The Passion of Evangelina | fiction

15 October, 2021
Anti-aus­ter­i­ty demon­stra­tors are sur­round­ed by the police in Athen’s Syn­tag­ma Square.

Anthoney Dimos

Before mid­night, on Novem­ber 17, police offi­cer Pav­los Pet­ros found Evan­geli­na Christodoula­ki, a col­lege stu­dent, from the vil­lage of Kateri­ni in Sfakia on the island of Crete, hang­ing by a belt from a light fix­ture on the ceil­ing of the sound­proof deten­tion cen­ter. It was his first day on the job work­ing the night­shift at the Athens police head­quar­ters, as he shout­ed to his col­leagues in the sta­tion to help him. Pav­los tried to lift Evangelina’s life­less body to alle­vi­ate the strain on her neck, though, it was too late — her body already had become cold.

She had threat­ened dur­ing her time in police cus­tody that she was going to kill her­self. The offi­cers just laughed, dis­miss­ing her as crazy after four of them had vio­lat­ed her womb repeat­ed­ly in ret­ri­bu­tion for her strik­ing one of their col­leagues fatal­ly with a stone ear­li­er in the day dur­ing a demon­stra­tion com­mem­o­rat­ing a day of dark­ness in mod­ern Greek history.

When Pavlos’s supe­ri­or, Ares Dimo­medes, arrived upon the scene he couldn’t believe the sight before him. He saw the very belt he had tak­en off and giv­en to Evan­geli­na in jest, a cou­ple of hours ear­li­er, dar­ing her to use it in the man­ner she so des­per­ate­ly sought. He nev­er imag­ined she would have had the temer­i­ty to car­ry out the act, entire­ly under­es­ti­mat­ing the lega­cy of con­vic­tion in her blood.

Ear­li­er that morn­ing, Her­mes was annoyed when his phone vibrat­ed with the receipt of a text mes­sage. He knew it was his lover Raf­fael­la, who had been mes­sag­ing him relent­less­ly, while he was at the Bena­ki Muse­um of Islam­ic Art. He had been try­ing to focus on sketch­ing antiq­ui­ties, fea­tur­ing Afghan cal­lig­ra­phy, though she remained obsti­nate in him com­ing to her man­sion in Kolon­a­ki for a late morn­ing tryst. “Where are you? Why are you ignor­ing me?” read the lat­est mes­sage from Raffaella.

“Not ignor­ing — just try­ing to work,” wrote Her­mes, plac­ing his phone on top of a copy of Road to Oxi­ana by Robert Byron that he was car­ry­ing with him.

“Liar! You don’t love me!” she wrote, to which Her­mes rolled his eyes and returned his atten­tion to a piece of 15th-cen­tu­ry ceram­ic pot­tery from Herat.

Her­mes and Raf­fael­la had met one evening in late Sep­tem­ber at an out­door cin­e­ma in Vou­liag­meni, dur­ing a screen­ing of The Two Faces of Jan­u­ary, direct­ed by Hos­sein Ami­ni, adapt­ed from the nov­el by Patri­cia High­smith. Her­mes had just arrived in Greece to pur­sue his ambi­tion as a painter, after being exiled by his father Alcib­i­ades for seduc­ing his mis­tress. Raf­fael­la was the heir to a large for­tune amassed by her father Joseph Awad, an arms deal­er and Lebanese Chris­t­ian, who had prof­it­ed hand­some­ly from the tumult across the Mediter­ranean Sea in Syria.

That evening at the cin­e­ma Her­mes saw Raf­fael­la sit­ting with her father Joseph and pro­ceed­ed to take the seat next to her just as the film began. After inten­tion­al­ly ignor­ing her dur­ing the first half of the movie, Her­mes, hav­ing cul­ti­vat­ed an erot­ic ten­sion between them, slipped Raf­fael­la a note say­ing that she remind­ed him of the char­ac­ter “Jus­tine” from the Alexan­dri­an Quar­tet by Lawrence Dur­rell. Just as the char­ac­ters in the fea­ture found them­selves at odds in the Knos­sos in Crete, she returned the note, when her father wasn’t look­ing, with her phone num­ber writ­ten next to the word “Jus­tine”.

