Thief of CorinthBy: Tessa Afshar
YOU ASKED ME ONCE how a woman like me could become a thief. How could I, having everything—a father’s love, a lavish home, an athlete’s accolades—turn to lawlessness and crime?
Were I in a flippant mood, I could blame it on sleeplessness. That fateful night, when I abandoned my bed in search of a warm tincture of valerian root to help me rest, and found instead my father slithering out the side door into the dark alley beyond.
He was a man of secrets, my father, and that night I resolved to discover the mystery that surrounded him. A mystery so cumbersome, its weight had shattered my parents’ marriage.
Snagging an old cloak in the courtyard, I wrapped myself in its thick folds and followed him along a circuitous path that soon had me confused. The moon sat stifled under a cover of clouds that night, shielding my presence as I pursued him.
Finally, Father came to a stop. The clouds were dispersing and there was now enough light to make out the outline of the buildings around me. We had arrived at an affluent neighborhood.
During the day, we Corinthians left our doors open as a sign of hospitality. At night, we shut and latched them, both for safety and to indicate that the time for visitation had passed and the occupants were in bed. As one would expect, the door of this villa had long since been barred.
I hunkered down behind a bush, wondering what Father meant to do. Rouse the household with his knocking? He fumbled with something in his belt and proceeded to cover his face with a mask.
I gasped. Was he playing a jest on the owner of the house? Did he have a forbidden assignation with a lady within? He was an unmarried man, still handsome for his age. I had never considered his private life and felt a twinge of distaste thinking of him with a woman. Now was perhaps a good time for me to beat a hasty retreat. But something kept me rooted to the spot.
My father approached the south wall of the villa and nimbly climbed a willow tree that grew near. I had to admire his agility when he jumped from the tree to the wall. Deftly, he grabbed hold of the branches of another tree growing within the garden and swung himself into its foliage. I lost sight of him then.
I sat and considered the evidence before me. Father’s stealthy movements in the middle of the night. The mask. The furtive entry into the villa. The answer stared me in the face. But I refused to believe it.
As I waited, I found it hard to gauge the time. How long since he had scrambled into the villa? An hour? Less? No alarm had been raised . . . yet. I began to fret. What was he doing in there? What if someone caught him? I left my hiding place and, slinking my way toward the villa, made a quick exploration of the area. The place seemed deserted. Tucking my tunic and cloak out of the way, I climbed the same willow my father had and nestled in its branches. Still I could discern nothing.
I laid my forehead against a thick branch. What should I do? Wait? Go in search of him? Then I heard a noise. Feet running through bushes. More than one pair of feet.
A man cried, “Halt! You there! Stop at once!” My hold on the branch slipped. I thought a guard had seen me, and I prepared to leap back into the street. What I saw next made my blood turn to ice.
Father was running toward me with a large man in close pursuit, his hand clutching a drawn sword. The man bearing the weapon was quickly gaining on my father. I estimated Father’s distance from the wall, the time he would need to climb up the tree on one side, and then back down the other. He would never make it in time.
He was about to be caught. Killed, as I watched helplessly from my perch of branches.
Well. You know the rest of that story.
I suppose I could accuse my father of leading me astray that night, of setting the example that ruined my best intentions, for had he not tried to rob that house, I would not have turned to thieving myself.
But the choices that lead us into broken paths often have their beginnings in more convoluted places.
Places like the thousand words spoken mercilessly by my grandfather when I lived in his house—barbed and ruthless words; or a thousand phrases never spoken by my mother, soft and nurturing expressions that would have healed my wounded soul. I could blame the years in Athens, when I became invisible to my family, a girl child in a world meant for men.