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form The Furies (The Athens News)

Through a Glass Darkly: people & the state

IN GREECE the relationship between the people (o laos) and the state (to kratos) is historically venomous. Modem Greece was bom of a revolution led by heroised Greeks, but it seems that we have all become heroes just to manage to function in their creation.
To kratos is still viewed as a foreign body not representing our interests.
Last week I had to go to the courts, to protodikio, to pay off accumulated parking violations that had resulted in a felony, meaning a month in jail or corresponding fine. Apparently this is not unusual, but I wondered if a month in jail (with meals paid for and no heating bill) might not have been preferable to the day I spent in Hades.
I had already been in the basement of building #16 the day before. That's where the cashier, in building #12, sent me. All the handwritten signs stated office hours as 9am-lpm. Naturally enough, when I arrived at 12.00, a well-dressed woman in line shook her head: "You won't make it today." It wasn't just a matter of checking a name on the computer, but once found, once printed out, you went back to building #12 to pay the charge, returned to Hades to get it stamped, went back
through Purgatory (a smoke-infested basement where fluorescent lights glared above rows of Xerox machines while people queued up to get copies) to the district attorney for a signature and then . to the police for another.
When I arrived on the second morning, the crowd in front of the exagores window (the term means "buyouts", in this case of a jail term) included a young man in a heavy brown-and-white leather jacket, large sunglasses and spiked hair already leaning against the wall like he was fed up; a woman next to me with a cold; a heavy-set man in front of me who we soon understood to be a lawyer as he yelled into his cell phone: "I'm in an endless wait! Cursing you. Yes, yes, you'll get the
pardon. Yes, that's why I'm here." Two pictures of cell phones with an X through them were taped to a wall. There were no-smoking signs up too, though the employee behind the glass was chain- smoking. I asked the man with the spiked hair how long he thought it would take before our turn came (we had agreed amongst ourselves who was behind whom).
"He gets through about three people every half-hour," came the reply. More people turned up, the line lost its shape; the man behind the glass kept smoking and took strange breaks to find slips of paper.
"Oh, we're really going to enjoy this," the woman with the cold says, her smile slipping. The lawyer has taken off his trenchcoat and is speaking to his client again. "You don't know what I'm going through for'you!" Someone manages to cut to, a woman with blond streaks who refuses to budge. "I've already paid," she says matter-of-factly. "So have I," the woman with the cold says. The blonde shrugs.
"You're the lawyer," the guy with the spiked hair says, "Do something." The lawyer, now off his phone, shoots back, "Do something! I used to be here every day in the courts; I got sick, physically sick!"
'Two hours for a stamp!" chimes in a dark-haired man who looks hung-over. The woman with the cold says, "I think I've already paid this fine but I lost the receipt, so I have to repay it." I ask, "Won't they have a record?" She laughs, "Now that they want money from us?"
A newcomer, upset with the smoke, complains to the policeman who is rhythmically flipping his worry beads. The policeman awkwardly tells people to put out their cigarettes. The smokers protest. The woman with the cold says her feet are really starting to hurt. I suggest, "Let's go complain," though the door that says 'No Entry', Another smoking employee behind a desk overhears me: "Complain all you want. Go to the minister. We need the help."
After an hour and fen minutes, five people are still in front of me; the man who seemed hung-over is furious; "Put a person behind that glass so we can be done with this!" The lawyer, whose turn has come, softens: "The man suffers; can't you see he's suffering?" he smiles at the man at the computer, who is smoking again. I suddenly see a new face; a middle-aged man with a beret smiling at the lawyer, agreeing with him that the man behind the glass must be suffering. I see that he has perched his papers on the counter and is about to squeeze his way in right after the lawyer.-
The person with the spiked hair next to me notices too, and tells him, "I'm after the lawyer." The man with the beret opens a wallet with a row of tiny white tablets; "I have one artery; do you want to switch places with me?" The spiky-haired guy says, "How do you know if I'll live past 30?" The beret man gets his way, but stops smiling.
I finally make it, after the spiky-haired guy, after the woman whose feet are killing her, and pass my paper under the glass. "You aren't on the computer," the man' behind the glass says to me. I ask him to repeat himself several times. I don't hear, I am dizzy with disbelief. "You have to go to Building #1 to get this paper verified." He repeats it. I leave dumbfounded, tripping over the crowd
behind me, the woman whose feet were killing her is smiling upstairs in the entrance. "Done?" she asks. I shake my head, "I sat in line for a day and a half and my name isn't on the computer." Her face collapses into an "ach\" " Back in Building #12 the cashier mechanically tells me that I owe double what I had been told at the police station. I don't have the money with me, but I am
crying. "Don't act like that!" he says, "don't you see this?" I see, now, a faded piece of cardboard that notes a 92 percent surcharge on all felony payments as of the first of the year. "How long do I have to pay this?" I ask. The cashier says, "As long as you want."
Outside the gates of Hell I notice the cripple selling Kleenex packets, the Gypsy woman spreading embroidered cloths, and a man in a mismatched tweed jacket loudly hawking a book: "The story of a Revolutionary! Read about a true Greek hero!"


© 2006 Adrianne Kalfopoulou, Author. All Rights Reserved
akalf@hol.gr