In the scummy area of Athens, three siblings' lives crash headlong into Christmas: radicalised Michaelis must battle peer-pressure and lie to his family in order to win favour with the terrorist group, the Dark Unknown; miserable Stella faces a bleak festive season without her recently deported lover, and cunning Nico must avoid the local police at all costs, against a backdrop of the hardships of Greek austerity cuts.
“Christmas-time,” Michaelis had righteously suggested over a November dinner, “is the vehicle of commodity fetishism and bourgeois sensibilities nowadays. We should go back to the old days, when it had real meaning.”
Stella ignored him and finished her bread-and-butter, but Nico did not. “Perhaps so,” he said, pretending to understand what his older brother had said, “but before that it had an intensely religious significance.”
“I know that! So?”
“I thought you were anti-religion,” Nico replied.
This confused Michaelis’ little mind so much that he sat there spluttering until it was time to leave for work, and the subject was dropped until one bitter-cold day in the middle of December, when in the rich areas of Athens tinny American Christmas songs played from fuzzy radios in all the shops and bright lights adorned every street. If the people round here hoped to put up a few lights on their windowsills, they found that they were often stolen, only to reappear under the thief’s own windowsill a couple of days later.
Michaelis was turning over this conversation in his head with the air of one who had not understood an obscure joke as he made his way as covertly as possible to the Secret Location. The Secret Location was actually a small attic in one of the tower blocks where he would meet with his local radical group, the Dark Unknown.
His head hurt before he reached the top and knocked on a tiny wooden door three times and waited. A gruff voice said, “Password?”
“Kostas Sakkas,” Michaelis replied.
“You may enter.” The door opened a tiny crack and Michaelis slipped inside.
It was very dark inside the Secret Location. Several faces sat around a central figure, illuminated by a torch under the chin. Michaelis found his own torch and lit it, and then took his place in the circle.
“Nice of you to join us, Comrade Midnight Fire.”
Michaelis smiled at the code name. “You too, Comrade Dusk.” He felt that old rush through him, as he always did when he went to these meetings.
Comrade Dusk now turned to everyone else, his dark, foreign face reminding Michaelis of a very twisted sort of clown in the torchlight. “Comrades,” he addressed them. “There is a time coming up, a time in which the pigs shall be at their weakest and most vulnerable, a time when the masses are at their most brainwashed and docile. They call this – Christmas.” There was sombre nodding and general acknowledgement in the following pause. “It is laughable to see the common man buying back his own labour from the rich capitalist. They are at their weakest – but we are at our strongest.” Now the air grew more taut, and seem to crackle as Comrade Darkness revealed:
“Operation Bonnot Gang.”
Comrade Dusk sat back, the picture of satisfaction crossing his grotesquely shadowed face. Unfortunately, he had explained nothing, and another comrade ventured to ask:
“What do you mean by that?”
“Operation Bonnot Gang? Why, it is only my new plan to blow up the Athena Shopping Paradise.”
There was a collective gasp. Everyone here knew and hated the Athena Shopping Paradise and its huge and sprawling complex of shops and air-conditioning and lights and thousands of people, but…
“To blow it up?” Michaelis echoed. “The entire thing?”
“Aren’t we insurrectionists?” retorted Comrade Dusk.
“Of course,” Michaelis replied, nodding to the wall, which, behind the darkness, was a bedsheet with a circle-A and the words insurrection, never submission painted on it. “But to blow it up – the entire thing –”
“Are you chicken, Comrade Midnight Fire?”
“Absolutely not,” Michaelis replied, feeling as if his bowels might inadvertently squirt at any minute. “Couldn’t we just go for the main offices instead? There’s no point ruining everyone’s Christmases over this.”
“Hear that!” cried the mean Comrade Night Star. “There’s no point ruining everyone’s Christmases, he said! Ha, ha, ha!”
Everyone laughed a low, grim laugh. Once they had stopped Comrade Dusk leaned forwards. “Comrade Midnight Fire,” he said, “You’ve got to understand something. Here in the Dark Unknown, we don’t believe in Christmas. It’s not real. Father Christmas is a marketing apparatus to encourage consumerism and nothing more.”
It was lucky it was dark, because Michaelis was blushing furiously. “I know,” he said, hoping to regain control of the situation, “but it seems like too much – I just thought we should, you know, target the capitalists instead of the masses.”
“Why, when the masses are just as awful, just as dead inside, as the capitalists themselves?”
Michaelis didn’t think he understood that, but the one thing he knew, luckily, was when to hold his tongue. “Never mind.”
“Thought so. Now, Midnight Fire,” Comrade Dusk said to him slowly, “your father owns a lot of tools we can use, doesn’t he?”
“He works in the shipyard, so yes,” Michaelis nervously replied.
“Good. I want you, Comrade, to get all of those tools for the next meeting, which will be in four days, so that we can start building. I know some of you others already have gunpowder and explosives.” Those that did nodded in acknowledgement. “Then all that remains is to get those together so that we can build the bombs. Will you do that, Comrade Midnight Fire?”
“Yes, Comrade Dusk,” Michaelis replied.
“Well then. The meeting is over.”