After fin­ish­ing his sketch­es at the muse­um, Her­mes texted Raf­fael­la telling her he was on his way. “Take a taxi, so you’ll get here faster,” she wrote, as she read The Sto­ry of a New Name by Ele­na Fer­rante that her moth­er had gift­ed to her for her birth­day. Her­mes dis­missed the idea, pre­fer­ring to walk through the ancient labyrinths of the city, where­by he could think as well as absorb the cul­ture and his­to­ry of mil­len­nia. In Pla­ka, he passed by the Ottoman-influ­enced Venize­los man­sion, which made him con­sid­er tak­ing Raf­fael­la to Istan­bul for a roman­tic get­away on the Bosphorus.

Upon reach­ing Syn­tag­ma Square, the mood of the city changed. An over­cast gray had engulfed the sun, as police, dressed in black anti-riot gear, lined the side­walks while young stu­dents and oth­er demon­stra­tors assem­bled to com­mem­o­rate the stu­dent upris­ing at the Poly­tech­nic Uni­ver­si­ty against the Jun­ta that had tak­en place in 1973. Raf­fael­la sent anoth­er text mes­sage, ask­ing where he was, which Her­mes ignored, fol­low­ing his curios­i­ty to remain and observe the moment.

A sim­mer­ing ten­sion between the offi­cers and the pro­test­ers per­vad­ed the atmos­phere. Some of the stu­dents con­scious­ly mocked the fig­ures shout­ing in their faces, tempt­ing chance, though none of the ser­vice mem­bers were even born dur­ing the 1970s much less the stu­dents. Each of the offi­cers stood firm­ly entrenched like pil­lars of gran­ite. Their fin­gers mas­saged the trig­gers of their weapons seem­ing­ly ready to unleash at the first trans­gres­sive provocation.

As he walked, Her­mes made eye con­tact with both the author­i­ty fig­ures and demon­stra­tors. A look search­ing for some­one to blame per­me­at­ed the eyes of those march­ing, while fear and resent­ment appeared on the faces of the offi­cers. Not only were the demon­stra­tors protest­ing because of past pain, but because of their cur­rent plight as well. With the finan­cial cri­sis, they found their liveli­hood and aspi­ra­tions thwart­ed. Many of the young peo­ple at the demon­stra­tion resent­ed the lack of eco­nom­ic oppor­tu­ni­ty. The high­er edu­ca­tion sys­tem ele­vat­ed them to dream in a grand fash­ion, but the real­i­ty of the impov­er­ished con­di­tions in Greece com­pelled them to work for mea­ger to no com­pen­sa­tion, with lit­tle prospect for advance­ment, or pushed them to leave the country.

Those who chose to stay endured a Kafkaesque exis­tence, where­by they duti­ful­ly worked full-time jobs, with­out receiv­ing a salary or stag­gered pay at a sig­nif­i­cant reduc­tion. Chill­ing sto­ries emerged of impov­er­ished teach­ers inter­rupt­ing class to go out and buy milk for their mal­nour­ished pupils, who had passed out dur­ing lessons, as well as instances of young girls sell­ing them­selves for the price of a sandwich. 

Among oth­ers, trained doc­tors and engi­neers were forced to flee for bet­ter prospects in Ger­many. For those who left, the long­ing and dis­place­ment they felt erod­ed the mate­r­i­al ben­e­fit expe­ri­enced in their new exis­tence abroad, while those who chose to remain in Greece were com­pelled to com­pro­mise their dig­ni­ty and ideals in a shat­ter­ing man­ner for the prospect of mere sur­vival. As such, the con­tem­po­rary land­scape of the coun­try became a suf­fo­cat­ing leviathan that impris­oned peo­ple psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly and emo­tion­al­ly in an endem­ic state of des­per­a­tion and dis­il­lu­sion­ment that mor­phed per­ni­cious­ly into mis­ery and scorn.

