Photo by Eric Stener Carlson


by Eric Stener Carlson

Our city is open to all the world. We have never had any aliens' laws to exclude anyone from finding or seeking anything here, nor any secrets of the city that an enemy might find out about and use to his advantage. ... Also we do not spend our time anticipating the sufferings that are still in the future, and when the test is upon us, we show ourselves no less brave than those who are continually preparing themselves for battle. Athens deserves to be admired for these qualities and for others as well.

- Pericles, Funeral Speech for Athenian War Dead

Nicolás leaned over the railing of his living room window and looked down at General Mansilla street below. The ends of the white curtains fluttered and snapped around his head, blown into the apartment by the wind. It was getting dark, but Buenos Aires was just waking up.

Just beyond the faded sign that read "Family Hotel - Single Rooms with and without Baths", he saw the portero taking out the trash. A dark-haired boy bent to pick up a sheet of cardboard from amongst the bags and then hurried after his father who pushed a banged-up shopping cart up ahead. The drunk who lived in the plaza just off of Charcas street was waving a tattered yellow rag, trying to help an old woman in a grey Peugeot parallel park.

Nicolás liked the way the fern splayed out of the Grecian urn on the window ledge. He felt for the prickly spores on the bottom of the fern fronds. They were bumpy against his fingertips. Nicolás wasn't sure it was Grecian. But he liked to think it was, the smooth, nearly-invisible designs curving down, like the painting of a temple he had seen in a schoolbook long ago. He should ask his mother if it was really Greek. She had given it to him as a moving-in gift two years ago. Had it been two years since he'd left their house in Almirante Brown?

The tea kettle whistled. Nicolás closed the window and turned the latch. Then he went to the kitchen and made himself a cup of tea with a spoonful of sugar. The old clock on the wall said 7:20. He'd have to go soon. He brushed a few crumbs from the counter into the garbage can and took two pesos from the cutlery drawer. (That's where he kept his money, in a mint tin under the can opener.) There wasn't ever much money-right now, he had 23 pesos and 35 cents-but his mother had told him to keep it in the last place thieves expected.

As he buttoned his green sweater in front of the bathroom mirror, Nicolás noticed a hole forming on the right sleeve elbow. "I should sew that," he thought, but he'd be late if he sewed it now, so he turned off the light and went out the front door. He checked the bolt twice to make sure it had really closed.

The elevator wasn't working-again-so he walked down the stairs. (It was only three flights.) He quickly went past Mr. Licropani's door, because he made him nervous. He was always making comments about how Nicolás shut his door too loudly or how-this had only happened once-he hadn't put a newspaper under his garbage bag in the hallway, and it leaked and stained the marble flooring. Once, Mr. Licropani had cornered him by the door and told him a long story about Italian immigrants who brought marble with them in the ships as ballast. This had something to do with Sarmiento and the sparrows from Boston, and how everything had gone wrong with democracy, and no one respected anything any more. Nicolás didn't like Mr. Licropani. He spoke too close to his face, and his breath smelled sour.

He passed by the Liffchitz's door. They were nice. They had lots of children. He especially liked the boy, Josef, with his long hair, curly, just above his ears. As he passed their door, he heard him practicing the violin. Mrs. Liffchitz was singing in a language Nicolás didn't understand, but it was pretty. Mrs. Schesak, the landlady, didn't like them very much, because they never paid the rent on time. Nicolás paid every time she asked him to-60 pesos a week. Maybe that's why he never had much money, the thought.

Nicolás crossed Mansilla and headed for the supermarket. It was nice to work just across the street. He could work all night long and didn't have to worry about taking a bus back home. He passed by Mr. Li, with his big, round cheeks and narrow eyes, who was standing with his arms crossed, watching the street. "Annyeonghaseyo," said Mr. Li.

"Annyeonghaseyo," Nicolás parroted, and began to push the shopping carts together at the front of the store. He counted them. There were 21.

Mr. Li was nice, Nicolás thought. He gave Nicolás dinner in the backroom after midnight, although he had to pay for his drink. That's why he'd brought two pesos.

Nicolás went through the two large swinging doors with circular windows. He walked past Ming Li who was speaking very quickly in Korean on the pay phone, as she finished a cigarette. (She wasn't related to Mr. Li.) Nicolás couldn't understand what she was saying, but he assumed she was speaking to her boyfriend. Her boyfriend didn't like her wearing yellow nail polish, because he thought it made her look cheap. (That's what he'd said when he came by the store one night and made a scene.) But Nicolás liked her long nails. Sometimes she painted designs on them, large, open flowers on the backs of long, winding dragons.

On busy nights, he'd often come up front and help Ming Li bag. They worked well together but seldom spoke. Nicolás thought he made a good impression on her, always putting the bread on top and the vegetables on the bottom. Some day, when the right moment came, he would ask her out for a cup of coffee. But it would have to be on a Saturday, his only day off.

Nicolás opened up his locker and took his red apron off. He tied it on the hook and walked to the vegetable section. He was proud Mr. Li didn't have to tell him what to do. He immediately began to restack a pyramid of corn that was falling down.

When he'd finished this and moved on to the mandarins, an old woman came along and started pulling down the silk on several ears of corn. She rubbed off some kernels with her fingertips and nibbled on them. Then she tossed them back and took two new ears, disrupting the entire pyramid.

Nicolás sighed and began stacking the corn again. He looked over at the carrot section. It was disorderly too. So many people rummaged through the vegetables, he thought. He would like to hand them the pieces, like a librarian hands out books, so they wouldn't mix up everything, but people were always in a hurry. Taking the broom, Nicolás swept away the husks that had fallen out from the bins of corn, and the peelings of onions and peppers.

"Ming Li!" Mr. Li shouted. "Break finish. Break finish." Then he yelled something in Korean. "Come now." Ming Li came running to the front, blowing smoke out of the corner of her mouth and wiping her eyes. She sat down at the cash register and began adding up the things the old lady had bought.

Nicolás continued sweeping down aisle one, beginning with long sweeps and ending with small pushes. He liked the dry, scraping sound the bristles made when the floor was clean. The 7:30 p.m. to 8 a.m. shift was good, because he could go up and down the aisles often with no one bothering him. This gave him lots of time to think. Before he'd gotten this job, things got mixed up easily in his head, and he forgot things.

