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Sunday, 29 December 2013

Τα φάγαμε όλοι μαζί (We ate it all together)

The following story was inspired by the recent tragic death of a 13-year-old Serbian girl from carbon monoxide poisoning, due to the lack of heating and the electricity being disconnected in her home


some time in September...
The old tenant
Borys was now owing three rents, and had promised the landlord that he would pay up as soon as he was paid from his job some time in September. But when the electricity was disconnected, he decided that he had had enough of repaying everyone he owed money to. The situation was getting out of hand now. He had already decided to leave both the house and the job, even though he had not been fully paid by his boss, who still owed him last month's pay. The owner of the petrol station did not seem to be short of customers or cash; he was just like any employer, keeping his worker on a leash, to make him come back the next day to work in the hope that he would eventually be paid. One day, some day, any day. Eventually. Borys never lost hope. And all the while, the new wages were accruing. The new boy who had been on the job since mid-August was the son of the brother of the owner; Borys could guess easily that his own time would be up soon. Blood is thicker than water. He was packing his few belongings in the flat, ready to move, when his cellphone rang. It was his friend, Janusz, whose house he would be staying at. Janusz had a good boss. He was settled in Thessaloniki, and his wife had recently given birth to their second child. Borys knew Janusz from his youth as they both came from the same village in the homeland. If this had not been the case, Borys knew that Janusz would not have helped him. Janusz kept a low profile simply for the reason that if he were more extroverted, the floodgates would open, and Janusz would be inundated with offers for help from all the other Bialobrzegians in the city. 

The new tenant
"Hey, Borys."
"Cześć." Borys wondered if Janusz was having second thoughts. 
"Have you left the apartment yet?"
"No. I'm still here."
"Good... Agnieszka wants to move in."
"Agnieszka?" Another Bialobrzegian. But she has a daughter. What is she going to do living in a house without power? The debts on the electricity alone were already over a thousand euro.
"She's just been evicted. She doesn't care about the electricity. Here, talk to her yourself."
So Borys waited at the apartment until Agnieszka came to the house, with her own meagre belongings packed into two sports bags, and Irena, her fifteen-year-old daughter. She explained that she would continue paying the 150-euro rental whenever the landlord called round. But how should she explain the disconnected electricity to him, Agnieszka asked Borys 
"Oh, you know how landlords are," said Borys. "They prefer one in the hand than two in the bush. And DEH never asks you to pay after they disconnect you - you only pay once you ask to be re-connected."

The taxi driver
Babis had been waiting for a fare at the same taxi stand for just over an hour before the woman and the girl boarded. That was pretty good, he told himself: the usual wait at this busy intersection was nninety-five minutes at this time of the day. He could tell that the females did not take taxis often so he swtiched on the double tariff immediately. This was going to be his last fare for the day before he handed over the cab to his partner, and business had not been good at all. The busy summer season was practically over; he did not want to think about the winter waiting time at the same stand.

Babis often reminsced about the past when everyone took taxis at the drop of a hat. Five years ago, he was being taxed at eleven percent on a flat rate of eleven thousand euro per annum, even though he made a gross income of a hundred thousand euro a year. That was never declared of course. Why should it be declared? No one asked hm to declare what he was earning. They simply taxed on him on what they believed he was likely to be earning, which was all wrong anyway, but what fault of his was it? That was the rule back then, and he had no reason to question it. Now, he was being taxed on the first euro he made, and he found that grossly unfair, especially when there were days when he did not even make enough money on his shift to cover his daily expenses: he needed at least thirty-two euro a day just to cover the operating costs.

He turned into the street requested by his fares. The meter had written up 9.50 euro. "Ten euro in all," he said. If they asked him what the extra 0.50 cents was for, he'd say that he didn't have any change to give them. He didn't offer a receipt - they didn't look as though they would ask for one anyway.

