Last night at the Colorado Springs Writers Read Series, I read an excerpt from my short story “The Greek Boy”, which is about Lord Byron.
In the final months of his life, Lord Byron was preoccupied with two things: supporting the Greek struggle for independence against Turkey, and his fifteen year old page-boy, Lukas.
This story is not about the Greek War for Independence.
An Excerpt from “The Greek Boy” by Jesse Kuiken
Shortly before your life, like a letter, was completed, folded up and sealed; before the decision to join the Greeks in Missolonghi; before you left the dazzling amber shores of Cephalonia, you found the boy. Off the beach, his skinny brown limbs knotted round the fat branch of an olive tree. He was palming olives; putting them first to his lips and sucking lightly before drawing the whole fruit into his mouth.
‘Hello,’ you said in Greek. Though your Greek was excellent, you were aware that you sounded atrociously English. You also endevoured not to lean too much on your good leg.
A pit, sticky and shining with saliva, fell to the sandy soil in front of your boots.
‘English?’ His cheeks hollowed around a second olive.
‘In a manner or speaking,’ you said.
‘You can’t be partially English,’ he spat. His haughty words and manner made the colour rise in your thin and ghostly face.
‘Well, then, if you must know, I was exiled.’
The boy peered down upon you. His eyes were the same
hazel as river-water and his soft young face wrinkled with annoyance. He began slithering towards the tapered end of the branch, seeking more olives. The whole tree shook; you caught the words be careful on the edge of your lips.
‘Exiled for what?’ the boy asked.
‘A great number of unmentionable things.’
It was more polite to say that, certainly, than ‘it was believed that I treated my wife rather poorly,’ or ‘it was rumoured I had had relations with my sister,’ or, ‘I was accused of having unnatural desires for other men’. You remembered exactly the words in the deed of separation for your marriage — the events which prompted your sudden exile — the words which had condemned you to your peers and to the public. Words which had clamoured after you, haranguing you all across the Continent. The same way your schoolfellows used to trail you, mimicking your limp and laughing. Those were the kinds of accusations never meant to be forgotten. Though you yearned to escape them — nevertheless — you owned them all, the way a soldier owned his scars.
‘Bad things?’ the boy squinted, nostrils flaring, tensing with excitement.
Here you smiled. It was a smile that had once wilted the wills of women and addled the wits of boys. They had all bent to you like flowers to the sun.
The boy cocked his head and spat another pit.
‘Did you kill people then?’
The truthful answer to that question was many, of course, but you would have meant it metaphorically and half jokingly; not literally. The boy was a little too young for such weighty metaphor. His eyes still shone bright and zealous with life; his skin was flawless; not a single hair grew upon his chest, much less grey hairs. Nor did he have a delta of deepening wrinkles in the corners of his eyes. His gut did not threaten to sag if he gained too much weight. His body, as he shimmied down the tree to the ground, was hale and whole.
‘Well?’ he put his hands on his hips. ‘Did you kill anyone?’
‘No,’ you answered finally.
The boy sighed as if to say you were the dullest man in all of creation.
“The Greek Boy” by Jesse Kuiken is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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