Antonios Maltezos

 

Swineherds and Swill Pits

Behold the lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world.
(John 1:29)

 

There was this old woman. She was probably the only person on the
island that didn’t gossip, and that was because no one would talk to her.
She made me massage her legs with rubbing alcohol every night. She
said this would prevent varicose veins. I don’t know—sounded reason-
able the way she explained it.

I circled the island many times before I came upon her house. Not
that I set out to find her from the beginning. I came as a tourist, fully
expecting to purge my system and then leave this place an enlightened
man.

My old woman kept pigs just outside her kitchen window. Table
scraps, garbage, everything went out that window. She had no cesspool,
so even that shit went out the window. Over time, a long time, I suppose,
the filth had rotted away the earth. What had once begun as a harmless
pile of leftovers became a stagnant pool full of infection, and her home
was like an island because the swill had seeped in under her founda-
tions.

When I was still a tourist, I envied those people I saw carrying their
baggage to the quay, waiting to board their ferries for the mainland. I
could see the contentment on their faces. They were carrying back with
them some of the beauty of this place. They saw what I couldn’t see.
They found what I was looking for.
***
I think it was my second week on the island when I heard the story. I
was sitting in a tavern, and I remember turning to one of the locals and
asking what that smell was about. You see, many people here keep pigs,
dirty pigs, pigs for slaughter. You can smell the swill in the air, risen up
from the spoiled, inherited earth. For a newcomer, as I was then, it
seemed only natural that I ask what that smell was all about. Anyway, as
I recall, they said it was his eyes that put him with the pigs.
***
Crazy eyes?
No, no, no. Have you ever looked into the eyes of a person who
knows that they are dying? Have you ever felt those eyes beg you for
some kind of help, but too embarrassed to ask outright?
I’m confused.
Have you ever known a person who knew that they were dying?
Perhaps they suffered through a long illness and they had the time to
realize the end was coming.
My grandfather.
Cancer?
Yes.
Good. Do you remember the look in his eyes near the end?
Yes.

forward

back