Now, with time and patience, he remembered lots of things. Like yesterday, he was watching a TV show about Greece, after he'd woken up in the afternoon. There was a deep, blue sea and high, rocky cliffs. He'd only caught the end of it, but the man on the TV said " ... thus, the survival of Ancient Athens depended on the Hoplites."

The word "Hoplite" had made Nicolás laugh, because it reminded him of a song his mother used to sing to him on the way to the kindergarten: "Va el conejito bricando, hop, hop, hop."1 As they skipped to the kindergarten, she held his hand tightly, but it didn't hurt. As he looked up, her face was the whole world ... But things were different now.

As Nicolás turned down aisle two, Mr. Li called "You, come here, Nico. Here he come again, bolita2 with my cart." Nicolás reluctantly pushed the broom to the front of the store and saw the homeless man he'd seen from his window. He was pushing a shopping cart filled with cardboard.

"Goddam bolita with cart," said Mr. Li.

"Mr. Li," Nicolás said cautiously, "I don't think that's your cart. You have 21 carts. I just counted them. They're all here."

"No, Nico. I tell you. Year before you come, I have 22 cart. Before, I let customers take outside, I have 22 cart. Old lady take outside, don't come back. Bolita take it, I know. Goddam bolita."

"Maybe it's not your cart," suggested Nicolás. "Maybe it's someone else's, like from Cotto's up the street. They all look alike."

"I know own goddam cart. 22 cart. Goddam bank give no credit. Borrow brother-in-law. Took me year to pay fucking bastard. I know goddam cart. 22. I have 22 cart."

Nicolás turned to sweep up aisle three, but Mr. Li put his hand on his shoulder. "Nico, you good boy. Why not you go, take cart from bolita? Just grab. It legal. It my cart."

"N-no, Mr. Li," Nicolás said. "I told you last time, I ... don't think I ... I mean, I'd like to help, but ... I don't think it ... "

Mr. Li cocked back his head. He reminded Nicolás of a plump, baby robin, with bright, shiny eyes. "I pay you ten peso, Nico."

"No, I don't think ... "

"I pay you twenty peso. No one blame you."

"It's not the money, Mr. Li. I ... It's ... I don't feel I ... I was just about to sweep aisle three? Can I ... ?"

Mr. Li looked at him for a moment and then released his shoulder. "Yes, you go back work, sweep. You good boy, work hard." Nicolás turned around. "Not like goddam bolita..." said Mr. Li, looking out the front store window.

As Nicolás continued down aisle three, his hands began to tremble. The evening had started out so well, but the words were starting-he could feel them. "Goddam bolita, goddam bolita." He tried to imagine he was pushing Mr. Li's words out of his head with the broom. He tried to think of something else, like the sea he'd seen from that TV show ... deep blue. But the words kept coming: "Goddam bolita, goddam bolita." His skin began to feel all prickly.

At the corner of aisle four, he saw a box of asparagus cans that needed to be unpacked. "Thank God," thought Nicolás. He took the tile knife out of his apron pocket and started cutting slits into the box top. It was good to have something in his hands, something to cut.

He began stacking the cans, taking each one out from the box, putting it on the shelf. He snapped his fingers once after he placed each can and reached back in a wide circle for the next one. He remembered what the doctor had said, "Take deep breaths, like a diver. Play the word game, if you have to. There's no shame in that."

As he unloaded the first tier of the box, he formed three columns in his mind: one for the dinners he'd eaten that week (there had been beef with noodles, chicken and rice, and steamed dumplings); one for provinces the shipments had come from (watermelons from El Chaco, grapes from Mendoza, lemons from Tucumán); and one for things he liked about Greece (cliffs, water, and clean, clean air).

The words came. "You take cart." No, Nicolás didn't want to think about that. It wasn't right. He'd promised ... never to hurt anyone again. Beef and chicken and dumplings. "Nico, come here." Watermelons and grapes and lemons. "Goddam bolita. Goddam bolita." Cliffs and water and clean, clean air. "22 cart. 22 cart." Beef and chicken and dumplings. Beef and chicken and dumplings. He thought about cutting the words out with the tile knife. El Chaco, Mendoza, Tucumán...

Nicolás placed the last can of asparagus on the shelf. His hand was still trembling a little, but his heart beat slower now. The words were still there, at the edge of his mind, but they were subsiding, crashing like smaller waves after the big wave had hit. Cliffs, and water and clean, clean air. Cliffs, and water and clean, clean air. There... there; it was okay now. The words were gone. He got up off his knees and breathed deeply.

As Nicolás swept down aisle four, he passed by the meat and poultry section. Two men were arguing.

"That's outrageous," one of them said, shaking the package of ribs in the other man's face. "Paying this, for beef? There are more cows in this country than people, for Christ's sake. That's no good. No good."

"It's that fucking Korean. Just `cause he's open all night, he thinks he can screw us. Piece of shit Chinaman."

"That's a lot, man. That's a lot of money. Do you want to leave it?"

"No, I don't have a choice. Nothing else is open, and if I don't bring Fernanda back some beef, she's going to shit. And I'm not going to eat that soy shit either. I don't care how cheap it is."

"Come on, let's pick up a few beers, and let's go," said one of the men, as they brushed past Nicolás. "Fucking Chinaman."

Nicolás shook his head as he swept down aisle five. He wondered what people in Greece would be talking about. Certainly not beef. It was probably something to do with their families. Sure, Greeks probably talked about food prices, now and then. (Why shouldn't they?) We all have to watch our money, Nicolás thought. But they were never rude like those men. All this talk of beef!

* * *

Back home, in the shower, Nicolás focused the nozzle spray on his shoulder and rubbed it slowly. He was sore from unloading those crates of grapes that had come in from San Juan just before the sun came up. What was that song his mother used to sing about the workers from San Juan? "Piden queso y les dan huesos."3 That was funny. Bones aren't anything like cheese. How could anyone mix that up?

He thought to himself, "I can remember things, lots of things." Most often, they were far-away, memories that came and went, flickering like a candle on a dining room table at night when you leave the window open. But at moments like this, everything was clear, and Nicolás could stare straight into the past...

He remembered riding in a convertible with the top pulled open. A friend was driving next to him. His head tilted back, all Nicolás saw were the tops of trees speeding by and the azure sky, and the telephone cables between the buildings crisscrossing above him now and then.

There was such clarity; he could count the branches, pick out the leaves on each one. He felt free, flying.

