Born in ’84
by Antony Paschos
I met February-22 on the day of April-14’s execution.
On the silver screen, the fifteen-year-old boy faced six rifles pointed at the skies. He stood in front of a roughcast wall, dressed in white shirt and woolen trousers, like a prisoner of the regime that had collapsed. A presenter was chattering away on a microphone with a green, paper hoop around it. His outline blurred the image of the soldiers standing at ease. The loudspeakers distorted his voice into an enthusiastic shriek.
I looked away from the silver screen. There weren’t any chairs in the high-ceilinged venue, so the regulars just stood around with their hands buried in their pockets. Many of them wore green blazers and trousers; they didn’t have to, but old habits die hard. There were merely two dozen civilians who hadn’t managed to double shift their way into buying a second-hand TV.
The zestful presenter parroted the typical prefab expressions used for soul-copies of the dictator: “a threat to democracy”, “a child of ’84”, “a murderer of thousands of innocents.”
The afternoon light was filtered through a row of windowpanes under the sheet metal roof. They were murky with dirt and one of them was broken; duct tape the color of skin kept part of the glass in place. Its screeching at each gust of wind was heard over the commentator’s loud voice:
“In a few minutes, ladies and gentlemen, democracy will lay another cast-iron keystone. After tonight, there will be only three vicious copies of the dictator left! Let us all praise our dear Mother of Democracy, Rea, thanks to whom…”
Thanks to whom the Great Purge took place: the systematic annihilation of the hundred children who were unlucky enough to have the soul-package of the leader of the Greek Junta, Miltiades Boudouris, uploaded in their brain, back in ’84.
The citizens in the cinema watched in silence. On the yellowish screen, the camera zoomed in on the fifteen-year-old’s face who was staring at the six gun-barrels, terrified.
“I am immortal,” whispered a young man next to me.
I turned toward him, had I heard him correctly? He returned my gaze. He looked in his twenties, at most. Same age as me. On the silver screen April-14 opened his mouth.
“I am immortal!” he screamed.
I stepped back and my boot landed on the neck of an empty bottle, breaking it. The young man was looking at me straight in the eye, and suddenly I felt like my horn-rimmed eyeglasses got in the way; I took them off.
He had shaved whatever fuzz grew on his cheeks. “The next me will come and burn you alive,” he added, as if he was reciting a poem on the anniversary of Rea’s revolution.
“I am immortal, you hear me?” April-14 shouted at the firing squad through the loudspeakers of the cinema. “22 still lives. So does 73 and 98! One of them will come and burn you alive!”
I groped for something to hold on to, I found a woolen coat’s sleeve and grabbed it; the woman grunted and jerked her shoulder without taking her eyes off the screen. Shards from the broken bottle had been wedged in my heel and I kept losing my balance.
How could the young man before me have guessed April’s exact words? Could he be the same age as the one about to die? I had no idea whether every child of ’84 uttered the same words moments before their death. Maybe they did, and the young man had watched another execution from up close, or he might have been a witness to the Great Purge and found it clever to show off his twisted knowledge.
I let go of the stranger’s sleeve. The young man’s steamy breath formed and scattered peacefully. I thought his eyes gleamed like a driver’s signal in the fog. His face was different but his crooked smile was familiar.
He knew the words, not because he had attended another execution.
Rea herself had prepared me for this moment. I was one of her four soul-copies who, luckily, she didn’t punish like Boudouris’ copies. My face had been on every channel and such a meeting was considered possible and dangerous.
“Just these words, girl”, she had told me, “just remember to shout child of ’84, loud and clear, so that everybody hears you. You don’t need the police, just a scream and the people around you will lynch him.”
But the young man had already taken my glasses from my frozen hands, he had already placed them back on my face, he had already caressed the skin behind my left ear down to the nape of my neck, at the very spot that made Rea shudder whenever Miltiades did the exact same thing to her. No, if he was a child of ’84 he had to die, he was a copy of Boudouris, a threat to democracy, a child of ’84, a murderer of thousands of innocents, he was either 22, or 73, or 98, just as April had screamed before, and I had to do what Rea had done.
Kill him. How had Rea found the courage to organize her lover’s assassination? I had Rea’s memories up to the point they uploaded her soul-package to my brain, how come I couldn’t….
He smelled of mint. Boudouris’s favorite gum. The tingle at the back of my neck wouldn’t go away.
“I look older.”
He was a child of ’84 and I, a Daughter of Democracy. And it was as if Rea and Miltiades were meeting again after twenty years, and the only thing I could think of was that his full lips, which I had never seen before, were chapped from the cold.