The tenant's daughter
Irena had been enjoying life in Thessaloniki in the last two years that sh ehad moved here with her mother. The best part was the weather: in the summer, it was sunny all day; even in the cold wintry weather, there was still a lot of sunshine. It hadn't been easy for her mother to keep both their heads above water as their standard of living fell lower and lower every day but it beat the monotony of Bialobrzegi, where a gray cloud seemed to cover the sky, like a grey tarpaulin keeping away the sun's rays and dimming the sky all winter. It rained in Thessaloniki but nothing like Bialobrzegi, where the drizzle never seemed to stop. Irena was happy with her schooling in Greece. She had initially been placed in a younger class, but her hard work had persevered and this year she would be placed with her own age group. She liked the freedom of Greek school too: no school uniform, no school fees and no school books to buy - everything was given to them free of charge. She did not feel any poorer than the other children in the school - her high school was located in an impoverished area, most children dressed in a similar cheap fashion to her own, and practically all children were now receiving some food donated by charities. She felt no different from the other pupils in her class.

Despite not having power in the house, Irena and her mother were never without a charged mobile phone. They knew of people who had free electricity by way of illegal re-connection, so they could recharge the battery there, but these houses were a little far from the apartment, so they couldn't make use of the 'service' as often as they wanted. Irena's best friend Mariza always let her charge her cellphone when she visited her. Once a week, she would stay overnight at Mariza's, a treat which she appreciated because of the small perceived luxuries: a plate of piping hot stew, a comfortable bed with freshly washed sheets, and the general family atmosphere of Mariza's household. She always felt welcome at Mariza's. But it was this welcoming feeling that made her aware that she may easily end up outstaying her welcome. So Irena never remained at Mariza's longer than one overnight stay. And only once a week.

The landlord
Andreas was beginning to regret owning so many properties. What was once easy to build and claim, was now a nightmare to maintain. Things had reached their height. The apartment block consisted of eleven flats, and right this minute, five were sitting vacant. More would have been vacant, if Andreas had not been lenient about allowing the tenants to stay in the flats without an electricity supply. He could not afford to pay the debts accrued on the power supply for each absconding tenant, so he rented them out without electricity and told the tenants that if they wanted to reconnect, he would deduct the costs off their rent. The absconding tenants would sneak off at all hours, so he couldn't catch them in the act. And anyway, he was tired of doing this. He was tired of chasing others to avoid being chased himself. It was enough that he knew he was getting some rent rather than nothing. How had things come to this? Only five years ago, the apartments would be rented the moment that the previous tenant emptied them, and people rarely moved houses in those days, staying in one place at least 3 years. He had stopped paying the property taxes after he applied for a court injunction to avoid paying them. Heating fuel was out of the question this year, not for his own apartment, not for any of the other apartments in the block. Without power supply in most of the apartments, the whole block was beginning to resemble a ghost town. At night, it was dark and lightless, a lonely and dangerous sight. At least he still had the power on in his house.

In better days, Andreas picked up ten monthly rentals. On average, three hundred euro from each one, times ten - three thousand euro a month. With his salary from his job at the city council, that made the phenomenal sum of four thousand four hundred euro coming into his hands every month, not including his wife's salary, which he never counted because it never came into his hands - that was spent on her own maintenance: clothes, shoes, bags, hairdresser's, cosmetics, cigarettes and drinks out with friends. Although things had changed, he found it hard to admit this, and so did his wife, although there were times when Andreas thought that she could not even see the changes. Life continued as it always had, in some respects. She was not used to paying any expenses towards the home. This was not her fault, Andreas often said to himself. Sometimes it crossed his mind that it was his fault that he had 'taught' her to be the way she is. Maybe it was his unstressed attitude that made her feel that things were still under control. She was still the same, just like she was when they married - fashionable, well-manicured, smiling. Maybe he was to blame - he kept the financial problems well hidden...

The new tenant's husband
Stanko had lived in Greece for about eighteen months, but decided to return to Warsaw six months ago, where he lived with his married daughter. He felt safer among his own kind. He had followed his wife, together with their younger daughter, to Greece after she told him how much better things were there than in Poland, and he decided to take a chance and see things for himself. But after the initial phase of migration - which did not last much longer than a month  for Stanko - where the novelty of living in a sun-filled world aroused excitement, and the ancient history that he had learned during his communist schooling came alive side-by-side with the awe of Byzantium, he had tired of Thessaloniki. He had spent most of his life in Warsaw. He only moved to his wife's small hometown after the fall of communism because he had lost his communist-appointed post in the capital city, and he had more contacts in Bialobrzegi that could help him keep his family fed than in Warsaw.

