Category Archives: Stella Pierides

Stone story by Stella Pierides

Although Kareem is eight, he looks more like twelve. This is neither due to his hairstyle, nor to the long trousers and T-shirt he is wearing; rather the serious expression on his face, and the way he looks at you, straight in the eye. He sells stones.

He picked them himself carefully: not too big, for they will not travel far; not too small, for they will impress no one. He arranged them on his wooden tray and priced them accordingly: regular, one piastra; medium, two.

By the time the protesters wake up, he is standing in the furthest corner of the square, holding his tray for them to buy his stones. He pockets the notes and coins, and by the end of the first day of business he has enough money to buy his mother flatbread and tahina; and to pay off the loan to Aziz for the trip on the felucca he didn’t want his mother to know about.

On the second day though, the protest turns violent and few buy his stones; many grab them and run. Kareem ties his money in his handkerchief, puts it in his trouser pocket and starts for home.

Hours later, when he comes to, long after the van that knocked him unconscious sped away, he feels for his bundle. It is no longer there. His strength gone, he falls back to the ground and closes his eyes. He now looks the boy of eight he is.

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On the nature of love by Stella Pierides

They had their meals together, relaxed together, slept together, lived together – but they seemed miles apart to me during the years I rented a room from them. Perhaps the problem was too much proximity, too much knowledge of the other, as if they were one, not two people; as if they lived off each other’s soul – you know the thick, suffocating air that requires such ‘distance’ to be created.

They misheard, misread, and had to repeat each sentence, each word coming out of the other’s mouth. They always misunderstood the intended meaning, spending their time in lengthy explanations and irritable exchanges.

On a trip to Greenwich Park, last summer, walking in step, sighing simultaneously, they got distracted by the crowd on their Sunday constitutional and incredibly, they got separated. I can tell you, because straddling the Meridian, I watched how they scanned the crowds looking for the familiar grey of their outfits, but could not see each other. I could see both of them looking lost.

I was wondering whether I should rush over and point them to their other half, when I remembered Aristophanes’ argument in the “Symposium” – that the human being originally consisted of four legs, four arms and one head with two faces – and, well, I stopped myself. Zeus was said to have separated those early humans into two, condemning them to a state of perpetually seeking their other half. I strolled away, smiling. After all, who am I to argue with Zeus.

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Dream Island by Stella Pierides

Strolling along a track in the river Evros Delta, in Alexandroupolis, on the border between Greece and Turkey, I could see millions of birds feeding. The lagoons, marshes, and lakes provide a heaven for birds seeking milder weather. The terns, warblers, waders, egrets, oystercatchers, shelducks, eagles, pelicans, cormorants have found their Eden. This spectacle, together with the eerie quiet of the landscape, was my reason for coming here.

My heart fluttered when I heard a sudden splash. Expecting a big bird, I turned slowly. A human arm momentarily caught in a reed bed, showed out of the water. The flow of the river pushed it past the reeds, sweeping it along on its journey.

I froze. Here, in this idyllic, serene waterland, there is neither space nor tolerance for those fleeing poverty and war. I’d read that
on this border alone, hundreds of aspiring immigrants lose their lives every year.

Easing myself on a stone, I remembered my grandmother’s story. When I asked her what happened to those trying to cross Evros escaping the aftermath of the 1922 war between Greece and Turkey, she said that in the middle of the river, there is Dream Island. Lapped by gentle waters, protected by olive, lemon, and fig trees, and warmed by a kind sun, it welcomes those seeking refuge. Run by angels, who pick up the drowned and the suicides floating past, it is the real heaven on Earth. The birds on the lagoon are their souls.

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A Case of Mistaken Identity by Stella Pierides

Diamond doves are small, beautiful birds, which can be kept as pets,
‘Wiki-Marion’ told me once. Since I knew she enjoys dispensing
information, I did not think more about it, until she invited me to
see her new pet, “Love”.

A bird of beauty! Light blue-grey head, neck, and breast; dark bill,
spotted wings fringed in black; orange eyes. I fell in love with Love.
He kept bow-cooing, fluffing his wings, strutting, kissing Marion’s
hand. I felt jealous, knowing I could not compete with my friend for
the bird’s affections.

Walking back home, I stopped at the park, looking for doves, ducks and
this winter’s migratory birds. None had the exquisite and delicate
beauty of the diamond dove. I was heartbroken by the time I arrived
home, vowing to stop visiting Marion to avoid the pain.