“Do you know who I am?” I asked.
“I know exactly who you are. I was searching for you, little one.”
No one else called me that. I kissed him first, so passionately that my glasses bumped on his forehead. He didn’t mind, he never did, he loved my glasses, always said they suited me. Out of the cinema’s loudspeakers echoed the shots of the firing squad.
Our union carried along something from the memory of that night in Olympus’ hunting lodge, twenty-five years ago. Rea wearing her glasses and her necklace of pearls, and Boudouris, with his wide, barrel-like belly, on a bed as huge as a court. Outside the glass wall, fat snowflakes decorated the guards’ shoulder pads with medals of white; they kept their heads turned toward the withered blue flags with the golden phoenix, their eyes averted from the dictator and his Secretary of State.
Now, in my apartment in Zografou, I had neither silken sheets nor guards and flags outside, but I had whiskey, which Boudouris used to like, and white wine which I loved, just like Rea. We went to bed without much talking. Though our memories of Boudouris and Rea were haunting us, defining our past, we were living in the present, and thus we didn’t comment on the invasion of European products, which now allowed anyone the luxury of drinking what they liked, besides retsina and tsipouro. There was no room for politics on my narrow bed.
I was naked, wearing a necklace of plastic pearls which had earned a smile out of him, and the glasses Boudouris liked so much from the time that Rea used to wear them. He picked them up and examined them. He looked through the lenses and he must have realized they were fake, that I could see perfectly without them. In case he asked, I had my answer ready; I’d tell him that I was wearing them because, perhaps, I had a hunch that I would meet him. I wasn’t sure if that was the whole truth or rather that the glasses forged some kind of connection with the memory of Boudouris, like those widows who still wear their wedding rings. The question never came. He gave them back to me and sipped from his watered-down Jack Daniels.
His gaze wandered out of the window, on the cracked plaster of the balconies across the street. I lived in a public housing flat, built during Boudouris’ rule, regardless of me being a Daughter of Democracy. Rea might’ve become the Mother of Democracy and the leader of the temporary reformation government, but she had only given me a job as a low-paid officer in the Trade Promotion Bureau. In democratic Greece, development goes hand in hand with justice, Rea had told me—and how could I really argue with someone who was part of myself?
“I want to know everything about you,” I told February.
His answer was a bitter smile. “Haven’t you heard enough horror stories about the children of ’84?”
Of course I had; everyone had. Though most citizens wanted to forget, tales of the dictator’s soul-copies had never ceased surfacing, like a pustule reappearing every now and then. Some found their way to my ears.
Like the mother who offered her nine-year-old son to the soldiers of the Great Purge herself, after the child-fiend had raped his cousin (or aunt, or sister, depending on the narrator). Lies, originating probably from the documentaries about Boudouris which were all orchestrated by Rea’s officers from the Greek State Department, who went overboard in order to depict him as an even worse monster than he actually was. Boudouris had committed the worst crimes, but he would never rape anyone.
“I’ve heard the horror stories, yes,” I replied. “But I want your truth.”
And he told me. He was a child of ’84, yes; a safety measure for the protection of Boudouris’ ego. If he died prematurely, someone else with his personality and memories loaded in his brain would take on. And who knows, maybe at some time in the future, one of my copies might rule the world, he had confided in private to Rea—a memory I recalled while February was speaking.
Just like every child of ’84, following the uploading of the dictator’s soul-package in his brain while he was still in his mother’s womb, his parents had been forbidden to give him a proper name. He was named after the month of his birth and the number of his production line, which was how he was officially registered: 22. Contrary to what the documentaries claimed though, February’s parents had helped him escape when the soldiers had come. They had struggled to have children for years and, despite the fact that Boudouris had hijacked their son’s personality before he was even born, they raised him as their own son. While the personality of Boudouris was slowly rebuilding to his mind, he had a peaceful childhood, enjoying the privileges his parents had been given for raising a soul-copy of the dictator.
I wondered how much truth lay in what was said about the children of ’84. Could the soldiers have entered the houses like Herod’s butchers?
Anyway, February thought of them as his real parents and, after a six-year ordeal, he had returned to Greece a few months ago. He had taken advantage of his looks and had a Turkish forger write in his fake passport that he was born in ’79, since any document mentioning ’84 would provide reasons for a thorough inspection.
He immediately looked for his parents. He found out that they were imprisoned to Makronisos, the long island close to Athens where Boudouris was sending those opponents of his who he couldn’t execute without the foreign media noticing. Rea had utilized it in a similar way, and I didn’t have to tell him that even though the country was in different hands now, prison conditions remained the same. No one came out of Makronisos alive.