In essence, he had friends in both Warsaw and Bialobrzegi, but in Thessaloniki, he had no one. He found the other Bialobrzegians too village-like for his upbringing. At least, in Bialobrzegi, he shared many common social themes among other residents. But in Thessaloniki, the Bialobrzegians seemed to live like urban peasants; none had lived in towns much bigger than Bialobrzegi until they came to Greece, and they had only passed through Warsaw in transit, so to speak. Agnieszka was enthralled by the sunny weather, and Irena was easily influenced by this too. Irena had not spent enough time in Warsaw to fall in love with the capital city of her homeland, so it did not surprise him that she was happy where she was now. Bialobrzegi must have seemed a hole to her compared with the vibrant nature of any large city in the world, but it was impossible to become any more of a burden to her older sister as things stood. Stanko had his reservations about living under the same roof as another family, as he knew he was intruding on their privacy. But his son-in-law was a very good-natured man, and he felt fortunate to know him not just as a relative, but as a friend. He felt safe where he was for the time being, depsite being unemployed and unable to contribute to the family income. But things were difficult everywhere, and he preferred to be where he was now than with his wife, who he felt was chasing an unrealisable dream: in his opinion, nowhere was better, it was all the same. Things were difficult everywhere, but Agnieszka saw things differently. And Irena had to stay with her mother at this stage - there was nowhere else to go for the time being.

The neighbour
Soultana immediately noticed the absence of the shifty-looking immigrant in the neighbouring apartment. She did not like his looks, but she felt safer with him in the house than the two females she now saw coming and going from the apartment. Two female immigrants living alone, practically unemployable. How would they be surviving in a city rampaged with unemployment? Now that winter was coming on, how would they keep warm? It was common knowledge what kind of service unattached females could offer, and this is what Soultana was afraid of. The previous tenant before the man was in exactly that line of business. Often during the nights, Soultana would wake up on the pretext of wanting to go to the bathroom. But this only started when she was widowed, not before. She was afraid living on her own, but there was little else she could do about it. She had no other family member to move closer to, no children, no sisters or brothers. She was alone, and she was familiar with the apartment where she was living now, as she had come to move here with her husband, when he retired. It was her refuge, but lately, Soultana did not feel safe anywhere. When Soultana woke up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, she could hear the front door of the apartment opening and closing, and more than one set of footsteps at the door. She never saw anyone except the female tenant during the day, and rarely in the morning, but she knew there was more than one person going through that door, and only in the wee hours. Heard but not seen.

The only thing that comforted Soultana was that she had seen the older of the two women presently living in the apartment cleaning the windows of a nearby store, and she had also seen her cleaning the staircase and lobby area of the apartment block. Perhaps she was living here in return for doing other jobs to the rich owners of the apartment block, who she did not particualrly like, after the incident where they evicted another family in the block: a decent-looking, ideal family, which had fallen on hard times during the crisis. This was apporximately two years ago, after they fell in arrears for three months. Now look at the likes of the new tenants that were coming in. Maybe it would have been better to keep decent people in the flats and have them maintaining the property rather than throwing them out just because they didn't have the rent. Maybe this woman was different to the other solo female immigrant tenants that had passed before through this house. The younger girl, with her pale complexion, looked so fragile. But still... Soultana continued to suspect. Guilty until proven innocent. They are all the same, she thought.

The high school teacher
Mariana felt exhausted thinking about the start of the new school year. She knew it was going to start with strikes, she knew this was unfair to the students and the parents, and quite frankly, she did not want to strike. She was tired of striking because it never had a single positive consequence for the last three years. No one got a raise anywhere in the public service, nor were their jobs secure, so why would anyone expect teachers to be immune from these ills? She knew what awaited her: first, the union would call an indefinite strike; then the teachers would all strike on the first two or three days; then most would go back to work after the third day of the strike; then most would say they couldn't afford to strike, and the strike would fizzle out. So what was the point of it all?