Then it began to rain, and they pulled off onto a side-street. They jumped out onto the cobblestones, laughing, unsnapping the leather fasteners and pulling the top down. As he worked the lever and clamped it down, it caught the tip of his thumb, and he cut himself, cleanly and precisely, as if it had been made by a drill press. The blood trickled down his hand and was washed away in the rain...

In the shower, Nicolás looked down at his thumbs, both of them. He couldn't remember which thumb had been cut. That was strange. He remembered at school wearing the bandage for weeks, and, every once in a while, he would pull it up and look at the wound. (It was in the shape of a "T".) As he saw it, he felt reassured that his body was healing itself. Now, in the shower, he couldn't remember. He couldn't even find the scar, even though he looked closely at his thumbs and pinched their tips a bit.

At this loss, the memory began to unravel. Nicolás tried to grab at it before it disappeared... Why was he riding in that car? (None of his friends ever had that kind of money.) "Think, think," he said, rocking gently back and forth. "Hold on to it, hold on." He remembered something about a mechanic's shop... in Nuńez. His friend's father worked there, and he'd let them take a customer's car out that day, as a reward, as long as they didn't put too many kilometers on it.

But why were they going out? What were they celebrating? An exam they'd done well on, or had they gone out to pick up a girl?

Then, suddenly, the car disappeared, and he remembered his first kiss when he was fourteen. They'd crept into the church around the corner from his parents' house. As he pushed open the door, slowly in the darkness, Nicolás suddenly had the feeling he was standing in a ship. Wooden beams here and there above them. For a moment, a light flashed through the room. It was just the headlights of a passing car coming, but, afraid the priest had discovered him, he kissed her. He kissed her quick and hard, because he thought, if this moment didn't happen right then and there, it never would. He would never kiss. He would never be kissed. He would never become whole.

He could still feel the kiss and the anxiety of being caught. And then they stopped, and she got scared and ran away, and he got scared, and ran home, too. But he felt free, free and flying, as he ran back home. Free, like in the car.

The car... he couldn't even remember the color of it or the shape or style. Although the kiss was still on his lips, he lost the girl's face. And what was her name?

Nicolás turned off the shower. It was gone, it was all gone now, the kiss and the car, and they weren't coming back. If these moments had been so important to him, why couldn't he remember them any more?

* * *

Black, white. Black, white. The tiles looked like the faded chessboard tops, where bums eat their food in the park. Nicolás was sweeping aisle five. He noticed, if he squinted a certain way, he could see shapes forming in the floor. Cocking his head back and to the right, he saw a diagonal strip of white squares advancing. Head down, eyes up, he could block out the white squares in the glare of the overhead lights, and he saw a black cross, arms extending from shelf to shelf and post advancing from the storeroom all the way out front to the cash register.

Nicolás noticed a piece of paper directly in front of him. He passed the broom over it, but it stuck to the floor. He passed over it again, but it stayed. So he bent down and picked it up. It was a leaflet, with a shoe print across the words:

San Nicolás Greek Orthodox Festival. 31st annual. Food and dancing. Fun for the whole family. Children (and students of Greek) especially welcome. Sponsored by the Hellenic Association Pantheon. Avenue Int. Francisco Rabanal 1418.

Nicolás' heart rushed. He was sure this was a sign.

Nicolás wasn't particularly religious, although his mother had often taken him to church when he was young. (They used to sit so far in back, that he couldn't hear the priest; when he did strain his ears to hear what he was saying, he never understood what it meant. He just repeated "Pater Noster, qui es in caelis, sanctificetur nomen tuum...")

Yes, it was a sign for Nicolás, but not a religious one. Instead, it was a human, a communitarian one: it proved he had something in common with the Greeks. Should he ever meet a Greek, he felt this would be the perfect introduction. "Hello, I'm Demetrious. What's your name?" the Greek would ask. And he would respond, "Nicolás." "Oh, you mean like the church on Rabanal street?" "Why, yes..."

But there was something more. There were the words on the flyer, "Students of Greek especially welcome." Nicolás had heard Greeks were friendly people, with just about everyone ... except with the Turks. (Someone had told him once why, but he didn't remember.) But students of Greek were "especially" welcome.

He glanced at the date on the flyer. The festival was in a little over three weeks! And it was a Saturday, so he wouldn't even have to ask for a day off. He could go. He could meet them soon.

But then he thought just about anyone could go, couldn't they? If only he could learn Greek. Just a little. Just enough to set him apart, to show he was worthy of their friendship. In front of Nicolás' eyes, suddenly flashed the image of a whole community of Greeks, heretofore only vaguely imagined by him. They were tanned and strong, and they were smiling at him.

Nicolás used to be good at learning things. If he could just find a tutor, if he studied hard... No, Nicolás dismissed the idea. He had seen advertisements for various classes taped to light posts throughout the city, little flaps of telephone numbers flitting up and down as cars drove by. Guitar lessons and English and massage therapy. Even if he found a Greek tutor-he'd never seen one advertised-nothing was ever cheaper than 10 pesos an hour, and he couldn't afford a week of lessons, let alone three.

In his mind, Nicolás saw the church doors closing, as the Greeks shook their heads and slowly went back to the festival. There was muted music and laughing behind the doors. Then they were gone.

Nicolás carefully folded the flyer and put it in his pocket. Then he continued sweeping down the aisle, a great sadness in his heart.

* * *

It was the next Saturday morning. As Nicolás had little money to spend, he wasn't really planning on going anywhere. He thought of spending the day sleeping or sewing on a few buttons that had come loose. He could buy one or two things, like tea and sugar, but at the Cotto down the street. (He had bought some things on credit from Mr. Li a few weeks before, and he was still paying them off.)

He decided to first go down to the park at Las Heras to watch the children on the carousel. He liked the way they laughed on the rickety old games, how they played in the sand and ran after pigeons. Their mothers watched them from park benches, as they drank mate from thermoses and chatted. All children should be happy like that, he thought.

Nicolás took three pesos from the mint box in the kitchen. Then he put on his green sweater and went out the door, making sure it was locked three times. Thank goodness Mr. Licropani wasn't there. As he was going out the front door, however, he saw Mrs. Liffchitz. She was cleaning the brass number plate on her door. "Masseltof, Nico. I didn't see you there."

"Masseltof," Nicolás mumbled and turned to go.

"Oh, dear," she said. "You've done your sweater up wrong again. Here, let me help you," and she pulled him close to her.

Nicolás squirmed a bit as Mrs. Liffchitz unbuttoned and fixed his sweater. Then she licked her palm and pressed down one of his stray hairs. "You're a good looking boy, Nico. You're going to make a good woman happy one day. Why don't you come one day when my sister's daughter is over. She's about your age."

