Cretan Jail Journal

Aneta despairs of ever seeing Ukraine again.

She flirts with the guards, to no avail.  They keep Aneta and Vira’s paintings locked away but occasionally get them out and Aneta and Vira explain their artistic intent, as the guards have long ago lost interest in explanations of how they happened to be in Hania laden with artworks to sell and expired visas.

Aneta instigates these forays into art criticism, leaning on the desk or a nearby pole, batting her eyelashes which maintain the London look despite diminishing cosmetic supplies. Vira is more of a realist, slumped in the corner, barely bothering to look up forlornly at the small square of light afforded periodically by our cell window.

I avoid attracting attention as Igor and I go to trial tomorrow. I know they’ve noticed me scribbling in this journal and fear they may confiscate it, although perhaps it doesn’t matter much. I’ve lost the feistiness and determination I exhibited upon capture, screaming for my right to a phone call and demanding the prison phone number so family in Kiev could call back. One thing I am glad of in this whole débâcle is that the ‘Tourist Police’ didn’t notice we’d left our instruments at the Pension when we were frogmarched back there following arrest to retrieve our passports, nor that I stashed my paltry street busking earnings in the accordion case. Poor Madam Papadopolous was more distraught than we, her chignon astray, throwing her hands in the air and weeping at this treatment of her latest guests. I hope the secreted coins will clear the debt we’re racking up there, although I think Madam Papadopolous would be so overjoyed to see us freed she’d waive the rent.

I survey the men’s overcrowded cell, a hundred inhabitants compared to our three. Igor has settled in somewhat. The abject terror on his face when they first closed the barred gate and left him in the company of far more hardened characters, has eased. When they let us speak Igor told me the other guys had asked, ‘What are you in for?’ When he replied he’d been arrested for playing music in the street they laughed. He asked why they were inside and they said, ‘You do not want to know why we are here. We are criminals.’ Now he’s happily smoking and playing cards with them.

Our arrival is becoming a distant memory. At first the ‘Tourist Police’ were genial. ‘Oh, Ukraine, we’ve heard it’s such a pretty place.’ Then suddenly, screaming and vicious – ‘Why did you come to our country, to work illegally?’ Very ‘good cop bad cop’. I’ve given up responding to any of this. I can’t be bothered playing, their games lead to nothing and I haven’t the energy or elasticity of feminism to go down Aneta’s flirtatious path.

Vira tried her charms on a passing female warden but to no avail. Vira’s lip ring glints in the morning light and her eyebrow piercings are no less scintillating. I guess she could barter these inside. Also, Vira and Aneta’s canvases had a double undercoat with a certain papery layer between the dry surfaces. This gives a certain hue to the faces, landscapes and odd beasts roaming their images.

Our last day of freedom was fantastic, riding through the foothills of Hania, the accordion between us on the motorbike. A classic Cretan with black tasselled scarf and relaxed trousers strode out of his small informal bar/cafe. Fresh tomatoes, incredible cheeses and aromatic herbs, and the best olive oil. The locals competed to shower us in hospitality. Igor and I relished the food, the conversation of which we understood little, the bright helmetless day and the glittering shore.

It was an ill conceived plan. A motley quartet of impecunious musicians and artists, bent on warmer climes and bonnier, more lucrative shores. Although we’ve stuck together, we’ve seen sides of ourselves that we never knew existed, and wouldn’t want exposed.  As for Igor, I hope he walks free, yet if reprieved I will live as a lesbian, which has long been my wish.

Baklava for breakfast, then a guard dressed up as a Minotaur and blundered around the cells following a trail of twine – vaguely entertaining. They dragged out Aneta’s canvas which shows a python on a beach at dawn.  Almost abstract but with mesmerizing eyes of green against a lurid sea and orange sky.

I sit and think of everything and nothing, whether this prison wall dates back to ancient Crete. Some bits have come away in chunks. Vira and I amuse ourselves piecing it together. Graffiti fragments aid our task, the content indecipherable yet the patterns distinctive. We’d made a hole in the wall initially, hoping for a passage to – a labyrinth, anything but incarceration. Unfortunately it just led to the men’s cell and we didn’t want to be leered at so we patched it back up again.

Today a Minotaur came in dressed as one of the guards and blundered around the cells. I’m not sure what they’re putting in our food. Hallucinogens, then more halogen interrogation. I’d almost forgotten about Igor but today I heard him singing some strange little haunting song.

I think of those Grecian lasses, from some pot or fresco, sporting embroidered waistcoats which run either side of the breasts, allowing vitamin D absorption- there’s way more sunlight here than in Ukraine. I saw a similar, azure bolero-like garment in Hania. If released tomorrow, I shall charge back to that square overhung with quaint shutters and proudly buy and don that waistcoat as my reward.

Dawn breaks, the trial looms. I farewelled Igor, in case we should not meet again.

Soon they’ll come for me, snatching and destroying this book. If not- should this journal fall into your hands, I urge you to publish it, forgiving any deficiencies of style, grammar and composition under the circumstances, so whoever comes across it may share this vignette of our Cretan jail experience.

About the contributor

Sofia Chapman
Sofia Chapman completed a BA (Hons) in Modern Languages in Tasmania before leaving to play accordion on a French theatre barge. Returning to Australia Sofia studied playwriting and joined the band Vardos. Sofia’s queer plays include award-winning ‘The Four Accordionists of the Apocalypse'. Stories and poems appear in various anthologies.

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