She looked through her register of the students in her group. Some Greek names, some foreign ones. Not many surprises: the class group (second year of junior high school, Form B3) remained relatively unchanged since last year, her colleague (the previous form teacher) told her: Νικόλας Αθανασίου, Θεοδώρα Γερασιμίδου, Κωνσταντίνος Γρίβας, Irena Szczyz, at which point she stopped to contemplate the name. The high consonants-to-vowels ratio told her that the name was probably Polish. She wondered what a Polish girl was still doing in a crisis-ridden Greece. Trying to pronounce the Polish name made her feel even more tired. She closed the folder and tossed it onto the pile of paper debris in the middle of the communal teacher's desk in the staff room. She would not need to worry about how to pronounce the girl's name for at least a week, if not longer. She picked up her bag and left the school, bidding goodbye to the headmaster, who was the only member of the teaching staff in the school at the time. Mariana was usually the first one to come in and the first to leave after the headmaster. Even during the strikes, she maintained this routine.

The events organiser 
Things were not going well with Eleni's business. It was the tail end of summer and she partly expected this. She had made good money in fact during the summer, with weddings, christenings, and garden functions for all sorts of business-related events, but there was very little money left over to tide her through now that she was not making good money. The real problem she presentely faced was the bills that kept piling up: the rent was due, at the same time as the electricity, the internet-landline connection, social security payments, her regular cellphone bill, and the water bill. She had left the last two electricity bills unpaid during the summer, in the same way that many people did: the estimate comes two months after the last reading of the meter, but you don't pay until the next meter reading period, which gives you four months to save the money for the final bill, which had now come to the phenomenal amount of five hundred and thirty euro! All that, just for the use of a fridge, a computer/scanner/photocopier, an electric cutter, a blow-dryer (essential for drying glue/paint/polish quickly when she was pressed for time), a phone charger and an air-conditioner in her office. Her mother had warned her against letting the bills pile up and reprimanded her in the first few months of opening up the business when she had asked to borrow some money to tide her through. She had always intended to pay it back, but this didn't eventuate. Summer proved a busy period for the business, and she needed to take a short break away from work, away from home, away from Thessaloniki - a 'mental holiday break', she called it. She went to Crete for a week at the beginning of September with a friend ('it's cheaper to travel in September, Mum', 'no I'm not spending everything I make', 'you know how hard I work'). Only ten days back, and she was now feeling overwhelmed.

While she was thinking of the mess she was in, the cleaning lady arrived. She had an agreement with Agnieszka that Eleni would give her a one-and-a-half-litre PET bottle of olive oil every fortnight in lieu of payment. Agnieszka had pleaded with Eleni to take her on, even if it was only two afternoons a week. Eleni really couldn't afford a cleaning lady, and had initially turned her down, but then reconsidered the offer because it occurred to her that she couldn't afford the time to clean up all the bits of paper and string and cuttings that fell to the floor, or wipe away the paint and glue drippings, and the dust that the detritus of the unhealthy urban environment created. She needed her frappe time, she'd tell her mother, to join her friends at a cafe or bar somewhere in the town. 'And anyway,' she told he mother who raised her eyebrows when by chance she once saw Agnieszka working in the shop, 'Agnieszka said she doesn't mind being paid in arrears.' What she did not tell her mother was that she was siphoning their harvest of olive oil from the barrel that they had filled in the last fruit-bearing year from the trees in their fields. It would hardly be missed, Eleni hoped.

She wouldn't have had to resort to doing this, if she had been paid for the two reception functions that she had organised six months ago for the Aristotelian University. State enterprises always paid in arrears, only after the funds come through on their side, and they paud their creditors even later. She kept all this at the back of her mind, knowing that these jobs (which came her way via word of mouth, a close contact) always paid out in the end, and no one lost their money. But it took a long time, and even guaranteed work was no longer guaranteed. So she continued to worry, but put on a brave face. It'll be alright in the end, she kept telling herself, even though it may not necessarily be. 

The immigration officer
Timoleon came into the office at approximately ten in the morning, two hours after he had clocked in. Between eight and ten, he was at the ground-floor cafe of the police headquarters drinking his subsidised frappe with other colleagues from different departments. He turned on his computer and and then went from one office to the other, chatting with other colleagues. There was a large pile of folders on the left side of his desk. The pile continued onto the floor, with another large pile of folders stacked haphazardly by the side of his desk on the ground, with some folders snaking their way to the wall behind him, which formed the end of the pile; any new folders would be placed behind the last one at that end. On an average day, he would view five to six folders, not much more. A stamp here, a signature there, a quick check of the visa expiry date, and placement of the folders on the 'expired visa date' pile, which were to be picked up by the next agent, who worked at a similar pace to Timoleon.

