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
. 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
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
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
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
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
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
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.