 


 

Evan­geli­na joined the demon­stra­tion at Syn­tag­ma Square after leav­ing her apart­ment in Exarcheia. She was in her final year of stud­ies in ancient lit­er­a­ture, writ­ing a the­sis on the ren­der­ings of Sikan­der or Alexan­der the Great in the Shah­nameh by Fer­dowsi, work­ing from her own trans­la­tion from the clas­si­cal Per­sian into Greek. Her inter­est in ancient cul­tures and schol­ar­ship began when her uncle Michalis, a priest in the Greek Ortho­dox church, took her to see a col­lec­tion of Egypt­ian-influ­enced Minoan fres­coes in San­tori­ni and Her­ak­lion. Intel­lec­tu­al curios­i­ty aside, Evan­geli­na came from a long line of resis­tance fight­ers and sur­vivors of blood feuds in Crete. An ances­tor of hers had been skinned alive by the Ottoman viceroy on the island for attempt­ing an assas­si­na­tion. Anoth­er of her fore­fa­thers had coor­di­nat­ed the ambush­ing of a neigh­bor­ing vil­lage in Sfakia, which had been schem­ing to launch a cam­paign that would expunge the Vene­tians from Crete, because he didn’t want the vil­lage to receive cred­it for the feat. Anoth­er fought along­side the swash­buck­ling British trav­el writer Patrick Leigh Fer­mor against the Nazi occu­pa­tion of her homeland.

Evan­geli­na recent­ly had received admis­sion to a grad­u­ate pro­gram in ancient stud­ies at Cam­bridge in Eng­land, though the like­li­hood of her being able to attend grew increas­ing­ly remote. The night before Novem­ber 17, she had spo­ken with her father Mano­lis, who had informed her that he was going to be arrest­ed and impris­oned for unpaid tax­es and debts. He told her he was plan­ning to go into hid­ing indef­i­nite­ly in the moun­tains of Sfakia, as he had in the past after using a Cre­tan dag­ger to slit the throat of a man from a neigh­bor­ing vil­lage in his sleep for steal­ing sheep, while the dead man’s fam­i­ly sought vengeance.

As a result of her father’s skul­dug­gery, Evan­geli­na would have to aban­don her stud­ies and return to Kateri­ni to help her moth­er take care of her two younger broth­ers. “I don’t want to come back to Crete!” said Evan­geli­na to her father. “I want to go to Eng­land to study.”

“It’s out of the ques­tion!” said Mano­lis. “There’s no mon­ey. How many times do I have to tell you?”

“I can find a way with schol­ar­ships, jobs…”

“Stop being so self­ish. Your fam­i­ly needs you. This is all your fault!”

“No, Baba, it’s yours!” said Evan­geli­na, seething bitterly.

The fam­i­ly tav­er­na, which Manolis’s father had estab­lished with sig­nif­i­cant suc­cess, had expe­ri­enced a pre­cip­i­tous decline with the finan­cial cri­sis and the poor man­age­ment of Evangelina’s father. He had cut his expens­es to the bone, even mov­ing in with his wife’s elder­ly par­ents. But even that sit­u­a­tion was becom­ing pre­car­i­ous, as his father-in-law’s pen­sion had been slashed by half under the imposed aus­ter­i­ty measures.

 Hav­ing heard of female doc­tors and stu­dents in Greece turn­ing to pros­ti­tu­tion to make ends meet, Evan­geli­na her­self had been moon­light­ing as an ama­teur fille de joie to earn extra resources to help sus­tain her­self and her fam­i­ly. The endeav­or, though, was not as easy as she had imag­ined, for many of the men she engaged with con­veyed an antipa­thy for her and the trans­ac­tion­al dynam­ic between them. In fact, one John had elect­ed to pay her recent­ly with a black eye, rather than euros, which had only cleared up a cou­ple of days ear­li­er. She had been replay­ing the moment in her mind inces­sant­ly over the last cou­ple of weeks — the man call­ing her a “stu­pid poutana­ki” with dis­gust before strik­ing her with a closed fist, spit­ting on her, and steal­ing all of the mon­ey from her purse, leav­ing her half-naked and uncon­scious on a dark side street under the Parthenon after midnight. 

 


 

As Evan­geli­na and a cou­ple of her girl­friends walked with the oth­er demon­stra­tors, she tripped on the cracked pave­ment, where­by Her­mes caught her and helped her to regain her bal­ance. Once she was sta­ble, they smiled at each oth­er with a scent of attrac­tion — she remind­ed him of a hid­den icon of Maria he had seen from a monastery near Dam­as­cus. Her­mes let her go and returned to watch­ing the protest. 

Evan­geli­na, though, reached down to pick-up a piece of rock pave­ment from the crack. “What are you doing?” said Par­it­sa, one of Evangelina’s friends.

“Get­ting pro­tec­tion just in case,” said Evangelina.

