Crete: Winter 1988.



The mute places his bundle of walking sticks just inside the cafe door. Sitting down he gives the customers time to take in what’s on offer.While every eye is on his wares there are no immediate inquiries. And so he picks up one of the sticks and, catching the eye of an old man, he shows the strength of the stick, first by banging the tip on the ground repeatedly and then, making a grunting noise, taking the curved handle in both hands, trying to press both sides together.

There is interest. A younger man, perhaps in his forties, takes a number of sticks and inspects them, following the mute’s example of banging the tip and squeezing the handle.  He does this with a number of sticks as two old men join in the inspection. The mute, excited by this interest, repeats his display of his wares, but this time more animatedly, his frustrated attempts at speech louder and more urgent.

A number of young boys stand at the threshold watching the drama. One boy giggles at the sight of the mute’s performance, but is quickly chastised by looks from his peers and elders. Nikos’  father, the ‘captain’, offers the seller a coffee but the mute won’t be distracted.

An old man asks the price and the mute slowly raises four fingers; four hundred drachmas. Looks are exchanged which suggest a fair price, if not a bargain.

Pelagia, the cafe owner, seeing a number of customers hovering around outside, insists that a passage is cleared into the cafe. Ever vigilant is Pelagia.

The younger man decides to buy three sticks, calls his son into the cafe and instructs him to take them home. The mute carefully counts and pockets the money. Encouraged, he loudly repeats his earlier performance, but this time with a degree of impatience, even anger, in his gestures,as if to say , ‘What’s the matter with you people? This man’s just bought THREE sticks! Can’t YOU see the quality of my goods?’

But there is little further interest. The ‘captain’ again offers a coffee or a raki, but again the mute won’t be interrupted. One or two old men commend the quality of the goods but with no desire to buy. One old man, with a fine stick of his own, picks one from the pile and examines it. His own, finely polished and with a rubber tip to prevent it wearing down, leans against his chair. The mute, seemingly ignorant of this superior specimen, sees another sale, while the old man tries to explain ‘ Look I have this!’

Amusement turns to boredom, and finally tedium,as the mute continues to offer his wares to an exhausted market. Conversation gradually returns and after a futile attempt to interest new customers, the walking-sticks seller leaves, his bundle under his arm.

In a corner of the cafe a dishevelled, unshaven, red-eyed man, Gianni, mutters to himself something in English that sounds unmistakably like ‘ They’re all fucked up!’ He leaves the money for his coffee on the table and leaves hurriedly.