Prompt 013: The Courtyard

Photography by Stelios Efstathopoulos who stumbles through the streets of Athens in an attempt to interest and inspire. See more of his work at

The scene is a courtyard. Flooded by shadow here it is cool and slow, sound reduced to the muffled noise a passive listener might hear when covering their ears from the sounds of the surrounding city, which cannot be forgotten, for while the courtyard is peaceful the streets still pulsate, with cars and bikes and chatter and shouts and steps never far away. The courtyard is segregated by temporary (supposedly) metal fencing, galvanised and dirty and in all probability forgotten, for no workers or planners or foremen or architects have graced this site in quite some time, yet the fences will continue to stand in defiance, protecting a waste without purpose, a carpet of dust and debris, as if the courtyard here were no longer required and space itself were no longer a commodity in demand (unlike, say, time or wealth), but merely something in excess and of little value, and there are other plots like this hidden across the city, obsolete, waiting in the shadows to one day become relevant again. There is a rusting steel frame structure that props the surrounding brick and mortar walls that enclose the courtyard. Looming and severe. Its inactivity reason enough to question its purpose. To entertain the possibility of those four facades as cardboard cut-outs, the outline of a cityscape but in reality nothing more than a hand-crafted model, curated with care to give an impression of authenticity, but always threatening to fall down under the weight of itself. A scene perhaps. But no – the locals here know better, these two.

So a place for reflection and a place for solitude for two old men, out of the glare of the city’s relentless watch. Behind a streetlamp sits one man. He has been sitting for a long time. He sits because he is tired. Earlier he smoked a cigarette and has been waiting to gain his breath to continue. He suffers from arthritis and emphysema and the bag he carries contains some medicines as well as some groceries: fruit, lamb, pork, bread, sauces. While he sits, while he waits, he considers his health and his home, his family and his friends. He considers the passage of time, and whether time is in fact progressing while he is sat here. Alone and still. Life surely continues around him while he sits inert. Unmoving and ineffectual. But if he is stalled as he sits, as he waits, can he say for sure that time has progressed for him in the courtyard as it has for others? Does he prolong his time later by ceasing to move now? And if he will not remember these internal theories tomorrow, the time, it is lost?

The other man has no care for such ideas. He has long forgotten why he is here, but lives moment to moment, each fleeting idea that comes to him must be grasped else it evaporates before his clouded eyes, lost forever, or at least for a moment, allowing another thought to appear in its place, related or otherwise, and the cycle repeats, resulting in a change of direction, as he walks furiously this way and that way, sometimes acknowledging those he recognises, otherwise he storms through those in his way, muttering under his breath, like a clairvoyant speaking in tongues, a doyen of these streets and these ways of life, of which others are oblivious, as they walk past the alley leading to the courtyard, and in its direction they do not even glance.

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