Timoleon had long given up getting through the pile. This did not have anything to do with the recent government edicts stating that employees would be made redundant, or that they would be mobilised to other deparments where they were more needed, or that their pay would be cut. Timoleon, who held a civilian's position at the police station, had given up working through the pile because he knew that no matter how fast he worked, the pile of 'expired visa date' folders would keep on growing. No one had picked up any of the folders since June, ever since ERT was closed down overnight. Work-to-rule was in force, and even if Timoleon wanted to break it, he knew he would simply be spoiling it for the majority. He learnt that in the very first week of being on the job, twnety-five years ago, when he did in fact get through a pile of folders in what seemed like record time according to his then colleagues: "Don't work so fast, Timoleon! What are going to do in the office with the rest of the time when you have nothing to do?"

Timoleon picked up the first file on the top of the pile on his desk. Upon opening it, his first job was always to look at the photos in the file. This one belonged to a woman. Dark hair, pale face; typical Eastern European looks. Her name was given in Latin letters: Agnieszka Szczyz. With so many consonants, it was impossible to know how it would be transliterated into Greek, let alone pronounced. He browsed through her history, learning nothing special about it in particular. Her visa had expired many months ago, as had so many that he had been looking through in the past month. An address was included in her paperwork; not that Timoleon was inclined to pursue it - he knew that the woman had probably changed address at least twice so far. When he had finished looking through the file, he placed all the papers back in it, being careful not to lose any (he always counted the documents he took out of each folder, and wrote the number in a corner of his diary planner on today's date). Then he got up out of his chair, and walked to the other side of the room, placing Agnieszka Szczyz's file at the end of the 'expired visa date' pile, which had reached the far corner of the wall already, and would soon continue to the other wall adjoining it. Timoleon found the whole situation banal. 2013, and they were still dealing with paper! If only someone would flick their cigarette onto the files: the only way to start something afresh is to destroy its remains. It reminded Timoleon of what his daughter once told him, which she had learned from her English teacher at the frontistirio: 'that's how London got rid of the plague". 

The public power corporation worker
Domna was always described as a very conscientious office worker. She was responsible for checking the unpaid accounts, and sending the technicians to disconnect the electricity of the non-payers, and worked strictly according to the rules. But she also used her very human side in her work; whatever overdue accounts were brought to her attention, she would always consider them from every aspect: was the non-payer a regular non-payer? did they have special circumstances? was the overdue bill for a very low amount? She was praised for her attention to detail on such matters. This is why no one suspected her of overlooking anyone's overdue accounts, or letting them off and keeping them connected when they should have in fact been disconnected. No one would ever have suspected that she had purposely overlooked her brother Andreas' home meter. The tenants' meters were being disconnected one by one for non-payment, but even though Andreas had not been paying his own electricity bills for the last eight months, he still had power being supplied to his house. 

30th November 2013, 7pm
The cold in the apartment was now unbearable. The warmest place in it was the kitchen, and only when the gas cooker was working. The gas bottle had emptied on Friday night, just as Agnieszka was frying eggs in some olive oil that she had been given by Eleni a month ago. Eleni's work had now slowed down in the winter, and she had told Agnieszka  not to come again to clean the office until she called her, which she promised her she would do a couple of weeks before Christmas when work would pick up again for the seasonal celebrations. Agnieszka  could see the brightness of the flame dimming on the cooker. She had only managed to cook one egg right through. As soon as she cracked the second egg into the pan, the flame went out. She hoped that the egg would cook at least lightly from the heat of the pan, just enough to make it palatable, but no such luck. The egg white was still translucent. 

She left the cooked egg on a plate on the table for Irena, along with a slice of bread, and set to work making hers more edible by adding some bread torn into small chunks. The egg remained uncooked, but at least it didn't feel like gloop, now that she had something to chew on.

"Where's your plate, Mama?" Irena asked her mother.

"I'm not hungry right now, sloneczko," Agnieszka replied. "I'll have it a little later." Irena knew that there was enough food to last them the next few days, so she believed her mother. Poverty did not always entail hunger. She sat down in a corner of the living room with the most light and ate her dinner in silence. She was looking forward to the week that was coming, goong to school, being among her friends, and especially for Friday night, when she would again sleep over at Mariza's.

