Here she is, then – sitting across him. In the armchair, in front of his desk.
And exactly what he was afraid of, is happening. Because, right now, as the daylight collects its last ribbons from the sky, its colors, like through a prism, are refracted everywhere in the room, like a disco ball scattering flashes, stars and light on the walls.
It’s always the light, since the first time, of course. Because at that time, at half-past four in the afternoon, the sunlight enters sideways the large windows of the room and reaches the large oval table around which sit the students who attend his course, History of Law, in the first year of postgraduate studies.
She arranges her bag, and now she’s looking at him.
Well, it’s not only the light to blame. It is also the color of her hair –a bright bronze color, the color of liquid copper–that when touched by the sun catches fire, and becomes almost dazzling. Strangely, the color disappears everything else in the room.
Panos pretends he’s looking at his papers.
The first time he sees what’s happening, Panos feels that something is drying his throat, making it difficult for him to breathe, like if he has filled his mouth with soil that he is trying to swallow. He stops, in the middle of his phrase – he’s looking for the glass of water that Stavroula, his secretary, puts in front of him every time before the class begins.
Fourteen students attend his class; students somewhat neglect this field of law because its courses are very theoretical – in all other areas of postgraduate school, classes consist of twenty-two students.
He isn’t sure he will be able to speak with what he feels in his throat.
And the silence that’s gathering in the space begins to become deafening. And annoying.
The second time, the same color, that of liquid copper, is more intense than anything else in the room. Its intensity, heavy, reaches him almost in a dramatic way. There is a scene at the end of the science fiction movie Avengers Infinity War when Titan Thanos takes all the gems. Because of this, half of the protagonists disappear along with half the galaxy’s inhabitants – they don’t die, they just go wonderfully, they turn to ashes or butterflies, and get lost in the air. In that way, her color gradually disappears everything else in the room, leaving him alone with her. And that surprises him – it scares him. He tries not to look at her, he tries to make his gaze the same gaze he shares with any student, but that’s impossible. When he speaks to her, he feels like time is moving in another speed, infuriatingly slow, and words are becoming something different from what they usually are: extremely twisted and complicated.
And now she is there, so close to him, in front of him, with all her color, with all her power. It doesn’t matter; she has no idea about that power –
and she’s waiting for him.
There is a scholarship for the University of Paris, for one of his students. For this reason, this morning, Panos meets his students personally, to decide who is entitled to it. Stavroula arranges the interviews, makes the questionnaire, prepares the individual surveys that Panos now has in front of him and completes them with the answers and the overall picture of each one student so that he can then study them later.
By noon he has met half the class, and in the afternoon he has begun to meet the other half. And now, it’s almost evening, and they are out of schedule – they are late. The first appointments aren’t on time, so they’re all running late.
Her name is the last on his list.
Panos tries to clear his throat. He feels the soil gradually spreading everywhere and making it difficult for him to breathe. And Stavroula, in the afternoon, is not here – there is no glass of water in front of him.
“I apologize for the delay,” he says in a smooth voice. “We started too late in the afternoon…”
“I understand,” she tells him quietly.
Panos is looking at her. Fortunately, the afternoon has gathered its colors, and the dizzying projection of them is not reflected on the walls any more. Besides, today, she has her hair tied back in a loose bun.
There is only her face, clean, naked, almost exposed to him.
Panos takes in hand the questionnaire with her name on it and he’s looking at the questions. He’s looking at them for long, carefully, one by one.
Then he quietly leaves the paper aside.
End of time, he reflects. There is no need to resist anymore. The game is lost, he realizes.
He wishes he could hide his face in his hands.
“Have you been to Paris?” he asks her.
The darkness spreads silently in the corners of his desk. Panos knows that he has to get up and turn on the lights in the room, but at the same time, he knows that it’s impossible to do such a thing.
He just raises his hand and turns on the light on his desk – it paints a bright circle around them. That is not enough, of course, Panos reflects. Behind and beyond them, all around, inside him, the amount of darkness is growing.
She nods. “Yes, I’ve been to Paris”, she says.
Panos feels the darkness touching him threateningly on the back – unlike the other fellow teachers on the same floor. He has his back turned to the large window so he can concentrate on his work. It is the first time that this position makes it difficult for him. He would like to be able to look outside now, to be able to take a deep breath. He feels somewhat trapped between her, inside, and at night, out.
