Youíve seen flyers that confirm it: the Greeks, who wear their seeming youth against their immense age with sidelong grins, are coming to your town. But those flyers, alas, tell you neither the time nor the place at which the Greeks might be met; and what would a lump of pale flesh like yourself have to tell them if you found them? Youíve grown up, after all, accustomed to a certain impotence and smallness of stature: even if they could understand the language you speak, theyíd hardly be able to make sense of what you said. Nevertheless, and against your own best judgment, which wants you to look not for Greeks but for happiness, you decide to chase after them.
"Iíve gotten more tan already," you say to your bedroom mirror after two days of searching underneath the May sun - two days since you first saw the flyers, which have since begun to accumulate in gutters, indistinguishable from last Autumnís half-digested leaves. By now, though, youíve already made up your mind: first to quit your job, which by all accounts you enjoyed or at least didnít mind; and then to give up seeing your friends, who still attempt to see you nonetheless. Youíre embarrassed to admit the real reason for your retreat from the world: when people ask where youíve been, you grow testy and make up excuses so absurd thereís no doubt that youíre lying. "I had the four-week flu," you say, or "Iíve dislocated my rostrum." This suffices to put people off talking to you, since anyone can tell youíre in a bad mood-a bad mood, however, that never lets up, so that soon your friends stop visiting you altogether.
Itís as though youíre hoping to impress them-the Greeks, that is-with the sheer volume of your labor. You fritter away your days walking up and down streets, exploring dark alleys, peeking through holes in back fences; searching in an altogether conventional way, though you might as well be looking under rocks for all the good it does you. In truth you donít have the faintest idea how to find them or where they might be hiding, and you worry at night that your time is running out. "Maybe theyíve already left," you think, "and all my sacrifices have been useless." "No," you say out loud as though it matters, "they must still be here," but you canít think of any reason why this should be the case. Without knowing it, however, youíve staked all your hopes on your search, so that youíd almost die if you gave up now.
But what keeps you looking even more than that is the way youíll sometimes meet a stranger on the street and catch him, as you pass, examining you a little more at length than seems proper; or the way that, of an evening, youíll overtake a woman strolling down the sidewalk and, having circumnavigated the block, overtake her again ten minutes later at more or less the same spot. The pace of her walk gives her up as surely as does that strangerís absurd curiosity: theyíre Greeks beyond all doubting. If you asked them point-blank whether they were or not, theyíd certainly deny it; but, barring the possibility, which youíve entertained and discarded, that theyíre decoys, they serve as sign-posts on which you hang your hope. Often you imagine that the Greeks are trying to send you a message by proxy, though of course thatís ridiculous. They probably donít even know you exist, however much you importune them with your searching.
One day you follow a woman for more than two hours. Itís almost dusk, so you donít have to hide to avoid being seen. During all that time she travels exactly three blocks; this, you think, is the kind of Greek youíd always wanted to become. The remarkable thing about her is not that she traverses precisely one block and a half every hour, which anyone could do merely by stopping and resting for a while after each step, but that she walks so slowly while appearing to maintain a normal pace. You are reminded, incorrectly, of Zenoís paradox, which distracts you for a moment; in the meantime she turns a corner and is gone. Youíve managed to track her, however, to the edge of town, which does at least confirm something about which youíd been doubtful. The Greeks, it appears, havenít established themselves in the city itself but rather live scattered among the flat wastes and the farms that surround it-a fact that should have been obvious to you from the beginning. Add to the cost of housing discreetly an entire race accustomed to living in grand style the hassle of storing the carts, mules, monoliths and various other baggage with which the Greeks customarily make their journeys, and itís obvious that they, who hate toil, have set up camp in one of the fallow fields outside town. Until now you hadnít explored those at all, which makes you feel foolish. Wouldnít they have been not only the best, but also the most pleasant and the easiest of all places to search?
You start scouring these outlying precincts the next day, and almost immediately you meet with good results. Just before noon you come across a metal statue, perhaps four feet high, abandoned but unbroken and showing, underneath the various layers of colored varnish that its sculptor must have applied to make it resemble a living creature more perfectly, unmistakable signs of Greek workmanship. The varnish overtop, you observe as you set the statue upright, gives the impression of being rather hastily daubed-on; the red blots that highlight its cheeks stand out like spilled blood against the otherwise pearl-pale tone of its flesh. You carry the statue around with you all day and take it home at dusk, leaving it in your driveway. Heavy though it is, itís the first demonstrable proof youíve had that you havenít been wasting your life hunting a phantom.
That statue, you suspect, is one of those automatons that Daedalus taught the Athenians to sculpt-which lesson, you rightly believe, so clever a people as the Greeks canít possibly have forgotten. First you decide to bind it with ropes so it canít run away; but just as youíve fetched your ball of twine, which anyhow is too old and brittle to hold a statue thatís intent on breaking free, you realize you might do better to dip its feet in paint. Then, if it ran back at night to where its masters lived, youíd be able to follow it in the morning. You fetch the half-filled paint-can thatís left over from last summer, when you painted your apartment-bright red, a choice you came quickly to regret-and coat both the statueís feet in it, dumping the rest out for good measure on the surrounding asphalt. What more need do you have for house-paint, since youíre going tomorrow to join the Greeks?
When you look out your window the next day, you see that everythingís happened just as you hoped it would. A line of small red footprints leads off down the street, then turns left at the first corner. You run outside in your bathrobe, not considering in your haste whether your shabbiness might offend the Greeks, and you follow the statueís trail, which despite all your precautions grows steadily fainter. After a few blocks the left-most line of foot-prints gives out and you begin to worry; but some God must have taken pity on you at last, because the trail veers off shortly and vanishes into a pharmacy. Itís the one where you generally have prescriptions filled, but of course youíve been too preoccupied lately to get sick. You enter and follow the footprints past counters, down aisles; through a door marked "employees only," despite a chorus of vague shouting at your back; and there you are, in your bathrobe, unwashed and barefoot, before the Greeks.
What do you think we want from you that would have justified so much fruitless searching on your part? What could we take from you, when we already have ourselves-our bronze smooth skin, our feline subtlety, our deathless glory-all those things, in short, that you wanted from us? Wouldnít anything you said to us be like telling your friend, by accident, a funny story he himself told you? Just by seeking us out-here, in one of our infinite last refuges-youíve shown us a great deal of disrespect and ill will; if we do nothing now to harm you, it is only because we no longer do anything at all.
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The Greeks by Martin Devecka
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