Nicolás flushed. "Uh, thanks Mrs. Liffchitz. That's nice, but I ... I've got to go now."

"Always in a rush, Nico, such an important young man. But go, go. And you stay out of trouble."

Nicolás liked the early morning. All the porteros were outside in their rubber boots. Hoses and buckets in hand, they were washing down the pavement in front of the apartments. He went down Agüero toward Santa Fe, passing the small plaza at Charcas. He shook his head when he saw the Bolivian with the shopping cart sleeping under the tree. His son was sorting cardboard into piles on the broken park bench next to him.

"What kind of a life is that, living in the plaza?" thought Nicolás. That would never happen in Greece. Like the man on TV said, "Athens always took care of its citizens."

Athens... He began to think of the festival at St. Nicolás. How wonderful it would be to go! But no, how could he go, unprepared, illiterate? There would be songs and maybe even prayers. It would be ridiculous to go without knowing Greek.

Nicolás continued down Agüero, crossing Santa Fe at a run. He thought of stopping at the fruit vendor to buy a kilo of apples for the week. But, if he did, he'd surely eat one now, and then he'd be hungry before lunch.

Then he stopped at the pawnshop, with the red-lettered "Buy, Barter or Sell - Cash" sign. He liked looking through the windows sometimes. They had old Smith Corona typewriters in vinyl cases, adding machines and lots of old records. As he stepped inside the store, the owner said, "I know ... you're just browsing. But one day, for a change, you should buy something."

Nicolás saw an old, portable Victrola he liked. He turned the crank very slowly, afraid of breaking it. He thought about the electric turntable that came with his apartment. He never used it, but that was because he didn't have any records. Maybe, there was something in this old stack of records, something that he could buy, if it were just 50 cents or a peso? He would still have enough to buy half a kilo of apples, so it really wouldn't be like wasting anything.

He picked the records up, one by one, and examined them. There was the Marcha Peronista with a small piece broken out of the center. There were a few dusty jazz records made out of paste ... Al Jolson. Something in French. (He couldn't read what it said, but he knew it was French.)

Then he saw it. It was a set of records, the box of which was worn and the edges frayed. There was a picture of a faded, blue bay, and white houses perched on cliffs high above. The figure of a woman in a white dress was beckoning, but her face and shoulders had been rubbed off, and there was a moisture stain across her belly.

But it said, in large, bold letters, "The Easy-Way Language Kit: One Week to Greek." Then, along the border, were the most amazing letters Nicolás had ever seen. He ran his fingers over them, tracing each stroke. There it was, another sign he was meant to go to the festival. And learning Greek only took a week, so he'd really know it well in three! He could teach himself at night, when he came home from work.

Nicolás felt queasy as he took the box of records up to the counter. The salesman was trying to sell an old baby carriage with broken springs to a woman.

"I want these records ... I'll take them."

"Hmm," said the man, as he examined the box. "How'd that get there?" He looked at Nicolás over the rims of his glasses. "Actually, I was saving it for a little old lady who said she'd be coming by today."


"Yeah, sure... She said it was for sentimental reasons. Something for a family reunion. I really can't sell this to you. I promised her and everything. I'm sorry."

"But I need this ... I really need this."

"Sorry, but a promise is a promise."

"How much did she offer?"

"Well, 20 pesos. But I just can't... "

Nicolás thought of next week's rent money he'd been saving in the little mint tin in the kitchen drawer. In his mind, he could see the door to the Greek church opening slightly, just a crack, and he could hear the sound of mandolins tuning up. Then he said, "I'll pay you 25."

The salesman shook his head.

Nicolás felt faint. "Look, I'll pay you 30. I'll pay you 30 pesos, if you sell it to me instead. Look, it's all I have."

The salesman eyed him suspiciously. "Okay, but only because you've never bought anything before, and you look like a decent sort."

"Thank you, thank you," Nicolás said. "I'll be right back."

"Whoa, wait," said the salesman. "What do you mean?"

"I'll be right back. I've got the money at home."

"No, sorry, kid. That doesn't work for me. This is a business here. It's first come, first serve. If that lady comes in here, and I don't give it to her, and then ... how do I know you're coming back?"

"I promise, I swear," said Nicolás. "Look, I'll give you all I have with me ... three pesos. And you can write down my national identity number if you want. It's 76 million, one hundred... "

"That's okay," said the man. "Just give me the three pesos as a deposit and hurry back with the rest of the money."

Nicolás dropped the money on the counter and then went through the door, running. Faster and faster he flew up Agüero. He ran all the way up the stairs, got into his apartment and emptied out the mint tin. That was it, 30 pesos. There wasn't anything more. He flew down the stairs and ran back to the store.

Panting, breathless at the counter, Nicolás handed the man over the wad of bills. The man gave him the records in a dirty plastic bag. "What about my three pesos?" Nicolás asked.

"What about them?" the man replied.

"Well, they were for a deposit. I gave you thirty, so I want them back. That's only right."

"Service charge."

"Sorry? What do you mean?"

"It's a service charge. Ten percent, for holding the records for you."

"But it only took me like twenty minutes. What ... what do you mean? I... "

"Well, if you don't agree, here, take all your money back ... but give me the records."

Nicolás stood still for a moment, the plastic bag in his hand, thinking of the festival. "N-no, you keep the pesos. That's all right. That's all right. I agree."

As he left the store, Nicolás mumbled, "Apple money." But he shrugged it off. Those were just apples, and he didn't feel hungry now. He ran quickly back home, flying, like that time back in the car.

When he got up the stairs, he realized he hadn't pulled the door closed properly, and it was still open a crack. But it didn't matter now. There was nothing left to steal. All that mattered, he was holding in his hands.

Nicolás' hands were trembling as he lifted the top off the record player. There was silence at first, and a rubbing of the wand against the record's rim. Then there was a sound, like a sea of crackles, and from it rose a woman's voice: "The Easy-Way Language Kit," she said. "One Week to Greek."

"Here are some common phrases. Listen to them carefully, but do not say them at the same time I do. Repeat in the pauses. Remember-listen carefully, and relax. Soon you'll be speaking Greek. Oh, and by the way, kali tiHi, kalo taksithi. That's `Good luck', and "Have a good trip!'. You're on your way ... the Easy Way."

Nicolás sat down on the floor and closed his eyes.

