The Columbia Review Spring 2021

Page 26

spring 2021

SYROS Safia Elhillo after Jenny Xie

Roads spiraling upward, whitewash of the houses, little island in late May. My friends & I descend in our hundred shades, three airplanes & a ferry to arrive, our rumpled linen clothes & earnest smells. Sleepier than the neighboring islands, their nightclubs, here we rent two tiny creaking cars & flush beneath every curious stare. We drive over cobblestones older than my surname, landscape of scrubby trees & bougainvillea. Stark lapis of the waters, narrow streets crowded with battered cats, one-eyed & carnivorous. The sea still clinging to the chill of late spring, too early to ease into summer. We swim dutifully & emerge shivering, to slippery plates of cuttlefish, cola in the glass bottle, sweetened with real sugar. Each hunted in the country we departed, we came to crowd a shared house, shared perfume of its plumbing, taking turns in the mornings frying eggs. In loose arrangement on the beach, we sit mostly in quiet, a book tented over each sleeping face. & in the town square in the evening, I let my breath go still, looking up into hundreds of lit windows like stars. I lean into sun-warmed rock, cooling in the night air, & think in another life I’d be a historian. & then it comes to us, in English, its inflections unfamiliar so I think at first it’s Greek. Here, at the opposite end of the world. Niggers. Niggers. & it was called to us by children.