"God, that was fun," Selene said as she pushed open the front door of the Women's Co-op. Three other girls crowded in behind her. It was a blustery Spring afternoon in Chicago, and all four of them were heavily bundled up against the cold. All of them carried signs demanding the government take some action. "Did you see his expression when you hit him with the pie?"
"And that cop was like totally out of line," Brianna said. "He actually tried to lay hands on us."
"Shut the door," Anna said from where she was sitting. "Heating bills are bad enough." She ran the Co-op on a day-to-day basis and was trying to balance their accounts.
"See, that's the thing," Selene said. "Everyone needs warmth, so the government should provide it."
"Everyone needs love in their life," Kalliste Periakes said with a glance at Carlyn, who was using a distaff to spin up some thread. "I suppose you want the government to play matchmaker, too." Kalliste was a slender woman of indeterminate age. She had large eyes, a generous mouth and a luxurious mane of black hair that today she was keeping back with a pair of silver clasps.
"Nonsense," Selene said. She tossed her sign under the coat rack, peeled away her coat and hung it neatly in the corner. "That would be stupid. Everyone has different emotional needs."
Kalliste gave her a smile. "Everyone has different needs for heat, too. You're wrapped up against the cold, but I don't find it that bad. I've been in places that are much colder than Chicago."
"I didn't think it got that cold in Greece," Anna said. She was irritated with Selene and trying not to show it. When she'd joined the Women's Co-op the place had been rife with politics. Politics had almost destroyed the Co-op and the whole idea of women helping women. There had been too many divisions, too many political fights, and almost everyone had left. She had inherited the running of the Co-op simply because there was nobody left who was interested. She had rebuilt the place, seeing the Co-op reborn from the ashes of political strife. Since then she had insisted that all discussions of politics be left on the sidewalk outside.
She'd known Selene would be a problem when the girl had shown up four months before. Selene was young and full of fire, ready to charge out and change the world, but she had not found a receptive audience in the other members of the Co-op. A lot of the women who came to the Co-op had been bruised badly by the world Selene wanted to change. Anna suspected that one of those who had been bruised was the woman who was humming to herself as she ran their loom: Kalliste Periakes.
Kalliste was one of the foreign students Northwestern University attracted by the hundreds. Anna admitted she didn't know much about the woman. Oh, there were a few things: she was in the Archaeology Department's Ph.D. program, she read or spoke more languages than anyone knew, she was from Greece, and, someone had said, was heir to a shipping company. None of that told her anything about who the woman really was.
Kalliste was well-read; that had been obvious the first day she had told one of her 'stories'. These were always of life in ancient times. The stories sounded plausible until you heard her casually mention ancient Gods, ancient Heroes, curses and other things that were just too fantastic to believe. From what little anyone could weasel out of her it was obvious she'd had access to libraries that most people didn't even know existed.
Through the two years she had been coming to the Co-op Kalliste had never mentioned politics or argued with any of the women who expressed a political opinion. Until now.
"You're rich," Selene said, barely glancing at Kalliste. "You wouldn't understand."
Kalliste laughed, a merry sounding trilling of the scales that had a slight edge to it. "I'm rich only when my grandmother passes away," she replied. "Until then I make my living the old-fashioned way, I work for it." She studied Selene's designer clothes. "I don't have a trust supporting me, not like you do."
Selene's face colored. "That's not fair. I didn't choose to have that trust fund. You could have..."
"Chosen another grandmother?" Kalliste asked gently. Carlyn and several other girls had heard that tone before. They all stopped what they were doing to watch. "In 1950 my family had nothing. My grandmother was widowed; my grandfather had been killed by the Communists because he was 'too rich', which meant he owned a fishing boat and did a little trading. Perhaps you don't understand what that means. Grandmother had no family to help her, she had no relatives in influential positions, and she had no one to help tide her over if she ran out of money.
"That was 42 years ago. It's true, she owns a shipping company, three of them as a matter of fact, one of which does business here in Chicago. She's not as rich as some, but every drachma she has she made through taking chances and hard work. She didn't have a government to do the work for her, she didn't have tax breaks, friendly labor unions or insider trading—"
"That was never proved!"
"Sorry," Kalliste held up her hand. "I forgot that your father plea-bargained down to a lesser charge." She looked at the others in the room, ignoring Selene's red face. "I am not what you call a child of privilege." She clearly implied that Selene was.
"Do you believe in helping the poor at all?" Carlyn asked. She picked up the distaff and resumed trying to make thread.
"Oh, sure, help them all you want, just don't make everyone else help them, too." Kalliste gave them all a much harder smile. "I think that the ones who insist that we all help the poor, regardless of whether we want to or not, aren't really interested in helping the poor, they're only interested in how it will benefit themselves."
"Nonsense," Selene said. "We have nothing to gain from helping them except the satisfaction of helping those down-trodden and—"
"Now it is my turn to disagree," Kalliste said. "You parade and you demonstrate and all of these other things, even though you know it is useless."
"It isn't useless," Selene said, her voice growing louder. "We speak truth to power, and—"
"Speak it to a dictator," Kalliste said. "A politician in this country is restrained by laws. A dictator could have you shot out of hand. That's power."
She shook her head. "You demonstrate and protest so you can feel better about yourselves, not out of any hope of success." She waved her arms expansively. "In one year this Co-op does more to help women in need than all of your demonstrating ever will. And to bring the government into it..." She shook her head. "Clearly that is worse than stupid. That is willful blindness. You have to know what the end result of that always is."
"I suppose you know," Selene said. "And I suppose it's another one of your stories."
"Why, yes it is," Kalliste replied.
I was living in a suburb of Zurich. My passport said I was a Greek national. Though I had enough money to live comfortably for several years, the authorities found discreet ways to let me know I should find "productive" work. I did not know whether they suspected me of spying, or of prostitution. Although I was guilty of neither, being deported would be annoying. I most definitely did not want to go back to Crete. The excavations had been stopped by the war, as they had been across Greece and the rest of the world. Travel was difficult, and paranoia was rampant, even in Switzerland. I fell back on the one thing other than trade I could do in any place and at any time, I taught Greek.
It was a pleasant enough existence. I tutored the children of the rich on Monday and Wednesday mornings, and taught a course in the Classics, Euripides, Homer and some Hesiod for variety, on Thursday afternoons at the gymnasium for women. That left me free the rest of the week to read and to socialize.
Socializing was the most important thing in the lives of those of us in Zurich's foreign community. It was 1916 and we had no radio and only a little film. Theater, opera, dinner parties and tea parties were how we kept in touch with family, loved ones, and the outside world, even as the machines of war were tearing apart that world.
Even in the foreign community in Zurich I was alone. The Greek community in Switzerland was virtually non-existent except for the occasional government official, so I could mingle with nearly everyone from every country without hindrance; it was even possible for me to converse with a Turkish friend in public. This was a quiet, nostalgic time for most of us, gathering at this restaurant for late breakfast, and at that coffee shop for late lunch. The war was far distant from our discussions although, like that ever-present rumbling beyond the horizon, it colored every meeting with wistful shades of gray. We all knew the world we had grown up in was ending.
I would sometimes stay out late in the evening for supper with some Swiss friends who were beyond reproach. For a foreign lady alone in a country it was important to have the right friends, and to be seen with them. Officials must associate me with that class of people whom they did not bother with suspicions and investigations. The effort absorbed another portion of my time and attention, but still left me with opportunities for many an afternoon's stroll or shopping expedition that was concluded with a pleasant trolley trip home to my upstairs apartment. There I would update my journals or otherwise occupy my evenings, alone.
.... There is more of this story ...