“Could you live there for a year?” No other student has asked such questions.
“I could live anywhere,” she comments calmly. “And for as long as it takes.”
She stops talking for a moment – she doesn’t stop looking at him though, and Panos, tired suddenly, feels that all the balance between them is gradually changing.
“Paris is just a place,” she adds slowly.
A few seconds pass and then –
“And you?” she reciprocates the question. And then Panos realizes that it’s too late, that all the lights have been turned off for a long now, as in the movie La La land, where the darkness disappears everything except the protagonists. And that now he can admit that all he wants, all he wants all this time, since the first time he sees her, is to touch her.
He gets up from his anatomic armchair and nervously walks to the large window to get the thought out of his mind. He puts his hands in the pockets of his pants to immobilize them, and he’s looking outside. Since the moment he admits it, his thought flutters inside him like a free, happy butterfly. Uncontrollable.
“I… No, I couldn’t live anywhere,” he says slowly, thoughtfully and quietly. “For me, each place is unique.” Then she turns to her side. “Nothing is just a place…”
She smiles softly at him. From this distance, under this poor light, her smile looks strange – somehow bitter, a little disparaging. Panos is looking at the end of her lips and wonders if he would taste this bitterness if he licked them.
“Do you believe the same about people?” she asks him.
Panos approaches her, stands just two steps away from her, and then he leans on his desk, almost sits upon it. He reflects that all he wants at the moment is to open his arms and make her disappear her into them – the thought exhausts him.
“Of course I believe the same about people,” he says slowly, looking at her. But the outline of her face is so impressive, he notes. And so simple, like a children’s painting. And so quiet. Again, he’s wondering about its taste.
“Obviously, for you, we all are just human beings,” he tells her with an almost as bitter smile as hers. “No difference between us.”
She nods in agreement. “That’s true,” she mutters.
“That is, according to your way of thinking, I should draw lots for the scholarship, not interviewing students all day long.”
She’s just looking at him, now. And there’s something in her gaze that destroys and shatters everything – and leaves everything so damaged, like after a big earthquake or a catastrophe.
“Since there’s no difference between us…” Panos ends his sentence with great difficulty.
Then Efstathia gets up from her seat and stands next to him in the same way he stands, almost sitting upon his desk. It’s not her that touches him – it’s only her aura.
The distance between them is so short, Panos can smell her scent – the smell of her body, the smell of her cologne. Once again, the taste of soil comes to his throat and dries it. And if he tries to look around, in the familiar objects of his desk to hold himself from the familiarity of his everyday reality, he will not find anything. Everything has disappeared, for some time now.
He turns to her side.
“However, what is it that makes you, you?” he whispers in her ear.
And then she touches him – her whole side rests on his own. She is close to him now, and there is only her and nothing else. And there’s not much else that he can do because he’s not sure if he’s the only one approaching her lips, and not her lips coming close to his, or if it’s only his fault that his arms are suddenly wrapped around her, and not hers around him, and then the moment fades out and is lost in the vortex that swallows them as the one enters the other, and disappears them, as well as everything else that exists in the space.
When, later at night, Panos locks the door of his office as he leaves, he knows very well what makes her different – he can smell it, taste it and recall it because it’s all over him.
“Mrs Efstathia Papadimitriou is the one who will study in Paris for a year,” he announces in the next class. He is late and enters the room hurriedly; they are all sitting in their seats, her seat is empty. Fortunately, Panos reflects, he is not sure that he could breathe normally having her in the same room.
“Effie dropped out of graduate studies,” says one of his students. “She told me she was terminating her studies”, says someone else, “she won’t come again”. And then everyone, one by one, says the same thing and then Panos turns to Stavroula questionably; “yes, she informed me this morning” she says, “I didn’t have time to tell you, I am just preparing the related paperwork now … »
Maria Tsirona is a Greek author, storyteller, teacher of creative writing, and text editor. Before becoming a full-time author, she worked as a lawyer for many years. She has published four novels –the fifth is about to be published in October 2020–, a novella and several short stories, most of them awarded. Her stories have a touch of romance, blue colors of the sea, bright sunlight and strong feelings. She lives in Thessaloniki, Greece, with her husband and two kids. You can find more about her and her books at mariatsirona.com