I hugged him. Rea and Miltiades hadn’t cried when he had his uncle executed. They hadn’t cried when he had Rea’s father executed. Nor had they cried when they had found out that they couldn’t have children.
We didn’t cry now either.
He squeezed my shoulders. February’s odor was totally different than Miltiades’, which was etched in my brain, except for the mint; but my mind latched onto his breath and now his body did smell familiar.
No, not just familiar. Adorable.
“Why?” I asked. “Why did you come to me?”
“You wanna know why?”
I nodded, slightly afraid from the spark in his eyes and his strange gaze.
He jumped off the bed, startling me. “Come with me, then.”
He started to pick up his clothes from my old carpet. While the muscles in his skinny body were flexing under his skin, a hunch started building up inside me; the same feeling Rea had after the riot of the University students in the Polytechnic Uprising which Boudouris had stifled in blood.
Was this the beginning of the end?
I wrapped my body in the blankets, as if I wanted to draw power from their warmth and the dampness of the sweat he had instilled in them. “Where are we going?”
“You’re a Daughter of Democracy, aren’t you? Shouldn’t you be at the Minister’s rally?”
I told him to use my ID card to book one of the café’s tables overlooking the Syntagma square from the top floor of Elpida hotel. I had been there before, escorting Rea. We could drink beverages that would cost me half of my salary and watch the rally on the screen of a TV, nestled in the coziness of leather couches and a huge hearth.
“No,” he replied. “I want you to see the Minister from up close.”
“Oh, I’ve seen him many times, trust me.” I laughed. We were out, trotting in deserted streets; had everyone gathered to Syntagma Square already? “I work in the Trade Promotion Bureau, remember?”
“Yet you haven’t seen him for what he really is.”
An uneasiness crept up from my guts throughout my body, and I felt the harsh wind grazing my exposed skin. I wrapped my green shawl around my neck tighter.
We could hear the commotion of the rally a few blocks away from the Square. We stumbled upon the first sheds with roasted chestnuts, and the occasional hawkers trying to make a few drachmas more by selling flags of the blazing sun against the green background. Groups of policemen where all over, rifles at hand. I had interrupted a meeting of the Minister with Rea, in which he was trying to convince her to equip the policemen with batons and shields, the way they used to do in Turkey or Europe.
Turned out he had failed.
I had thought that the citizens would flood the Square by the thousands, but it proved quite easy to snake around the thin crowd. Was it the evening cold? The fact that most people worked double shifts? Or perhaps, the Greek voter-wannabies had grown tired of all those rallies, from the Junta’s era?
My job in the Trade Promotion Bureau included work for Rea’s party as well, and I had spent hours to help her organize this rally. Yet I couldn’t feel guilty for the lukewarm reception.
We managed to find a gap behind the barricade tape that was running along the pavement of the avenue where the Minister would arrive, so we stood close to the stage with the podium where he’d deliver his speech.
The plan was to announce that, should Rea decide to do elections, he would consider running for president. And though Rea kept her lips zipped, I knew that this was a prelude for the first elections since Boudouris’ Junta.
A silence spread throughout the crowd; the yawns and the chit-chat ceased and people huddled closer to the pavement. The policemen formed a long line alongside the barricade tape, while the odor of human breath and unwashed bodies diffused in the cold air; yet February’s scent engulfed me as he wrapped me in his arms. Soon the twinkle of polished metal sparkled far in the avenue. A cohort of limos grew in size as they approached; the hum of their huge engines being the only sound. Rea had replaced the Lincolns that Boudouris used to love with BMWs; another, not so subtle, cue of her plans for Greece’s future.
A black 750 model pulled over a few meters ahead of us, right next to the stage. Its back door opened and out came Rea accompanied solely by her group of guards. She had decided to give all of us Daughters of Democracy the day off, so I took a step back, letting a guy who was nudging me for a while to take my place in front of the policemen. If Rea thought of her soul-copies as an artifact of old, I’d rather avoid meeting her eyes.
She climbed to the stage and joined a dozen ministers seated in a row of chairs behind the podium.
“Now, watch carefully,” whispered February.
The Minister of Reformation stepped out of his Mercedes SUV, which had parked behind the 750, and an uproar spread all over the Square. It rose to the sky, muting every sound; it even seemed to stifle the smells too, as the bodies around me were squeezing me so hard I couldn’t breathe. I probably had misjudged the temper of the crowd before.
