Stolen Time


It was Filippos Argyriadis’s opinion that counted. He was their leader although no-one understood how his influence over the other four had established itself and no-one acknowledged that it had. He hadn’t volunteered to be; he hadn’t been asked to be. It had just happened. He was their leader. Everyone paid attention when he spoke. Whenever there was a difference of opinion, the final view bore the stamp of his will. Whenever he disagreed with one of them, the others always took his part. Even the director, Petros Halkiolakis, who deep down resented him, always sided with Filippos Argyriadis.

Disagreements were, however, rare. Each of the four had developed another side that enabled them to get along with and fit in with the others in the group – with their other sides, that is. It was remarkable to see their faces change as soon as they got together, in the same way that the walls of a stage set rotate all at once to transport the audience from the drawing-room scene, let’s say, to the morgue scene. Those second sides were like that. They had developed gradually, because in the beginning, when they were still very young, they argued constantly. But even then, the conflict was confined to two people, and did not erode the unity of the group. These collisions gradually petered out with the emergence of each member’s second side, which consolidated their position in a five-link chain. If any of the five came under attack from an outsider, things would follow a set course: the group closed ranks round the member and the outsider soon came to realise that he was dealing not with one but five adversaries. But the opposite never occurred; if one of the five links fell under the spell of an external friendship or romance from the outside, the group had a hard time accepting it, and smiles in such cases were rare. 

The only exception to this was Skouris. Skouris was the fifth link. His arrival served to unite the four permanent members. ‘I’m getting married,’ came the abrupt announcement from Ioanna Chryssovergis one day, and shortly thereafter she introduced them to Simos Skouris, a goldsmith. After a couple of years this new member had become fully absorbed into the historic nucleus. His temperament had helped; over the course of those two years he had developed an admirable second side, and was looked on as though he had always been around. That’s how they became five. I picked all this up from conversations I had with Tina Paraschis, the photographer.

Halkiolakis and Argyriadis went back a long way; they were old school friends and it was while they were still at school that they met Ioanna Chryssovergis and Tina Paraschis at amateur dramatics. It was then that Halkiolakis got the idea that he wanted to go into directing, and Chryssovergis decided to become an actress. Paraschis took up photography.

I can’t say for sure when it was that Filippos Argyriadis got involved with antiques and paintings. All I know is that his business card did not read Dealer in Fine Arts but Collector. Skouris, deliberately needling him, would say: ‘You and I are colleagues of sorts. Both Merchants. I sell gold, you sell antiques.’ Argyriadis would answer: ‘I am not a merchant.’ ‘What do you mean, you’re not a merchant? You buy, sell, run a shop, all of which makes you a merchant.’ But Argyriadis was adamant that he was essentially a collector, who bought and sold for the sole purpose of renewing his collection. Even his shop served the same general purpose. ‘I only sell the pieces I’m tired of looking at. I use the money from their sale to acquire new pieces; that is how I maintain a collection, one which might not grow but certainly evolves.’

The actress was an admirer of Argyriadis. They all admired him, but in her case it was more obvious. The collector was not demonstrative by nature; nobody felt completely at ease with him and he came across as a cold man. It is possible that his kudos derived from this fact. The actress tried to laugh and joke with him all the time, thinking that was the way to get close to him. The others also reserved a special treatment for him – a form of respect. He enjoyed all this attention, taking it as a sign that he was entitled to special privileges. Occasionally, very occasionally, he felt constrained to reciprocate these civilities. The director was very bitter about the fact that he did not hold this privileged position as he rated himself just as highly as the collector, and by virtue of his work, he was accustomed to being the centre of attention.

Once or twice a year the group organised excursions. Summer, winter, it made no difference as long as everybody was available. The trips were not typical tourist fare. Although they often covered thousands of miles, ending up in implausibly distant lands, they were quite capable of returning without having seeing a single sight, without strolling down a single street, without entering a single shop – regardless of whether it was their first visit. The purpose of these trips was not to see the world but to spend time together in a strange place. Each trip was planned around a particular theme, which could be as simple as reading a book, exploring a certain topic or meeting somebody. The theme, whatever it was, determined every last detail about the trip: where they stayed, what they did. This might mean that they spent the entire stay shut away in their hotel rooms, or else in the trenches of some rain-drenched archaeological site, or else in the gardens of some dilapidated mansion. It was at times like these that you could see, that you could clearly see, just how close-knit this group was, and how everybody’s second side shone through, displacing individual traits and characteristics. This ensemble of five moved about, sorted out obligations, and dealt with minor difficulties without the least confusion, the opposite of what usually goes on in a group of friends. I didn’t just have Paraschis’s word for it – I saw it for myself.

I could talk about them for hours.

These people gave off a peculiar aura, especially when they were together. Sitting next to them, you got the feeling that they were sucking the life-blood out of you through invisible tubes. Wherever you looked, you’d fall on looks and expressions covertly examining you, taking an x-ray of you. If you had something to say, and at that moment one of them started talking (the usual butting in) they would always pause and hand back to you. It wasn’t, as you might be forgiven for thinking at first, a matter of common courtesy. No. What was important to them was to suck you in and listen to whatever it was you had to say. They hadn’t the least interest in expressing their own opinions.

One day, for example, I hurt my ankle and put one of those small adhesive plasters on it. While we are talking, I noticed the director looking down at the small swelling inside my sock – I was sitting with one leg crossed over the other which hitched the top trouser leg up a little. He didn’t say anything but the actress, who was clearly following him, suddenly asked me if I’d hurt myself. Nothing escaped them. With stolen glances they had instant communication about everything. Even when their eyes narrowed into a smile, you could not shake off the feeling that behind it, their round pupils were still busily sizing you up. Even when I was miles away from them, or on the bus, I could feel their eyes boring holes right through me.

I was to be at their beck and call for an entire fortnight. That was the agreement.