to know everything. And in the end, in court, she tells them everything. How many times I am hitting her, how many times I am kicking her, she tells them everything. She is tasty and she is sweet, she is beautiful and she is good. But in the end she is a betrayer. I pretending I am mute and I am dumb. I pretending I don’t know one fucking thing about politics. I can see, that young, sweet Doctor, he is not happy in me. What the devil does he want from me? He is not happy in all of us Greeks in here. There are four of us, we all pretending we are hicks from the mountains. The devils with the keys and the demons with who we share our cages, they don’t want us together. Speak English, you refo cunt! They don’t want us together and we don’t want to be together. We reminding each of us of what each of us is losing. None of us answering the Doctor’s questions. Two years and three months. I will go to the desert. Black I will become. He bandaging me up and I makes my way to the yard. In the far corner, where there is a some soil and garden, there is the old man with his roses, colours I have before never seen. I like the old man, he is timid and he is gentle, he is sweet and he is soft. I have never heard him blaspheme. I go to help planting some more flowers. A thorn pricks my skin and I damn the rose and the garden and the prison and the world. He laughs but then quickly stopping, he looking away. I see that there is fear in his glance. He doesn’t stare as the beasts do, he stares as the frightened do. He jumps children, that is his sickness and his fate, that is why they have imprisoned him. All of them hate him, those animals despise him. The murderers and the rapists, the thieves and the counterfeiters, the drunks and the drugged, the dogs with the keys, all of them hit him and bash him and spit him and curse him and rape him, and again and again they bring him just to reaching Death. They make him look at Death, then bring him back. Again and again. That is his life. The beasts say of him, He is the worst, the most ugly and vile thing in here, that there is nothing worst. I don’t believe it. He is gentle and he is upright. I think those little girls are fortunate to being broken in by a good man, it is no problem if I is a boy fucking a gentleman like him. He is tender and rare is tenderness. That is why the wild men with those venomous stares can’t stand him. It is the tenderness they hate. They don’t have it, their fathers never have it, not their grandfathers or their grandfathers before them. Pink and yellow like the sun; white as Tzuli’s skin. There are blue roses here and purple and gold and red. I like working in the soil and the mud and the ground and the dirt with the old man. Silent, our hands and knees graze the flowers and the musk of the petals flies all around us. Everywhere else here stinks foul; here, in this small patch, there is perfume. – I heard you took a fall. It is Stiv, Stiv and his arsebuddies. A gang of wild beastly glares. I don’t pay him attention. He is pissed off. With one hand he grabs the flowers, the thorns cut his skin, but he not caring. He tears them from the earth. One small bit of land, one bit of good in this hell. Even that is too much for him. He is not from family or society, he does not know of welcoming or duty. He is an animal in the wild, he is savage. Stiv rips apart the flowers. His arsefriends take hold of the old man from behind and Stiv opens the poor old fool’s mouth, the old fool who doesn’t cry out, doesn’t say no, doesn’t say a word, the old fool who suffers this everyday, and Stiv fills the old man’s mouth with flowers, with the petals, with the thorns, with the stems and with the dirt. They are laughing. Blood on the lips of the old man, blood like tears running from his mouth. Stiv to me turns next. He is pulling out the remaining flowers. He is not laughing. Where are the greens of the meadow, the water from the well? I wish to sing, to sing so loud that the mountains fall. But there are no mountains here. I can’t find my voice. And it is the old man stopping me. His eyes pleading for me to not do a thing, not say a thing, not make movement. His eyes are terror and helplessness and understanding all together. The old man is stopping me. Stiv throws the flowers in my face. With laughing, as always with the most vile of words – dago and refo and wog and poofter and cunt and fuck and shit and piss – Stiv and his arsebuddies are not here. Tzim’s cloth is still in my pocket. I clean up the old man, I pull out thorns from his lips and his tongue, pull one from the back of his throat. What a worthless race black Fate has sent me to dwell with. Whatever the old man is doing before, his body now is frail and it is dying, how can they do this to old men? There is nothing of knowledge or respect here, I say into my own mouth, Just poofterism, alcohol and violence. – Spit, I tell him. And he spits in