Yórgos Panayotídis
Of Love and the Invisible
Ερώτων και αοράτων

Translation by Lia Coulouris

    “The Beginning of the World”

    I awoke terrified from a horrible dream that seemed real. Drenched in perspiration, a relentless pain throbbing in my head like the beating of my heart. But I began to breathe normally again and gradually felt better as the world around me appeared and I returned to reality.
    We were travelling on a train. Looking out the window, distracted, I escaped from the hell I had faced in my dream. Behind us, the train tracks split deep green fields as far as the horizon. Ahead of us, the train was entering a dark world where you could hear the gathering density of the trees. It moved beneath grey clouds in the sky and wrapped in its own cloud, that which rose incessantly from its metal bowels and then enveloped the surrounding trees. Outside my damp window all was burdened by a grey-green weight which descended gradually from one portion of the sky and obscured the landscape we left behind. We were travelling towards night or night was travelling towards us and hidden within it was that which awaited us, that which was about to be.
    I was travelling opposite a woman. Locked within ourselves, she and I, silent inside the jolting carriage, we travelled within the jolting of our thoughts. She alone, I alone, each of us on a journey within ourselves. And thus we travelled.

    “The Book”

    The woman was of small build and dressed in black. She sat hunched with a book in her hands which at times she read and other times held absentmindedly. Her hands were very frail, but her head was impressive and disproportionate to her gaunt body. Her eyes were large, her hair long and unruly. She resembled a relic of a plunder and so I named her Desolation.
    The book was old and worn, with a leather cover and faded title, thick pages yellowed with age, read many times over. The woman lingered long at each page. I observed her surreptitiously the first time she closed her eyes and left it beside her for a little while, and I read: “Once upon a time I passed by God’s eye being watered by Thessalian farmers and an azure grain of wheat they sowed and gathered on the same day, and they took the fruit of the grain for their women to knead and the women twice and three times grew bellies, and the same day their babies were ready with two wings on their backs, and by the time the days changed, because there was no night, they fluttered above the heads of their parents. They only feared that God would rub his eye, and God did rub that one big eye.” I stopped, struck by uncontrollable sorrow, and gazed outside.
    The plain beyond was gathering darkness. The trees were turning black and crowding together as though they were escorting the train. Mindlessly, I watched as their shadows touched my window. I saw them proceed backwards and as the landscape hurriedly left behind one image after another, so too the thoughts in my mind came and went, one after the other. And as the night fought to deepen and envelop nature, the doubt which I carry from childhood, mingled with fear and anger, again shrouded my soul. My doubt about the struggle between death and the living which begins with one’s first breath and always has the same end.
    The words of Job to his God once more came to mind. I remember them almost in their entirety from the time when I first read them and each time it is as though I am addressing them to Him. And I say, My God, thou hast made me as the clay and wilt thou bring me into dust again? And then I ask Him, if a man die, shall he live again?
    Thus I reflected again on Job, whom God delivered into the hands of Satan to test his devotion. And Satan punished him harshly with terrible sores and infected all his body from the soles of his feet to his crown. And when the wretched man reached the direst point, then he cursed the day he was born, wished it to perish, to no longer be unto the days of the year. And he wished there would always be darkness that day for he had not died in the womb, but was banished instead by his mother, and we all were, from her paradise. And his God, He the Only who extends the heavens and walks on the surface of the sea, listened, gratified, to the suffering of the devout man.
    Then I beheld an image, a persistent one I have at funerals, of leaning over the open grave at the moment they remove the lid from the coffin so that the relatives may see the face of the deceased, his last expression, for one moment more. At this moment I, too, lean over and looking into the face of corpse I contemplate how once it was a new-born, crumpled, all red and covered in its mother’s fluids. It screamed, bathed suddenly in light, crying out the great triumph of its birth, umbilical cord cut, exiled from one moment to the next. And seeing his remains consigned to the ground, in humiliation, the words of Job again come to mind and I say: “My days are past, my purposes are broken off, even the thoughts of my heart. They change the night into day; the light is short because of darkness. If I wait, the grave is mine house: I have made my bed in the darkness. I have said to corruption, Thou art my father: to the worm, Thou art my mother, and my sister.”
    Those were my thoughts until it seemed I heard my fellow traveller whispering to me, directly into my mind, without opening her mouth to speak a word. Just as at times it seems I hear the voice of my dead mother speaking my name. I turned then to the woman and saw, miraculously, all her life, in one moment, as I reveal it here in this book. It’s inexplicable how time stood still as though it were a photograph, and there in the very middle, the train, immobile too. Then our thoughts, as they were travelling, met and intertwined, one within the other. I perceived her then in some incomprehensible way and instantly knew everything about her. Her life, what she was seeking from this journey, even whom she was pursuing and why she was endeavouring to reach him. She was searching for John. He, too, was travelling, with a difference of only one day, by her estimation. She had it in her mind to reach him at all costs, if God was willing, and if she followed his journey properly, using as a guide the book which she held in her hands.

Yórgos Panayotídis