Image credit: Maddison Colvin, "Untitled (1)," mixed media

View Artwork Credits
View full size

When we say “Kilometer 35, Athens-Lamia,” just where are we measuring from? From the city center, obviously, but from where exactly?

 

That’s how our friend Thanasis started off a conversation—the sort that usually fizzles out pretty quickly. But Thanasis was insistent. Once the dispute over Omonia versus Syntagma had been cleared up (revealing, in the process, who among us was truly clueless), the inquiry proceeded to the next stage, which was also the more interesting. From Syntagma, yes, but from where? From the steps? The fountain? The metro? The lawn? Where?

 

He began recounting his adventure to us. “This morning, I was looking into the International Bureau of Weights and Measures. I spoke to the Greek branch of the General Conference on Weights and Measures, which is headquartered outside of Paris with all of its expert metrologists. ‘Μέτρῳ χρω’, ‘Use measure’, their seal says, in Greek! But what about us Greeks? Don’t we get anything? Is it always about the foreigners? Then I called the Ministry of Commerce, at the General Secretariat for Commerce’s Office for Periodic Inspection of Weights and Measures:

 

“‘We’re not in charge of that, sir, we oversee weighing and measuring instruments meant for commercial, not scientific or laboratory, use.’

 

“‘Then you can go to hell!’

 

“Next I called the traffic police. Automated response … ‘For license plate confiscation and return, press 1. For towing, press 2. For moped license issuance, press 3. For traffic incidents, press 4.’ When I managed to get through to someone, I shouted at him: ‘Hey, pal, has Greece signed the treaty of 1875: yes or no?’

 

“‘It’s the Region of Attica that handles kilometer distances, sir, not us,’ ‘the Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure and Networks’, ‘the Department of Public Works’.”

 

He had spent the entire morning on the phone, asking about Kilometer Zero. As was to be expected, each person handed him off to another, sending him on somewhere else just to get rid of him. Traffic, Ministry of Transportation, from Annas to Caiaphas. At first, he spoke to them calmly, but eventually he became incensed in his mission: “Other cities, from ancient Rome and Constantinople with their Golden Milestones, to places from modern-day Ethiopia and Chile to Madagascar, have a monument—a rock, some hunk of bronze—that defines Kilometer Zero. In Havana they’ve got a diamond, a gift from the Tsar. Is it really so difficult, you pathetic Greek, for us to inform our own people just where exactly Kilometer Zero is? ‘I’m on my way, I’m at the hundred and third kilometer from Athens to Lamia.’ ‘Yes, but where?! Where is it?! Where are we measuring from?!’ What does ‘from Syntagma’ mean? My grandmother needs fifteen minutes just to cross ‘Syntagma’! In Seoul, the monument is actually 151 meters away from the exact Kilometer Zero. 151 meters! That’s more than the distance between two ends of a soccer field. Is that what we want? Is that who we are? Are we going to say that Kilometer Zero is here, when it’s really as far off as one goalie waving to the other?”

 

Smoking was prohibited in the taverna where we were seated, so some of us had gone outside for a cigarette. I went out and told them: “You’re missing it! Get back in here right now!” It’s not every day you get the chance to see your friend at the exact moment he completely loses it.

 

After forty-five minutes or so, all of us knew that something rather important had transpired that evening. A nervous breakdown, perhaps. And we were right. Just as Eratosthenes drowned himself in the waters of Chalcis because he couldn’t explain the tides of the Euripus Strait, so too did Thanasis fixate on the conundrum with all the hallmarks of obsession. The next week, he didn’t come to the taverna. He stayed home doing research, preparing a proposal for the Ministry about where, to his mind, the marker for Kilometer Zero ought to be. Of course he’d gone to Syntagma, where he’d set up a small fine-measurement workshop. He drew thin straight lines on crucial paving stones to aid in his calculations and toted pencils and other equipment around with him until they kicked him off the square and he had to start working from home.

 

He spent day and night with the idea. His fate, however, was the same as that of his colleague Agelaus. Agelaus had set out to determine the precise weight of his own head, until he realized that the only way he could do so was by cutting it off. But that’s how these things go: the price of obsession is your head; anything else is just compromise. So Thanasis lost his head. He spent all night over his papers and calculations, agitated and tense.

 

Brain scientists do not have the slightest idea about what actually goes on in a person’s head. All this nonsense about the cortex, ridges, lobe, hemispheres: fairy tales for little kids. And you can forget what’s been written about psychological disorders and the brain…. In reality, the brain is a shapeless mass (mush) that boils in a round pot (the skull) and is supported by the neck, which also regulates its temperature. The neck is the origin of every mental activity, which is why we clear our throats before speaking. The central human emotions, anger and embarrassment, are both expressed via rises of temperature in the throat. This clearly explains why people’s tone of voice changes when they’re angry and fighting, and accounts for why they sob when they cry. It takes very little imagination to understand that increases of temperature in this pot are likely, even frequent, and that is why the body also has an extinguishing system we call “tears.” Anyway, there’s a reason we take water in through our mouths: to regulate our temperature depending on the season. Thanasis’ mental overstimulation was even more apparent thanks to the bright red cheek flush that accompanied his every facial expression and indicated the high temperature in his brain.

 

At about six in the morning, when he decided to stop for a little while to get some rest, his brain quit listening to him. Its temperature continued to rise to the point of bursting and nothing could stop it. Thanasis was a conscious devotee of the shapeless mass theory, which is why he kept drinking cold water in attempts to soothe the beast that lived in his head and douse the flames singeing his eyeballs—but it was too late. In the end he exploded, suffering what doctors call a “stroke.”

 

When he was brought into the hospital, it took them forty-eight hours just to fill out the patient admission forms correctly. By then, Thanasis’ amorphous lump of a brain had already gone dead—in other words, the pilot light at the base of the throat, below the pot, had gone out with no hope of being relit, or so said the doctors. Yet he did not die.

