Naya Koutroumani: The cruise

Naya Koutroumani

The cruise

THE SUN began to set and she thought how time had passed looking at the same sky. The clouds were so immobile they looked glued. It was closing time for most companies and herds of suits were trampling down the riverbank like a political meeting for penguins. Blue and grey suits with colourful nooses fluttering around dry throats dying for a pint of beer.

       It was nippy and their breath resembled baby dragon puffs, which thickened under their chin and fell down heavily on the frozen railings on the river.

       She could see all that while floating on her back, one arm half sunk and swaying like a swan’s wing. The other caught inside her soaked woolen jacket was unable to move. She could see everything clearly, because her eyes were wide open to the light and the movement around the Thames.

       But despite the images and colours and motion, the only thing she could think of was that she hadn’t found the time to do her Sunday chores. She hadn’t done the laundry nor tidied the kitchen cupboards, hadn’t fluffed the pillows, brushed the toilet bowl, hadn’t mopped the floor. But the worst thing was she hadn’t cooked for him. Hadn’t peeled the potatoes and arranged them carefully around the leg of lamb, like he likes, hadn’t seasoned the meat with salt and oregano and hadn’t squeezed any lemon on top of the surface shining with fat and oil. The oven was as cold as the railings above the water.

       The river carried her softly towards the right bank. A young couple overlooking the river saw her. The girl screamed and the people in suits turned and looked. She wished she still had her makeup on.

       The crowd continued to scream and point at her. It reminded her of how he’d shouted at her the night before. Barking like a dog with rabies because she hadn’t stitched the hole in his sock. He’d told her about the hole a week ago and she, being the absent minded person she is, forgot all about it.

       She gave him a glass of water after hearing how dry his throat was. He threw the water at her. She didn’t think that was very polite, water being so cold and all, but she said nothing. She started tidying up the wardrobe behind her, hoping he would calm down, sit on the sofa, watch TV and fall asleep like every other time.

       Not for a moment did she think he would open the drawer where she kept the knives, take the sharpest one of all, her knife, the one she never leaves behind even when they go on holidays, and slit her body the same way she does on the leg of lamb.

       She’d been taking care of him for three years now with all her love. She used to kiss him on the top of his head where his hair was thinning, straighten his collar, stroke him every time he sat close to her. There on the sofa watching TV.

       Look at her now, floating on the cold water like she is on that cruise he’d promised her. She hates wearing that grey woolen house jacket in front of all these strangers who point and shout improperly at her. She does the only thing she can. Pretends she doesn’t see them and looks at the clouds all glued and immobile. As the sun paints them pink and violet, she feels things are quieting down. The only sound she hears now is the splatter of the water on her body. A repetitive, self-assured sound that comforts her as the river pushes her gently towards the shore.

Source: First published on the blog Bonsai Stories (July 30, 2017).

Naya Koutroumani (Athens, 1963). Writes stories for advertising and for herself. Some of the latter have been published in literary magazines like Planodion, Diastixo and The Books Journal. She is about to take the plunge with a collection of short stories.

Translated from the Greek by the author.


Naya Koutroumani: Underground

Naya Koutroumani



IT WAS AFTER FIVE when they buried me. I tried to breathe deeply, but dirt covered me and I sank into darkness. Then it started raining. The water dripped all over me, around me, inside me. It talked: ‘Don’t worry. Soon you’ll see the light again.’

       Yeah! Sure. I didn’t need such kindness. They stuffed me inside a tomb, with no way to deal with that unbearable silence. Did I say silence? No. Not silence. When sight became obsolete, my ears started picking up sounds. There was a lot going on in there. First, an endless tramping of millions of ants digging catacombs, carrying loot, satisfying the queen. Then it was the hissing. Devouring worms trying to spot me. There was also something else which I couldn’t make out. Something was happening right inside of me. A kind of intestine swelling. My skin being torn apart. A disease of the darkness.

       Every day I heard voices coming from the world above the ground. They stamped on my grave with their heavy galoshes and laughed. Pigs! I’d like to see them in my place. My only relief was when rain soaked the ground, refreshing my bones, making me feel alive. Its voice became a balsam to my painful existence:

       ‘Soon now. You’re going to see the light in a few days.’

       During the endless hours debating with myself, I was wondering what the hell did I do to deserve such punishment. Even if I was a murderer, they would have given me the electric chair and everything would be over in a minute. But this torture was to last forever. There was no sense of time inside the bowels of the earth.

       Suddenly, I heard a girl screaming. Another soul had been buried there. I think even deeper. I suppose I should thank God, for there was worse.

       ‘Is anybody there?’ I yelled. ‘Do you hear me? Are you buried in here too?’

       A strangled sigh. I stretched my ears.

       ‘Help!’ I heard a woman crying clearly now: ‘Is anybody there?’

       ‘Yes! I can hear you!’ My heart filled with joy. ‘You’re not alone. I’m down here too. Next to you!’ And that next to you gave me the power to live. Because now I had to be strong for  her.

       ‘My skin,’ she cried. ‘It’s cracking open!’

       ‘Don’t worry! It happens. You have to be patient. I heard that in a couple of days we’ll be out of here.’

       I tried to make my voice soothing and convince myself the rumours were true. ‘The only thing you need to do is try to move as little as possible. Don’t let the worms feel you’re here. Do you understand? It’s just a matter of time. Try to hold on.’

       I knew I had given her hope. She wasn’t crying anymore. How I wish I could see her. Hold her tight against my body. But the ground was thick and I was weak. The rain, my redeemer, fell on me. ‘Tomorrow,’ it whispered. ‘You’re out tomorrow.’

       I wished it was right. ‘Will the girl come out too?’ I shouted, but there was no answer. Only dripping.

       ‘Do you hear me?’ I yelled to her. ‘We’ll be out of here by tomorrow!’

       There was no response. Just a sound coming right out of hell’s jaws. Worms were eating something or someone on my left.

       It wasn’t fair. I couldn’t lose my best friend like that. I bit myself hard, bones and muscles hurt, and I let out a scream that froze the pigs’ laughter aboveground, I’m sure. My body opened up like a ripe melon. Green stuff came out of my skin and moved straight up. Was I dying? I tore up the layer separating dirt from sky and burst out in the sunlight. Barely. But I could breathe the air again.

       A hand touched me. ‘Look, Dad! Here comes the first bean!’

       Oh my God! I was a bean. I was never going to walk, love, go to school. Never get married or have a dog or a car or spend lazy Sunday mornings reading my newspaper in the livingroom.

       I gazed at the open fields. The other beans would spring out any minute now. Except for the bean on my left. She didn’t have the chance. At least, I thought, she died without knowing. Who knows? Maybe she was the luckiest of us all.

Source: First published on the blog Bonsai Stories (October 25, 2010).

Naya Koutroumani (Athens, 1963). Writes stories for advertising and for herself. Some of the latter have been published in literary magazines like Planodion, Diastixo and The Books Journal. She is about to take the plunge with a collection of short stories.

Translated from the Greek by the author.