Four Walls

One Sunday afternoon, he spotted the figures of the parish priest and the president of the village council making their way up the hill to his house.

They said there had come on very important business and needed to talk to him. The priest spoke first.

“When we do good deeds for others - I'm sure I don't need to tell you this - we are really doing them for ourselves. In fact, it is we who should be grateful to the people we help because they give us the chance to save our souls - but you know all this already, of course. We are here today to offer you one such opportunity, and you would do well to take advantage of it.”

“Take as much time as you need to think it over,” interjected the president, “nobody is putting any pressure on you - but please bear in mind that the matter is of some urgency, and too much procrastination never got anybody anywhere.”

“What is it? Tell me,” said P. Rodakis, who was sure he could feel his right ear buzzing.

“Don't worry,” said the priest. Having sat through countless confessions, he could pick up on even the subtlest of fluctuations in the conscience of his interlocutors. “We have come here to discuss something quite …”. He paused for a moment and for want of a better word, had to settle for “simple”. “Go on,” he said, urging the president to take over.

“The day before yesterday, in the evening, a woman arrived on the island. My wife found her down at the harbour sitting on a trunk, sobbing. She'd been on her way somewhere else, but they threw her off the boat here - she hadn't got a ticket, you see.”

“She's in a terrible state,” added the priest. “Like someone has been beating her day in and day out.”

“We asked her what the matter was, but she was so confused, getting everything mixed up, and with her sobbing and sniffing it was impossible to get any sense out of her. Who knows if there is any truth to her story, anyway?”

“She's got a limp too - God bless her. Poor, miserable creature; you've got to feel sorry for her. ”

“What do you want me to do, Father?” asked P. Rodakis who, after listening to the priest humming-and-hawing about good deeds, was in no doubt that this information was directed at him.

“Listen. The state she's in, no family would ever take her in, even if they had the room. Nobody. And I ask you - who has got that kind of space? Nobody. You, on the other hand, have got an entire house to yourself, three floors, counting the basement. Stick her in one of the rooms down there for a while, just 'till she gets back on her feet, and we'll take it from there. We can't leave her roaming the countryside - she'll be eaten by jackals.”

“Where is she now?” asked P. Rodakis.

“I let her spend a couple of nights in the church, behind the candle stand. I can't have her sleeping in my house, in with the orphans; who knows what might come to her in the middle of the night?”

“Wonderful,” thought P. Rodakis. “The man's too nervous to have her in his own house at night, so now he wants to offload her onto me.”

He summoned the courage to ask, “What might come to her in the middle of the night' - what do you mean?”

“Nothing, nothing at all,” said the president. “You'll see, once she starts feeling better, she'll make herself useful round the house. I'm not suggesting you take her on as your housemaid; that's not what we're talking about here, but she will be an extra pair of hands. It's only temporary. Until she's on her feet again.”

“Anyway, looks like she's got a good few years on you,” added the priest.

“People won't get the wrong idea, that's what the priest means.”

“If I catch anyone spreading rumours, I'll send them straight to hell without any rites,” said the priest with menace in his voice. “I don't mean to put pressure on you, but I want you to know that if you say no, you will make me very unhappy.”

P. Rodakis agreed to take in the woman on a temporary basis. The truth was, he would have agreed to do so even without all the speeches. It would have been enough for him to be told that somebody needed a room. He would not have objected at all; his house was certainly big enough, and giving somebody the use of a room did not cost him anything. As long as they didn't interfere with his things. Yes. That had to be made clear. That was a basic condition.

A few hours later one of the priest's orphans brought the woman up to P. Rodakis's house, left her at the fence and disappeared. Her name was Vaya. She wore stiff black clothes, full of white lines like dried out tidemarks, and her body gave off an odour reminiscent of putrefied seaweed.

The first few minutes of their acquaintance were buoyed along by her sobs. Silence followed as soon as she realized that the man standing before her did not seem to be moved by her performance; nor was he about to bombard her with questions like everybody else did, so there was no need to her shield herself with tears after all. If anything, this man seemed almost indifferent to her. He said that the priest would be making arrangements for her, but until then, he didn't mind if she stayed. She was given his father's old bedroom, the only downstairs bedroom, and as soon as she was confident that she had secured shelter and a space of her own, she spoke.