 

Doctors, as everyone knows, are not selected for their sensitivity. Whoever wants sensitivity should go ask his grandma for a hug. Doctors are scientists. So they told his mother that he couldn’t be admitted because they needed the patient’s signature. When his mother tried to explain that this was impossible because he was in a coma, the doctor had already left, because doctors hold lives in their hands and the last thing they want to do is stand around chatting with patients’ family members. When she went to the main desk, they didn’t mince words: you have to follow directions when you fill out hospital paperwork.

 

They had admitted him without filling in his father’s name, and without writing his postcode! The simplest and most common mistake, a patient mix-up, happens when you fill out forms willy-nilly. “Do you want us to remove his appendix?” the employee asked her, like a hospital employee trying to be clever with a patient’s family member—which was rather fitting, seeing as a hospital employee trying to be clever with a patient’s family member is precisely what she was.

 

When (on the third attempt, since everyone in the hospital had come to realize that this woman whose child was in a coma was a complete idiot) she finally managed to fill out the admission forms correctly, the doctor came to visit them. In fact, it was none other than the director of the clinic who paid the visit. He entered the room like a white angel, attended by a herd of specialists who followed him at a breath’s distance, taking care, however, not to annoy him with their breath—to step neither ahead of nor too close to him. He had a white lab coat with pens advertising pharmaceutical companies in his left pocket like medals, worn “over the heart” as we once would’ve said.

 

The nurse, whom Thanasis’ mother hadn’t been able to motivate into answering questions of any kind, grew nervous at the doctor’s arrival and snapped at Mrs. Vaso (the name of our hero’s mother) that she shouldn’t have moved the room’s side-table to where it better suited her, because one time the doctor had stumbled, and the entire floor had been able to hear the torrent of curses he quite rightly let loose. It’s no wonder that everything is in its place, down to the last centimeter. Lives are at stake in here. Now, however, the time had come to leave aside all these non-medical details and let science take over. And medicine is an exact science, not a free-for-all.

 

The doctor began to examine the reflections in his pupils, the position of his eyes depending on the movement of his head (doll’s eyes, the godless would call them) and administered all the relevant tests: 20 ml of ice-cold water in the tympanic membrane and so on. Once he had thoroughly examined him with a frown and sure professionalism, the doctor asked his mother—who looked at her lifeless baby, unmoving on the hospital bed, and kept stroking his leg hoping that perhaps the results might change—“What is your name?”

 

“Vaso.”

 

“Well, Mrs. Vaso, your son is brain-dead. There’s no chance of recovery.”

 

The boy’s mother looked at him, speechless. Later the poor woman wanted to ask a whole host of questions, but right now she didn’t ask anything. She thought things over to herself when the doctor left. Where in the corridors would she find him now? He was still with the supervisor who yells at you if you move the side-table around.

 

This was the beginning of Act II in the exact-measurement drama of Thanasis’ life, or at least in what little of his life remained. His face was white and expressionless, unrecognizable. Mrs. Vaso watched her son dissolve before her eyes, as if they had shut her in the coffin with him to watch the worms devour him. Just like that, out of sadism. At a certain point she had made up her mind. She accepted that her child was dead, and started to ask why they wouldn’t just let her bury him. “That’s impossible,” they told her, “because we can’t get precise readings and he might have hypothermia!”

 

“What readings do you need to get? Since he’s dead, why don’t you just let me bury my child, since he’s dead!”

 

“Yes, ma’am, but who will take responsibility for pulling the plug?” (That’s just how they said it, like they were talking about a toaster.) “Will you take responsibility? When someone has hypothermia, the clinical exam doesn’t work correctly. We can’t be sure whether vital functions are still taking place. We’d go to jail for murder if we didn’t get reliable measurements first.”

 

This conversation replayed over and over, so many times that the real danger became of Mrs. Vaso going to jail for murder, because as we all know no doctor ever goes to prison for actions performed or oversights made in the course of performing his duties. There is a kind of professional solidarity among them—a rare virtue, and one that is always pleasing to encounter. They kept repeating the same thing as Thanasis’ mother wore herself out day after day beside him, watching as he slipped away before her and unable to do anything about it. In order for the exam results to be deemed valid and brain death to be confirmed—to prove, that is, that we don’t take living people off ventilators just for compassion’s sake—four consecutive measurements taken at intervals of three hours must establish that the patient’s temperature is steady at normal levels. Otherwise, hypothermia could present symptoms similar to brain death, leading us to think the patient has died and to send him off before his time.

 

And yet Thanasis’ body, the body of a man who had been driven to extremes by a passion for exact measurements, continued to resist by playing this (hardly amusing) game. And because the doctor, too, was for his own part a precision enthusiast, despite all their differences these two people who never would have met in normal life were now united by a common concern: Thanasis’ soul could not depart before a precise measurement was taken. This is by no means a simple matter: the armpit, the ear, the mouth, the rectum—everything lies when it comes to temperature. The bottom is about a tenth of a degree warmer than the stomach, which can be about two tenths of a degree warmer than the armpit. The thickness of the skin changes the results. Only a measurement taken from within the brain fluid itself could illuminate the mystery of exact human temperature. And this, naturally, cannot be done with a simple thermometer. Had Thanasis come to, he would have been driven nuts by all this sloppiness. Thermistors, crystal liquids, I have no idea what else—all available means of measurement would have to be used.

 

An entire month passed like this, with Thanasis’ body refusing to allow his temperature to stabilize enough for the nurses to measure it and the doctors to be satisfied, until at last he became an intubated corpse. It was like sticking a thermometer into one of those ashen cadavers they lay out in a row next to each other in a medical school anatomy class.

 

The doctor had done everything he could to get the measurement. Now they kept Thanasis alive with so much care that you couldn’t help but think that, if they had only treated him this way from the start, then he might not have wound up like this, a cadaver with a thermometer up his butt. But they kept him alive just like those doctors who work with torturers, whose job it is to make sure the person they’re torturing doesn’t croak before a confession. That, more or less, is how they had him hanging on, in the hopes that he’d just give a precise temperature reading for once and then go to hell. This standoff kept up for forty days, until Thanasis had the last word.

