from “Overdue Loans”

The offices of the Central Bank are on Pireos Avenue. I head down Alexandras so as to turn onto Patision and hit Pireos at Omonia Square. That’s the logical route, only in Greece what’s logical never gets you anywhere. Right past the hospital I get stuck in a traffic jam with all the trappings: shouting, cursing, honking, rude gestures. The drivers in front of me are trying desperately to escape their fate, the way the pickpockets of yesteryear used to run around looking for a back alley, our guys hot on their tail. Now the pickpockets are all carrying and we don’t go by foot anymore, so they always get away.

It takes me about three quarters of an hour to get just up the road to Asklipiou, where the mystery of the backup is solved by the appearance of two patrol cars that have blocked the downward slope of Alexandras. From a distance you can hear the echo of shouted slogans. The patrol officers from one of the cars are standing in front of it, absorbing the curses of the drivers who are being forced to turn right. The officers don’t react, pretending to admire the view of the Tourkovouni hill to their left.

“What’s going on, guys?” I ask, after showing my badge.

“The unions are gathering in front of the offices of the General Confederation of Greek Workers, to protest the measures,” the sergeant explains.

“So what should I do? Head up Ippokratous?”

“Impossible,” the driver answers. “Ippokratous is closed as far as Voulgaroktonou. You’ll have to go the long way around, Vasilissis Sofias to Syntagma.”

I turn right and head back uphill, behind the Supreme Court. By the time I reach Panormou I’ve wasted another forty-five minutes. I keep picturing Stavridis, the director of the General Bank, cursing me for making him wait, but Vasilissis Sofias is my only option. Fortunately traffic is moving well, though my joy grows measured as I approach the Hilton. From there on the situation steadily deteriorates, until things come to a complete standstill around Herod Atticus. There are riot police trucks blockading the street, not even a mosquito could squeeze by.

Again the same question, after the introductions: “What’s going on, guys?”

“The pensioners are marching on Parliament,” a young cop answers.

“So how can I get to Omonia?”

The policemen look at one another, decide I’m nuts, and laugh.

“There’s only one solution,” the ranking officer says. “Leave your car here, we’ll park it for you at the station on Ipsilantou. You can go by foot, or take the metro from Syntagma.”

My first idea is to cancel my meeting with Stavridis. But I change my mind when I consider that if Stathakos, head of the counter-terrorism unit, were to hear that I couldn’t even make it as far as the offices of the General Bank, he’d never let me live it down.

“Can’t a patrol car take me?” I ask the ranking officer.

“If the protestors smash it, there’s no way we’ll have the funds to replace it, what with the cutbacks,” he answers. I have to admit he has a point. I give him the keys and ask him to leave them with the officer on duty at the Ipsilantou station.

I head toward Syntagma on foot. It’s smooth sailing as far as the entrance to Parliament, since there are no cars coming through and the protestors have spread out over the whole breadth of the avenue. The crowd is densest in the stretch after that, as far as the square. It seems like every pensioner in all of Greece must have come down to Syntagma today.

I’m heading down the stairs into the metro when a guy in his seventies grabs my sleeve and shakes me. “My pension is 400 euros a month!” he shouts. “What is the Eurozone supposed to cut from that? Do you think a German, French, or Swedish pensioner could live on 400 euros a month? Every summer I watch all those German, French, and Swedish pensioners descend on our islands. I can’t even look at the islands through binoculars, because on 400 euros a month you can’t even afford a pair of binoculars.”

“Why take it out on the Germans and Swedes?” the guy next to him intervenes. “Just ask what kind of pension our ministers get after two four-year terms in Parliament. Eight years of work, and you wouldn’t believe what they get.”

“How much is your pension?” the other guy asks me.

“I’m not retired yet.”

His neighbor gives me a suspicious once-over. “Forget about him,” he says to his friend. “Don’t you see that suit and tie? He’s probably some government official, one of those types who pocket sixteen salaries a year and retire at fifty.”

What with the trouble it took me to get this far and my annoyance at standing Stavridis up, I don’t react well. “I’m not retired, we went over that already. I’m a cop, and they’ve done away with my fourteenth salary, too, and cut my benefits.”

“I don’t believe you’re a cop, but you’re right about one thing, we’re all boiling in the same stew,” the first guy says and hands me a flyer with a slap on the back.