Christoforos Andreadis brought a leather shoe as shiny as his car on the first stair of the stage and raised a fist in the air, as if the whole Syntagma Square was the room of a small café. The cries of the crowd united into a song with a chorus of his name, and sprays of spit rained on my hair with every rhythmic repetition. He asked for something from one of his guards—huge men in dark suits—and got a wireless mic which he tapped until the sound was broadcasted from the enormous speakers at the back of the stage.
“Please, citizens.” Despite his kind tone, his voice carried a clear ring of authority; and it suddenly dawned on me that this was someone who was used to ordering people for much longer than the three years he had been in charge of the Ministry.
The crowd was tamed into silence.
“That’s who I came here for,” whispered February.
I didn’t have the chance to ask why, and Andreadis didn’t have the chance to go on with his speech.
The guy who had pushed me aside burst out of the crowd, lashing a plastic bottle at him and spraying him with a liquid, red like wine or blood. The silence, already pregnant with elation, gave birth to shock. I can only guess that everyone’s first thought was that the protester was another child of ’84.
But he was older, that much I managed to notice while he screamed, so loud that his words were transmitted from Andreadis’ mic to the enormous speakers and the national TV.
“You murderer! You’re the same as the previous pig! Different face, different clothes, but you fuck the same whore as he did!”
For a second no one moved, except for the Minister’s brutes who were faster than the policemen to grab the protester. But soon it became obvious that it wasn’t Andreadis who was in danger; it was him. Not just because of the policemen who were aiming at him while he was in the clutch of the brutes. I felt a wave of bodies pushing me forward, in an effort to swallow him.
“Citizens, please!” Andreadis’ yell was an order of a seasoned leader. “Leave this man in peace.” The brutes had already frisked him for weapons. With the Minister’s gestures, they stuffed him into his SUV like a bag of clothes.
“Fuck, this is fate talking to us, little one!” February had to scream to my ear to be heard. “The poor guy’s right!”
I had Rea’s soul-package; her memories with Boudouris. I knew of what they used to talk about, of their thoughts and fears. Desperate civilians were seeking refuge to Bulgaria, Skopje, Albania, crossing the northern mountains; some even tried to cross the Ionian Sea to reach Brindisi during his Junta. It mustn’t have been difficult for Rea and him to assume that the regime was running out of time.
I had Rea’s soul-package; her memories with Boudouris. And I knew that I wouldn’t kill him. Not for any crime, not for any regime. Not for democracy.
The protester was right. February was right.
Minister Andreadis was Boudouris. He didn’t look like him but he was.
I didn’t know how. Full conscience transfer in the brain of a full-grown human was a rumor; a breakthrough from the anti-birth method that had made me and February. But he might as well have undergone some kind of advanced plastic surgery. It made no difference; Rea had a country’s budget to spend.
Until that moment of revelation, this thought was but a dream, a fairytale I told myself in bed when I felt blue. If only Boudouris was Minister Andreadis, if only he was alive, no matter that I wouldn’t have him. If only he was by Rea’s side, I would fight for their love.
“Still struggling to accept the truth?”
I was lost in thoughts and had missed the start of the Minister’s speech. “Say you’re right.” The people had been muffled again and I was whispering to him. “Why kill him?”
“Because I know what he’ll do. Come. We’ve seen enough.”
As he towed me away from the suffocating crowd, he told me that during the three years he’d spent abroad he had confronted the mistakes of Boudouris. He realized how badly the dictator had damaged the country and guilt had urged him to commit suicide, as if he had done it himself. That was what he was planning to do, after killing the Minister.
It took us half an hour to escape Syntagma Square, nudging and shoving bodies. The streets a few blocks further away were empty, yet the air carried the Minister’s voice to the sky.
“How can you be so certain he’s Boudouris?” The words sounded hollow even to my own ears; I was already convinced.
He explained that he had investigated his past. The name Andreadis wasn’t registered in any school, university, company or the institutions which he had listed on his public resume.
“Why just the Minister? Why not 73 and 98 too?”
He cleared his throat. “These are just copies. We are just copies, little one.” I didn’t remind him that he was calling me by Rea’s nick. “This guy’s the real thing. We’re talking conscience transfer here. Or some form of plastic surgery, I don’t know.”
When we returned to my house, I turned on the TV. The speech had ended, but Minister Andreadis wouldn’t just leave like that. He invited the protester on stage to tell him that his queries would be answered. They left together with his SUV. Someone might’ve thought that this meant the death of the protester. Yet the next day, I saw him in the Trade Promotion Bureau. He had been hired as my subordinate, and I never met a more fanatic admirer of Andreadis than him.
I kept calling him love and he kept calling me little one. Never February or by my name, never Miltiades, or Rea. I didn’t care if our love was rooted to their past; I was in love.
