Выбрать главу

Gryllus' colleagues heard the commotion first, and peering through the crowd one of them asked dryly, "Gryllus, isn't that your boy riding that ape's shoulders?" Gryllus looked up in dismay at his son's noisy arrival, accompanied by the tittering of the surrounding onlookers. The tear tracks still shone on Aedon's dusty cheeks as he smiled down at us in relief, his eyes glistening. Gryllus' expression, however, remained as stony as I had ever seen it. He gingerly reclaimed his offspring from Otus and tossed a piece of silver to the hirsute, malodorous giant, who ostentatiously waved it in the air like a victor's spear, bellowing out his thanks. Gryllus graciously took his leave from his peers and walked us straight home, nodding and smiling at passersby, but keeping a death grip on the backs of our necks. "Aedon!" I hissed. "Your father told me to watch out for you. Now look what you've done!"-but neither of us was able to pursue the argument further because Gryllus tightened his grasp on our necks. I received a sound thrashing from him that night, though the punishment was mild compared to Aedon's. To him, Gryllus offered not a word. Not a touch, not a gesture. Only a brief glance of disdain and disappointment, and in the morning he was gone, back to the war. Though it was my buttocks that burned, it was Aedon who cried himself to sleep for many nights afterward, despite my many attempts to convince him of his father's true concern for him.

But to return to the alley where I had tripped: My later questioning of Aedon told me precisely what happened after he had sped on ahead of me. When rounding a corner, he was suddenly brought up short by a cane held horizontally across his path. He tried merrily to dive under it, but the cane's owner deftly parried his move, and gave him a swat across the chest for good measure. Aedon tried to squirm around the tip of the cane, but the owner merely projected it further, impaling its tip in a crack in the crumbling mortar of the narrow alley's opposite wall. Having trapped the boy's forward progress, the cane was then used like a shepherd's rod to nudge him from side to side until his back was against the wall with the cane pressing him from the side against his belly. At his size and age Aedon could have easily pushed the tip away from his body and broken free, but suddenly, with a deft movement, the canes-man slipped the rod behind his knees in such a way-I still wonder at the speed-that with a slight upward jerk of his wrist both the boy's legs slipped out from under him and he landed with a grunt, flat on his buttocks. Aedon looked with astonishment at the cane as it disentangled itself from his legs, and slowly followed its length up to the junction with its owner, who possessed a knotted, gnarled old hand like that of an ancient soothsayer. This in turn was attached to a burly wrist and a hairy, scarred arm-an arm that, in its day, must have seen a good deal of fighting, though with a sword rather than a thin wooden stick, and against Spartans and Thebans rather than cocksure young boys.

Aedon's eyes continued to travel up the cane-wielder's arm until he came to a most remarkable visage, that of a man he had often seen in the agora, talking to groups of young men. The face was the exact image of Marsyas the satyr, whose bronze image on the Acropolis I had often laughed at and pointed out to Aedon. The man's eyes were bulbous and protruding, his nose broken like that of a boxer, and his thick lips split his deeply creased face across the middle like one of those overripe Ephesian plums you sometimes find in the marketplace on festival days. His cranium was completely smooth and bald on top, with greasy wisps of white hair hanging down the sides and back in long strings. His tattered, ill-fitting tunic, the stains of which clearly showed the contents of his breakfast that morning and for the past several days, did little to hide the enormous belly that protruded over two spindly legs which were completely hairless, like those of some enormous, ungainly bird.

Like the old soldier that he was, the man paused to critically survey his catch, and his eyes, for all the homely aspect of the rest of him, twinkled merrily as he spoke. "Begging your pardon, lad," he chuckled, as if apologizing for having accidentally trapped Aedon in a narrow alley and tripped him flat onto his back with a wooden rod. "But I was wondering if you could tell me where I might purchase some turnips?"

The boy stared, astonished at this odd question. He considered the man's query carefully, looked around to see if there was any immediate escape, and resigning himself to the fact that there was none, he piped up in his sing-song voice, "Yes, sir. The first stalls as you enter the market from the south end sell all manner of fruits and vegetables. Surely you will find turnips there."

The man grunted in assent, but remained standing where he was, the cane hovering menacingly over the boy's head as he assimilated this response, slowly and somewhat densely. It was at this point that I came running up, panting and sweating, and stopped in astonishment at the sight of this fat, odd-looking gentleman standing over my ward. He looked deeply into my face, and I averted his gaze with a scowl, but then saw the man's eyes again turn to Aedon, who held his stare unblinkingly. A trace of a smile was beginning to form on the boy's lips.

"And where," the man continued, "might I find some of that good Attic peasant bread, the flat round kind, still warm from the hearth?"

This response was easy, for Aedon had just swiped some of the very same bread that morning, a crust of which, I saw, was still tucked into his belt for an afternoon snack. It was no doubt the view of this crust that had prompted the old man's query.

"Why, on the street of the bakers, of course," he replied. "Not all the shops sell the Attic flat bread you want, but the third shop on the left most certainly does, and you can be sure of its quality." He grinned, and this time the man openly returned it, ignoring me completely, and gazing in frank, almost fatherly admiration at Aedon for his quick and articulate reply. I saw passersby out of the corner of my eye, squeezing between the wall and the old man, glancing at us briefly and then smiling as they continued on their way, shaking their heads, in what? Exasperation? Pity? For the old satyr or for us? The man lowered his cane to its normal position, standing it upright next to him, and Aedon scrambled to his feet, though not without some degree of caution lest he again end up flat in the dust. I seized his forearm and spoke to him harshly.

"Aedon, let's go! Your father expects us to be at our lessons now…" and I began tugging him back out of the alley in the direction whence we had come. He started to turn, but at the mention of his father he impatiently shook off my hand and stood looking at the old man, his face open and full of expectation.

"One more question for you, youngster, if you have the time to spare," said the strange man. Aedon was already planning his response, prepared to show off his gift of speech as he so often did for his father's friends when they tossed him easy questions that he knew he could answer. "Where might men go to become good and honorable?"