The metro station is overflowing with pensioners. Some are just arriving, others are on their way home, apparently tired of standing on their feet at the demonstration. I get shoved into one of the last wagons between two little old ladies as skinny as toothpicks.

At Omonia the scene changes once again. Here it’s the young people who have the run of the place, with flags and slogans such as, “The working class won’t pay any more,” and “No more picking on the poor.” I slink out of the station like a whipped dog and head down Pireos. The central offices of the bank are past Socratous, in a modern building of cement and glass. The doorman informs me that the director’s office is on the top floor. I’m greeted by a secretary in her fifties, dressed to the nines, but aloof and obviously annoyed.

“You’re late, detective.”

“I know, and I apologize, but all of Athens has been shut down by marches and demonstrations.”

“There are demonstrations today? I hadn’t heard,” she replies, and I realize I’ve entered another world.

 ***

I leave headquarters completely wiped out, and can’t wait to be lying in bed reading my Dimitrakos dictionary. But as Andriani likes to say, what people want isn’t always the will of God.

The reference to Andriani isn’t accidental. As soon as I enter the house, I find Katerina and Fanis sitting in the living room. I instinctively start to worry, because my daughter and son-in-law don’t often come to see us unannounced, and certainly not at this hour. And even if I didn’t already consider it a bad sign, the expression on their faces would be enough to tip me off.

“Did something happen?” I ask.

“Nothing serious,” Fanis answers, with that calming tone doctors like to use, though it usually just upsets you even more.

“OK, so what’s this non-serious thing that brought you guys all the way here?”

“Dad, calm down, no one’s sick,” Katerina intervenes.

“Do I have to bring you in for questioning just to find out what’s happening in my own home?”

“Kyria Andriani saw someone fall out the window, and it upset her,” Fanis says.

“An accident?”

“No, a suicide. He jumped.” Then he rushes to calm me, adding, “She’s fine now. I gave her a sedative and she’s resting.”

I figure she must be resting in bed, so I head for the bedroom. Katerina and Fanis follow. Andriani is lying face-up, staring at the ceiling. She hears us come in and turns her face to the door.

“Why didn’t you call me?” I ask, grabbing her hand.

“I called Katerina, I didn’t want to upset you.” Her voice is three notches quieter than usual.

“How are you now?”

“Better. Fanis gave me a pill and it calmed me down some.”

“You’ll feel even better in a while,” Fanis assures her.

Andriani has her eyes fixed on me. She’s trying to find a way to tell me about it, but doesn’t know how to start. “He jumped out the window,” she finally says, in the same muted voice. “Right in front of my eyes. I was dusting.”

“It’s OK, don’t worry. You can tell me later.”

“Let her talk,” Fanis says. “It might give her some relief.”

“He hit his limit,” she tells me, meaning the suicide. “He had a shop with women’s clothes somewhere in Pangrati. But with the crisis business slowed to a standstill. He had a pile of bills he couldn’t pay, mice were dancing in his cash drawer. He tried to take out a loan but the bank rejected him because he was already too far in debt, and these days they’re giving out loans with an eyedropper. His wife worked for the Ministry of Agriculture and they cut her salary by twenty-five percent, too. And they’re putting their daughter through school abroad. Everything just took a turn for the worse all at once, it pushed him to the edge and he jumped out the window.”

“How did you find all that out?” I ask her in wonder. Not even the sharpest detective could have gathered all that information while in a state of nervous collapse.

“Right after it happened, Kyria Lykomitrou from the third floor came up and told me the whole story.”

Everything has an explanation in the end, even now that our lives are becoming more and more incomprehensible by the day. Kyria Lykomitrou came upstairs so that she and Andriani could calm one another down, but instead they got one another even more worked up, until in the end they both just fell to pieces.

“Calm down now, try to sleep. You’ll feel better tomorrow,” I tell her.

“I’m going to keep the shutters down, I don’t want to have to look at the apartment across the way,” she says, then adds, “What else will our eyes see?”

“Nothing,” I answer firmly. “Isn’t this enough? Have you seen lots of other people jumping out of windows?”

We leave her to sleep and go back into the living room.

“She’s not wrong, you know,” Katerina says as soon as we sit down. “Things are only going to get worse.” 

From Petros Markaris, Lixiprothesma dania. © 2011 Diogenes Verlag AG, Zurich Switzerland. Translation © 2012 by Karen Emmerich. All rights reserved.