The baker died last night. The week before it was the mechanic, the month before that, the priest. None had yet three score years to their name. All had died where they fell, clutching their chests and surrendering to their next out-breath.
The new priest strikes the death knell, letting it ebb away before striking it again. Word here travels quicker than the wind, and many already know for whom it tolls. Their hearts crack, they pity his wife and son, they shake their heads in disbelief.
Their anger does not lie with God, but with those who had promised hope, a hope left un-watered, left to wither and die. Now their resistance is muffled, as effective as a whisper.
Alexandros rises from fitful sleep. As every day, he has much to do: olives in need of harvest, a roof to fix before winter, a future to scorn. But first, he goes to repair the old widow’s water pipe that’s haemorrhaging money she doesn’t have.
Do you want coffee, water, maybe a spoon of sweet lemon? She asks.
No thank you. After, he says.
When he’s done, she offers him a crumpled banknote. He refuses it. Her dull eyes sheen. She smiles, reminded there are still good people in the world. She tells him to sit and totters outside. Alexandros sees the pile of unpaid bills on the kitchen table nearly as tall as his own. She returns with three freshly laid hen eggs, he takes them, and thanks her from his heart.
Alexandros’s daughter is young enough to dream, and his wife, loving enough to let her.
Sometimes, his daughter makes him pretend he’s a baying, bucking mule. She hooks her legs round his belly; holds on tight. She screams delight, and in such moments, nothing else matters.
The wind is quiet today, so he makes a start on the olive trees. He beats branches furiously with a bamboo pole; hard fruit falls to the earth like hailstones, like a quickening heartbeat. And then a sudden pain: stabbing deep inside his chest. He crumples to the ground, prays to God that it will pass, and takes a deep in-breath.