I never took off the glasses and the necklace of plastic pearls. The latter was a replica of an expensive gift Boudouris had given to Rea. Back then, she wouldn’t wear it in public; she kept it only for their private moments, since its value would provoke bitter comments. Now, I hid it from the world for exactly the opposite reason—and this contrast made me love it as much as Rea loved the original.
No. I loved it more.
For part of the day I pretended I still worked in the Trade Promotion Bureau. I had dumped all my workload on the ex-protester, my subordinate. He glared at me, but didn’t dare talk back to a Daughter of Democracy. Rea herself had asked me how it felt to fall in love again. I played ignorant about both my shenanigans and hers.
Meanwhile, February was planning the attack. I tried to change his mind, but I didn’t try hard. He might have regretted the dictator’s past actions, but his stubbornness matched Boudouris’.
I hadn’t changed much either. The whole world thought that Rea was a cunning politician, the heroine who liberated Greece from Junta. But I knew that deep down, all she ever did was for Boudouris.
February emptied his wallet in a beggar’s cap, sitting by a pedestal that used to host a three-meter tall, bronze statue of Boudouris. Four rusty screws jutting out of the marble as big as fingers, was all that was left of it. The beggar’s worn cap bore the initials of a company which Minister Andreadis had managed to convince into building a new factory in the industrial area of Athens. I had seen the paperwork, the negotiations had been quickly concluded; our workforce was cheap, the civilians eager, and Andreadis desperate for investments that would prevent a new tsunami of immigrants who’d cross the Ionian Sea in inflatable boats to reach Italy.
“Who will buy us salepi now?” I joked and took out the bag of millet we had bought earlier. “Or perhaps we should let the ducks starve?”
He shrugged. I stopped him in the middle of the promenade. He was wearing a thick hat made of fur. He inspected the buttons of my coat. I touched his chin and made him look at me. I smelled mint in his breath and tried to take my eyes off his gorgeous lips, chapped from cold, in case I wasn’t able to keep myself from covering them with mine.
“This beggar looks exactly like Rea’s father,” he said.
I looked over his shoulder. The old man had pulled his flat cap down and his neck was buried in his shirt collar. He could be anyone.
“Did you know that the cinema I met you was once named after Boudouris’ uncle?”
Of course I knew. Most cinemas had been named after generals, politicians of Boudouris’ Junta or his relatives. Until he killed most of them for treason and then renamed them to Entertainment Centers.
“They all remind me of Rea’s father. And Boudouris’ uncle. And all the others I… All the others he sent to the squad.”
I pulled him harder. We walked gloved hand in gloved hand, next to thick bars that penned up tall plane trees and poplars.
“I have terrible things stored in my mind… I realized what Boudouris did during these long fifteen years. His whole life was a mistake.”
He stopped and grabbed my shoulders.
“The day of Rea’s elections is getting closer,” he continued. “The opposition is weak and Minister Andreadis remains the most popular candidate. I can’t let him do the same things he did during his Junta.”
I fastened the last button of his jacket. “Come on.”
We went through the arched gate. Only the scattered buzzing of cars and the wan chirps of birds were heard. Cars and birds, you could count them on the fingers of one hand; Athens looked endless, capable of hosting many couples in love, and, why not, many copies of Boudouris and Rea.
“I think that the only right thing Boudouris ever did was ordering Rea’s copies,” he said.
“And just one wasn’t enough?” I wanted to ask him why he, February, had selected me instead of another Daughter.
“Want me to kill all three of them?”
There it was: one of the cold-blooded statements Boudouris used to make, out of February’s mouth.
Just like Rea in the past, I had no idea if he was joking or not. “I don’t want you to kill anyone. Not the Minister either.”
We sat on a bench in front of the small lake. We watched the ducks splashing away in green waters. The place was empty. It wasn’t the cold. Everyone worked the weekends, double and triple shifts, or two and three jobs. February threw a handful of millet near a duck.
“You don’t have to kill yourself after. You could escape. We could escape.”
He snorted. “And then? What’s next?”
“We’ll have children. Unlike Rea and Boudouris, we can. And we will squander all our money on stupid things!”
I took off the gloves. He did the same. He warmed my palms with his. I sprang up, dragged him to his feet and kissed him. He straightened my glasses after the kiss. In a world where everyone chased after money and power, we strolled around at the park.
We spread the map on the plastic kitchen table and looked for the city that would house our dream. Our fingers landed randomly on countries. Not in France, the rich entrench themselves behind private armies. Nor in the US, the superpower crumbles under the revolutionaries’ promises of coupons. Let’s go to a country where people live only for today. Turkey is too close for us. What about Taiwan?
