Have you ever tried to fall asleep in Athens? I have, and I can tell you it is no mean feat. Car horns, car alarms, arguments, laughter, jovial “yia mas,” clinking glasses, people speaking in colourful accents and languages, young men selling flickering toys, women begging, babies crying, restless figures talking to themselves, dogs fighting; ambulances, police on motorcycles revving their engines… the Athenians never stop. There should be prizes for those managing to fall asleep in Athens.
So, when I read a story about disturbed sleep in Athens, I immediately sympathised. The character in the story could not sleep because neighbours had been digging in the pavement outside his window, chatting late into the night. No other sounds seemed to disturb his sleep. In the morning he found out what they had been up to. They had been planting a tree! Unfortunately, the author doesn’t tell us what kind of a tree. Was it an olive? A lemon? Or is he – for he must be a he, don’t you agree – withholding the information in case we start looking into symbols? Never mind, let’s not start obsessing.
on the pillow the night and its shadows
I can provide the tree for our purposes, no problem. But where is the story in the story? Several unspecified neighbours are planting an olive tree in the middle of the night, while as far as the story goes, teeming millions of people in this big city are asleep (how does the author account for the lack of noise in Athens? I don’t know). I can imagine people emerging bleary-eyed from their beds trying to make out what is going on. Asking questions, shaking their heads, crossing themselves, complaining; then what? Going back to sleep in a city that is at its loudest at night? Something does not fit, or rather is well-hidden in this story.
Unless, of course, it is a metaphorical sleep that is meant here. Sleeping as in keeping the peace, turning a blind eye. Wink, wink. Worse, someone turning a blind eye to the hope (planting of the tree, see?) that is being taking root.
Impossible? Let’s consider it. After the worst famine since World War II, after a huge increase in suicide rates, after the vicious psychological attacks on the country, against which, as a nation as well as an individual, it was difficult to defend oneself, the people of Athens, in their global origins and skin colours, in their Babelesque languages, are turning a corner. Things are being said. Planting is being done. The story writer, by ignoring the usual nocturnal noise, and foregrounding instead the hushed, whispering voices in the night, is drawing our attention to something inconspicuous: the barely audible voices of those just starting to communicate a desire to plant something that grows; a belief in survival, in continuity, in building once more a better life…
Planting trees in the dead of night: allusions to hope, to the future, putting down roots, seeds of hope in the dust of despair… see, even hope has to be dispensed in dribs and drabs. Still, whatever you do, don’t close your eyes; or ears.
the olive tree dripping
Blog Action Day 2015.
This haibun was written in response to the theme #RaiseYourVoice – in support of those who can’t.
Inspired by “Workers Disturb My Sleep in Beijing”
by Salvatore Attardo, published in Cha
#BAD2015 #Oct16 #blogactionday