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The Journey; A Sacred Life
by Nikos Laios
2017-05-21 10:33:12
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I can still remember the yellow sun playing on the wheat field, shimmering and swaying, glowing with warmth. The memories of those childhood days have never left me; when I close my eyes I can hear the cicadas and the frogs in the creek, the gurgling water of a stream, the cool mountain air coming down over the mountain range and resting in our peaceful valley. The wisps of smoke curling up from the chimneys, and the smell of fresh country bread filling my nose and belly, and the sounds of chain saws buzzing in the distance on the mountain side. These memories stay with a man, memories of the golden years of our younger days. I can remember my mother in the kitchen singing as she's cooking, and my father smoking a cigarette as he's standing on the porch looking up at the mountain range wistfully as he gently ruffles my hair. My father is long dead now, but I can still remember his rough nicotine stained fingers on my hair. On Sundays, he used to wear his grey gabardine suit that mother would press for him, and take me and my two sisters on a stroll to the village square like a dandy with his hair slicked back. Oh, we so used to look forward to those Sundays, early church service and to the village square, and our small valley would fill up with life; with the babbling voices of people chattering at the cafe, and others milling out of the church as the bell rang, and the children laughing and playing with delight. Mind you, we didn't have much, but we played hopscotch, tag, hide and seek; and I remember one game I played with my cousin Kyriakos where we would see who could run closest along the edge of the road. You see, my village is nestled in the highlands of northern Greece, with a thousand foot drop from the road down to the valley below; oh yes, we had no fear of anything, no fear at all. We were poor, we lived a simple rustic life, but I would swap this life for that any day of the week.

nikos01_400_02Sorry my dear fellow, I forgot your name; Alex was it? And me? Michalis, or Michael if you wish. You ask why am I here in a strip club on a warm Sydney night? Well, that's a long story, but first take a look around my dear chap, what do you see? A red dinghy glowing light, thudding dance music, young women - some barely out of their teens - scantily clad with plastic smiles milling around being friendly to the customers. While on stage, two strippers; a pierced lactating Russian woman and a chubby tattooed English woman prance and writhe around begging for some dancing dollars from the men sitting around the stage. You see, this is my punishment, my own Dantean hell; I'm paying penance.

Sydney can be a cold and heartless place, a beautiful place yes, but lacking a soul or any heart; it has no sense of community, no sense of humanity or solidarity. I walk down the road on my way to work in the mornings and look up at the glass and steel skyscrapers pointing up at the sun, and see the vacant faces and hollow eyes of people staring out of their apartment windows with ruffled hair with steaming cups of coffees in their hands. The busy streets and serious faces, the coffee and newspaper stands doing a brisk trade, and the homeless in the side alleyways sleeping curled up in cardboard boxes, and the pedestrians passing by occasionally looking down at them with disdain. I hear the fellows at work talk about their mortgages and how $800,000 for a house is reasonable; I mean, the average price of a house in Sydney is $1,000,000, this my dear chap is unbelievable, a world gone mad! You say how can I live with this knowing that people are starving in the third world, or that back home in Greece poverty and destitution are taking a hold of society like a disease, or that refugee children are fleeing their bombed and destroyed homes in Syria. Sydney might be an affluent place, but it suffers from a poverty of the soul; a selfish, cold and cruel place that takes no prisoners and chews up and spits out the weak. You ask, how do I live, how can I put up with this? I'll tell you, I carry around with me a storehouse of memories of all the neighbourhoods that I have ever lived in from my childhood till now. I cobble together the memories of the most warm and formative years into a tapestry, and this my dear fellow keeps me warm. I cling to these memories like a drowning man, and they give me some comfort and meaning. Life is a journey my friend, even Sydney right here and now is only a pitstop to another destination, but it all starts from somewhere, it all starts from the beginning.

