I was set to roll that stone up the hill again. By God's curse or Devil's glory, I stood at the pit again, with the same stone, alone with myself and no else around to talk about the past victories over the forces of the infinite.
Why do I do this, again? I don't recall anymore the reason for my punishment, millennia tend to make details perish from the memory. I only know that here is the stone, and here am I.
On we go, one more time up that hill that never ends. I'm used to this. The fog of the night, the sun of the day, the same familiar song I hum quietly to keep myself from losing sanity over my mind.
I used to dream of a future. The Gods, I hoped, would see the eagerness with which I roll the stone up the hill, and grant me back my life, where existence isn’t so plainly seen, where the illusion of disbelief makes you feel and in fact, it makes you almost believe, sometimes.
You may think they cursed me not to sleep. But oh, they didn’t. And the worst part is that I even dream. I dream of waking up by the river Selinountas with Merope by my side. There is a basket full of figs in this dream that we brought to the family picnic, and our children are running around, playing games, and eating the fruits. It is the most idyllic dream and the only illusion that makes me weep in sleep. But the glory doesn’t last.
The children have eaten all the figs but one. It is the one they left for me. The clouds shadow the sky, promising rain. Merope is folding the blankets and heading back to the castle with the children. She tells me with her loving smile -
"Finish the last fig, darling, and come join us with an empty basket."
I look after them, the himation on Merope's back flaps under the wind as she walks home, I want her to turn around, so I get a good look into her emerald eyes one more time. The children are orbiting around her like little nymphs, my tiny devils. I quickly reach for the last fig to finish it and follow them.
The fig milk drips on the grass and leaves a sticky stain. The sweetness of this fruit that absorbs the sun the whole year to sugar your mouth in the summer reminds me of the days of childhood when I used to run around my mother, emptying those baskets full of figs like my children do today. And the wheel keeps rolling. Soon their children will be playing here, under the fig tree or another tree, then the children of their children…
I take the basket and get up to leave. Suddenly, I feel a weight dragging me down. The basket isn't empty yet. More figs have appeared in there. I try to leave without the basket but Merope turns and she has the face of the devil. Her hair is snakes and they hiss at me -
"Don't you dare come home without an empty basket," and I hear the snakes’ cackle.
I set to quickly eat the figs. Soon the sugar makes me sick. My clothes are all covered in milk. My fingers are sticky and my stomach is swallowing up more than I can handle.
The more I eat, the more the figs keep reappearing. Merope and the kids are so far in the distance, that I would never catch up to them. Not anymore...
I wake to the same stone, under the same sun. Alone.
Another vile attempt to get to the top.
All this time, as I kept climbing and falling, and climbing and falling, I put marks on the hill to see my progress. I kept reaching higher and higher. In some two or three millennia my arms have grown stronger. But the mark, it either keeps slipping down the slope, or the hill keeps moving upwards, never letting me reach the end. I've never known what's beyond, or what will happen once I set my foot on that plateau.
Here we go.
The cycle begins. Hands on the stone and I feel my fingers burn from its hot rock. Feet in a starting position, an artist could be painting me on an urn or someone could be staring at me, writing out my myth for the people to know of the cruelty of gods and of the beauty of struggle. Perhaps they’d call it a struggle of someone who doesn't lose hope, who marks achievements as they roll their burden up the hill, knowing full well that the achievements mean nothing in the whole and that they’ll never see the cursed mission reach the end.
What keeps me going? Maybe that the wheel keeps rolling. Maybe that I know somewhere out there my children, and their children and their children’s children are laughing and talking, not yet cursed, and not yet sick of the sweet figs from the fig tree.
Maybe the meaning of this dream has finally reached me. Maybe I’m rolling the arrow of time… I shouldn’t stop. I should keep going. And on we’re rolling.
"Grandma! Why did you go to the store again? I told you I would go!”
Grandma has carried the shopping bags from the store all the way up to the stairs leading to our apartment. I know it hasn’t been an easy journey for her. She left the bags hanging from the top of the metallic banisters with fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and strawberries that have just started their season this year. The shopping bags' eggplants tell me that grandma is about to make one of my favorite dishes: an ajapsandali. The smell of the bread in another bag reminds me of a walk in the early morning, when the bakeries are just beginning to open, when they make the first batch of the day’s bread, announcing the coming of the new day.