Agnieszka went outside onto the balcony, where there was a small barbecue with some coals in it. She occassionally cooked on it in the summer, even setting a pot over the burning coals. She tore some supermarket brochures and set them underneath the coals. She was going to cook her remaining egg over the coals. Before she lit them, she had an idea: why not bring the barbecue indoors, to create some warmth and light at the same time?

1st December 2013, 8am
Irena was still sleeping when Agnieszka woke up on Sunday morning. The embers of the barbecue had not lasted all evening, but the room did not feel so cold as it did on other nights. Seeing it was Sunday and she could not refill the gas bottle, Agnieszka would cook a meal on it again, like she did the previous day. She did not remove the barbecue from the room. It had done its job the previous evening, and would serve many purposes today too.

1st December 2013, 8.30pm
Andreas had already suspected that Borys had left the apartment to someone else, obviously the woman who was handing him the rent whenever he knocked on the door. He did not even know her name! But she had not opened the door in the last two weeks, when the rent was due. He decided to tackle the issue this evening, not knowing what would come out of it. He needed to pay his son's rent in Volos, where he was studying archaeology, and had been short of cash for a while now; his own bills may have gone unpaid, but he did not want to have to deal with the eviction of his own helpelss child.

He had noticed for days now that the apartment, from street level, was never lit. He knocked on the door, but no one asnwered. He knocked again, harder. He heard the door of the next-door apartment opening and closing pretty much immediately; Soultana must have been wondering what was going on, but didn't want to get involved. He knocked again, this time sounding out a warning: "Open up, otherwise I'll knock the door down!"

Agnieszka opened the door timidly. It was pitch dark inside. Only the lobby area was lit; using this light, Andreas peered into the dark room, and found it satisfactory. Nothing looked seriously amiss: just a normal looking home, with no lights on. Agnieszka was frightened; she knew why Andreas was knocking on the door.

"Look," he started, "you shouldn't even be here, you know that, in a house where you can't even cook or heat yourself. Now, there isn't much I can do about keeping you here, if you don't pay me what you owe."

"Oh, please, Kirie...," her voice trailed off, as she did not know his name, "please sit down," she pleaded with him, offering him a chair in the hallway. She was feeling dizzy. Initially, she did not hear the knocking on the door, only when it got louder. She closed the door behind her; she did not care for the darkness in the house, which was barely lit by an gas lamp; the greatest shame was being heard by the neighbours. "I am so sorry... I have been so busy," she said, trying to remember all the excuses that she had piled up in her brain for this day when it came, but her headache was too strong. She explained that she had the rent money, and would go to get it from the bedroom. She had simply put off paying it, as if it could be something that would eventually be forgotten, although she knew very well that there was little chance of that happening. Andreas felt relieved, although he tried not to show it; the hard stance he took as a landlord worked as a cover for his fear of being declared bankrupt. As Agnieszka disappeared into the darkness, Andreas looked around the flat. He was curious to see how people forced into living in darkness actually lived.

1st December 2013, 9pm
When Agnieszka came round, she could still feel the dizziness that had caused her to black out. She tried to get back onto her feet, but kept tripping over. She tried to work out where she was: she could see the bathroom door in front of her. But the last thing she could remember was going to the bedroom, not the bathroom, before she fainted. She staggered away from the bathroom door, making her way to the kitchen on her knees. She had only the light that shone through the windows in the living room which did not have shutters. The room therefore received some glow from the street lights, which is why she always drew back the curtains at night. 

And there on the floor she found Irena, crumpled from a fall, as if she had been knocked down and never regained consciousness. Agnieszka was shocked into alertness when she saw the lifeless body of her child in front of the sofa, which she had almost tripped over. She began to shake Irena, becoming more violent the longer Irena lay still. Agnieszka began calling out her daughter's name, her wails becoming louder and louder, but in vain. Physically, Irena was present, but her spirit seemed to have left her exhausted body. And then a miracle happened: Irena's lips twitched. She was alive! Thank God! Agnieszka had saved her at the very last minute. She ran to open the windows of the house to let in some air. And that was when she saw Andreas' body slumped behind the sofa where she had moved the barbecue so that it remained out of sight. 