I remember after living in the north-western highlands of Greece, we then moved to the city of Patra on the west coast of Greece, my mother's ancestral home and the most classical city of all, several thousand years old and continuously inhabited. The Byzantine layers built on the Roman layers, built on the Classical Greek layers, then built on the Mycenaean layers; with its ancient streets, arched porticoes, date and palm trees, and the city where St. Andrew lived out his days and who was martyred there. You can see the continuity in the faces of the Patreans, they have a certain charm and style. My boyhood there was thoroughly enjoyable, summer days picking grapes at the family orchard, picnics on large blankets under plane trees, making paper boats and setting them on street gutters and following them as the gushing water takes them down the road. In summer all my cousins, aunties and uncles would go to the beach to swim with the crackling radio playing a happy Greek love song, and I would sit on the rocks on the beach looking westwards towards the islands of Ithaca and Cephalonia and imagining Italy beyond that, and my boyhood imagination would run wild. Yes, thank you Alex my dear chap, another whisky would be fine, just fine. I like to stare at the cubes of ice clinking in the glass in the swirling yellow liquid and I lose myself in a meditative state that way, and it all comes back to me.

I remember one day in Patra, all the family had finished picking grapes and picnicking, and we were waiting at a highway ready to cross the road to go home, and somehow I slipped from my auntie Irene's hand and dashed across the highway. I was only a slip of a lad, but my auntie told me many years later how I dashed across the highway, and in the middle of the highway a car travelling nearly ninety miles an hour hit me front on and threw me up into the air and I came crashing back down onto the bitumen. All I remember is running across the highway and then in hospital a nurse asked if I wanted an injection for the pain, then an uncle gave me a massive chocolate bar. I should have died that day, but I didn't, and that was my first brush with death, and I've had a sort of bargain with death ever since then, I've had two other brushes with death in my life since.

To your good health sir! Yes, I quite like that Russian girl on stage, the lactating one, I wonder if her husband or boyfriend knows where she is right now? You are quite right my friend, why should I care? Yet it is a hobby of mine I suppose, that I am curious how others live, and why they make the choices they do. I try to study the human condition with a slim hope of finding some answers for my own life, I people watch if you like. I am perfectly happy being alone in an old cafe in a colonial building at Sydney harbour, with my poetry books and a bottle of red wine. Me a poet? No my dear fellow, I'm a civil servant by day, and on the weekends I dabble in photography and a little painting, I suppose it allows me a certain expression in life, and you? Aah, a musician, excellent! Jazz as well? A fellow bohemian, or should I call us bohemians-in-disguise. I know my friend, we have to compromise, we need our jobs and have obligations to pay. I agree with you though, there is a certain guilt attached in compromises, but that is the way of the modern world, though I do agree it feels like being in a prison cell somewhat, our modern life.

nikos02_400_02I wake up every morning to the sound of the alarm clock, run my fingers through my hair as I get up and get dressed in my work suit.  The coffee percolating and flowing like thick sheets of lava over the rim of the coffee cup as the morning sun filters through the blinds picking up flecks of dust in the light. Then the subway commute as the trains clatter along the tracks through the bowels of the city, scraps of paper swirling down the streets, while those still sleeping curl up in their warm ignorance, and I become aware. While beads of sweat trickles down the construction worker's face like globules of mercury, as the jackhammers pound and build the new towers in the hot sun. I then arrive at work, punch the clock, work all day, punch the clock out and leave to go home, but not before delaying to indulge in a small guilty pleasure or two, and meander back home under the glow of the neon lights walking by stale beer halls and whiskey bars, while the pimps, whores and dandies parade. I sleep, wake up, and the pattern repeats  Monday to Friday; where in effect, I have become the prison warder of my own cell. Yes, I agree with you, we are similar to that Sisyphus fellow from Greek mythology who was doomed by the gods to push a rock up a hill for it to only come rolling back down again, and the same repeats for eternity. But my dear fellow, don't you see, though life is absurd, and the very fact that we exist is contrary to all the chances of mathematical probability, and that we are in effect prisoners of sorts, I try to find small moments and acts of freedom and rebellion that keeps me sane as we hurtle in the black nothingness of space on this small blue globe towards oblivion.