 

On the day of his passing, they were at last able to get a good and reliable measurement. It was so marvelous, like solving an unsolvable equation. When they saw that, for the third time now, his temperature had held steady, everyone gathered around the nurse and waited in agony: the doctor could finally let him die. When the fourth measurement was taken, his mother swore that she saw him smile. They explained to her that this was impossible, but she said to them: “Don’t I know my own child?”

 

*Dedicated to the memory of my friend Petros Koutsiampasakos, who spoke to us of ‘Kilometer Zero’ at Taverna Oikonomou.



View Original Work ↓

Ὅταν λέμε 35ο χιλιόμετρο Ἀθηνῶν-Λαμίας, ἀπὸ ποῦ μετρᾶμε; Ἀπὸ τὸ κέντρο, προφανῶς, ἀλλὰ ἀπὸ ποῦ ἀκριβῶς;

 

Μὲ αὐτὰ τὰ λόγια ὁ φίλος μας ὁ Θανάσης ἄνοιξε μιὰ συζήτηση ἀπὸ αὐτὲς ποὺ κανονικὰ ἐξαντλοῦνται πολὺ γρήγορα. Ὁ Θανάσης ὅμως ἐπέμενε. Ἀφοῦ ξεκαθαρίστηκε ἡ διχογνωμία μεταξὺ Ὁμόνοιας καὶ Συντάγματος (δείχνοντας ποιοί ἦταν οἱ πραγματικὰ ἀδαεῖς τῆς παρέας), ἡ ἀναζήτηση πέρασε στὸ δεύτερο στάδιο, ποὺ ἦταν καὶ τὸ πιὸ ἐνδιαφέρον. Στὸ Σύνταγμα, ναί, ἀλλὰ ποῦ; Στὰ σκαλάκια; Στὸ συντριβάνι; Στὸ μετρό; Στὸ χορτάρι; Ποῦ;

 

Ἄρχισε λοιπὸν νὰ μᾶς περιγράφει τὴν περιπέτειά του: «Κοίταζα τὸ πρωὶ στὸ Διεθνὲς Γραφεῖο Μέτρων καὶ Σταθμῶν, μίλησα μὲ τὸ ἑλληνικὸ παράρτημα τῆς Γενικῆς Διάσκεψης Μέτρων καὶ Σταθμῶν, ποὺ ἔχει ἕδρα στὸ Παβιγιόν, μὲ τοὺς εἰδικοὺς μετρολόγους ἐρευνητές. “Μέτρῳ χρῶ”, λέει στὸ σῆμα της. Ἐμεῖς; Τίποτα; Ὅλα οἱ ξένοι; Τηλεφώνησα στὸ ὑπουργεῖο Ἐμπορίου, στὴ διεύθυνση γιὰ τὸν Περιοδικὸ Ἔλεγχο Μέτρων καὶ Σταθμῶν τῆς Γενικῆς Γραμματείας Ἐμπορίου: –“Δὲν εἴμαστε ἁρμόδιοι ἐμεῖς, κύριε, γιὰ μᾶς εἶναι προϋπόθεση ὅτι γίνεται ἐμπορικὴ χρήση τῶν μετρικῶν καὶ σταθμικῶν ὀργάνων, ὄχι ἐπιστημονικὴ ἢ ἐργαστηριακή”. –“Νὰ πᾶτε στὸ διάολο, λοιπόν!” Μετὰ τηλεφώνησα στὴ Διεύθυνση Τροχαίας. Τηλεφωνητής… “Γιὰ ἀφαίρεση καὶ ἀπόδοση πινακίδων, πατῆστε 1· γιὰ ἀποστολὴ γερανοῦ, πατῆστε 2· γιὰ τὴν ἔκδοση ἄδειας μοτοποδηλάτου, πατῆστε 3· γιὰ τροχαῖα ἀτυχήματα, πατῆστε 4”. Ὅταν κατάφερα νὰ μιλήσω μὲ κάποιον, φώναζα: –“ Ἔχει ὑπογράψει ἡ Ἑλλάδα τὴ συνθήκη τοῦ 1875, ἄνθρωπέ μου, ναὶ ἢ ὄχι;”» –« Ἡ Περιφέρεια Ἀττικῆς ἀσχολεῖται μὲ τὶς χιλιομετρικὲς ἀποστάσεις, κύριε, ὄχι ἐμεῖς», «τὸ ὑπουργεῖο Μεταφορῶν, Ὑποδομῶν καὶ Δικτύων», «ἡ διεύθυνση Δημοσίων Ἔργων»…

 

Εἶχε περάσει τὸ πρωινό του στὸ τηλέφωνο, ρωτώντας γιὰ τὸ χιλιόμετρο μηδέν. Ὅπως θὰ ἦταν ἀναμενόμενο, ὁ ἕνας τὸν ἔστελνε στὸν ἄλλον, τὸν παρέπεμπαν κάπου ἀλλοῦ γιὰ νὰ τὸν ξεφορτωθοῦν. Τροχαία, ὑπουργεῖο Συγκοινωνιῶν, ἀπὸ τὸν Ἄννα στὸν Καϊάφα. Τοὺς μιλοῦσε στὴν ἀρχὴ ψύχραιμα, ἀλλὰ ἀργὰ ἢ γρήγορα τὸν ἔπνιγε τὸ δίκιο του: « Ἄλλες πόλεις, ἤδη ἀπὸ τὸ “Χρυσοῦν μίλιον” τῆς Ρώμης καὶ τῆς Κωνσταντινούπολης, σήμερα ἀπὸ τὴν Αἰθιοπία ὣς τὴ Χιλὴ καὶ τὴ Μαδαγασκάρη, ἔχουν ἕνα μνημεῖο ἐκεῖ, μιὰ πέτρα, μιὰ μπρούντζινη γκουμούτσα ποὺ ὁρίζει τὸ χιλιόμετρο μηδέν. Στὴν Ἁβάνα εἶχαν διαμάντι, δῶρο τοῦ Τσάρου. Τόσο δύσκολο εἶναι, ρὲ κωλοέλληνα, νὰ ἐνημερώσουμε κι ἐμεῖς τὸν κόσμο μας νὰ ξέρει ποῦ ἀκριβῶς εἶναι τὸ χιλιόμετρο μηδέν; “ Ἔρχομαι, εἶμαι στὸ ἑκατοστὸ τρίτο χιλιόμετρο Ἀθηνῶν-Λαμίας”. “Ναί, ἀλλὰ ποῦ;! Ποῦ εἶναι;! Ἀπὸ ποῦ μετρᾶμε;!” Τί θὰ πεῖ “ἀπὸ τὸ Σύνταγμα”; Ἡ γιαγιά μου θέλει ἕνα τέταρτο γιὰ νὰ διασχίσει “τὸ Σύνταγμα”! Στὴ Σεοὺλ τὸ μνημεῖο ἀπέχει 151 μέτρα ἀπὸ τὸ ἀκριβὲς χιλιόμετρο μηδέν. 151 μέτρα! Αὐτὸ εἶναι περισσότερο ἀπὸ τὴν ἀπόσταση ἀνάμεσα στὰ δύο τέρματα ἑνὸς γηπέδου ποδοσφαίρου. Αὐτὸ θέλουμε; Αὐτοὶ εἴμαστε; Νὰ λέμε ἐδῶ εἶναι τὸ χιλιόμετρο μηδὲν καὶ νὰ εἶναι τὸ σημεῖο ποὺ ὁ ἕνας τερματοφύλακας χαιρετάει τὸν ἄλλον;»