Tzim’s handkerchief. The nights inside here sicken me. The minutes pass like hours and the hours are infernal and eternal. We playing cards, we listening to wireless but most of all they are evil cursing. The black bastards too, they curse. The Yugoslavs too, that spat upon and lost race, they are shouting and blaspheming. We Greeks and the Calabrians, we letting out vileness only under our breath. Otherwise, Shut your mouth, you bloody dumb dago. It is the race of the savage glare that create the din of hell. Every second word a foulness, every other a blasphemy. The old man alone he sits, he always alone. If I having real balls I should be sitting with him but it is not worth it. They will give it to me day and night and night and day. He is scratching at his lip, taking off the skin where the thorns is been biting him. The little skins float into his lap like dying petals. Stiv Gharin gets up from the table of card players and asks the filth with the keys he wants to go to the toilet. I get up too, I ask the filth with the keys that I must go to the toilet. In the latrine I can hear Stiv Gharin pissing a fountain. Then he lets drop a foul fart as he shits. Two years and three months. I kick door and he has no time. Brow meets brow, and I am hitting him so hard with my forehead that the sound is a clean Orthodox bell ringing on the mountains. He places a hand to the wall of the latrine, he has courage this beast, he will fight Death, but he cannot go to his feet before I pulling at his hair and bringing his head down hard on the concrete slab of the toilet. I do it again. And again, the bells ring. I pull his head up by his hair to give it to him a third time. He is a caught fish, a dying fish, his mouth opening closing opening closing. I let go of his hair. He is seeing black and in the black a yellow light. He can’t get up, he is there amongst my legs, twisting like the damned adder he is. I let him squirm. I warp Tzim’s cloth around my hand and I dip into the latrine, I grab his three fat shits. – I heard you took fall, Stiv. He knows what is awaiting for him. He is trying again to go to his feet but I smack him hard and he falls back on the latrine. I pull his mouth, he is a frightened dangerous serpent but I am now having the hunger of an ancient hero and I don’t care that he is biting me and scratching me and punching me, I am opening his mouth, I am seeing right down to his black heart and I am grabbing the shit and pushing it all the way down, I am filling his mouth and I am filling his throat. I fill the animal’s lungs with the shit. Two years and three months. I leave him, let him drop. I go to wash my hands. I clean them and I clean them, I don’t want his stink on my skin. I clean them and I clean them and I can hear the Stiv is making retches and then I hear him vomiting. He is on his hands and knees. He retches again and then the vomit is coming, all that shit but also there is pink and there is the yellow of the sun and there is blue and there is orange and there is purple. So many colours for this shadow place. Mother of us all, where have you taken me, that vomit is beautiful here? Stiv is taking a breath, still on all fours and looking up at me. Black his eyes, dark the wild stare in his eyes. I close the tap. I open my lungs and I start to sing. Where are the greens of the meadow, the water from the well? – Who said you can sing, wog? Two years and three months. I’ll go to the desert, that most bleak of seas, I’ll become a black bastard. I’ll make that my home. – This is Australia, wog! We speak Australian here, wog! Every hour of every day. Every hour of every day, dear God, these condemned, these barbarians, these animals, they cannot take breath without curses falling from their mouth. Two years and three months. I am walking back to the latrine. He is a snake, that is what he is, he is venom. I am kicking him, he falls. Then I am raising my right foot, our boots in here they are thick soled and they are heavy. With all my might, with all the strength that God has given me, I am smashing my foot down. I am Bobi Mor, I am Eusevio and that miracle child, I am Pelai. I am sing, Where are the greens of the meadow, the water from the well? With every kicking of my foot on his head, I can’t do anything but singing. All around me, just for a moment, one blessed moment, there is the sweetest scent of roses. Christos Tsiolkas Christos Tsiolkas is the author of five novels – Loaded, The Jesus Man, Dead Europe, The Slap and Barracuda. He co-authored the dialogue, Jump Cuts: An Autobiography, with Sasha Soldatow. He is also a playwright, film critic and essayist. His short story collection, Merciless Gods, is being published in November 2014. More by Christos Tsiolkas › Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places. If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate. 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