1st December 2013, 11.00pm
The police officer
As soon as Manthos saw the barbecue in the room, he understood what had happened. It didn't need much thinking. The two women were lucky to be alive. The older one had regained consciousness before the other two victims, due to her being further away from the direct source of the carbon monoxide fumes. The younger one must have had a strong set of lungs. But the older man who did not survive was found right below the barbecue. When his identity was acertained and his wife was located, she tearfully informed them that Andreas had been suffering from panic attacks for a long time now. She could not tell the police officer what her husband was doing in the unlit apartment, as she was not at home when Andreas had gone there. (She had been to the home of her hairdresser who set her hair once a week. She had stopped going to her regular hair salon due to the costs; it was cheaper to get the job done in a private home.) Perhaps the older woman was a prostitute. Manthos had seen much pass before his eyes in the last three years. Women were prepared to do it anywhere, even with children around. And men were no longer able to communicate with their wives; in their search for a way out of the crisis, they would find solace in strangers. Their pretty wives no longer interested them.

Manthos looked around the house. It was not just its non-electrified state that would have told anyone of the misery that the two occupants were going through. The barbecue inside the room, the heavy blankets covering the sofas, the empty gas canisters on the balcony, together with the items of food that were left out on the balcony to keep them from spoiling as the women were surviving without refrigeration - it all reeked of poverty.

Manthos had seen many homeless people around the city, sleeping anywhere they could find some peace and quiet, setting up semi-permanent makeshift quarters in the less noisy areas, which were often the most troubled places. Most of the homeless did not want to be moved to a homeless shelter. They had lost all their dignity in being homeless; by living on the street, they could maintain their independence. Many were the times when Manthos and his colleagues would turn a blind eye to them, as if to respect their wishes. As he looked around the cold dark room, he could now see how the streets could be better than this apartment. It was a trap, a prison. Waking up every day to this stone cold atmosphere must have felt worse than the warmth of sleep. The state of sleep felt more desirable than awakedness.  

2nd December 2013
The government
"We send our condolences to the family of the victim who tragically lost his life in his own home. Our thoughts at this moment are with his family. We will do everything within our power to help them. The costs of the funeral will be met by the municipality, to ensure that the victim receives a dignified farewell to his final resting place."

The opposition
"Another death has been added to the growing list of tragedies directly related to the severe consequences of the politics of the memorandum, and the grim reality that thousands of Greek families are facing. The right to adequate heating and cheap power are a human right that may not be compromised. Society demands that we do not grieve any more victims. The memorandum must be overthrown."
~.~.~
Τα φάγαμε όλοι μαζί (We ate it all together) is the infamous phrase that Theodore Pangalos, a former left politician, used in the Greek Parliament in 2010, a year after the economic crisis broke out, as a way to explain to people what happened to Greece's financial resources: 
"The answer to the outcry that exists against the politicians of the country when they are asked 'Where did the money go?' is this: 'We appointed you. We ate it all together. Within the context of a customer-relationship policy, corruption, redemption and humiliation that the concept of politics itself denotes." (Theodoros Pangalos, House, 21.09.2010)
Pangalos also wrote an e-book with the same title, which defines the concept of shared responsibility and complicity of citizens as the "party" took place, the amounts, when, how and who 'ate' it, and how responsibility is distributed from top to bottom. Even if we believe that we didn't eat it all together, in some way, we did, actually. Not only that, but some of us are still eating. 
~.~.~
It's been a difficult four years for Greek people, as we all re-assess our existence in this country. Things have changed too quickly for most people to take in the changes. I think that next year will indeed be a better one. It won't be too different from this one, but it will be better because most of us will have learnt to live with the problems plaguing our country, and most of us are in fact working towards an improved version of Greece. Not all, unfortunately, but at least the latter are back in the majority.

Greeks' misery at this very moment is grounded in the harshness of winter. Once the weather gets better - about three months away - people's mood will change. They will be instantly uplifted by the coming spring weather. This needs patience, which in many people is wearing thin these days. But that's all most of us have left. We're all in the same boat and it's not rocking so hard these days, but it's been drifting off course for a while now.

Happy New Year, everyone.

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