On Chios Scenes


Writing doesn’t come, nor the scenes to write, though I’m looking around at the characters, comedies and playings-out of quotidian happenings that are customarily wont to excite the pen. But when it comes to ink, I’m out. I can’t turn fact into fiction, nor can I work the shapes and bodies of Greece into black typeface.

I’m not without choice, nor inspiration, but fleshing out the upper and lower cases of these stories is beyond me.

Do I stylise Leonides and Sofia, husband and wife who run the central printing shop? Their daily labour services hundreds, a great commercial machine of laser, drums and cartridges, churning out customers and copies. The princes of publicity, paper and propaganda - are they this small island’s king and queen?

Or do I scribe down one of the city’s unnamed, unknown, constant figures: a silent actor who’s been on this stage so long I cannot find the words or motivation to describe him. But there he stands, on Chios’ pedestrianised shopping street, peering through half-moon spectacles over a tight, protruding belly fitted into a black waistcoat on a chequered shirt and sheltered from the sun by a straw panama hat. In the shade of one café he stands, never drinking, sometimes smoking, no friends, no gaze, no purpose. A figure of habit, perhaps worse: of inanity.

I could alphabetise the trundling van of yawning dystopia: a white mini-van that rolls through the town blaring from external speakers a roll-call of radio adverts and telephone numbers. On a short loop, it bores through the town’s streets and alleys, making no one respond. Who drives? What route do they follow? Do they get a kick out of lapping the park twice rather than once? Or hesitating outside the quiet of the library? Do they compete with the speakers of churches, or are we unaware of a orthodox respect and an unnoticed, unheard, momentary silencing of the megaphones? How does petrol, man and vehicle turn profit from those few, tedious, crackled radio waves?

Maybe I’ll strike a deal and ghostwrite for those I'm closest to: a cohort of coffee delivery men on motorbikes, a demographic of old boys and young men in their 20s and on their 2-wheels, carrying frappes and Nescafe's. Like birds accustomed to sharp, graceful takeoffs, they leap from bar to bike and pull away with barely a kick to their legs, navigating one-handed the streets, pumping like arteries the cool caffeine that keeps this population working through the mounting morning heat. How well, how intimate, how in love are they with each broken paving stone, crumbling curb and tarmac scar?

What befits the pen? What ought be written, rode, rolled, rested and ran on Chios? Homer hailed from here (the local airport is named in his honour!). Yet even he didn’t dare put pen to paper, which is why he only extemporised, and on other islands at that!

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