What He Believes
by Terri Ellis
In the middle of the afternoon we were lying in bed and Dimitri was telling me stories. He traced circles around my bare belly with one callused finger and told me about the time he had knocked a girl down in the street just by looking at her. His coveting of her was that strong--she was literally bowled over by his greedy stare. If I continued to insist that the evil eye was just a superstition, I was begging for trouble, he said. I've seen how men look at you in the street, he said. One day you're going to get hit by a bus. You should wear looser clothes.
He told me that his sister's child was cursed by a jealous neighbor in her first week of life. The woman cast an eye on the baby, sleeping in her crib, and said that she was beautiful. That was all he said, so I prompted him. Yes? What did she do then? Isn't that enough?, he said. She cursed the baby with her praise. She'll grow up so homely that no man will ever have her. My poor sister, he said. He reached for a cigarette and lit it, dropping his silver Zippo lighter onto my stomach afterward. My stomach muscles contracted from the touch of cold metal, but I lay still.
I said, well, if the evil eye were a true thing, people would be dead in the streets of Athens. I wanted to say that people everywhere feel a thousand petty and mean-spirited emotions toward their fellow beings everyday. I wanted to say that, but my Greek was not good enough, so I said: In Greece, and everywhere, too, the people talk and think bad things in their heads and don't kill the other person.
He leaned over the edge of the bed and picked up his jacket. He showed me the little pouch that was sewn inside, then he opened it and took out a tiny piece of paper that was covered in Greek writing. Blessed by a priest, he told me. A special verse that he chose at random from the Bible. He was protected. Many people had these. Many people wore the evil eye around their neck or wrist to ward off evil, as well. If not, the streets would be full of the dead. You could never bury them all.
I took the little piece of paper from his hand and struggled to decipher the letters. The formal language was too difficult for me and I could only read "Ezekiel" at the bottom. What does it say? I asked him, handing the paper back. He read it aloud. I don't know those words, I said. Tell me in the everyday Greek.
It says: God said, People, I will soon take away everything you love with one strong hit. But you are not allowed to cry or mourn or feel regret.
I plucked the silver lighter off my belly and rolled over, resting on my elbows. I looked at the bare white wall in front of me and said, I'm going home to America. I am tired of being knocked down in the streets by men's eyes and women's compliments, I said, trying to make him smile.
He didn't acknowledge my joke. He pulled me close and whispered in my ear, I won't let you go. I felt his tears on my neck. Don't cry, I said in English. I stroked his hair and said, don't cry.
About the author:
Terri Ellis lives and works in Arlington, Virginia. One of her stories was recently published in Word Riot.