 

Καθὼς στὴν ταβέρνα ποὺ βρισκόμασταν δὲν ἐπιτρέπεται τὸ κάπνισμα, κάποιοι ἦταν ἔξω γιὰ τσιγάρο, λοιπὸν βγῆκα καὶ τοὺς εἰδοποίησα: «Χάνεις, ἔλα γρήγορα μέσα!» Δὲν ἔχει κανεὶς συχνὰ τὴν εὐκαιρία νὰ παρακολουθήσει τὸν φίλο του τὴν ὥρα ἀκριβῶς ποὺ τοῦ στρίβει.

 

Ὅταν φτάσαμε στὰ τρία τέταρτα, ὅλοι ξέραμε πὼς κάτι πολὺ σημαντικὸ εἶχε συμβεῖ ἐκείνη τὴ βραδιά. Γιὰ παράδειγμα, ἡ φρενοβλάβεια. Εἴχαμε δίκιο. Ὅπως ὁ Ἐρατοσθένης, ποὺ ἔπεσε νὰ πνιγεῖ στὰ νερὰ τῆς Χαλκίδας γιατὶ δὲν μποροῦσε νὰ ἐξηγήσει τὸ φαινόμενο τῆς παλίρροιας στὰ στενὰ τοῦ Εὐρίπου, ὁ Θανάσης ἐπέμενε σὲ αὐτὴ τὴν ἀπορία μὲ ὅλα τὰ χαρακτηριστικὰ τῆς ἔμμονης ἰδέας. Τὴν ἑπόμενη ἑβδομάδα δὲν ἦρθε στὴν ταβέρνα. Ἦταν σπίτι του καὶ μελετοῦσε, ἑτοίμαζε μιὰ πρόταση πρὸς τὸ ὑπουργεῖο, γιὰ τὸ ποῦ θὰ πρέπει κατὰ τὴν ἄποψή του νὰ γίνει τὸ σημεῖο τοῦ χιλιομέτρου μηδέν. Εἶχε βεβαίως πάει στὸ Σύνταγμα καὶ εἶχε στήσει ἕνα μικρὸ ἐργαστήρι ἀκριβομετρίας, εἶχε ζωγραφίσει κάθετες λεπτὲς γραμμὲς στὶς κρίσιμες πλάκες, γιὰ νὰ μπορεῖ νὰ ὑπολογίσει καλύτερα, εἶχε μαζί του τὰ μολύβια του καὶ τὰ σύνεργά του, μέχρι ποὺ τὸν ἔδιωξαν καὶ ἔπρεπε νὰ κάνει τὴ δουλειὰ ἀπὸ τὸ σπίτι.

 

Ξημεροβραδιαζόταν μὲ αὐτὴ τὴ σκέψη. Ἡ μοίρα του ὅμως ἦταν κοινὴ μὲ τὸν συνάδελφό του τὸν Ἀγέλαο: Ἐκεῖνος εἶχε βαλθεῖ νὰ ζυγίσει μὲ ἀκρίβεια τὸ κεφάλι του, ὥσπου συνειδητοποίησε ὅτι ὁ μόνος τρόπος νὰ τὰ καταφέρει ἦταν νὰ τὸ κόψει. Ἀλλὰ ἔτσι εἶναι αὐτά: τὸ τίμημα τῆς ἐμμονῆς εἶναι τὸ κεφάλι σου, τὰ ὑπόλοιπα εἶναι συμβιβασμοί. Ὁ Θανάσης λοιπὸν τὸ ἔφαγε τὸ κεφάλι του. Εἶχε περάσει ὅλη τὴ νύχτα πάνω ἀπὸ τὰ χαρτιὰ καὶ τοὺς ὑπολογισμούς του, ξαναμμένος καὶ νευρικός.

 