I see you eyeing off a pouch of money in the folds of my jacket; you laugh? I see the humour, I'm a Judas of sorts with my jingling purse of silver. Who have I betrayed you ask? Myself, humanity, the purpose of my life; I have betrayed just as you have and everyone else in this damn city. You ask why I call the girls here sirens? Well, I feel that I am a sort of modern Odysseus, and these are the flesh eating sirens that temp me with their siren songs into further oblivion and doom, a test of sorts if you wish on my journey to find my way back home. Where is home you ask? Out of all the places that I have ever lived, the mountain village of Elati back home in Greece is where I feel most at home, though since then and Patra, we have moved to Australia and have lived in many places here as well, and Sydney does have a significance because this is where my father died when I was just a ten year old boy. But my true home is not any specific geographical location on earth though, I feel my true home is myself, or my authentic self. Forty nine you say? Very close my dear chap, for I am fifty years of age, beyond the age of reason! You laugh? And you? Thirty nine, forty? Very good my dear fellow, we both have some journey yet before us I think. You know it's the journey that's the destination and not the destination itself? Yes, most people are cowards, utter cowards living in bad faith, as we are, though I think there might be some hope of redemption for you and me. What about love you ask?

I have been fortunate during my life to have been in love three times with three rather extraordinary women. My first and greatest love was Elisabetta from Rome, a gorgeous brunette Italian woman; I was in my early twenties, and she twenty years old, and the several years that I spent with her were some of the most happiest in my life. On a road trip one year, we were involved in a head-on motor vehicle collision with a small passenger van and ten children died, and I was dead momentarily and my face was lacerated and peeling off my skull in places. I survived that accident, but I remember my after death experience, seeing a white light in a tunnel and a serenity and peace on the other side. We broke up after that and a few years after that Elisabetta died, but I was blessed that she was in my life for as long as she was. Then in my late twenties, I fell in love with Melanie, a pot smoking Scottish-Spanish hippie woman in her twenties, with a beautiful smile and a cute arse; we stayed together for ten years and I left after that. Then my final love was Tamara, a gorgeous honey-blonde Russian woman from Siberia and I was forty years old then. We stayed together for nearly a decade, had a beautiful daughter together, then they both left for Siberia for good. That's nearly thirty years spent with three different women, and I was fortunate to have experienced love not just once, but three times, but each time I felt as though I lived in bad faith, that I secretly betrayed myself somehow. I always had aspirations to develop my art and photography into something, to tell a story through my art, to search for my true authentic self. But with each love, I was completely consumed with an all encompassing passion at the expense of everything else, then the years passed by.

That's a good question my dear fellow, when did I finally see the truth of it all? Well, that was last year when I had a serious life threatening health scare at my brother-in-law's house. That his house is two minutes away from a hospital, that he is trained to administer CPR! All this my friend is a miracle, I should be worm food now. I have learned that the only really important thing in life is the right here and now and the choices we make, to be true to oneself at all costs, to strip away all the illusions in life.

One more scotch for the road, cheers! So what now, you ask? What are my next plans?

As I said, my focus is on the right here and now, and tomorrow you ask? Well, my only plan for tomorrow is to spend time on the beach with one or two poetry books, a towel and my board shorts. A carefree summer day floating like a symphony, sand collecting at the base of the pier while surfers bob in the waves like corks, and the sound of metallic masts clanging in the breeze like a silver forest. As the foaming salt-encrusted waves wash over the leather green seaweed, barnacles and bleached whale bones. The ocean coursing with a musical melody meeting the shore in a surging erotic climax, with the waves spewing and crashing over the burning sand and rusted bell. You say I make this simple moment of a day at the beach sound like a mystical experience? Well my friend, that is exactly the point that I have learned; that being alive in the universe right now, that experiencing the joy of every new day and moment is in indeed a mystical experience, a sacred journey, that one's life is sacred. Imagine if everyone on the planet felt the sacredness of life, what a world it would be!



With digital drawings from Nikos Laios


Check Nikos Laios' EBOOK
Ida & Her Magic Camera
is online now and you can download for FREE HERE!

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