• Vassilis Nitsiakos

The train


They had changed course. There was nothing else for it. Only the roads were left, and they were asphalted. Even in the hills above the village, not a blade of grass grew. All arable land now. It was spring. They had been warned. Last time. They wouldn’t get any more favours. They knew it. Last time they paid dearly. Fines and more fines. Visible or invisible. Bribes or fines. They waited for the darkness of night to feed the animals. Field guards everywhere, keeping track. Only the road was left. The asphalt road. It needed more care: traffic. The light in the eyes of the animals disappeared before the headlights. Dozens were knocked down. Lines of communication were opening. Not for them. Fences everywhere shut them out. The animals, too, learn to walk like soldiers. In threes. Their bells don’t have room to ring. They’re useless. They had to change course. Not for the better. Just to get through. They had to get to Tempe and take the train to Amyntaio. They crossed the silvering olive groves at the foot of Olympus. An old image. They went slowly to imprint it on their minds. They didn’t know if they would see another spring. All the openings they saw around them increased their own enclosure. A stifling corner. Like the one that awaited them on the train – the train which only the men knew, and described to their women as a serpent. They baulked at putting their animals in. Pitiful wild creatures in those great black boxes. Until they learn. Until they’re tamed. Until they die, they said among themselves. Thousands of animals with personality and name. They loaded them on like living meat. They took their bells off. So they wouldn’t cut each other up. They cut the horns off the rams. Perplexed men and beasts, crammed into the black boxes. For their final journey? They set off. They saw death with their own eyes. Pitch blackness. No room even for thought. They struggled to breathe. They would be counted. Counted to be paid for. By a nasty man with a hat and torch in his hand. He kicked the animals violently. He knew about this tricksy race. He was looking for stowaways. They didn’t mind. Despite their pride. They had learned. They forgot everything in the face of authority. Just to deceive them was enough. They became sly as could be. Authority for them was the hat of the ticket collector or the field guard. Any hat with a badge. Their position was contradictory. They admired authority but fought it. They caressed it and spat on it. They flattered it and scorned it. A game where they didn’t make the rules. It made the rules. In the stifling carriage, no one made out anything. The same suffocation they felt in society. But here it was bodily. Biological. Man and beast raised their heads to gasp air. And the man with the hat kept kicking bodies. Bodies on the point of being corpses. The parliamentarian and the agriculturalist had said they would be rid of all the bother. The former bribed them so they would give him their votes. They would go to sleep in Tempe and wake up in Amyntaio. Who could imagine…? An interminable night. They’re powerless. They hear the tremendous engine. The devil’s mill. They feel completely helpless. Those fine young men. You can see it in their eyes. It’s not fear, nor terror. It’s the breakdown of every emotion. A shock brimming with moral awkwardness. Like the animals that they catch in their cunning traps. They don’t know. They don’t have a clue. They’ve heard a lot. A lot about these machines that clash with God Himself. They always feared the Devil more than God, for his cunning. That fear had made them act the same. A defence against the devils that sprouted continually in their path. The devils that appeared with a thousand and one names to threaten them. All threats now became one. One only. The threat to their very being. This black beast is its embodiment. This is its face exactly, its incarnation. It’s not simply a machine. It’s what they were afraid of – afraid would one day come. The more they think about it the more they suffocate. As much as they can think. Their minds are inundated. Nightmare images. Hazy images. Hazy because they’ve never seen them before. They cannot form this image – a nightmarish scene like this. Voids. Voids, more and more. A void, however, which makes the darkness less dense than their panicked thoughts. They had heard about a tunnel. They felt they were continually in it. They started counting corpses. They forgot Amyntaio. There was no Amyntaio. It was just a pretext. A pretext to exterminate them. They didn’t know the land beyond Tempe. They couldn’t imagine. Tempe was their Acheron now. And they paid their obol, too. Multiplied by the dead of the animals. This wasn’t even in St. Kosmas’ prophesies. They couldn’t find an explanation. He had said a lot about machines. And iron birds in the sky. But they didn’t know if he had spoken about this. This snake-shaped death. It kept on. The hateful noise. It kept on. The torture chamber. There was no Amyntaio. It was just a pretext.


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© 2018 by Vassilis Nitsiakos 

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