Οἱ ἐπιστήμονες τοῦ ἐγκεφάλου δὲν ἔχουν τὴν παραμικρὴ ἰδέα γιὰ τὸ τί συμβαίνει στὸ κεφάλι τοῦ ἀνθρώπου. Ὅλες αὐτὲς οἱ ἀνοησίες μὲ τὸν φλοιό, τοὺς ἔλικες, τὸν λοβό, τὰ ἡμισφαίρια…παραμύθια γιὰ μικρὰ παιδιά. Ἄσε δὲ αὐτὰ ποὺ γράφονται γιὰ τὶς ψυχικὲς διαταραχὲς καὶ τὸν ἐγκέφαλο... Στὴν πραγματικότητα, ὁ ἐγκέφαλος εἶναι μιὰ ἄμορφη μάζα (χυλός) ποὺ κοχλάζει σὲ ἕνα στρογγυλὸ καζάνι (τὸ κρανίο) καὶ στηρίζεται στὸν λαιμό, ποὺ ρυθμίζει καὶ τὴ θερμοκρασία. Ὁ λαιμὸς εἶναι ἡ πηγὴ κάθε πνευματικῆς δραστηριότητας, ἐξ οὗ καὶ ξεροβήχουμε πάντα πρὶν μιλήσουμε. Τὰ κεντρικὰ ἀνθρώπινα συναισθήματα, ποὺ εἶναι ὁ θυμὸς καὶ ἡ ντροπή, ἐκφράζονται καὶ τὰ δύο μὲ ἄνοδο τῆς θερμοκρασίας στὸν λαιμό, γεγονὸς ποὺ ἐξηγεῖ καθαρὰ καὶ τὴν ἀλλοίωση τῆς χροιᾶς τῆς φωνῆς στοὺς ευριασμένους, τὴν ὥρα τοῦ καβγᾶ, καθὼς ἐπίσης καὶ τὸ κλάμα μὲ λυγμούς. Δὲν χρειάζεται ἰδιαίτερη φαντασία γιὰ νὰ καταλάβει κανεὶς ὅτι ἡ ἄνοδος τῆς θερμοκρασίας σὲ αὐτὸ τὸ καζάνι εἶναι πιθανή, μάλιστα συχνή, γι’ αὐτὸ καὶ ὑπάρχει ἕνα ἐνσωματωμένο σύστημα πυρόσβεσης ποὺ ὀνομάζουμε «δάκρυα». Ἐξάλλου δὲν εἶναι τυχαῖο ὅτι προσλαμβάνουμε τὰ ὑγρὰ ἀπὸ τὸ στόμα, προκειμένου νὰ ρυθμίζεται ἡ θερμοκρασία ἀνάλογα μὲ τὴν ἐποχή. Ἡ πνευματικὴ ὑπερδιέγερση τοῦ Θανάση ἦταν πιὰ ἐμφανὴς χάρη στὰ κατακόκκινα μάγουλα ποὺ συνόδευαν κάθε ἔκφραση τοῦ προσώπου του καὶ ἔδειχναν τὴν ὑψηλὴ ἐγκεφαλικὴ θερμοκρασία του.

 

Γύρω στὶς ἕξι τὸ πρωί, ὅταν ἀποφάσισε νὰ σταματήσει λίγο γιὰ νὰ ξεκουραστεῖ, ὁ ἐγκέφαλός του δὲν συνεργαζόταν πιά. Συνέχιζε νὰ ἀνεβάζει θερμοκρασία μέχρι σημείου ἐκρήξεως, χωρὶς τίποτα νὰ μπορεῖ νὰ τὸν σταματήσει. Ὁ Θανάσης ἦταν συνειδητὸς θιασώτης τῆς θεωρία ς τῆς ἄμορφης μάζας, γι’ αὐτὸ ἔπινε συνεχῶς κρύο νερὸ γιὰ νὰ κατευνάσει τὸ θηρίο ποὺ κατοικοῦσε στὸ κεφάλι του καὶ ξέρναγε φλόγες ποὺ τσουρούφλιζαν τοὺς βολβοὺς τῶν ματιῶν του, ἀλλὰ ἦταν πιὰ ἀργά. Στὸ τέλος ἐξερράγη, παθαίνοντας αὐτὸ ποὺ ἡ ἰατρικὴ ὀνομάζει «ἐγκεφαλικό».

 

Ὅταν εἰσήχθη στὸ νοσοκομεῖο, πέρασαν πρῶτα δύο εἰκοσιτετράωρα μέχρι νὰ συμπληρωθεῖ σωστὰ ἡ φόρμα εἰσαγωγῆς ἀσθενοῦς. Μπαίνοντας στὸ τρίτο εἰκοσιτετράωρο, ὁ ἄμορφος χυλὸς τοῦ ἐγκεφάλου τοῦ Θανάση εἶχε πιὰ νεκρωθεῖ, δηλαδὴ οὐσιαστικὰ εἶχε πάψει νὰ λειτουργεῖ ἡ φωτιὰ ποὺ βρίσκεται στὴ βάση τοῦ λαιμοῦ, κάτω ἀπὸ τὸ καζάνι, χωρὶς ἐλπίδα ἀνάνηψης, ὅπως εἶπαν οἱ γιατροί. Ὡστόσο δὲν πέθανε.

 

Οἱ γιατροί, ὡς γνωστόν, δὲν ἐπιλέγονται μὲ βάση τὴν εὐαισθησία τους. Ὅποιος θέλει εὐαισθησία, νὰ πάει νὰ τὸν χαϊδέψει ἡ γιαγιά του. Οἱ γιατροὶ εἶναι ἐπιστήμονες. Εἶπαν λοιπὸν στὴ μητέρα του ὅτι ἡ εἰσαγωγὴ δὲν μπορεῖ νὰ ὁλοκληρωθεῖ γιατὶ πρέπει νὰ ὑπογράψει ὁ ἀσθενής. Ὅταν ἡ μητέρα του ἐπιχείρησε νὰ τοὺς ἐξηγήσει ὅτι αὐτὸ δὲν γίνεται, γιατὶ εἶναι σὲ κῶμα, ὁ γιατρὸς εἶχε ἤδη φύγει, γιατὶ οἱ γιατροὶ κρατοῦν ζωὲς στὰ χέρια τους, καὶ τὸ τελευταῖο πράγμα ποὺ ἔχουν ὄρεξη νὰ κάνουν εἶναι ἡ κουβεντούλα μὲ τοὺς συγγενεῖς τῶν ἀσθενῶν. Ὅταν πῆγε λοιπὸν στὴ γραμματεία, τῆς μίλησαν χωρὶς περιστροφές: χρειάζεται λίγη προσοχὴ ὅταν συμπληρώνεις τὴ φόρμα εἰσαγωγῆς στὸ νοσοκομεῖο.

