Allegation against Avarice

This poem was written in homage to the retired pharmacist Dimitris Christulas, who committed suicide in front of the Greek parliament in Athens, on April 4th 2012.

You can see a reproduction of the original manuscript on the left.

Published in Babelia
(El País, cultural suplement)


After slowly climbing the stairs,
dragged by the tightly packed multitude of passengers,
he emerges from the subway station at Syntagma,
directly in front of the Parliament, at the very moment
the clock strikes nine.
By then, a crowd fills the plaza,
and Dimitris Christulas, bewildered
by the movement he observes around him,
seeks refuge behind a tree.
He immediately takes out a revolver
from the right side pocket of his jacket
and points it to his head.
When his index finger scrapes the trigger
he realizes his hiding place is not perfect.
He is, in fact, being observed by a woman determined
to fix one of the wheels of her son’s stroller;
and a street vendor from Senegal
who has just spread a blanket on the sidewalk
for the fake designer bags he sells;
and a boy on a bicycle,
who is the one closest to Christulas
and the only one who hears his words:
“I don’t want to leave my daughter with any debt.”
There is an instant silence,
silence over Syntagma, over Athens, over the world.
The next day, outraged, the news
inform of the death of Dimitris Christulas.
They give details: he had ridden in the subway
from Ambelokipi, his neighborhood, to Syntagma.
He was a 77 year-old retired pharmacist,
and the day before, in the afternoon, he had given his landlord
the amount due for the rent, for his apartment.
In the left pocket of his jacket
he had a note, meticulously written,
with the reasons for his actions: he was –according to himself–
too old to wield a Kalashnikov and to rebel,
as he advised young people to do,
and he refused to rummage through the trash,
in containers and garbage cans,
in search of the nourishment he believed he had a right to
after having worked for so long.
The newscasts give detailed accounts of statistics
of the difficult life of the elderly
and the terrible scourge that befalls on Greece,
with the propagation of the suicide epidemic;
in the meanwhile, countless Athenians surround the tree
in the Syntagma plaza with flowers and candles.
But let us return to the silence that has taken over
while Christulas perceives the strange coldness of the trigger
in his fingertip. That tense, oppressive, silence
charged with omens,
more thunderous than any other noise.
Nobody can escape this silence
because it is nestled in the pit of the stomach,
in the liver, in the lungs, in the most intimate guts.
I assure you that I am not able to pull it out of my own self
when I see the Christulas
who have not shown Christulas’ courage
rummage through the containers and trash cans in my own neighborhood,
alarm in their faces, evasion in their eyes,
in ceremonies that are repeated under the stigma of disgrace.
These new beggars, unlike the old ones,
–seasoned in these tasks, iron survivors–
submerge themselves awkwardly in the trash,
hesitant, inexperienced, on the verge of panic,
as if they were immersed in a nightmare
from which they could one day wake up.
They exist by the hundreds in the city center,
with their shaved cheeks, their neckties
and their dignified worn-out suits –at the beginning.
Later, as the days pass,
the neckties disappear, the beards sprout
and the pants, now creaseless, become dirty and wrinkled.
And the new beggars now compete with the old beggars
in the street’s bleak domain:
“one euro to eat, friend;”
“one euro to eat, brother.”
Some days they say nothing, as they play out
a role that they never imagined.
One old man on my street
–no less than 90 years old–
dressed in an elegant black coat,
with a dignified gesture leaves his hat, also black,
at his feet, for coins,
and starts to play a piece by Mozart on an oboe.
It is always the same one,
the only one in his repertoire,
and he plays it quite badly;
and whenever someone approaches his hat
to drop a coin, he blushes
before saluting militarily.
Another, close to him, sings
–with more ability–
a few opera arias;
another, already demented,
pretends that he’s dancing among the tourists;
another, still, very still,
sitting atop a foldable stool
–like the ones fishermen use–
looks at the people who walk by with terrified eyes.
And it is hard not to feel the obliterating  silence
that surrounds this brotherhood on the asphalt,
the same silence, the same one
that floods the Syntagma plaza
when Dimitris Christulas
brings the gun to his head.
It is also the same silence which winds
the strange words of the man
in front of me –an old man, like all of them,
although they are all old, those type of men.
He is also looking for something in the trash
and then, suddenly, he points with his finger
to a building in front of him:
the Stock Market, neoclassical,
anodyne, under lock and key,
as today is Sunday, and finances
must rest on the Day of the Lord.
He is a hunched man, who looks shy,
and reminds me of my father
–of how my father was in his last years,
quite a bit shorter than during my childhood.
I buy the newspaper in the kiosk
in front of the Stock Market building,
without losing sight of the pointing finger.
Until I see that the finger become a fist
and the man threatens the invisible adversary
that lurks behind me. He bellows:
“the greedy, the greedy!”
He says it vehemently but without shouting,
in a very low voice, almost a murmur,
just like my father, irate, used to do on rare occasions.
“The greedy, the greedy!”
He passes by me and approaches
the glass door of the Stock Market.
A few pedestrians stop and observe him
while he keeps raising his fist against the building
and his reflection becomes bigger in the distortion of the glass.
The planet unexpectedly stops turning.
The midday sun
drives the steps and the gestures into the earth
–the city, the pedestrians, the threatening fist–
and once again the silence
that envelops Christulas’ gesture,
there in the Syntagma, in the heart of Athens, explodes.
“The greedy, the greedy!”
behind the large glass façade
–as if it were the gigantic ball of a magician–
I can contemplate them clearly,
together, in the nervous throng of the buying and selling,
and one by one, the predator ready
for the final assault on his prey.
“The greedy, the greedy!”
In the deforming mirror
we are all greedy or accomplices to the greed,
because, by cowardice or fear,
we renounce to the duty of explaining that man
was the only animal who asked himself
what lay beyond the horizon,
and we yield before what is most cruel and bloody,
the only animal that greedily amasses
much more than what he may need in a lifetime,
and at the expense of destroying the life of others.
We are all avaricious or accomplices of avarice,
because we have allowed an implacable being,
born in the sewers of the worst of passions,
to take control of the entire human condition
and to dictate its brutal laws to the universe.
So that the greedy,
barbarian adorer of the golden idol,
advance bare faced, free of any bonds,
plunderer of beauty, master of the world.
We are, thus, guilty.
Our crime has been to let
the predator that lies within us
expel everything noble and dignified
that we were required to preserve
in order to keep being considered human beings.
We have let ourselves be robbed
even of words, and now our language
is already the language of the market, of benefits,
of the trafficking of souls,
without any place for compassion.
We have offered ourselves in sacrifice
to be the meat of a limitless rapine
and our remainders lie, spread out,
around the altar.
And there is little time left
before freedom is also
snatched from us
by the love of avarice,
which already looks like the only permitted love.
At least that is what this man,
who threatens a building, without ire, believes
–this man who reminds me of my elderly father–
while he intones an accusation to the specters:
“the greedy, the greedy!”
And that is the same thing that
Dimitris Christulas believes, his hand gripping the butt,
when he observes the Sytagma plaza, center of Athens,
located a mere few kilometers
from the ancient heart, the Acropolis,
where exactly 2,454 years ago
Antigone was played for the first time,
And man sang to his noblest being:
“Wonders are many,
and none is more wonderful than man”
proclaims the chorus of the ancients, in the theater.
Dimitris Christulas pulls the trigger.
As he falls, he takes a fragment
of the bluest Greek sky with him.

(6 de abril de 2012)
Rafael Argullol