“I don’t care where,” I said. “I’d go anywhere with you.”
His smile cracked. “Not anywhere. Someplace where there isn’t anyone like Boudouris.”
I paused for a second. Then I finally spurted out the question that clung to my throat ever since I met him in the old cinema.
I saw his Adam’s apple bob. He lowered his stare. “You look more like Rea than the rest of them.”
He looked like he was feeling guilty, but I only chuckled. “That’s good enough for me, baby.”
His cold fingers electrified my skin under my sweater. Before they had time to crawl up, I spoke.
“I have the date you want.”
Election time had come. Rea and Andreadis had decided to announce it on the reception of the anniversary of her revolution. They didn’t want to give the opposition time to prepare themselves, and the Minister’s popularity was skyrocketing.
February pulled back, got up and started pacing around in the kitchen. I tried to calm him down. I failed—there was no time to relax, we had to think through so many details, why didn’t you tell me earlier?
“I only found out today, my love.”
It was true; I knew it would happen eventually, but I didn’t know when.
We spent the whole evening planning. We analyzed the details, considered the consequences, mapped the ways out.
We had to have a way out.
“Don’t worry, my love, I know Elpida hotel very well. All our major events are held there.”
“Swear to me that we will leave that place together. Swear on us.”
The next days, we saw each other less and less. I was very busy and had to stay at the Trade Promotion Bureau until late at night. Along with the other Daughters and our subordinates, we were in charge of the preparation of the reception.
The first thing I did was to check Minister Andreadis’ CV. Not because I didn’t believe February, but because I was hoping he was wrong. I spent an entire day on the phone. I lied, I pushed, I threatened, I promised, I tried to blackmail. In the end I confirmed that Minister Andreadis had never worked for at least two of the companies listed on his CV.
Unfortunately, another Daughter of Democracy was responsible for the party’s membership cards. After two days of waiting, she slipped out of her office for a few minutes, leaving her computer on. I sneaked inside and managed to print a membership card for February.
But I was scared shitless. What if someone recognized him? What if someone had seen us? I had inherited this fear from Rea’s memories in my brain.
The days went by as I worked and February planned. At night, he would let his ideas unfold before me and I would smile.
“Aren’t you going to say something? No disagreements? No objections?”
I was so tired and so scared, that I couldn’t spot any flaws in his planning. I just hoped it would all work out. I didn’t talk, as Rea hadn’t raised objections to any execution. Not even to her father’s.
If I had the nerve to speak, maybe I would tell him to leave Rea and the Minister—
Boudouris, or whoever he was—alone, give everything up and go to a place with no past.
On the day of the reception he walked me out. While I was standing under the door’s casement, he came closer, the smell of mint so intense that I gagged. Pour February, he must have chewed through at least five wads of gum up to that moment.
He straightened my glasses. Then he gave me a little box, wrapped in notebook paper and held together with duct tape.
“Don’t open it. Unless something goes wrong tonight.”
I hugged him. “Nothing is going to go wrong. You swore that we’ll leave together.”
“Then you’ll give it back to me. Unopened. I want you to promise me.”
February was probably chewing the millionth wad of gum, while he was strolling along the endless buffet of Elpida hotel. It was laden with eels, colorful relish, soups, salmon, caviar. He disappeared behind a tower of silver trays. Right next to them were the veal fillets and the appropriate knives, whose sharpness I had checked myself.
He would use one of them.
Trying hard to steady my fingers, I sipped some white wine. Its smooth taste was soothing my nerves, and I managed to smile to the ex-protester, my subordinate, who was bombarding me with nosy questions.
“I might not be accompanied tonight, but that doesn’t mean I’m single. Why don’t you ask another Daughter?”
They were all wearing different versions of horn-rimmed eyeglasses, no matter that only one of them was myopic. A different green detail punctuated their clothing—a stripe on a sleeve, a geometrical shape on a top, a brooch. They were stunning. Boudouris had chosen our parents carefully, and he had told Rea that since it was an experiment, why not make it the most beautiful that’s ever been?
I scanned the room of the hotel that was towering above the Syntagma Square, where February had revealed the truth about Andreadis to me. He was neither by the buffet now, nor among the neatly dressed party members, who were struggling to demonstrate their newly acquired European finesse.
I looked at my cheap, plastic watch. Ten minutes left until the speech and February was nowhere to be seen.