A few weeks later, she phoned me. “Love died,” she announced.

“What?”

“These birds seem to fall in love with their owner if they don’t have
a bird partner. I encouraged his bonding to me. But that was all I
could do – I could not let him mate with my hand as if it were a
female! He felt rejected and died of love.”

“It was only an animal. Animals behave differently,” I said, breaking
into hysterical laughter.

I put the phone down struck by an acute pang of unease. Who are the
animals here, I asked myself, my face burning with shame.

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Ariadne’s Thread by Stella Pierides

I have wanted to learn to knit for a long time. My mother knitted, her mother crocheted and they both embroidered. For the first half century of my life, I bluntly refused to touch a needle. Then, out of nowhere, I felt the urge. I googled immediately.

I learnt that once a week, knitters, stitchers, and crocheters from all over London meet and knit together. Stitch by stitch, loop by loop, they aim to take over the world and turn it into a warm, benign, woolly place, where humans knit together, refreshed by cups of tea, glasses of wine, cream cakes, and scones.

Rich and poor ladies, ordinary women, Oxbridge blue-stockings, illiterates, persons of various religious persuasions, and origins gather under one roof to knit and teach the learners. For free! Is that for real? I asked. Come and see, they replied.

Armed with wool and needles, I went. The Festival Hall, bathed in sparkling lights lit up the river; it overflowed with good-natured crowds. The knitters sat clutching their instruments, fingering the wool. Wine flowed, fairy cup-cakes, scones flew into mouths to the tune of clicking needles. I felt lost to alpaca, mohair, merino, cashmere.

I am a beginner, I said. Welcome, they replied. Feeling a huge grin mark my face, I picked up my needles. At last, I had found my way home. Afterwards, it dawned on me: had Penelope really wanted Odysseus back, wouldn’t she have given him a thread to find his way home?

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The bird’s eye view by Stella Pierides

Leaves and branches rushed past, a spade, buckets, a car, crates, tyres, a barrel. She clung to the rough, furrowed bark of the Eucalyptus, terrified that it might not hold on to its place for long.

She felt the torrential rain lashing her and the waters indiscriminately, feeding the swollen rivers. A desolate water land covered fields and low-lying areas. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught sight of a book floating past, opened upside-down, then another, then several specimens, as if the entire Amerold town library was being carried away by the flood. Her heart tightened. She had spent her youth in the library, growing up through its books. She used to wash her hands before opening them. She had become Miss Bell’s preferred reader, and she had even been allowed to stay on reading during lunchtime.

Scrunching up her eyes, she tried to make out the titles floating past, as if her life depended on it. The water kept rising. Brushing past, a raven flew to perch on the tree’s highest branch. She felt her hold loosening.

Feeling the bark for a better grip, she remembered the story of Noah’s Ark, the raven and the dove sent out to see if the flood waters subsided; and the book she’d read about ravens’ intelligence. She sensed the storm lessening. The bird was scanning the vast expanse; she was not alone. She sighed with relief and dug her nails into the tree bark.

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The City beneath the Ice by Stella Pierides

Once upon a time, deep beneath Siberian ice, there existed a
glass-domed city. Its tall cathedrals, minarets, and temples looked as
if aiming for the sky. As the city had been specifically constructed
to engineer the best society possible, this, symbolically at least,
was true. Privileged children from around the world were immediately
given up to this city below the ice – which was actually very warm
indeed – where it was said they would be brought up to live socially
productive and utterly fulfilling lives.

Provided with the most comfortable and sensual environment there
existed, they were schooled in the art of negotiation and rhetoric,
profitable and healthy living and hygiene in all its forms.

One day, someone entered the city by deception. Touring the city
undercover, he filmed the unsuspecting inhabitants going about their
daily lives. When he later showed the film to the outside world, there
was great fascination, awe, and outcry.

Examined in the light of the day, the city-beneath-the-ice-dwellers
were shown to be no different from the other humans. The only
difference being the outside world’s view of them, as if they were
designated containers for humanity’s need for ideals.

The resulting furor caused them to be brought cruelly over ground, and
the city –demoted to “no better than a cave” – was abandoned to the
elements. It is said, that it suffered the most unlikely outcome
possible: the city spontaneously combusted and the dome, giving way to
the ice above, caved-in.

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