"Lesson One: At the hotel... I have a reservation ... Eho klissi thomatio."

Nicolás tried to mouth the words, but they were strange and difficult to get his tongue around.

"Does that include breakfast?... Ine to pro-ino messa stin timi?" she asked.

"Ineto, propino," he tried to say, but she was going too fast for him.

"How much is it? ... Posso kani?"

"Possoka, ni ... Possakini." It was getting easier, he thought.

"A room overlooking the sea... Ena thomatio me The-a stin Thalassa... "

Nicolás lifted the wand from the record and looked through the window, the turntable wobbling as it went around. A group of workmen were heading towards a construction site, soda bottles and a side of beef carried between them. Mr. Li was pushing together the carts and then shouted something inside the store, probably to Ming Li, Nicolás thought. A big, rusty truck rumbled down the street, bringing children and their parents from the outlying slums to collect cardboard for the night.

Nicolás closed his eyes. Somewhere in Greece the sun was high. Just off shore, men, stripped to their waists, were fishing from their boats. Nicolás could see their faces, scored by the salt and air, hands coarse and deeply cut from a lifetime of hauling in the lines. They bent, coiling up their bellies, and then threw out their nets.

Nicolás opened his eyes. It was about lunch time now, and he realized he hadn't bought any apples. It didn't matter. He had one tea bag left and a few soda crackers, and tomorrow he could eat at work.

Nicolás turned the record player back on and put the wand where it was before. "Ena thomatio me The-a stin Thalassa," the woman said again, "...a room overlooking the sea." Nicolás bent his legs as he opened up the window. The white curtains flew all around.

* * *

At work that week, Nicolás went over his Greek vocabulary list while he swept the floor. Not many words at first, nine or ten a day. (That worked out to be about one an hour.) In the beginning, it was difficult, because he hadn't known what to study. But then he picked a certain subject for each list, and he repeated them over and over again in his head.

It had helped listening to the record as he slept. The old turntable had a repeat switch, which he flicked just before he went to bed. After a week of that, he could repeat the first record by heart, although he still couldn't put any words together.

All that week, he hadn't played the word game. He hadn't felt the need. If something worried him, he just conjugated a verb-in the first person, in the present, the only tense he needed-and the anxiety disappeared.

Learning Greek was going a bit slower than he'd imagined, but he was making progress. In just a few days, he could sweep up and down the aisles, naming all the major vegetables he saw. He could say carrot, to karoto, pepper, i peperia, and even cauliflower, to koonoopithi (which sounded nothing like "cauliflower" and had been very difficult to memorize).

He suddenly remembered to call his mother. It seemed like a long time since they'd spoken, but it had probably been only a few weeks. He waited until Ming Li was off the phone and then put in the tokens Mr. Li had sold him. They were pretty expensive, a peso a piece. But he didn't have a phone in his apartment, and Mr. Li deducted it from his next salary, so it wasn't like he was wasting money.

He was silent as the number connected. "Ma?" he said. "It's me, Nico ... I'm not calling too late, am I? Sorry, it's just that I'm on break now... No, no everything's fine... No, I'm not in trouble.

"You're feeling better then? Uh-huh.

"No, I haven't. No, it's not that. There are plenty of nice girls here. Yes." He ran his fingers over the phone instructions in Braille and wondered what it would be like to feel those bumps in the dark and to understand.

"Look, it's just ... it's just I'm going to do something important soon. Well, it's kind of a secret right now. No ... no, it's nothing like that. It's just I don't want to jinx it." Nicolás inserted a fingernail into the token slot. "Yes, sure, I'm still taking them. You're right, generic ... it's just the same. Sometimes better... No, Mr. Li lets me off whenever I need to make... No, Ma... No, I wouldn't do that, okay?

"Look, I'll tell you about it next week, okay? Just don't worry. Uh ... there's the beep. Look, I'm out of tokens. Yes, next week, I promise. I promise. You, too," he said, and hung up the phone.

Nicolás whispered "Kalispera", good evening, and pushed through the doors to sweep aisle one.

* * *

A few nights later, when Nicolás came into work, he sat down on the bench in front of his locker to tie his shoes. Someone had left a newspaper there. The title read, "Greek Millionaire Sells Luxury Yacht to Afford Sixth Wife". He shook his head and wondered why people wrote things like that.

Most Greeks weren't like that at all, and not many had yachts. As for their wives... Nicolás caught a reflection of himself in the locker mirror and was suddenly afraid. He noticed the hole on the right elbow of his sweater had grown even larger. He hadn't sewn it. What with work and his studies he hadn't made the time. Now the festival was two days away, and that was the best thing he had to wear.

He tried not to think about the hole. Anyway, there was nothing he could do. After buying the records, he'd skipped paying this week's rent (that was the first time he'd done that), and he wasn't going to have enough to pay the coming week's. He'd lied to Mrs. Schesak when she'd knocked on his door, telling her a friend was going to pay him back a loan soon. She'd accepted that, but she wasn't pleased.

He tried to concentrate on his work, but he kept on thinking of the hole in his sweater. He stacked and straightened a box full of canned peas for a good twenty minutes, and then he realized he'd put them in the wrong section, next to the peaches. That had never happened before.

Then Mr. Li called him up to the front of the store. "Nico, come here. See bolita. Dirty bastard bolita come. Same clothes yesterday. He no wash. Come, Nico, you see what he pushing... ?"

Nicolás couldn't stand to look at the Bolivian tonight. He ran into the bathroom, past Ming Li who was crying on the phone. All the bad words were encroaching. All the Greek was flying from his head.

As Nicolás sat and rocked silently on the toilet seat, he was sure people dressed up for festivals like this. How could he show up in his sweater full of holes? What good was knowing Greek if he didn't dress like them, look like one of them? It was a mockery of them...

When he came back home in the morning, Nicolás was tired, but he wouldn't let himself sleep. He knew what he had to do. He took the last of the money from the mint tin and stuffed it in his pocket. Then he walked to Santa Fe and took the first bus he could find to Plaza Once. All the way along, Nicolás tried to sit upright on the hard, plastic seats, but he kept slipping, even when he braced his feet.

He pulled out the wadded-up vocabulary list from his pocket and glanced at it, as he bumped along.

"The book ... to vivilio."

"The chair ... i karekla."

"The rose ... to ksirafaki."

A large woman sat two seats in front of him, an old fox fur draped around her neck. Eyes straight ahead, she held a boxy, leather purse tightly in her lap. She looked into the darkness in front of her.