Something was wrong. His plan was based on Boudouris’s habit of visiting the bathroom before every speech. The reason why had become a popular joke after his fall. That’s where February would wait for him, to slice his throat with a veal fillet knife. I had insisted to do the reception in the ground floor, so he could escape to a back yard through a window whose screws I had loosened. Then he would climb up the indoor personnel staircase, go to the room I had paid for under a fake name, jump off the balcony, and leave in a party Audi whose keys I had stolen. We would meet at Sabhika Cochin airport in Istanbul, in a week.
But, what if the Minister didn’t go to take a piss? Or, what if he did visit the bathroom but he wasn’t Boudouris? A lot of people need to take a leak before an important speech. What if we were about to commit a terrible mistake?
So be it. By Boudouris’ side Rea had kept silent before many atrocities. Let that be the last crime I would have to remember until I die–no, I had to chase away these thoughts, they were pointless now. The only thing left was to get through with it and escape.
Escape. That’s all that mattered.
The Minister got up. He looked younger than Rea who sat next to him, clothed in a dark dress. She had ridden herself of the glasses as soon as she had upended Junta, and her straight hair hanged a centimeter above her naked shoulders. Her neckline, which would look barren without the push-up bra, was decorated by a pearl necklace; Boudouris’ original gift.
Despite the age gap, she and the Minister were a matching couple. I saw him straightening his green tie and buttoning up his blazer, and something in the way he moved reminded me of February; of Boudouris. I shivered. Then, he touched the lobe of her left ear and caressed her neck, and I felt the drawstrings of my top prickle the skin of my neck. It was him, I knew it, conscience transfer or surgery, it was Boudouris; and even though Rea wore contacts now I was sure that when they were naked and alone, she still wore her glasses, a sight that made him hard when he looked at her from above.
The Minister headed to the restroom, exactly as February had predicted, and my heart beat at the rhythm of his steps. He disappeared behind the door along with two security guards who tossed suspicious glances around. Was the orchestra playing Bach? I wasn’t sure; the crystal glasses clinked, the crowd buzzed, someone called my name…
“I asked if you’d like to dance with me,” my subordinate said. How many times had he repeated the question?
“Yes… yeah, sure.”
I wiped my sweaty fingers on the tablecloth and offered him my arm.
The shooting came before I got to my feet. Two more punctured the following silence. The music died, leaving behind echoes of rustling, panicked glances. Musicians packed away bows and violins and violas, others ran with wind instruments in hand and their tailcoats flapping. Waiters disappeared behind doors, bodyguards lunged toward the restroom door which swung open and February burst out with a gun barrel stuck on the Minister’s temple, dragging him toward the dais. The two bodyguards that had accompanied him in were nowhere to be seen.
February shot in the air. “Drop your weapons!”
A chandelier’s crystals shattered. Stars showered down over him.
“You’re hurting me!” My subordinate whined, trying to break free from my grip. I let his arm go.
I had no idea what had happened, nor did I know how February had got hold of the gun; maybe he took it from the Minister’s bodyguards. He clambered up the dais and was now yelling at everyone to shut up and turn up the volume to maximum. The high-pitch squeal from the loudspeaker turned into the Minister’s scream: “He’s crazy!”
February shot Andreadis’ foot. A bodyguard answered from the stairway but missed; debris exploded toward February who brought the barrel back on the Minister’s head.
“Next time I’ll kill him!”
The bodyguard left his pistol on the green carpet and hoisted his hands in the air.
“Speak!” February said. “Tell them the truth! Tell them who you are!”
Minister Andreadis mumbled something about democracy and the elections’ announcement, but February screamed: “Shut up! Rea! Come here, now!”
As Rea got up, I felt a pang of jealousy. She walked slowly to the dais and stood across them. Her spine was outlined like a zipper on her taut skin.
February pointed the gun at her and my jealousy turned into guilt. “Speak, you bastard,” he said in the Minister’s ear.
“Who do you think I am, you bas–… you idiot?”
“You are Boudouris,” February said. “I know because I am a child of ‘84 and I know you as well as myself. You go to the bathroom before your every speech because you peed yourself on your first public talk! And you might pretend being someone else, but you can’t fool me; I know what you’ll do, because I know what I’d do if I were you.”
February waved the gun like a flag towards Rea. “Say who you are or I’ll kill her right now.”
“I’m not Boudouris, you fool,” Minister Andreadis replied. “The real Boudouris is dead, Rea killed him.”
“You’re lying! I’ll kill—”
“I’m not lying. I’m December 98!”
I placed my hands on the table to steady myself. He hadn’t transferred his conscience, perhaps he hadn’t even undergone plastic surgery, since he could simply look older. I had believed that Rea would never find the strength to kill Boudouris; I wouldn’t. But what had they been through, while I was growing up in this body?
