Days cling to the calendar. Unsung notes from an instrument we are yet to hear. Quick on my heels, shadows of winter are locked away. I scarper up the hill, running against the heat, the mopeds, the Gods mocking in metallic and gasoline prayer. I become steel and bone shattered. The blood-red moon keeps me awake with her whispers. I wake in a sweat and believe even the sad days of the week mock me with hours unformed. Dead bells ring out – stopped before the clanging reaches any further down the hill.
Time is gossamer thin. Hours and days fall uninterrupted by any single billowing idea. I wash and scrub and paint, letting thoughts flicker as softly as moth wings. Fragile. Ready to break or carry me away. Birds sing and fall silent. Protecting themselves from becoming as tired as the bells – regular on the hour, on dawn and dusk. Those frequent bells have yet to show me their language, a way of reading the day. The first few nights in the house are filled with deep slumber, the kind that is exhaustion and satisfaction rolled into long hours of dreamless sleep. On waking, I wander from room to room, surveying a small kingdom – a fiefdom of sorts. Up high invisible as pirates, hidden just like the lessons from history, of the people who lived here first and last. I still talk to them, asking what they think – of the things we saved, the things we changed. If they could speak, I’d listen. But the house only ever rings with silence.
After Easter, the summer heat came early, reducing the scant garden patches to dry bracken and gravel. Outdoors are scrappy paint pots drying out, crumbling wood and dust. The flowers that danced bright yellow have died down to a quiet song leaving bare stalks and stumps, brown edged leaves becoming mulch for another season. There is something wrong with the olive tree. The woodlice prowl at night, taking over – only the day’s heat drives them back underground. Even the caper bush died. (I say traumatised by concrete and tile, it gave up on us) Part ruin, part rescue – we live with what is left and it is a joy.
I chase the dust around from room to room. Only to find a new layer of it settles overnight. Only the silence of the house is a saviour. We open windows and the morning light honey’s its way across the ceiling. We have no curtains so I dash from the bathroom with a towel grasped to my body. The daylight changes and the sunset makes the walls blossom in apricot. We sit outside on wobbly chairs and laugh after a day’s work, feeling as empty as a drum, all washed out and muscles sore, and hearts swollen with well wishes. It is done. We live here. Raw and empty and saying thanks with mumbled lips to a million things that went right and wrong in life that brought us here – to this moment, I say and drain the glass of warming wine.
The night settles long after the sun has set on the other coast and only then the sky turns violet and star-pocked with tiny lights. The buzz of cars and bbrrr zzzip of mopeds in Ermoupoli is far below. A woman’s voice echoes the alleyway with laughter. Life is happening all around – every doorway once closed up is now open and voices musically drift out.
‘We live here’ I say it again to help myself believe it.
Sundays are a cacophony of bells dragging us from the edge of sleep – known and unknown, ringing out with uncertainty – overlaying each other in a chorus. Spoon small, sweet sounds. I make coffee downstairs and go upstairs to the balcony to sit – forgetting things, going back down – wandering, getting distracted – moving some trinket or other. The battle for space – between the old residents and new, it seems takes time. I talk to them, is this okay? Moving the old lamp into a new space. Better right, when it lights up the dark corner now?
I hope they like what we’ve done. Brightening it up. Windows that no longer rattle and shutters that close, water that runs clean and a door that locks. A bathroom you don’t have to enter through the yard. Upgrades – modern touches – nothing drastic. I pack up some more things; books, papers, cards – a picture of St Francis and a postcard of the Pope from 1973. A man’s photo stuck underneath a framed Virgin Mary icon, stamped 1956. I hide them like treasures under beds. This little archive of mystery collected by people I may never know. They live on and are part of the house, this neighbourhood – it’s life. The story it tells – just as we are and whatever future it holds.
Nothing lasts forever. To savour the now in all it’s newness is enough. Just as paper crumbles and paint fades, dust will still swirl across the floor of the house long after we, it’s temporary guardians, are gone.