“I won't be any trouble. Just don't make me go out.”

He explained that he was out of the house most of the day, and because he usually worked far away, he left very early in the morning and came back late in the evening. He gave her permission to use the kitchen and all the pots and pans, and told her to take all the fruit and vegetables she wanted from the garden, making it very clear that he only ever had his evening meal at home. Finally, he broached the delicate subject:

“The only thing I will require of you,” he said “is not to touch my things. When I need something, I want to find it in its proper place.”

Vaya looked him in the eye for the first time.

“I'm not a thief.”

“That's not what I meant. I meant that you mustn't touch my things - that's what I meant. I don't want my things moved around.”

She shook her head as if giving a pledge, at which a black insect emerged from the edge of one her eyebrows, and after traversing her temple, disappeared into the pitch darkness of her hair. Sensing something, she immediately brought her finger up for a scratch, but it was too late. The insect had already made its way to safety.

“I've got a couple of trunks too,” she said.

“Where are they?”

“The priest's son is bringing them up this evening.”



“Then they won't fit in the bedroom. We'll put them in the back storeroom. It's almost empty. I don't use it, so we'll keep your trunks there.”Vaya's arrival did not bring any changes to P. Rodakis's routine; everything went on as normal. But he never saw her. As soon as he came home in the evenings, she would lock herself away in her room and never reemerge. The first week went by without a word, without him laying eyes on her once. He did not know what to make of it. If it hadn't been for the occasional muffled sound coming from the direction of the bedroom, he would have thought she had left. The house, in keeping with the terms he had been so anxious to set out, seemed completely untouched; in the garden, however, he did notice that a row of cabbages had been planted in the rudimentary, neglected melon field on the edge of his land. He also discovered that the priest had arranged for one of the villagers to bring milk up to the house for her every morning. There were no other signs of life. He wondered whether the abrupt manner in which he had spoken to her on her arrival had put her off, or worse, scared her. On the other hand, he was relieved that he wasn't expected to sit and talk to a poor unfortunate woman every evening when he came home exhausted from work. Even so, her total non-appearance made him strangely uneasy. It felt like he was living with a ghost who never showed itself but whose presence was nonetheless felt moving and breathing around him.

The room he had made over to her, his father's old room, had the disadvantage of having no independent access to the rest of the house. Its only door opened onto the big room, which you had to cross in order to get in and out. P. Rodakis used to spend a lot of time in the big room before he went upstairs to bed. But ever since the woman had been installed in the inner room, he had been reluctant to sit there and would do so just long enough to take a quick look at his belongings, and then he would go straight to bed.

One night, when she'd already been there for ten days, he thought that he should perhaps knock on her door, ask if all was well and see if she needed anything. It was only polite. He hesitated, worrying that he might be disturbing her. She might be asleep and he didn't want to wake her; or worse, frighten her. He stood there for some time, staring in indecision at the door.

He had almost convinced himself to leave things be and to restrict himself to what he had done so far - providing shelter, nothing else - when his gaze fell on the keyhole, and the temptation to steal a glimpse insinuated itself into his conscience.

He knew that as soon as temptation had taken root, the damage was done; sooner or later he would have to give in, so he decided to get it over with quickly and not waste time on a pointless dilemma. He stood up and walked across to her door, and without any further deliberation, pushed his eye up against the tiny hole.

A quantity of air was suddenly released from his heart, and went shooting up into his vocal chords with such force that if he hadn't managed at the last minute quite literally to send it back down, it would have exploded into a scream so loud that it would have been heard as far away as the forest. His eye had seen another eye, a frozen, colourless eye, conducting its own investigations from the other side of the door.

“She's spying on me.” The thought filled him with panic; nevertheless, he managed to marshal what little self-possession he had left to move away from the door. Fear pervaded his soul: a strange, mysterious creature was living under his roof, spying on him. He recalled the words of the priest: “I can't have her sleeping in my house, in with the orphans”. He locked his bedroom door and draped a shirt over the door handle to block the keyhole. But he couldn't sleep.