I saw February’s elbow bending, the gun barrel lowered. The Minister almost lost his balance but he kept him on his feet.
The two of three Daughters, those free of myopia, took off their glasses and left them on the table; I was about to do the same, but something in my gut, sharp like an instinct, prevented me from doing so.
“I lived abroad for a while,” the Minister said. “I realized what Boudouris had done. I regretted everything and came to Rea on my own, to surrender myself. I wanted to see her before I died. I told her who I was, told her to kill me. I don’t know why she didn’t. She gave me a chance…”
I turned to Rea and on her face, I saw the truth. Yes, perhaps in a moment of weakness, due to the pressure by her comrades, due to Boudouris’ atrocities, she might’ve managed to order his assassination and the Great Purge. But when one of Boudouris’ copies came to her, she couldn’t take it. Same as I couldn’t.
The gun barrel pressed against the Minister’s temple. I saw February’s eyebrows furrow. The venue started spinning. I couldn’t help it any longer, I took my glasses off. Everything was clear now. Me and Rea had each fallen for a child of ‘84. But why, my love, instead of all this, since we had everything planned, why wasn’t it enough to slice his throat? Give it all up and let’s leave, let’s go somewhere with no past.
“Let him go, I’m begging you,” Rea yelled. “Let him go and we’ll give it all up and leave.” I saw her lips mouthing, “we’ll go somewhere with no past.”
My beloved’s face, tremulous. Boudouris might have never cried, but tears gleamed on February’s cheeks.
“Kill me, I’m not afraid of you,” the Minister said. “At least I learned from Boudouris’ mistakes and tried to make things right, to help my country. What about you? What did you do?”
February scanned the crowd. I stretched my neck, stood on the tip of my heels. Our eyes bridged. Mine were on fire, but I kept them open. I only wanted to keep looking at him, even though all I could see was his despair.
“Bye, little one,” the Minister said to Rea. February’s lips didn’t move, he wasn’t the one saying goodbye; he still lived. My glass fell off the table; wine splashing my dress, I had pulled the tablecloth by mistake. My spectacles balanced on the edge of the table, about to follow the glass to the ground.
The shot shook me like an earthquake. Christoforos Andreadis’s body collapsed on the floor. Rea’s “no” silenced the venue until its triple echo of the Daughters on my table swept the air.
February brought the gun to his own temple. I would repeat then, “no”, but I swallowed it by instinct, as if blurting out the same word that Rea and the Daughters screamed would be an insult to our love. For a moment, our gazes met. His lips mouthed syllables no one heard. He didn’t have time to pull the trigger. The bullets bloomed like poppies from a documentary in fast-forward, on his chest, on his neck, on his head.
The three Daughters ran to the dais. Upon their panic, they pushed the table and my glasses fell off. “Christoforos,” they cried along with Rea, as if in a ritual. I had to follow them, to do the same, but I couldn’t.
I shut my eyes, took a step back and felt something being shattered under my heel, as I had done when I had first met February.
No, not something. I was certain it was my glasses, as I was certain of February’s last words.
“Goodbye, little one.”
Rea’s party lost the elections and she retired from politics. Soul-copies were old news and the new government didn’t care much about me or the other Daughters. The police investigation was not particularly thorough. I guess that Greece wanted to forget about us.
I left Athens after a week. At Ellinikon airport, I read again the short letter I had found inside the little box February had given me. At the end, there was a name and an address.
I am sorry.
For lying to you and for what I’m about to do.
All copies of Boudouris are dangerous. And I am certain that if I don’t do it this way, Rea will seek after 73 and 98. I’m not afraid about 73, he’ll manage, but I don’t know 98 at all. And if Rea’s sham remains a secret, there will always be the possibility of a copy of Boudouris rising to power. And I can’t let that happen. You’ll probably wonder why we didn’t look for 98 then, but you’ll be wrong. Do you bet your life that Andreadis didn’t order secretly for more copies of him? No, Rea must be exposed.
The name and address belong to November-73. It doesn’t matter how I found out. What matters is that I know him and he has denounced Boudouris’ past, just like me. But, (I don’t know why and isn’t it strange?) he’s not seeking revenge, neither power. He just wants to leave everything behind.
Maybe not everything. I am certain that he’ll be glad to see you, little one.
I put the letter in my bag, went to an optician’s and bought a pair of horn-rimmed eyeglasses with fake lenses. I put them on and through their glass, I looked at the destination printed on my ticket. Tokyo: the city in which November-73 lives. I glanced at the name and the address on the paper. I know he’s not going to be my February. No one is my February—not Minister Andreadis, not even Boudouris himself. But November is the last one; what I’ve got left.
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