"The razor blade ... to triadafilo."

Nicolás tried to keep his eyes open. He followed the curve of the fox's sagging head down her violet dress. Right below the hem, he saw her large, blue veins pulsing on a small patch of skin. Her ankles were swollen and seemed too big to have been stuffed into her shoes.

"The bruise ... i melania."

He lost track of where he was in the vocabulary list, so he looked out the window. He fell asleep, and woke up, off and on. In the rising sun, he saw the dim outline of burned out houses, iron skeletons. He wondered if that discotheque that had burned down was anywhere close. He'd read about that in the newspaper. He looked at the list again.

"Is it deep here? ... ine vaTHia ehto."

Nicolás heard an adolescent girl giggling in the back of the bus.

"The children's portion ... i pethiki meritha."

He looked behind him. The girl wore a tight, white T-shirt with spangles and jeans. She was sitting next to a much older man in a leather jacket, who tickled her as she slapped back, giggling. He was trying to put his hands between her legs.

"The cloakroom ... i Gardearoba."

The girl stopped giggling, as the man grabbed her wrists. "If you really love me..." he said. She nodded slowly but wasn't smiling anymore.

"to-Grafio-apo ... lesTHe ... ndon ... the lost property office."

The bus stopped near the plaza, and the door sprang open, hissing. Nicolás tumbled out just before it closed. The sun was rising up above the plaza now, but the side street he descended into was still full of shadows. Groups of vendors huddled, unchaining their booths, as they stamped and patted themselves to keep warm. A Korean warmed up the deadbolt in front of his store with a blowtorch, then he inserted the key.

As the vendors rolled up the metal grates and began opening their doors, he saw stores packed with bedspreads and pillows, bolts of cotton, cheap plastic sandals. None of this, none of this would do.

It seemed like hours he wandered about, but he wasn't sure. He felt like when he was a young boy and sleepwalking, and his mother shook him and woke him up right as he was walking out the front door. But no one woke him up today.

Then he saw it, hanging in a window. A white shirt, with large ruffles down the sleeves. The sign above it read "peasant tunic". He tapped on the glass of the store, just as the woman inside was turning around the "Closed" sign to "Open".

"Yes," she replied, it was just the sort of things Greeks wear at festivals. "Certainly," she could wait until tomorrow morning, but she couldn't be responsible if someone else bought it first. There had been other offers, Nicolás was made to understand. And, no, the price was not negotiable. Even as he pulled out the few pesos he had left, she was firm about that. She wasn't running one of those bargain-basement stores, like that bastard Armenian down and to the left.

* * *

Nicolás returned to the supermarket that evening, his head pounding. After he'd made it back from Once, he'd managed only two hours of sleep. Mr. Li said, "Annyeonghaseyo, Nico", but Nicolás didn't answer. And he didn't go straight to the back room like he always did. Instead, he picked up a broom next to the cash register and started sweeping up and down the aisles. When he got back to the front, he stopped.

"Please, Mr. Li, I don't know how to say this ... but ... but I need to borrow some money."

Mr. Li eyed him closely and said, "How much?"

"50 pesos."

"That much money. What for?"

"Uh, it's uh ... a party ... a family reunion. We're all getting together, all my cousins from the northern provinces, Salta and Jujuy. There are a lot of ... preparations. And ... and my mother asked me to buy some ... beef and things."

Mr. Li was slow to respond. "Okay. Okay... Family good. You good boy. I borrow you. You work all night for two month-include Saturday, no time off. And half shift day on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday. Two month. Then you get money."

"Uh ... that's good, Mr. Li. I appreciate that, and I'll work the extra hours. But I, uh ... I need it today. I need it today. Maybe, you can loan it to me, and then I can pay you..."

"No. No good. Loan no good. You work, get money. No credit. I know. Bastard brother-in-law. I pay 22 cart. One year, 22 cart. No good."

Nicolás' breath became short. He looked down at the floor and saw a straw wrapper lying where he'd just swept up. He looked around him, but he didn't know what to say. Maybe he could sell the record player and the television set, but they were old. Maybe if he called his mother...

Then Nicolás saw the homeless man walking slowly down the street, pushing the cart, half-filled with cardboard. His chest felt tight. His hands got moist.

"Mr. Li," Nicolás said, "here comes the ... bolita. If..." he cleared his throat, "if I get the cart, will you give me 50 pesos?"

"You get cart?"

"Yes, I get cart. 50 pesos. You agree?"

Mr. Li's eyes seemed shinier now. "Yes, agree," said Mr. Li, "but I want see this. You do it, front store."

With an effort, Nicolás dropped the broom and walked out the door. His skin was tingling. His knuckles hurt. He realized he must have been clenching his fists. He walked up right behind the homeless man who had stopped in sight of the store.

"Listen, you," Nicolás said. The man didn't move, so Nicolás raised his voice, "You, turn around!"

The Bolivian shook a little as he turned. Although it was a warm night, the man wore a sweatshirt-dirty and gray-with the hood pulled down over his hair. Under the street-light, Nicolás could see the details of the man's face. He had been beaten recently, and the flesh around his left eye was swollen and pink. The Bolivian stuttered something in a language Nicolás didn't understand.

Nicolás pointed to the cart. "This is Mr. Li's cart. You have taken it. I demand you give it back."

The Bolivian repeated it, louder this time, "Ama sua, ama llulla, ama kella."4

Nicolás raised his voice, mostly for the benefit of Mr. Li who stood perched in the doorway. "This is Mr. Li's cart." Then he paused, feeling foolish he couldn't think of anything else. "He had 22 carts, now he's got 21. You stole."

Then the Bolivian said slowly and clearly, "Cart me. No steal," and he repeated, "Ama sua."

"Give me cart!" shouted Nicolás and grabbed the handle of the cart, making a tight fist around it.

"No, cart me, Ama sua." shouted back the Bolivian, holding onto the cart tightly. The place where he'd been beaten on his face became a brighter pink. Tears began to form in his eyes.

Out of the corner of his eye, Nicolás saw the homeless man's boy had caught up with him. He was standing a few feet away in the shadows, holding two or three boxes and a bunch of twine. Nicolás thought of letting the cart go, but then he thought of the shirt hanging in the store window; it cost 50 pesos, and the price was not negotiable.

