Eleanor was walking up a precipitous path to breakfast. Her legs ached and the sun beat down on her head; she needed to buy a hat. She passed the horses which delivered the builder’s materials. They were grazing on some shrubs while they waited for their owner to return; their thick rubbery tongues wrapping around the sharp twigs, tearing them off, dropping saliva into the dust beneath their feet. They were young horses, one brown and lively, and the other a dusty grey, sedate and patient.  She saw the horses each day, wooden pallets suspended on their backs, loaded with bags of cement and gravel; their owner supervising their ascent of the hill to the building site.  He was a young man, fit with the wiry strength of the labourer, sharing the daily physical grind with the horses as they strained to transport their loads, over and over each day, the sound of hooves on stone and jangling bells forewarning the unwary pedestrian that horses were approaching up and along the narrow, uneven streets.  Often they blocked the way while being loaded or while climbing causing Eleanor to stop and speak to the young man in her hesitant Greek. “Yassas, Kalimera.”

“Kalimera,” he would reply. The horse would be persuaded to move a vital inch and Eleanor could squeeze past, wary of his sharp teeth and hard hooves. On this day she had passed by the unloaded horses and could hear their bells jangling as they cropped the hedge; she continued to climb, nearing her destination. An urgent shout rang out, shockingly disturbing the silence of the morning, “Whoa! Chico!” Eleanor heard a loud percussion of hooves and the bells came rapidly closer, ringing a warning along with the urgent rhythm of the jangling harness.  The horse had bolted. She needed to get out of the way quickly, it would soon be upon her and the street was very narrow. There was a doorway, she jumped quickly into it and held herself close to the wall, her back flat against the cold, sharp render, feet securely planted. With a rush of air the horse passed her sanctuary, hooves thundering on the stones, causing dust to rise and shimmer in the sun’s rays. She felt his heat and smelled his strong horse sweat; he danced, kicked up his heels and swung his head from side to side.

The young man was close behind him, shouting Greek curses.  He reached to slap the horse’s rump but it was not entirely a punitive blow. It was a tap to congratulate his fellow labourer for grasping the moment, taking the opportunity to be young and carefree, even though he had been given a terrible fright. He looked across at Eleanor and with the barrier of language between them smiled wryly and shrugged his shoulders semaphoring, “what can you do? It happens.”  He was relieved that the horse had stopped calmly without injuring anyone.  Any beast of burden, any slave to physical labour would recognise the need to break free, who could bring themselves to punish the beast for satisfying such a natural urge?

Then he went on to claim his wayward horse while the other, his more sedate companion, followed. Eleanor continued on her way, up the steep and stony path in the heat of the morning.

 

 

 

Avril Scott 2008

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