 

Τὸν εἶχαν γράψει χωρὶς τὸ πατρώνυμο καὶ χωρὶς ταχυδρομικὸ κώδικα! Εἶναι τὸ πιὸ ἁπλὸ καὶ συνηθισμένο λάθος νὰ τὸν μπερδέψουν μὲ κάποιον ἄλλον, ἂν ἡ δουλειὰ γίνει τσαπατσούλικα. «Θέλετε νὰ τοῦ βγάλουμε τὴ σκωληκοειδίτιδα;» τὴ ρώτησε ἡ ὑπάλληλος, μὲ ὕφος νοσοκομειακοῦ ὑπαλλήλου ποὺ λέει ἐξυπνάδες σὲ συγγενὴ ἀσθενοῦς – ποὺ ἦταν πολὺ ταιριαστό, γιατὶ ἦταν ἀκριβῶς μιὰ νοσοκομειακὴ ὑπάλληλος ποὺ ἔλεγε ἐξυπνάδες σὲ συγγενὴ ἀσθενοῦς.

 

Ὅταν (μὲ τὴν τρίτη προσπάθεια, γιατὶ ὅλοι στὸ νοσοκομεῖο εἶχαν καταλάβει ὅτι αὐτὴ ἡ γυναίκα μὲ τὸ παιδὶ σὲ κῶμα ἦταν ἐντελῶς ἠλίθια) συμπλήρωσε ἐπιτέλους σωστὰ τὴ φόρμα εἰσαγωγῆς, τοὺς ἐπισκέφτηκε γιατρός. Μάλιστα, οὔτε λίγο οὔτε πολύ, τοὺς ἐπισκέφθηκε ὁ ἴδιος ὁ διευθυντὴς τῆς κλινικῆς. Μπῆκε στὸ δωμάτιο σὰν ἕνας λευκὸς ἄγγελος, μὲ ἕνα τσοῦρμο εἰδικευόμενους γιατροὺς ποὺ τὸν ἀκολουθοῦσαν σὲ ἀπόσταση ἀναπνοῆς, προσέχοντας ὅμως νὰ μὴν τὸν ἐνοχλοῦν μὲ τὰ χνότα τους, νὰ μὴν τὸν προσπερνοῦν οὔτε νὰ τὸν πλησιάζουν. Φοροῦσε τὴν ὁλόλευκη ποδιά του, μὲ τὰ στυλὸ τῶν φαρμακευτικῶν ἑταιρειῶν σὰν παράσημα στὴν ἀριστερὴ τσέπη του, «στὸ μέρος τῆς καρδιᾶς», ὅπως θὰ λέγαμε πιὸ παλιά.

 

Ἡ νοσοκόμα, ποὺ ἡ μητέρα τοῦ Θανάση δὲν εἶχε μέχρι τώρα καταφέρει νὰ τῆς παράσχει ἐπαρκῆ κίνητρα γιὰ νὰ ἀπαντήσει σὲ ὁποιαδήποτε ἐρώτηση, εἶχε ἀγχωθεῖ μὲ τὴν ἐπίσκεψη τοῦ γιατροῦ καὶ εἶχε κάνει παρατήρηση στὴν κυρα-Βάσω (ἔτσι ἔλεγαν τὴ μητέρα τοῦ ἥρωά μας) ὅτι πολὺ κακῶς μετακίνησε τὸ τραπεζάκι τοῦ δωματίου ἐκεῖ ποὺ τὴ βόλευε, γιατὶ στὸ παρελθὸν ὁ γιατρὸς εἶχε σκοντάψει καὶ τοὺς ἄκουσε ὅλος ὁ ὄροφος μὲ τὰ δίκαια γαμοσταυρίδια ποὺ τοὺς ἔριξε. Τὸ νὰ βρίσκονται ὅλα στὴ θέση τους, μὲ ἀκρίβεια ἑκατοστοῦ, δὲν εἶναι παραξενιά. Παίζονται ζωὲς ἐκεῖ μέσα. Εἶχε ἔρθει ὅμως ἡ ὥρα νὰ παραμεριστοῦν ὅλες αὐτὲς οἱ ἐξωιατρικὲς λεπτομέρειες καὶ νὰ ἀναλάβει δράση ἡ ἐπιστήμη. Καὶ ἡ ἰατρικὴ εἶναι ἀκριβὴς ἐπιστήμη, δὲν εἶναι κωλοχανίο.

 

Ὁ γιατρὸς ξεκίνησε νὰ ἐλέγχει τὰ ἀντανακλαστικὰ τῆς κόρης τοῦ ματιοῦ, τὴ θέση τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν κατὰ τὴ μετακίνηση τῆς κεφαλῆς («κίνηση ματιῶν κούκλας» τὴ λένε οἱ ἀθεόφοβοι) μαζὶ μὲ ὅλες τὶς σχετικὲς δοκιμασίες: 20ml παγωμένο νερὸ στὴν τυμπανικὴ μεμβράνη κ.λπ. Ἀφοῦ τὸν ἐξέτασε ἐπισταμένως, μὲ βλοσυρότητα καὶ σ τιβαρὸ ἐπαγγελματισμό, ὁ γιατρὸς εἶπε στὴ μάνα του – ποὺ κοίταζε τὸ παιδάκι της ἄψυχο, ἀκίνητο στὸ κρεβάτι τοῦ νοσοκομείου, καὶ τοῦ ἔτριβε συνεχῶς τὸ καλάμι, ἀλλοιώνοντας ἴσως ἔτσι τὰ ἀποτελέσματα τῆς ἐξέτασης: «Πῶς σὲ λένε;» «Βάσω». «Λοιπόν, κυρα-Βάσω, τὸ παιδί σου εἶναι ἐγκεφαλικὰ νεκρό. Δὲν πρόκειται νὰ συνέλθει». Ἡ μάνα του τὸν κοίταζε ἀμίλητη. Ἤθελε μετὰ ἡ κακομοίρα νὰ ρωτήσει ἕνα σωρὸ πράγματα, ἀλλὰ δὲν ρώτησε τίποτα. Τὰ σκεφτόταν μόνη της, ὅταν ὁ γιατρὸς εἶχε φύγει. Ποῦ νὰ τὸν κυνηγᾶς στοὺς διαδρόμους τώρα. Εἶχε μείνει μὲ τὴν προϊσταμένη ποὺ φωνάζει ὅταν μετακινεῖς τὸ τραπεζάκι.

