“Look at him. Look at him.”
Makis points a bony finger to the door, and we watch together as his dog, a dirty grey terrier, circumnavigates the sides of the room to reach us.
“Going blind, you see. Old dogs, they stick to the walls.”
It takes about a minute for the animal to reach the sofa, and once it arrives it squats, pathetically, unable to summon the energy to jump to its master. Makis takes pity and lifts it to his lap.
“Time beats us all in the end,” he says, scratching its raw pink belly.
The apartment has high windows and art deco details, a sense of old-world expense, but most of the furniture is as raggedy as the dog. There are no curtains, and I’m distracted by movement on the balconies opposite. This neighbourhood has aggressively resisted the gentrification that has reshaped the rest of the city, and my eyes are drawn to a thin man in a red vest sunning himself. Makis points to my recorder, moves the moment along.
“You have questions?” he says.
“I’m interested in why you think you were recruited. What did they see in you?”
He sighs and strokes the dog’s neck, and it makes a soft noise like a horse’s whicker. For a moment I think he’s going to go silent, or ask me to leave, and then –
“They picked good boys. Obedient. Families.”
“Middle class?” There’s a sneer in my voice I hope he doesn’t catch.
“No, no. I don’t think there were three years of schooling between us. Just working boys who could swing a hammer. Who cried when they threatened our families.”
“And did they?”
He manoeuvres his pet onto a faded green cushion and rolls his sleeve up. There are five or six old scars on the back of his arm, thick as zebra stripes.
“You want the communists to rape your sister, boy?” His voice is harsher, the memory of an old tormentor thickening his accent. “These were all in the first week. They heated a metal bar on a brasier, and you had to sit there and watch it glow.”
I’d heard the stories, of course. The colonels wanted malleable young conscripts to help with interrogations. They sought out the illiterate and the apolitical, finding kids as young as fourteen and putting them in uniform. Of course, if your objective is brutality, you first need to brutalise.
“Everything they wanted us to do, they did to us first,” he says. The scarred arm moves to pet the dog.
“How long before they put you in the Special Interrogation Section?”
“A few months. They knew, you see, that I’d do what they ordered.”
“How many men do you think you interrogated while you were there?”
Makis sits back, stares out of the window. The man in red has moved inside, so I’m not sure what he is looking at. I wonder if I should repeat the question.
“I wanted to be a painter when I was a child. Can you imagine? Six brothers, three sisters, yellow fever all over the countryside and I wanted to paint. Where could that idea have come from?”
The anecdote hangs there, and for an uncomfortable moment I feel a swell of pity for the man, old and alone and unable to unravel his own mysteries. We always think of the lives of others as linear, but our own experience refutes that. Memories loom large, and the pain of long-ago wounds returns, until you’re left clinging to the walls because you can no longer see clearly.
Then I remember my purpose.
“Makis, how many?”
His gaze moves from the window and back to me. His voice drops to a whisper.
“Too many to count.”
“Did you interrogate the politician, Konstantopoulos? The army major, Moustaklis? Did you know he never walked or spoke again after his release?”
“I don’t –”
“Do you remember the slogan on the walls, Makis? Do you remember what it said?”
I’m conscious my tone is too angry now, and that my interviewee is staring at me with fresh eyes, wondering who this middle-aged woman in his armchair might really be and whether her journalistic credentials can be trusted.
He shakes his head, silent.
“Those who enter here, exit either as friends or as cripples. Do you remember that?”
The dog picks up on the tension in the room and growls faintly without raising its head.
“Miss, I’m sorry. I’m an old soldier on a pension who volunteers at an animal shelter. That’s all. I made a full account of my actions to the tribunal, and even that’s been forgotten. Who I was, before this… It’s all gone. Why are you interested?”
“They said you were the worst, Makis. The ones who survived, they said you were the cruellest on the punishment block.”
“But they are gone too, my dear. Prisoners and guards, colonels and radicals. What does pain matter a generation later?”
On one level, he’s right. The building that housed the Special Interrogation Section is now a museum celebrating the life of a leader of the liberation movement. The park behind it, where they dumped the bodies of those who couldn’t take any more, has three branded coffee shops and a fitness area.
But then I think of my own experience, a father’s face I only knew from photographs. I think of how my mother withdrew from the world and stayed hidden even after the junta fell, and how – when she died last month, just shy of her centennial – she told me she had never forgiven them. I think of the hammer in my handbag.
The dog stretches and half-rolls, half-falls off the sofa. It trots to me, its nose cold against my bare legs. Despite myself, I pat behind its ears.
Edward Barnfield is a writer and researcher living in the Middle East. His stories have appeared in Ellipsis Zine, Lunate, Strands, Twin Pies Literary, Janus Literary, Third Flatiron, The Molotov Cocktail, Roi Fainéant Press, Leicester Writes and Reflex Press, among others. He’s on Twitter at @edbarnfield and Instagram at barnfieldedward.