“Pro­tec­tion from what?”

“From those pigs,” she said, point­ing at the officers.

Mean­while, Her­mes found him­self in the mid­dle of the street try­ing to nav­i­gate his way through the crowd to reach the oth­er side, when he felt his phone vibrate with the receipt of a text mes­sage. He stopped to check it and it was Raf­fael­la again. “This is all yours, when you get here,” read the cap­tion of a self­ie she had tak­en wear­ing a piece of black lin­gerie Her­mes had pur­chased for her. He grinned sly­ly to him­self, and decid­ed to aban­don the demonstration.

Yet, as he turned over his left shoul­der to view the approach­ing demon­stra­tors, he caught a glimpse of Evan­geli­na cock her arm back and then release the jagged piece of con­crete in the direc­tion of Fae­dra Diomedes, an offi­cer who momen­tar­i­ly had lift­ed her pro­tec­tive face shield to com­mu­ni­cate more clear­ly with her supe­ri­or offi­cer and old­er broth­er Ares. It was her first time man­ag­ing a demon­stra­tion, and she was feel­ing anx­ious as the ten­sion grew. Her broth­er had not want­ed her in the field that day, much less at all in the police force. He had want­ed her to mar­ry their child­hood friend Dionysos from their home­town of Kar­damyli in the Mani of the Pelo­pon­nese, who had left Greece to work as an equi­ties ana­lyst for a hedge fund in Lon­don. Fae­dra, though, had oth­er ideas, want­i­ng to be inde­pen­dent and serve in the police like her old­er broth­er and father.

Her­mes turned away for a moment, but then heard a fra­cas, as the oth­er offi­cers went to check on Fae­dra who had been struck direct­ly on the fore­hand by the jagged rock from close range. Ares placed his two fin­gers on her neck, feel­ing her pulse wan­ing. “Fae­dra! Fae­dra! Can you hear me?!” said Ares. But she was unre­spon­sive. Ares could feel her slip­ping away, and began to apply CPR, implor­ing the oth­er offi­cers to get a med­ical response team to her. 

Evan­geli­na, incensed with frus­tra­tion, anger, and humil­i­a­tion, ran to where Fae­dra lay and began shout­ing pro­fan­i­ties at her life­less body. The sur­round­ing offi­cers hand­cuffed and arrest­ed her, while Ares held his dying sis­ter in his arms. The oth­er pro­test­ers, not know­ing the full con­text of the events, began to shout abus­es at the police. They inter­pret­ed her arrest as anoth­er case of unwar­rant­ed bru­tal­i­ty and hard­ship that had haunt­ed Greece for much of its mod­ern his­to­ry. Par­it­sa and the incensed crowd began to cry and shout in out­rage for Evan­geli­na who the offi­cers force­ful­ly escort­ed from the scene. 

Her­mes watched in a frozen trance as a loud pop rang out from the oth­er side of the street. Though it sound­ed like a pis­tol shot, it was only a fire­crack­er ignit­ed by a cal­low stu­dent. The out­burst, how­ev­er, incit­ed instant­ly a vio­lent melee between the demon­stra­tors and offi­cers. The police uti­lized night sticks and tear gas to quell the crowd. Her­mes, caught in the mid­dle, lost his sense of direc­tion, and his vision became impaired by the gas. 

In an effort to regain his bal­ance and ori­en­ta­tion, he reached out to grab the shoul­der of a per­son dressed in black who hap­pened to be an offi­cer. When the offi­cer felt the touch from Her­mes, he quick­ly drew his baton and struck Her­mes across the head, knock­ing him uncon­scious onto the street pave­ment. While on the ground, the pan­icked crowed of peo­ple stepped on and tripped over him in their effort to escape. Her­mes was trapped face down on the pave­ment with a gash across his right tem­ple and blood drip­ping from his mouth. 

 


 

Tears began to stream from the eyes of Ares when he told his moth­er Chrysoula over Face­Time from the police sta­tion that Fae­dra had suc­cumbed to her injury. Chrysoula had been call­ing the sta­tion and Ares through­out the day, hav­ing seen the news of what had tran­spired in Athens. She had not heard from Fae­dra as she typ­i­cal­ly would dur­ing the day and sensed the worst.