 

Ἐκεῖ ξεκινᾶ ἡ ἑπόμενη πράξη στὸ δράμα τῶν ἀκριβῶν μετρήσεων στὴ ζωὴ τοῦ Θανάση, ἢ τέλος πάντων σὲ ὅ,τι εἶχε ἀπομείνει ἀπὸ τὴ ζωή του. Τὸ πρόσωπό του ἦταν ἄσπρο καὶ ἀνέκφραστο, ἀγνώριστο. Ἡ κυρα-Βάσω ἔβλεπε τὸν γιό της νὰ λιώνει μπροστὰ στὰ μάτια της, σὰν νὰ τὴν εἶχαν κλείσει μαζί του στὴν κάσα, νὰ βλέπει τὰ σκουλήκια νὰ τὸν τρῶνε· ἔτσι, ἀπὸ σαδισμό. Κάποια στιγμὴ τὸ εἶχε πάρει πιὰ ἀπόφαση, τὸ εἶχε χωνέψει γιὰ τὰ καλὰ ὅτι τὸ παιδί της εἶχε πεθάνει, λοιπὸν ρωτοῦσε συνέχεια γιατί δὲν τὴν ἄφηναν νὰ τὸ θάψει. Δὲν γίνεται, τῆς λένε, γιατὶ δὲν μποροῦμε νὰ πάρουμε ἀκριβεῖς μετρήσεις καὶ ἴσως νὰ ἔχει ὑποθερμία! –«Τί νὰ πάρετε; Ἀφοῦ ἔχει πεθάνει, γιατί δὲν μὲ ἀφήνετε νὰ θάψω τὸ παιδί μου, ἀφοῦ ἔχει πεθάνει!» –«Ναί, κυρία μου, ἀλλὰ ποιός θὰ πάρει τὴν εὐθύνη νὰ τραβήξει τὴν πρίζα; ( Ἔτσι τὸ εἶπε, λὲς καὶ ἦταν τοστιέρα.) Ἐσεῖς θὰ πάρετε τὴν εὐθύνη; Ὅταν ἔχει ὑποθερμία δὲν γίνεται σωστὰ ἡ κλινικὴ ἐξέταση. Δὲν μποροῦμε νὰ ξέρουμε ἂν ὑπάρχουν ἀκόμη ζωτικὲς λειτουργίες. Θὰ πᾶμε φυλακὴ γιὰ φόνο, ἂν δὲν προηγηθοῦν ἀξιόπιστες μετρήσεις».

 

Αὐτὴ ἡ συζήτηση γινόταν πάλι καὶ πάλι, τόσο ποὺ ὁ πραγματικὸς κίνδυνος ἦταν νὰ πάει ἡ κυρα-Βάσω φυλακὴ γιὰ φόνο, γιατὶ ὅπως ξέρουμε φυλακὴ δὲν πάει κανένας γιατρὸς γιὰ πράξεις ἢ παραλείψεις κατὰ τὴν ἄσκηση τῶν καθηκόντων του. Εἶναι κάτι σὰν ἐπαγγελματικὴ ἀλληλεγγύη, ποὺ εἶναι μιὰ σπάνια ἀρετὴ καὶ εἶναι πάντα εὐχάριστο ὅταν τὴ συναντᾶς. Ἔλεγαν συνέχεια τὰ ἴδια, μὲ τὴ μητέρα τοῦ Θανάση νὰ ἐξουθενώνεται μέρα τὴ μέρα δίπλα του, νὰ τὸν βλέπει νὰ ἀποστεώνεται μπροστὰ στὰ μάτια της χωρὶς νὰ μπορεῖ νὰ τὸν βοηθήσει. Γιὰ νὰ θεωρηθοῦν ἔγκυρες οἱ ἐξετάσεις καὶ νὰ πιστοποιηθεῖ ὁ ἐγκεφαλικὸς θάνατος–νὰ ἀποδειχτεῖ δηλαδὴ ὅτι δὲν ἀποσυνδέουμε ἀπὸ τὸν ἀναπνευστήρα ἕναν ζωντανὸ ἄνθρωπο, ὡς πράξη εὐθανασίας–θὰ πρέπει σὲ τέσσερις διαδοχικὲς μετρήσεις μὲ ἀπόσταση τριῶν ὡρῶν νὰ παραμείνει σταθερὴ σὲ φυσιολογικὲς τιμὲς ἡ θερμοκρασία τοῦ ἀσθενοῦς. Διαφορετικά, ἡ ὑποθερμία μπορεῖ νὰ προκαλέσει συμπτώματα παρόμοια μὲ τοῦ ἐγκεφαλικοῦ θανάτου, νὰ νομίζουμε ὅτι ἔχει πεθάνει καὶ νὰ τὸν στείλουμε πρὶν τὴν ὥρα του.

 