"No. Cart Mr. Li," shouted Nicolás, and he rammed the cart into the Bolivian's legs, knocking him over. Then as the man staggered to get up, Nicolás kicked him in the stomach. Nicolás dumped the shopping cart, spilling the cardboard over the sidewalk.

The Bolivian rolled onto his knees, his sweat pants ripped along the leg and bleeding. He began to hover over the mess, gathering bits of cardboard here and there, like a mother gathering her chicks. He was sobbing "Ama sua, ama sua." The boy didn't move from the place he was hiding in the shadows, but stood staring.

Nicolás righted the cart and rolled it back into the store. He wiped away his tears with the back of his hand. As he pushed the cart back amongst the others, he said, "There, Mr. Li. 22. You have 22 carts." He wiped his nose with his sleeve. You pay me now."

"Sure, sure," Mr. Li said, backing up toward the cash register. You good boy, show bolita. I pay you 20 peso, like I say."

Nicolás looked Mr. Li full in the face. He said, "No, Mr. Li. 50 pesos. You said 50 pesos."

"No, I say 20. I say... "

In one movement, Nicolás grabbed Mr. Li by the shirt and screamed at him, "You give me my 50 pesos, you fucking bastard. You fucking shit Korean! You give me my fucking 50 pesos right fucking now, or I'll rip your fucking head off! You know I'll do it."

Mr. Li bounded to the cash register, opened the drawer and handed Nicolás a 50 peso note. "Sure, sure," Mr. Li said, shaking, "you do good. I pay you... You know what? You go home now. No work. You work much today. I see you tomorrow night. You..."

"No, tomorrow night, I have off. I have every Saturday off. I'm not coming tomorrow. I'm-going-to-my-family-reunion!"

"Sure, sure, I remember. You do good. I see you next night. No worry."

* * *

Nicolás stood in front of the church's stone façade. There were balloons taped up here and there. Children and parents were coming in and out, eating things off paper plates.

The new shirt scratched him a bit but fit perfectly. How he'd walked in to the store in Once and put down the 50 peso note on the counter! A 50 peso note! He hadn't been arrogant, but he stood straight up. He even had the saleswoman wrap it in a box, which cost him three pesos more, but it was only right.

Nicolás walked through the church and out the back. He let his hands rub across the stonework of images he couldn't make out, rough and jagged. In back, there were large circus tents spread over the grassy area next to the parking lot. He smelled food, greasy, unfamiliar, coming from one of the smaller tents, and music rose from the middle where some people were gathering.

Pot-bellied men in stained T-shirts and wrinkled bombachas strolled with their cheap-looking wives. (Some even looked as if they hadn't washed up after work.) A drunk man stumbled over a tent peg and almost fell before righting himself with two arms. A few children ran about, screaming and unattended.

He was standing in the gravel parking lot of some building he'd never been to in the day. There were no cliffs or white houses. And the people all around him were the same as those he passed crossing Mansilla on the way to work or who broke mayonnaise jars on aisle four.

For three weeks he had seen what the festival would be like in his mind, and now it was nothing like he'd imagined. He felt as if he'd been the witness to a miracle then he had run and told another person, and saying it out loud made it sound ridiculous, and he doubted what he'd seen. All the hours of study. All the money spent. And for what? A ruffled shirt like no one else was wearing. A few words of a language no one else around him spoke. No one there was probably even Greek. And, oh, God, the Bolivian ... and his son!

And then, inexplicably, Nicolás laughed. He burst out laughing and laughed hard and loud. He had nothing, absolutely nothing left. Just a few pesos in his pocket and the shirt and the useless records at home. He was sure Mr. Li would never want him back, after what he'd said to him. He didn't even really know what neighborhood he was in and what number bus to take back. (He'd gotten lost twice on the way there, and that's why he had shown up late.)

He stood there for a moment, empty. Then he suddenly felt hungry. He hadn't eaten all day, and he hadn't eaten dinner at work last night. Nicolás wandered into the crowd, passing stalls of handicrafts and food, mostly sausages and beef. Smoke came up from grills. He winced as he saw a few people staring at his shirt.

He stopped at one of the stalls and looked at the prices hanging from a post. There was an old man standing there and an old woman in a shawl behind the table. "Gyro" he said to the old man. (It was the only Greek food he knew how to say.) "One."

"I could make you a small one or a large one," the old man said. He had a nice voice, like the voice on the record.

Nicolás took out the coins in his pocket and counted them up. "Large," Nicolás said. "Thanks."

The old man turned to prepare the food and said something to the old woman in Greek. Nicolás became angry at himself. He knew the work for "Thank-you": efHaristo. It was one of the first words he'd learned. And now, after everything else, he'd lost his chance. He hadn't tried it out with the only two Greeks at the entire festival!

The old man's hands were strong and worked the knife well against the tall, vertical spit of meat, shaving thin slices with one hand while holding out the bread with the other.

Nicolás looked at the old woman. She smiled and said something he didn't quite catch. "Kalispera", Nicolás said, without really realizing it. She said something to the old man who turned around.

"You speak Greek?" the old man asked.

"N-ne", Nicolás said.

"Harika!", the old man said.


"Poss se lene?"

"Ti?" Nicolás asked, not understanding.

"Poss," the old man paused, "Se Leh-ne."


The old man smiled and turned back to the sandwich he was preparing. "Nicolás, I piperia?" he asked, pointing to a small bucket.

"Yes ..." Nicolás caught himself and said "I mean, Ne."

The old man smiled again, picking up a red pepper from the bucket and slicing it into long pieces and laying it on the meat.

"Ke ... ke to agari," Nicolás said.

"Ti?" the old man asked, puzzled.

Nicolás' face fell. "To..." No, that wasn't it. "To, to ... ago, agoo ... agoori. To agoori."

"To agoori?" the old man shook his head. "I saltsa?" he asked and pointed to the cucumber sauce.

"Ne. Ne, to agoori i saltsa", Nicolás said, not knowing if that was grammatically correct.

The old man ladled on some sauce and sprinkled on spice from a small jar. He wrapped the sandwich in tin foil and handed it to Nicolás.

Nicolás counted out his coins and handed all of them to the man. "EfHaristo", Nicolás said as he walked away from the stand. "EfHaristo", the old couple replied, waving.

The cucumber sauce and juice from the meat ran over Nicolás' fingers. Nicolás licked the back of his hand. He still felt a bit dizzy but better now. He walked amongst the stalls towards the center tent, stakes pounded deep, guy lines taut, where the music was coming from.