Some­what to the sur­prise of Ares, his moth­er had remained com­posed in a man­ner that he found dis­qui­et­ing. She sim­ply told him, “You know what you have to do,” dis­con­nect­ing from the call. No stranger to vendet­tas in the Mani, Ares under­stood her, but was unsure if he could exe­cute what his moth­er was suggesting.

Ares entered the back room deten­tion cen­ter with three oth­er male offi­cers where Evan­geli­na was being held. The four men said noth­ing, as Ares began to unfas­ten his trousers and the oth­er three offi­cers moved to restrain her. Evan­geli­na began to shriek in defi­ance, shout­ing for help, but no one could hear her pleas from inside the sound­proof room. As each man rav­aged her, she wailed with a help­less sound of fury, tears of agony gush­ing down her cheeks.

The offi­cers in the room felt they were jus­ti­fied in their treat­ment of Evan­geli­na, as not only vengeance for killing Fae­dra, but also for the innu­mer­able instances they had expe­ri­enced vit­ri­ol from enraged cit­i­zens who repeat­ed­ly sought to act in poor faith and take advan­tage of lib­er­ties out of despair or malev­o­lence. The police, too, became impris­oned by the frus­tra­tion and despair many in con­tem­po­rary Greek soci­ety endured.

When the offi­cers had fin­ished with Evan­geli­na, Ares sat alone with her in the deten­tion cen­ter. She was silent, quiv­er­ing. “We had to do that to you because of you did to my sis­ter Fae­dra,” said Ares, light­ing a cig­a­rette to help set­tle his nerves. “Do you under­stand?” Evan­geli­na said nothing.

“Do you want some water?” he said.

“I want your belt,” said Evangelina.

“My belt? Why?”

“I want to kill myself.”

“Kill your­self?” he said. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

“Let me have my dig­ni­ty,” she said, “please.”

Ares paused for a moment, struck by her sincerity.

“I know you know how much that means,” said Evangelina.

He looked at her and shook his head in nega­tion, ris­ing from his seat to leave.

“Please!” said Evan­geli­na with shrill des­per­a­tion. “I can’t bear this any longer. Please.”

Ares felt a sense of com­pas­sion for her in that moment that over­came his judg­ment, and removed his belt, toss­ing it on the ground in front of her. “See if you can do it,” he said with dis­mis­sive condescension.

A short time after Ares had left the room, Evan­geli­na formed a noose that she fas­tened to the light fix­ture on the ceil­ing. Before using her momen­tum to kick out the chair below her, she blessed her­self with the Sign of the Cross three times, as her uncle Michalis had taught her in Sun­day school as a girl, hop­ing in vain that the Angel Gabriel would offer her sal­va­tion from her final act of martyrdom.

 


 

The touch of a woman’s hand on his left cheek awoke Her­mes from his sleep. Ini­tial­ly, he thought it was his deceased moth­er Diana. As he opened his eyes, a throb­bing pain from his head par­a­lyzed his move­ment. Slowy, he leaned upright and placed his hand over the ban­dage cov­er­ing his wounds from the baton strike. He looked around at the Hel­lenis­tic Bud­dha stat­ues from Bac­tria in the room and then heard Raffaella’s voice: “I didn’t know you were an under­ground rev­o­lu­tion­ary in your spare time?”

“How long have I been here?” Her­mes asked.

“Only a cou­ple of days,” said Raf­fael­la, giv­ing him a kiss on the mouth. “I missed you.”

“Oh, did you?” said Her­mes, feign­ing coquet­tish dis­be­lief, see­ing a copy of a col­lec­tion of the poet­ry of Cavafy trans­lat­ed into Ara­bic that Raf­fael­la found in Beirut.

“I’ve been read­ing the poems to you,” she said. “I learned it helps to read to peo­ple when they’re unconscious.”

“Thank you, chérie,” he said to her.

“I brought you here from the hos­pi­tal. The doc­tor will be com­ing to check on you later.”

Her­mes nod­ded in gratitude.

“Your father called, too,” said Raf­fael­la. “I hope you don’t mind, but I answered your phone and talked to him.”

“What did he say?”

“He said he loved you.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

“Did you tell him I was in the hospital?”

“He some­how already knew.”

Her­mes nod­ded knowingly.

“Do you remem­ber what hap­pened at Syn­tag­ma on the 17th?” said Raffaella.

“No, just a girl threw a stone.”

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