Τὸ κορμὶ τοῦ Θανάση, ὅμως, αὐτοῦ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ποὺ εἶχε ὁδηγήσει τὸ πάθος του γιὰ τὶς ἀκριβεῖς μετρήσεις ὣς τὰ ἄκρα, ἀντιστεκόταν παίζοντας καθημερινὰ αὐτὸ τὸ (καθόλου ἀστεῖο) παιχνίδι. Κι ἐπειδὴ κι ὁ γιατρὸς ἀπὸ τὴν πλευρά του ἦταν ἕνας λάτρης τῆς ἀκρίβειας, μ’ ὅλες τὶς διαφορές τους, αὐτοὶ οἱ δύο ἄνθρωποι ποὺ δὲν θὰ εἶχαν συναντηθεῖ ποτὲ κοινωνικὰ ἐν ζωῆ, ἑνώθηκαν τώρα σὲ μία κοινὴ ἀγωνία: δὲν μποροῦσε νὰ βγεῖ ἡ ψυχὴ τοῦ Θανάση, ἂν πρῶτα δὲν γινόταν ἀκριβὴς μέτρηση. Αὐτὸ δὲν εἶναι ἁπλὴ ὑπόθεση: ἡ μασχάλη, τὸ αὐτί, τὸ στόμα, ὁ πρωκτός, ὅλα ψεύδονται σὲ σχέση μὲ τὴ θερμοκρασία. Ὁ πισινὸς εἶναι κατὰ ἕνα δέκατο πιὸ ζεστὸς ἀπὸ τὸ στόμα, ποὺ εἶναι ἕως καὶ κατὰ δύο δέκατα πιὸ ζεστὸ ἀπὸ τὴ μασχάλη. Τὸ ἴδιο τὸ δέρμα ποὺ παρεμβάλλεται ἀλλοιώνει τὰ ἀποτελέσματα. Μόνο μιὰ μέτρηση στὸν ἴδιο τὸν χυλὸ τοῦ ἐγκεφάλου θὰ μποροῦσε νὰ φωτίσει τὸ μυστήριο τῆς ἀκριβοῦς ἀνθρώπινης θερμοκρασίας. Ἀντιλαμβάνεται κανεὶς ὅτι μὲ ἁπλὸ θερμόμετρο δὲν γίνεται δουλειά. Ἂν ξύπναγε ξαφνικὰ ὁ Θανάσης, θὰ ἔβγαινε ἀπὸ τὰ ροῦχα του μὲ αὐτὴν τὴν προχειρότητα. Θερμίστορες, ὑγροὶ κρύσταλλοι, δὲν ξέρω κι ἐγὼ τί ἄλλο, θὰ ἔπρεπε νὰ χρησιμοποιοῦνται ὅλα τὰ πιθανὰ μέσα γιὰ τὴ μέτρηση.

 

Πέρασε ἕνας ὁλόκληρος μήνας ἔτσι, μὲ τὸ κορμὶ τοῦ Θανάση νὰ ἀρνεῖται νὰ ἀφήσει τὴ θερμο κρασία του ἥσυχη νὰ τὴ μετρήσουν οἱ νοσοκόμες, νὰ ἱκανοποιηθοῦν οἱ γιατροί, μέχρι ποὺ στὸ τέλος ἔγινε ἕνα διασωληνωμένο πτῶμα. Σὰν νὰ βάζεις θερμόμετρο σὲ ἕνα ἀπὸ αὐτὰ τὰ μπλαβιὰ κουφάρια ποὺ ξαπλώνουν παρεούλα τὸ ἕνα δίπλα στὸ ἄλλο στὴν αἴθουσα τῆς ἀνατομίας στὴν ἰατρική.

 

Ὁ γιατρὸς λοιπὸν τὸ εἶχε βάλει ἀμέτι-μουχαμέτι νὰ τὸν μετρήσει, τὸν κρατοῦσαν πιὰ στὴ ζωὴ μὲ τόση φροντίδα ποὺ δὲν μποροῦσες παρὰ νὰ σκεφτεῖς ὅτι ἂν εἶχε γίνει αὐτὸ ἀπὸ τὴν ἀρχὴ ἴσως δὲν θὰ εἶχε καταλήξει ἔτσι, ἕνα κουφάρι μὲ θερμόμετρο στὸν κῶλο. Τὸν κρατοῦσαν στὴ ζωὴ ὅπως οἱ γιατροὶ ποὺ συνεργάζονται μὲ τοὺς βασανιστὲς καὶ μεριμνοῦν ὥστε νὰ μὴν τὰ κακαρώσει ὁ βασανιζόμενος καὶ δὲν προλάβει νὰ μιλήσει. Κάπως ἔτσι, τὸν κρατοῦσαν στὴ ζωὴ προκειμένου νὰ τοὺς πεῖ ἐπιτέλους τὴ θερμοκρασία του μιὰ φορὰ μὲ ἀκρίβεια καὶ μετὰ νὰ πάει στὴν εὐχὴ τοῦ διαβόλου, νὰ τοὺς ἀδειάσει τὴ γωνιά. Αὐτὸς ὁ ἀγώνας κράτησε σαράντα μέρες, ὥσπου τὸν τελικὸ λόγο εἶχε ὁ Θανάσης.

 

Τὴν ἡμέρα τῆς ἀποδημίας του μπόρεσαν ἐπιτέλους νὰ πάρουν μιὰ καλὴ καὶ ἀξιόπιστη μέτρηση. Ἦταν τόσο ὡραία, σὰν νὰ ἔλυνες μιὰ ἄλυτη ἐξίσωση. Ὅταν εἶδαν ὅτι καὶ τὴν Τρίτη φορὰ ἡ θερμοκρασία του ἦταν σταθερή, εἶχαν μαζευτεῖ ὅλοι γύρω ἀπὸ τὴ νοσοκόμα καὶ περίμεναν μὲ ἀγωνία: ὁ γιατρὸς μποροῦσε ἐπιτέλους νὰ τὸν ἀφήσει νὰ πεθάνει. Ὅταν ἔγινε καὶ ἡ τέταρτη μέτρηση, ἡ μάνα του ὁρκίστηκε ὅτι τὸν εἶδε νὰ χαμογελάει. Τῆς ἐξήγησαν ὅτι αὐτὸ εἶναι ἀδύνατο, ἀλλὰ ἐκείνη τοὺς εἶπε: δὲν ξέρω ἐγὼ τὸ παιδί μου;*

 

* Ἀφιερώνεται στὴ μνήμη τοῦ φίλου Πέτρου Κουτσιαμπασάκου, ποὺ μᾶς μιλοῦσε γιὰ τὸ «χιλιόμετρο μηδὲν» στὴν ταβέρνα τοῦ Οἰκονόμου.

Translator Notes

This short story is one of the thirteen that appear in Konstantinos Poulis’ fiction debut Ὁ Θερμοστάτης [Thermostat] (Melani Editions, 2014). The stories in that collection are set against the backdrop of the Greek crisis but are never quite about the crisis. Instead they explore, with wit, irony, and wonder, the powers and perils of the human imagination. Poulis’ characters have an exhilarating but dangerous habit of projecting their dreams and obsessions onto their environments and his storytelling serves to unsettle the boundaries between human interiority and the physical world. In “Kilometer Zero,” Thanasis’ fixation on precise measurements is both his downfall and his triumph; through narrative sleights of hand a maniac becomes a hero.


Johanna Hanink

×