A young man, one leg up on a wooden crate, played something that looked like a mandolin. The wind was beginning to pick up. Around the picnic tables-families eating, talking loudly-a circle of dancers began to form. They were linked arm in arm, turning one way with the music, and as the song changed they turned the other.

As they sang, Nicolás caught a word here and there-ta sinora, the border, and totro Hospito, the caravan, but he didn't understand anything else. It seemed there were Greeks, a few fine-featured men with slightly dark features, interspersed with porteńos. They led the increasingly large rotating group, singing.

The music stopped, and the circle broke apart. Nicolás looked around as the previous dancers left and new ones took their places. He noticed a young woman in a blue-embroidered skirt. She was looking around and calling out to people in the crowd. There was a rush of wind and a sudden rumbling of thunder, and Nicolás missed what she said.

She caught Nicolás in her glance, and, looking up and down at his shirt, held up a hand to her mouth and laughed. She brushed her own sleeve, as if there were ruffles there, and then she beckoned him quickly, as others joined the circle.

Nicolás looked at his hands, greasy from the sandwich. He shrugged at her, holding them up.

She waved to him again, as the guitar-player tuned his instrument. Nicolás lay down his half-eaten sandwich on a picnic table and ran to the girl, wiping his hands as he went. He grabbed her hand to his right and a man's hand to his left, just as the song began. The ring started to move. Nicolás stumbled, not knowing the steps. The circle reversed direction from right to left, and the girl pulled him along. The circle turned again.

"Ade pame", she said and jerked his arm.

"Perimende me!" Nicolás said. "Wait for me! Perimende me!"

The girl smiled and squeezed his hand slightly, pulling him into the rhythm of the dance. Her hand was strong and slick with sweat. She moved her left foot, he moved his. She bent down and stretched up and Nicolás did the same. Her face was alive and dark, rich and tender. He could feel her pulse in the palm of his hand.

It began to rain.

They danced, circling right and left, torsos twisting, legs kicking, all singing a great, rising "Hey!" Nicolás felt a large sweat stain growing on his lower back. He twirled around, blue stitching, ruffles, pleated skirts.

"Harika," he shouted above the music.

"Harika," she shouted back and gripped his hand even more tightly.

There was more thunder, and then the night burst into a torrent, sweeping water everywhere. Cups blew off the tables, paper plates scattered. Nicolás laughed, his shoulders raised, splashed by the rain blowing under the tent flaps. She threw her hair back in a long, black wave. Her dress clung to her breasts and hips, thoroughly drenched.

The guitar player stopped and ran for cover. The circle broke off and dissolved. Some ran for the church, others their cars. The girl and the man to Nicolás' left were nowhere to be found. Nicolás ran out from under the tent and looked face up into the full, black sky.

Not knowing where he was going, he ran out of the parking lot into the dark streets. As he ran along, under the intermittent streetlights, something deep in his mind dislodged itself slightly and rocked like a boat cast along a sandbar when the tide comes in. In his mind, it was the red, speeding car, his bleeding right thumb, and something more... The girl's face in the shadows of the church, round cheeks, dark, troubled eyes.

Water rushed in great funnels down the sides of the streets, while bags of garbage lifted up here and there. A drop of rain and the next, a flash of lightning and the next, downward cycles of electricity exploding in the sky.

As he turned into a side street, his eyes were full of water. He felt free, flying. He did not see the bright headlights of the car coming toward him but felt his body rise up and then land with a devastating thud.

* * *

The doctors at the Italian Hospital had been nice, Nicolás thought. They hadn't charged him for the operation, and there weren't any cats inside his room like people said. Even the aluminum cane had come free, although he had to give it back when he was feeling better.

There was a knock at the door. "Nicolás ... I know you're in there, Nico," said Mrs. Schesak. "I saw them bring you in last night. Your rent's weeks past due, and there's nothing to do but pay. I'm a patient woman, but when you come down, you pay me. You pay me, or it's out. There are plenty of families who want in."

Nicolás thought of the empty mint box in the kitchen drawer. There was no more money, not for rent, not for anything. He felt the prickly fronds of the fern that had dried up a little since last week. "I should go to the kitchen and fill up a glass to water it," Nicolás thought, but he didn't want to move from the balcony. His leg hurt too much.

Down below, on Mansilla street, a few people moved about in the dark. Mr. Li was pushing the carts together at the front of the store, looking about him quickly, left and right. "22," Nicolás whispered. "22."

Straining his head, he saw the Bolivian walking along on the other side of the street, gathering cardboard under his armpits. He kept his eyes directed forward. His son followed him a few meters behind, arms outstretched, picking up whatever small pieces his father dropped.

The curtain rippled and snapped around him. The wind was getting colder, but Nicolás liked how it felt. He played his fingers over the worn impressions on the urn. The stone was rough, and his fingers slid down them with difficulty. He thought the shades looked like the sails of a Greek ship seen from far off shore.

Cupping his hand to block out the glare of the streetlight, he looked out over the balcony. The sun was very bright in Greece, and Nicolás could see the city clearly now. It was Athens rising on the peak.

In the intense heat of the day, the women returned from the market slowly, wearing white cotton dresses. The sun stuck moist hair to their faces in long, black streaks. Men gathered in their doorways, nodding and murmuring to each other, smoking pipes. A group of children played football in the shadow of a portico. Washing hung on wires between the clean, whitewashed houses, flapping slightly as the breeze picked up.

Nicolás stood up, gripping the sides of the chair, his stiff elbows cracking. His cane slid down from where it had been set and clattered to the floor.

One man stood alone, on the cliff above the city. His chest was bare. The air was dominated by the smell of salt and the dampness of the sea. Below, the white sails moved and old women looked out at the ships, red faces burning, as they made baskets by the shore.

The diver jumped, arms outstretched, soaring, falling into the blue, blue water down below.

1"The little rabbit goes hopping, hop, hop, hop."
2"Bolita" is a derogatory word for Bolivians, meaning "little ball".
3 "They ask for cheese, and they give them bones."
4 Note: These are the three commandments of the Incan empire in Quechua: "Do not steal, do not lie, do not be lazy."

© 2007 by Eric Stener Carlson.

Eric Stener Carlson is an internationally-recognized human rights expert and writer. He is the author of two books, I Remember Julia: Voices of the Disappeared (Temple University, 1996) and The Pear Tree: Is Torture Ever Justified? (Clarity Press, 2006). The opinions expressed by his characters are not necessarily those of any organization for which he works.