We live on the first floor, in a more than a 70-year-old building, in a neighborhood even older, where everyone knows everyone and where secrets have an expiry date until someone finds out about them and they become neighborhood gossip. My grandmother spent most of her days of youth and even more of her elderly years in this place. She is 80-something; for 60-something years she has lived in this house. Grandma left the bags hanging on the banister and rang the bell for me to fetch them home. She climbs down the stairs, one by one, holding on from the banister, while I run for the bags - just awake from my sleep.
I promised yesterday to go to the store in the morning. So along with feeling bad about grandmother having to carry all the heavy bags, I also feel bad that she didn’t let me keep my promise. I just… Stayed up a bit longer yesterday at night. Had a creative spark again, and I was eagerly finishing a prose poem until around 4 o’clock - when I started to hear the morning birds, I fell asleep under their chirping.
“When you start growing up, you feel unique with the problems you have just acquired.
Like a young man whose first cigarette seems to him the key from the prison door.
The first stage. Gather problems, so you feel, along with your physical weight, the weight of your soul heavying the earth.
A burden on your shoulders, about which poets have made verses for centuries, and the eyes of adults speak of every day.
Finally, you enter that world. It is as if someone is stamping your passport, giving you the right to speak to humanity through the poet's lines, to look into each other's eyes with that grown-up looks;
Childish naivete? "I'm not a child anymore, I am not naive. Look at the cigarette hanging in my mouth, look at me at night, when I do not sleep and feel this new suffocation. Look how proudly I accumulate the problems, I do not tell you about them, look, I am silent, how silent! I take it all in so that my pain becomes poetry one day."
And they did not appreciate my silence. Nor poetry.
Because everyone was silent and everyone was apparently a poet, and I wasn’t better at suffering than any of them,
Silence was a new cell whose steel door resisted all the drugs we could find in the city streets and night bars,
It was, in fact, a verdict.
We were left, thus, in the outflow of drowned words, which did not express what we were gradually forgetting.
"Is there anyone behind the wall?" Can you hear me? I'm talking. I speak, I am tired, I give up... Burn the lines I wrote...”
And I was released from the cell. The warden even smiled at me with a kind smile. For the first time, I stood face to face with the sun; and I had nothing left to say.”
"You really should've woken me up. I would’ve gone. You didn’t need to carry those bags all the way home."
"I guess I could.”
I start emptying the bags,
“But I don't want to give up just yet."
I heard the ticking of the clock. Grandmother took a seat in her armchair. I felt tears in my eyes, for some reason, I can’t explain.
I imagined grandmother, waking up and putting her prosthetic teeth back on. Then she’d comb her hair, the roots of which, I just noticed are giving away her age again. She then decided she will need to go to the hairdresser Rosie soon to restore the dark red dye. Maybe then she called Rosie and they chatted about this and that, with a pinch of gossip and a pinch of politics, to show that none of them was losing touch with the more important social issues.
Grandmother would turn off the phone and look at the wooden table. The table is filled with matches, candles, little angel statues, and one-paper calendars from candy boxes. Above the table hung the pictures. There was grandma’s late husband - grandfather, her two sons, her grandson. If this was one of the days, then she would lite a candle, otherwise, just say a quiet prayer. She’d look in the mirror and fix the collar of her dress, make sure to look the part.
Then perhaps she’d feed the cat, water the plants and I’d still be asleep. She would decide to go to the store and wouldn’t forget to put that little height on her chin, and that satisfied smile in her mouth. As the bags got heavier, her steps would become slower and more arduous, but she would keep walking. Grandmother lets none of the people in the neighborhood see the grief in her eyes and turn her secrets into gossip, to talk about her with that tone of pity.
Just when my day was about to begin, she would already be home, back from the store. With the bags full of tomatoes, and cucumber, and eggplants, and fresh bread.
“Is it already two o’clock? My god, the whole day is behind us! Come on my dear, come on, get up properly and do some work, or the day will pass so soon that you won’t even realize how it slipped through your fingers.”